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The Christmas Truce 1914: Rev John Esslemont Adams


The University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel decorated for Christmas with the Roll of Honour visible in the background. On 18 December 2014 a special Christmas Truce service was held.

University of Glasgow graduate John Esslemont Adams played an important role in one of the famous Christmas truces that occurred on the Western Front in 1914. He was the chaplain the 6th Gordon Highlanders.  The Christmas truce was recorded by D Mackenzie (1921) in The Sixth Gordons in France and Flanders, with the 7th and 51st Divisions. According to Mackenzie, on Christmas Day Adams joined men in No-Man’s-Land to meet amicably with Germans, against the initial protestations of the CO Colonel MacLean. They agreed upon a truce to bury bodies. After the burials, Adams convinced the COs to hold a service. At 16.00 officers and men from each army lined either side of a dividing ditch. Adams, along with an interpreter and a German divinity student, read the 23rd Psalm, first in English and repeated in German. A short prayer was said in English and repeated in German. Adams then saluted the German CO and they shook hands while men met in No-Man’s-Land and traded souvenirs and provisions.

Adams’s Christmas service was also reported in the Oban Times. On 9 Jan 1915 the paper printed a piece entitled ‘Oban Territorial at the Front – Christmas Day in the trenches’.

 Undoubtedly the strangest thing of all that happened on Christmas Day on this part of the front – emphasising in the most striking manner the power engendered by all that Christmas stands for in our religious annals – was a short service held by a British chaplain, the Rev J E Adam, of Union Street, West United Free Church, Aberdeen, his hearers comprising German as well as British soldiers. He also held a burial service over a grave in which 16 Germans were buried. After the service a German officer presented the clergyman with a cigar.

A report of this same incident was recorded in The Scotsman, which printed a letter by Private John Robb on 31 December 1914:

Our chaplain, the Rev. Esslemont Adams, went up to the firing line to-day, and had a talk with the Germans. One of the German majors gave him a cigar for a souvenir, and Mr Adams gave the major a small prayer out of his cap in return. He also read the burial service to 17 Germans who were buried to-day. The major told him that they were quite fed up, and wanted to stop; so we commenced fighting at 5 P.M. again. I wish it was all over, as the trenches are not quite the best, but we are sticking it with a right heart. I wish you a happy New Year and good luck.

When war broke out in 1914, Rev Esslemont Adams was a United Free Church minister in Aberdeen. He had studied at the University of Glasgow, earning an MA in 1888 and completing his BD in 1892. Read more about his life and career here.


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