Glasgow's Great War: Hamilton chaplain's role in the Christmas Day truce

ON Christmas Day 1914, in the trenches of the Western Front, a small miracle took place which has gone down in history.

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British and German troops pose for a picture on Christmas Day 1914
British and German troops pose for a picture on Christmas Day 1914

And the man partly responsible for one of the most moving events in the history of the First World War was Glasgow University graduate John Esslemont Adams, from Hamilton.

On Christmas Day, a number of unarmed German soldiers left their trenches and called on their British counterparts not to shoot.

Men from the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders responded by also leaving the trenches

As chaplain to the Gordons, Adams had just completed a burial service for one of the fallen when he saw unarmed British soldiers begin to emerge.

Colonel Colin McLean ran along the front line ordering his troops to return to the trenches but it became clear something quite out of the ordinary was happening.

The chaplain told McLean he was off to speak to the Germans, in the hope of securing a truce to bury the dead in No Man's Land.

He came to a little ditch between the enemy lines, held up his hands, said he wanted to speak to a German officer and asked if anyone spoke English.

He was told someone did and was invited over the ditch where he saluted the German officer with whom he had a conversation.

Eventually spades were brought out and both sides began digging graves for their fallen comrades.

Adams persuaded both commanding officers to allow a short religious service and the men gathered, with the Germans on one side of the ditch and the British troops on the other.

The minister read the 23rd Psalm, in English, with a German student reading it after him in German.

A short prayer was also read in both languages after which Adams saluted the German commander and the two men shook hands before saying farewell. Soon, the fighting resumed.

The Hamilton hero had a distinguished war, being awarded the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and was twice Mentioned in Dispatches.

When the war ended, he returned to his Ministry in Aberdeen and died on April 22, 1935 at the age of 69.

The part played by John Esslemont Adams on that momentous Christmas Day in 1914 has been represented in films and documentaries, including the 2005 French film, Joyeux Noel, and a BBC Days That Shook the World broadcast, called The Christmas Truce.

vivienne.nicoll@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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