Church in war hero story hunt for new book

Researchers working on a new book about Scottish soldiers who travelled through London to fight in World War I have launched an appeal to find their descendants.

The congregation at St Columba’s Church in Knightsbridge looked after around 50,000 people on their way back from the battlefields of Europe or returning from leave between 1914-18.

Dinner
Troops enjoy the hospitality of Church of Scotland members in London a century ago. St Columba's Church.

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.

Elders at the church, which prides itself on being a “real home away from home”, plan to include any fresh information on the previously untold story in a book about Scots in London during the Great War.

washing up
Members of St Columba's Church in London extended the hand of friendship to around 50,000 Scottish troops during the Great War. St Columba's Church

Rev Angus MacLeod, minister of St Columba’s Church of Scotland 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 will form a central part of our commemoration events next year to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

“Any further information we can obtain from the descendants of troops who passed through St Columba’s would be very welcome.”

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.

troops
Scottish troops enjoying much needed rest time at St Columba's Church. St Columba's Church.

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.”

Hospitality

The congregation would be delighted to hear from anyone with diaries, letters or other material relating to the role of St Columba's during the Great War.

The book, which is being written with other organisations linked to Scots in London,is scheduled to be published next year.

People are asked to get in touch with Hugh Pym c/o St Columba's Church of Scotland, Pont Street, London SW1X OBD or email via office@stcolumbas.org.uk

Angus MacLeod
Rev Angus MacLeod and St Columba's Church, which was rebuilt after it was destroyed during the Second World War.

St Columba’s Church, which combines social support activities for disadvantaged people with peace and prayer, is no stranger to the impact of war.

The church building where First World War troops were entertained was destroyed in a matter of hours on the night of May 10, 1941 during the Blitz.

It was rebuilt and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a 60th anniversary celebration at the church in December 2015 to mark the re-dedication of the building.

The foundation stone was laid by the late Queen Mother in 1950.

St Columba’s Church works closely with Crown Court Church in Covent Garden, which is also a Church of Scotland congregation, established in 1711.