Tag Archives: Great War

A sermon for Trinity Sunday

On this Trinity Sunday, I’m going to ask some questions… but not necessarily give any answers……

…… because “it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”, as Churchill said (in another context).

It’s convoluted, complex, difficult to get to grips with, because we mere human beings can never comprehend the mind nor nature of God…….

……apart from the fact that we believe in the fact that God is love revealed to us in his son, Jesus, and we are guided to Christ, to our Father God, through his Holy Spirit.

So, I’m going to ask questions, but I’m not necessarily going to reach any conclusive answer.

But if, when you go home and think and pray and ponder on these things, you may just get an inkling as to what this may be about.

Let’s start with a story:

Once, during the Great War, a soldier got separated from his comrades. He was wandering about, stunned and aimlessly, when an Officer found him. The poor Tommy couldn’t tell him who he was nor where he had come from.


collect pix paul lewis; world war one welch fusiliers.. pilken ridge, belgium july 1917

The Officer had an idea. There was to be a boxing match in a few days time – for a bit of r & r for the troops, away from the horrors of conflict.

He invited the soldier to come along, and, on the day of the match, invited him into the ring.

“Does anybody know this man?” he asked the crowd.


Then the lost Tommy shouted, “For the love of God, please tell me who I am!!!”

Who am I? A question perhaps a lot of us ask of ourselves. Who am I?

It’s that plaintive cry for meaning, purpose, knowledge, understanding, relationships…. and whatever gives us identity.

Who am I? And, you know, in my case, I don’t really know. I fill a space…..

…..but I can give you some facts; but it’s really data or statistics.

I’m 69 years old in October.

I’ve been an ordained minister for 42 years

I will have been a widower since June 2012.

I have two sons, two granddaughters, and twa dugs.

I’m male – with a 45 year old beard (you know, there’s a name for people who don’t have whiskers….. women ….. on the other hand…no!)

Oh, there are lots of other things about me, if you delve farther

Here’s one that I wear as a badge of honour, even after 60 years or so: at the age of 8 or 9, I was expelled from the Cubs… for bad behaviour

I’ve settled down now….well, a wee bit!

But who am I? Who are you?

We only see a reflection in a mirror, for example, or in a photo or video ….. but, all in all, that’s not the whole story.

What about all the complexities that lie beneath the skin or in the brain. The bulk of us is INSIDE us – veins, blood, arteries, organs and the like?



Sometimes, we may get a glimpse into who and what a person is.

This is an old way of looking at this, but bear with me:

I want you to imagine a man who is a medical doctor.

What kind of person – generally speaking – do you picture in your mind’s eye?

Someone who is caring, skilful, perspective, educated to a very high level

How about an academic?

Well, let’s picture a scholar as someone analytical, insightful, intelligent. Look at him poring over his books, writing an esoteric paper which only his peers will probably understand.

Lastly, picture a very gifted and talented musician – a professional – classically trained – a maestro in his field. Entertaining, enlightening, even uplifting his audience.

OK – a doctor, a scholar, a musician…… three kinds of people….

….. but they all came together in one brilliant man: Albert Schweitzer who dedicated his life to helping the poor in Africa, teaching them the Gospel, being like a father to them.



But that somewhat hackneyed comparison doesn’t even scratch the surface of the One in Three, and Three in One.

The concept of the Holy Trinity is an artificial, man-made construct.

Should we not just be happy with “God” in whatever shape, form, or person?

Should we not just put theology to one side and concentrate on living the best kind of life we can, living in the light of God, living in the Spirit of God, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ?

Let’s perceive God as the Son who redeems us;

as the Father who loves us;

as the Spirit who guides us…….

…..all at the same time.

It’s complex.

I started off by saying that I would pose questions – but not necessarily come up with cast-iron unambiguous answers.

Complex, yes – but sometimes isn’t it the case that simple faith, simple hope, and simple faith are all we often really need.

Let me close with a story – it’s a bit obscure, and I’ve read it over many times in its full form, and I think I know what it’s getting at.

It’s a story about three hermits – it’s based on an old Russian tale, adapted by Leo Tolstoy.

Here’s an abbreviated version of it:
A Bishop was once sailing from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery, when he heard members of the crew talk of a small island, where certain hermits – holy men – lived.

The Bishop – intrigued – asked to be taken there.

The old men bowed to him, and he gave them his blessing, at which they bowed still lower. Then the Bishop began to speak to them.

‘Tell me,’ said the Bishop, ‘what you are doing to save your souls, and how you serve God on this island.’

‘We do not know how to serve God. We only serve and support ourselves, servant of God.’

‘But how do you pray to God?’ asked the Bishop.

‘We pray in this way,’ replied the hermit. ‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.’

And when the old man said this, all three raised their eyes to heaven, and repeated:

‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!’

The Bishop smiled.

‘You have evidently heard something about the Holy Trinity,’ said he. ‘But you do not pray aright. to Him.’

And then the Bishop began explaining to the hermits how God had revealed Himself to men; telling them of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

‘God the Son came down on earth,’ said he, ‘to save men, and this is how He taught us all to pray. Listen and repeat after me: “Our Father.”‘

And the first old man repeated after him, ‘Our Father,’ and the second said, ‘Our Father,’ and the third said, ‘Our Father.’

‘Which art in heaven,’ continued the Bishop.
And they laboriously echoed his words.
And all day long the Bishop laboured, saying a word twenty, thirty, a hundred times over, and the old men repeated it after him. They blundered, and he corrected them, and made them begin again.

Eventually, it was time to leave, and the Bishop said his farewells.



As his ship sailed away, something strange happened…….the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship at some speed.

The hermits were running after them on the water as though it were dry land.

Before the ship could be stopped, the hermits had reached it, and raising their heads, all three as with one voice, began to say:

‘We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God.We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.’

The Bishop crossed himself, and leaning over the ship’s side, said:

‘Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.

And the Bishop bowed low before the old men; and they turned and went back across the sea to their little island.

‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!’
Make of that what you will.

I’ve been an ordained minister since 1974 and have been wrestling with this doctrine of the Trinity for over 40 years, and, you know, as long as we live in this wonderful world of creation, as long as we can interrelate with one another in a good and Godly way, then there is God, and there is the Spirit who binds us together, through our common devotion to Jesus Christ.

The Holy Trinity – complex…. yet, in so many respects so simple that it’s startling in its claim


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McCrae’s Battalion (the Scotsman)

THE VALIANT efforts on the Western Front by the Edinburgh battalion formed and led by the inspirational Sir George McCrae were perilously close to being forgotten. Only in recent years have the men attracted the recognition which they so richly deserve.

Yesterday, at 11am, a large crowd including players and supporters of Heart of Midlothian Football Club gathered for Remembrance Day at the Haymarket war memorial. At this particular remembrance service, it is for the courageous men who fought as part of the 16th Royal Scots – McCrae’s Battalion, that the admiration is most pronounced.

The outbreak of war

Following Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in August 1914, a frantic scramble for willing recruits gripped the nation. Such was the intense support for war against the Kaiser, that those who were less enthusiastic to fight were accused of cowardice and often faced public condemnation. A debate began to rage over why popular sports such as football, played by physically fit and able-bodied men, should be allowed to continue.

In Scotland, the bulk of this wrath was reserved for the top team in the country, and as fate would have it, in 1914 that team was Heart of Midlothian.

Hearts had made the most emphatic start to a season in their short history by winning their first eight league fixtures. This early success came at a price as Hearts’ players began to attract criticism for continuing the ‘awful farce of football’ while their fellow countrymen perished overseas. A letter from the pen of ‘A Soldier’s Daughter’ published by the Edinburgh Evening News suggested that, unless they were prepared to fight, the club should adopt a new name: ‘The White Feathers of Midlothian’.

McCrae’s Own

In November 1914 the well-respected local businessman and former MP Sir George McCrae launched an appeal to the young men of Edinburgh to join his own battalion for active duty in the field. McCrae’s ambitious aim to source a full unit within just 7 days sounded fanciful, but his confidence was justified as thirteen professional players contracted to Heart of Midlothian answered his call. They were the first football club in Britain to do so.

Hearts’ brave leap into the unknown had an immediate knock-on effect, as within days hundreds of the club’s supporters began to follow in their heroes footsteps. McCrae’s Battalion quickly managed to attract a full complement of 1,350 recruits – including a great number of football players and supporters of rival clubs such as Hibernian, Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dunfermline. The example set by the Hearts players had proved pivotal. McCrae’s Own – the original sportsmen’s battalion was born.

Disappointingly for the men in maroon, the 1914/15 league title would head westwards to a Celtic side free from the rigours of military training. Missing out on silverware, however, would pale in comparison to Hearts’ true sacrifice just one year later.

The supreme sacrifice

The casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916 rank among the most catastrophic in British military history. Soldiers were mown down relentlessly as they toiled to advance towards the heavily fortified German trenches. The following morning, the bodies of 20,000 British soldiers lay strewn across the bloodied battlefields with a further 40,000 badly wounded.

McCrae’s Own suffered massive losses as they battled bravely to try and capture the ruined village of Contalmaison. With over three quarters of its attacking power depleted, the fact that the battalion had delved deeper into enemy territory than any other that day would have provided McCrae with scant consolation. Hearts players Harry Wattie, Duncan Currie, Ernie Ellis, Jimmy Speedie, Jimmy Body, Tom Gracie and John Allan all perished during the Great War. Paddy Crossan and Robert Mercer eventually suffered from the effects of wartime gassing, while Alfie Briggs was crippled in action and never played again.


In 1922, a memorial was erected at Haymarket by Hearts Football Club in honour of their players and supporters who had fallen in the Great War. At the unveiling ceremony, a 35,000-strong crowd listened to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Robert Munro as he explained how ‘Hearts had shown on the battlefield all the courage, resource, skill, endurance, dash and daring that had made them famous on the football field’. The memorial is still at Haymarket today, having recently returned after a lengthy disappearance due to the tram works.

The fascinating feat of bravery by the Hearts players who went to war has long been a part of Tynecastle folklore, but the finer details of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George McCrae’s Battalion were close to being forgotten. That was until 2003 when author Jack Alexander brought the tale back to public consciousness with his definitive history on the subject. Alexander’s book ‘McCrae’s Battalion – The Story of the 16th Royal Scots’ helped to resurrect interest in the tale and has led to the installation of a permanent memorial to McCrae’s Own on French soil.

McCrae’s Battalion Memorial Cairn at Contalmaison has since become a shrine for avid followers of the Scottish game. A plaque outside Tynecastle, unveiled in September of this year, confirms the intention to ensure that this piece of Edinburgh history is never lost again.

• David McLean is the founder of the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page.

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O Valiant Hearts


O valiant hearts who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved.

Proudly you gathered, rank on rank, to war
As who had heard God’s message from afar;
All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave,
To save mankind—yourselves you scorned to save.

Splendid you passed, the great surrender made;
Into the light that nevermore shall fade;
Deep your contentment in that blest abode,
Who wait the last clear trumpet call of God.

Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still,
Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,
While in the frailty of our human clay,
Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self same way.

Still stands His Cross from that dread hour to this,
Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still, through the veil, the Victor’s pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.

These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyred Son of God:
Victor, He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of sacrifice.

O risen Lord, O Shepherd of our dead,
Whose cross has bought them and Whose staff has led,
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to Thy gracious hand.

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November 9, 2013 · 12:10

Elsie Inglis

Published on the 8 November 2013 in the Edinburgh Evening News


On the battlefields of First World War Europe, Elsie Inglis risked her life to save those of countless soldiers.

Wading through mud in the face of the enemy, the redoubtable Edinburgh doctor made sure the injured and the dying received the basic medical care they would otherwise have been left without.

Tens of thousands were helped by field hospitals she set up in Serbia, Ukraine and Romania, acting with the support of the French and Serbian governments, after the British rebuffed her offer of help.

Her heroism, said Winston Churchill, would “shine forever in history”, while in Serbia she is a national hero.

But today as we prepare to mark Remembrance Day in Scotland there is little to mark the final resting place of Edinburgh’s greatest heroine.

Exposed to the elements for almost a century, the inscription on her gravestone has faded.

It is only with difficulty that visitors to Dean Cemetery can discern her name on her memorial stone, while the citation marking her achievements – her pioneering medical work and support of the Suffragette movement in Scotland, as well as her First World War heroics abroad – is in parts completely worn away.

Historian Alan Cumming was disturbed to discover the neglected state of her grave on a recent visit. The state of her Edinburgh memorial stood in stark contrast to the pristine plaque that stands in her honour in Serbia.

He said: “What Elsie Inglis achieved at that time was nothing short of a miracle – she had an incredible life. I was ashamed that the women involved in the Scottish Women’s Hospital [which she established during the First World War] are known about and revered in Serbia, yet their work and achievements are barely recognised in the country they came from.

“It’s very poor that there’s nothing to let visitors to the cemetery know who she was.”

The upkeep of her grave is technically the responsibility of her family, said a spokesman for the privately-maintained Dean Cemetery, but like the memorials to millions of Scots whose immediate family are no longer living, it has slipped into a state of disrepair. Today there were calls for funds to be made available ahead of next year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War to restore her grave and provide information boards for visitors.

Born in India, she was 14 when her parents came to Edinburgh, where she would go on to establish the George Square Nursing Home in 1899, which eventually merged with the Bruntsfield Hospital to provide a complete women’s health service in Edinburgh for the first time.

At the start of the war, Elsie approached the government with a plan to utilise women’s medical skills in female-run field hospitals but was flatly denied, leading her to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service.

She would equip field hospitals with only basic supplies and faced a fight to improve hygiene, help the starving and control typhus and infections.

Her efforts in Serbia led to her being given the highest national award, the Order of the White Eagle, with the commendation that “Scotland made her a doctor but Serbia made her a Saint”.

Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “Elsie Inglis is such an inspiring figure it is a real shame that her headstone has been allowed to deteriorate. Ensuring the epitaph on her grave is legible is the very least we owe her.”

Mike Turnbull, who wrote the Edinburgh Graveyard Guide, said: “Are many people aware Elsie Inglis is buried in the Dean Cemetery – probably not.”

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An Officer and a Gentleman

Yahoo! News


  • Captain Robert Campbell, left, was allowed home to visit his dying mother after writing to Kaiser Wilhelm II, right. (SWNS)


    Yahoo! News./SWNS – Captain Robert Campbell, left, was allowed home to visit his dying mother after writing to Kaiser Wilhelm II, right. (SWNS)

A British PoW captured by the Germans in World War I was freed to see his dying mother – but went back to the prison camp after giving the Kaiser ‘his word’ he would return.
Capt Robert Campbell, aged 29, was gravely injured and captured just weeks after Britain declared war on Germany in July, 1914.
But after two years in Magdeburg Prisoner of War Camp, the British officer received word from home his mother Louise Campbell was close to death.
He speculatively wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II, begging to be allowed home to visit his mother one final time.
Incredibly the German leader granted the request allowing the professional office two weeks leave – as long as he returned.
The only bond he placed on the leave was Capt Campbell’s ‘word’ as an army officer.
He returned to his family home in Gravesend Kent in December 1916 and spent a week with his cancer-stricken mother.
He then kept his promise by returning to his German prison – where he stayed until the war ended in 1918.
The remarkable example of wartime honesty was uncovered by historian Richard Van Emden, 48, as he researched his new book.
The author  admitted the act of chivalry was rare even for the bygone age of the Great War.
He said: ‘Capt Campbell was an officer and he made a promise on his honour to go back. Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners.
‘What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany. The British could have said to him ‘you’re not going back, you’re going to stay here’.

Capt Campbell was kept in a German prisoner of war camp similar to this one in France. (Getty)

‘This was totally unique. I think it is such a unique example that I don’t think you can draw any parallels.’
Capt Campbell had been leading the 1st Bn East Surrey Regiment when his battalion took up a position on the Monds-Conde canal in north-western France.
But a week later his troops were attacked by the German forces and Capt Campbell was gravely injured and captured by enemy soldiers.

The wounded Brit was treated in a military hospital in Cologne, Germany, before being transported to the Magdeburg Prisoner of War Camp.


In 1916 he was allowed two weeks compassionate leave by the German Kaiser, to include two days travelling in each direction by boat and train.
Capt Campbell reached his mother’s bedside on December 7 and spent a week with her before returning to Germany. She finally passed away in February.

The British officer, who had served in the Army for 11 years before the outbreak of war, remained in Magdeburg until the armistice in 1918.

Mr Van Emden discovered the incredible story in correspondence between the British Foreign Office and their German counterparts.
The records also show the Germans contacted the British requesting German national Peter Gastreich be allowed to leave the Isle of Wight to visit his dying father – but the British authorities refused the request.

At the end of the war Capt Campbell was freed from the camp and allowed to make the journey back to the British coast – retiring from the military in 1925.
And despite his traumatising ordeal Capt Campbell was again thrust into military action in 1939 when he rejoined the 1st Bn East Surrey Regiment for the Second World War.
His role as the Chief Observer of the Royal Observer Corps in the Isle of Wight was less precarious than that thirty years earlier.
He managed to survive the war unscathed and died back in his home country in July 1966 aged 81.
Capt Campbell’s story has been told in Mr Van Emden’s new book, ‘Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War’.

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The Big Meenister

The Big Meenister

Grey River Argus , 28 March 1916, Page 6

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August 26, 2013 · 11:08