Leading Scottish actors will take part in a unique event with readings and music to mark the extraordinary efforts a Scottish church in London took to look after Scottish soldiers in the First World War.

Phyllis Logan and David Robb of Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones’ James Cosmo, folk singer and TV presenter Isla St Clair, and Radio 4’s Gordon Kennedy will lead a special performance entitled “Feeding the Fifty Thousand” taking place at St Columba’s Church of Scotland in London on Saturday 20th October to mark the centenary of the Armistice.

In 1918, the church, located in Knightsbridge, provided hospitality to 50,000 Scottish troops returning from the trenches and going back to the front after leave. Most had never been to London before and had to wait 18 hours or more for connecting trains to Scotland.  Church members looked out for soldiers at stations and took them back to the church for a wash, hot meals, entertainment and often room to sleep overnight.

Troops enjoy the hospitality of Church of Scotland members in London a century ago. St Columba's Church.
Troops enjoy the hospitality of Church of Scotland members in London a century ago. Credit: St Columba’s Church.

The work of St Columba’s became widely known throughout Scottish regiments at the front and amongst grateful families of soldiers who had been looked after.  Details of this remarkable effort only recently emerged after analysis of church magazines and archives.

James Cosmo, who plays Jeor Mormont in Game of Thrones commented:

“The Centenary of the Armistice will be an important time to reflect on the tragic losses in the First World War. I am pleased to take part in this performance to mark the contribution of Scottish soldiers and the work of church volunteers to care for them.”

David Robb, who plays Downton Abbey’s Dr Clarkson said:

“Both of my grandfathers were WW1 men. Both were wounded but survived the war and I treasure my childhood memories of them, my Scots Grandpa and my English Grandad. As an Anglo-Scot with a lifelong interest in military history I feel privileged to be part of what feels like a family commemoration.”

Revd Angus MacLeod, minister at St Columba’s, added:

“The story of the wartime hospitality is such a remarkable one – amusing, poignant and inspiring – and we have always wanted to share it beyond our own walls”.

Revd MacLeod was one of the founders of the “Scots in Great War London” initiative, bringing together two Church of Scotland churches in London and eight other organisations including the Caledonian Club, the London Scottish regiment and London Scottish FC. HRH The Princess Royal is the Patron of the group. A commemorative book has been published and a series of events is planned for the autumn.

Rev MacLeod added that the “Feeding the Fifty Thousand” performances will be a “memorable and unique honouring those who have prayed and served here before us”.  They will take place at 3pm and 7.30pm at St Columba’s, Pont Street, Knightsbridge on Saturday October 20th. Tickets are available here or by emailing All proceeds will go to Poppyscotland.

Feeding the 50000