Princess Royal endorses new book on role of London Kirk in Great War
Published on 18 May, 2018
The Princess Royal has endorsed a new book about the “extraordinary” contribution of Scots in London during the First World War.
She is the newly appointed patron of the Scots in Great War London Group which is publishing the tome next month to mark the centenary of the end of the conflict.
The group is made up of 10 organisations including the Church of Scotland which has two congregations in the UK capital.
A chapter in the book is dedicated to the little known story of St Columba’s Church in Knightsbridge which provided hospitality to 50,000 Scottish troops either on their way home or to the Western Front between 1915-1919.
Volunteers would wait at Victoria Station for trains and direct Scottish troops towards the church on Pont Street.
They were fed, given time to rest and sometimes put up for the night before being piped back to stations to continue on their way.
This extraordinary effort, led largely by women at the church, has not been fully described or recognised until now.
Rev Angus MacLeod, minister at St Columba’s Church whose family hail from the Isle of Skye, said: “The story of the church's hospitality to visiting Scottish troops is remarkable and moving.
“It highlights themes that linked people one hundred years ago - hospitality, friendship, the meeting of need and giving of comfort, the offering of prayer.
“It inspires those same things today."
The church magazine from the time contain many moving stories and letters from soldiers and their families, some thanking the church volunteers for their welcome in a strange city.
It published a regular column titled Soldiers on Furlough and was soon able to boast that “there was no Scottish battalion in France where St Columba’s was unknown”.
One letter received in January 1916, included a description by a delighted mother of her son’s arrival in London from the front.
He had told her: “What a reception we got in London when we came off the train.
“Someone came up to me and asked ‘are you from Scotland?’
‘Yes I said’. ‘Then come this way’ and there was a crowd of happy Scotties all looking a bit mystified.
“When all for Scotland had been collected, they were driven off to find a sumptuous repast waiting and the opportunity to make themselves clean and tidy for the home folks.
“An entertainment of song and music followed then a drive back to the station in time for the train.
“It was like a fairy tale.”
Festival of faith
The story will be showcased at a stand the group have taken at the Church of Scotland’s annual Heart and Soul festival in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens on Sunday.
Princess Anne attended the event, part of the General Assembly, last year when she was Lord High Commissioner, the Queen’s personal representative.
The book, which is being published on June 26, recounts stories of members killed in action, including those from Crown Court Church of Scotland in Covent Garden.
Lord Kinnaird, an early star of football in England, was a member at Crown Court and lost two sons during the war.
Three quarters of the 60 players who turned out for London Scottish in the last matches before the outbreak never returned.
The London Scottish Regiment was the first territorial unit to see action, having been thrown into battle near Ypres in Belgium in October 1914.
Its soldiers included many members of Scottish churches and clubs in London.
The support given to Scots in London by the 400 year-old Royal Scottish Corporation, now called ScotsCare, is also highlighted in the book.
The Scots in Great War London Group comprises of: St Columba’s and Crown Court Church of Scotland , Caledonian Club, London Scottish FC, London Scottish Regiment, ScotsCare, Scots Guards, Royal Caledonian Education Trust, Caledonian Society and Burns Clubs of London.
A series of commemorative events have been planned including an art installation and Feeding the 50,000,an evening of music and readings,at St Columba’s Church on October 20, 2018.