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St Columba’s Church
Built in 1884, St Columba’s in Pont Street, Knightsbridge, offered much-appreciated hospitality to nearly 50,000 troops from 1915 until 1919. Identified at London train stations on Saturdays and Sundays, Scottish soldiers were invited back to the church for a wash, a shave and something to eat. Often, they were piped back to the station the next day for their onward journeys – a period of leave or a return to the fighting.
The story of this remarkable Home-Front response, led by Mary Blackwood, is chronicled in the church magazines. One mother wrote in 1916 that “Boys like mine brought up in a country place have very little idea of London, and I am sure it must be a relief to many a mother besides myself to know that there are kindly folks to look after [them]”
Crown Court Church
Crown Court’s congregation had moved to Covent Garden in 1719 and grew steadily as the number of Scots in London increased. During the Great War the church continued to serve Scots in London and also Presbyterians from other countries in London.
A permanent war memorial to commemorate Crown Court’s dead was unveiled in January 1922, listing 29 names. One of those remembered is an elder, Lieutenant The Honourable Arthur Middleton Kinnaird MC of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards who died from his wounds in November 1917 during the battle of Cambrai. Private Samuel Small, an Englishman who had emigrated to Canada in 1906, returned in 1915 as a Canadian soldier. He was killed in France on September 28 1916 and is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. Small’s gospel book was found in a safe at Crown Court in 2009 and given back in 2010 to his eldest daughter, Annie, then aged 99 and living in Newfoundland.
ScotsCare/Royal Scottish Corporation
The Royal Scottish Corporation, now ScotsCare, was established in London by benevolent Scottish merchants around 1603. It later became a rallying point for Scottish nobles, merchants, ministers, lawyers, doctors and other professionals who wanted to help their poorer compatriots and provided a similar focus during the Great War. The charity supported many families in need on the Home Front and increased allowances for widows and their children from early 1916 as prices rose. It also helped when demobilised soldiers returned from war, many finding themselves homeless and workless.
A distinct Corporation trust since 1818, the Kinloch Bequest helped disabled and other Scottish veterans of Victorian wars of empire as well as those of the Great War and beyond. In the late 1950s and 1960s grants were still being given to old soldiers like Robert Pagan from Dumfries – a former sniper in the Lovat Scouts wounded at Passchendaele in October 1917.
Royal Caledonian Education Trust
Running a school in Hertfordshire during the Great War, the Royal Caledonian Education Trust had originally been established in London as the Caledonian Asylum in 1815. The charity provided an education for children with fathers serving in the British armed forces or Merchant Navy, as well children of poor Scots in London.
By mid-1915, ‘Old Caleys’ were serving all across the globe and by the war’s end a significant number had been killed or wounded. The children attending the Schools from 1914 until 1918 were more affected than most by the casualties on the home front with 49 children on the roll whose fathers had been killed in action. By late March 1918, the headmaster sought to prevent the children’s thoughts from dwelling too much on what was happening on the front line, urging them to find ways they might ‘relieve distress and do good’.
London Scottish Football Club
The 1913-14 team photograph shows 15 rugby players who all went to war; five would be killed and nine wounded, with two of the latter also being taken prisoner. Only a quarter of the membership of the four teams survived. LSFC’s war memorial commemorates 103 members who died. Since 1878 a quarter of Scotland’s caps (around 200) played for the club during their careers, including 11 in this picture. The club’s players and members are typical of Scots coming to London for work or other reasons, with many becoming Regular or Territorial soldiers – ordinary men bound together by the horrors of war.
The Caledonian Society of London
The Caledonian Society of London was instituted in 1839 for the advancement of Scottish national philanthropic interests and good fellowship amongst London Scots. This included support for the two London-Scottish charities, the Royal Scottish Corporation and the Royal Caledonian Schools. Soon after the outbreak of war the society ceased social activities but maintained its charitable interests through the Federated Council of Scottish Associations.
The Caledonian Club
The Caledonian Club, founded in 1891, was purchased by its members in 1917. Chairman John Stewart-Murray, the Marquis of Tullibardine, led the appeal for funds, writing that it was then ‘the rendezvous for a very large number of Scottish officers and in peace-time it is almost home for them’. An illuminated roll of honour records the 209 names of members who died in the Great War. It was rescued from the old Club, bombed in World War Two and is now located in Halkin Street, along with the Courage and Sacrifice War Memorial. The Club is thriving and continues to provide a friendly environment for Scots living in London and visiting from Scotland and overseas, with a membership of over 1300.
The Burns Club of London
Founded in 1868, The Burns Club of London has played a key role in the cultural life of London Scots for 150 years. Its reduced programme of social gatherings during the Great War helped to maintain morale among its members at home and enabled it to entertain hundreds of troops passing through London, send comfort parcels to men at the front and greatly increase its support of Scottish charities.
During the Great War the principal Scots Guards presence in London was the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion at Wellington Barracks. It especially provided drafts of officers and men for the two battalions serving on the Western Front. The Scots Guards had connections with St Columba’s, the London Scottish Regiment, The Caledonian Club and other Scottish organisations. Guy Dawkins went to France in September 1914 with the London Scottish and in the summer of 1915, when a corporal, was commissioned into the 1st Scots Guards. He was badly wounded at Loos, returned the following summer to the 2nd Scots Guards, but was mortally wounded in September 1916 on the Somme.
London Scottish Regiment
In October 1914 a fleet of London omnibuses pulled up outside the medieval Cloth Hall in the Belgian city of Ypres and soldiers of the Territorial Force descended. Only twelve weeks before, these reservists had been boarding the same buses on London streets, heading to work. These citizen soldiers, wearing the Hodden Grey kilts and glengarries of the London Scottish Regiment, were now heading for a baptism of fire at Messines on Hallowe’en. Almost half of the 800 men of the 1st Battalion who went into battle that 31 October 1914 were reported killed, missing or wounded. The survivors then served elsewhere on the Western Front, with the 2nd Battalion serving in the Middle East from mid-1916.