Given St Columba’s significant wartime contribution and history, it is unsurprising that Remembrance holds a profound place in the church and community calendar. Each year, in or around the 11th November, our two local school, Hill House School and Knightsbridge School, hold special assemblies in the church to mark the moment. On Remembrance Sunday (12th November 2023) morning service at St Columba’s begins at 10.45am, with an Act of Remembrance culminating in a silence, at 11am. Remembrance often provides one of our largest congregations of the year. The poignancy of the service is enhanced by the playing of the lament, The Flowers of the Forest, by a piper from the London Scottish Regiment. The service usually finishes with children from the Sunday School laying their own handmade poppies and wreathes at the communion table.
In the afternoon we welcome the serving personnel, cadets, veterans and families of the London Scottish Regiment at the 3pm Church Parade. There is no finer sight than the Regiment marching behind the Pipes & Drums down Pont Street on their way to the kirk. Movingly, at the conclusion of the Regimental Service serving members leave the church via the London Scottish Regimental Chapel. They do so in silence, filing past the carved battle honours in the window recesses and the Books of Remembrance.
St Columba’s has a fascinating World War I story to tell. Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig was an elder. Many of London’s Scottish associations, also profoundly affected by the War, had links to St Columba’s. Much of it is wonderfully documented in the Church Magazines of the day. The wartime magazines will shortly be available via the church website, www.stcolumbas.org.uk thanks to theScots in Great War London initiative in 2018.
Between 1915 and1919 St Columba’s offered hospitality to nearly 50,000 troops of the First World War. Identified at the train stations on Saturdays and Sundays, Scottish soldiers were invited back to Pont Street where they could wash and shave, be fed, enjoy concert parties, write letters or sleep. Often, they were piped back to the station the next day for their onward journeys – leave in Scotland or return to the Front.
“I wish to say how much the work done by your church for soldiers proceeding on leave, is appreciated. Several of my men have spoken to me of the kindness they received on arriving at Victoria, when they had a long wait for the departure of the train for the North.”
Commanding Officer, Seaforth Highlanders, St Columba’s Magazine, 1916.
Disastrously, on the night of May 9th, 1941, the original church was destroyed by enemy action during the Blitz of World War II. The new St Columba’s, dedicated in 1955, contains the very special London Scottish Chapel. The new St Columba’s was of course a very happy venue for the launch of Scots in London at the Gala Evening on 11th October 2023.
Revd Angus MacLeod, Minister of St Columba's Church