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Colonel John Esslemont Adams

Biography of Colonel John Esslemont Adams

Christmas Day 1914 was one of the strangest and most moving moments in the history of the Great War. The guns had fallen silent on Christmas Eve, and the sound of men singing carols had drifted across the lines. The following morning some German soldiers left their trenches, unarmed and calling on their British counterparts not to shoot. What followed will never be forgotten. Men laid down their arms and worked side by side to bury the dead. They worshipped together and later played football, exchanged gifts and drank to a peaceful Christmas. Scots were there in numbers - the 6th Gordons and 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards. One Scot, a Glasgow graduate played a most important part that day.

John Esslemont Adams was born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, on 25th May 1865. His father John was a schoolmaster and the family lived at Gilbertfield, Hamilton. Esselmont, as he was known, went up to the University of Glasgow at a young age. He was just fourteen when he first matriculated in 1879 to study Latin and Greek. He studied for thirteen years, mainly Latin and Greek, although in the session 1882-83 he took classes in Natural Philosophy, Mathematics and English, and in 1883-84 he took Mathematics and Natural Philosophy again before returning to Classics and finally graduating MA in 1888. He was very successful in his studies and won a Coulter Prize, of £2, 10s, for the best Latin essay on 'The Cases Which Led to the Decline of Sparta in the Fourth Century B.C.'. He then graduated in 1892 with a BD having studied at the Free Church Training College. His first charge was as minister for Dreghorn and Perceton in Ayrshire. In 1902 he married 28 year old Marion Gallacher from Dreghorn. Their marriage took place in the United Free Church in Newhaven, Edinburgh on 13 August 1902. When war broke out he was Minister of the West United Free Church in Aberdeen and he went out to the Western Front to serve with the Army Chaplains Department.

As chaplain to the Gordon Highlanders, Esselmont had just completed a burial service for one of the men on Christmas Day 1914 when he saw men beginning to emerge from the trenches. While Colonel McLean attempted to stop them, it became clear that something quite unique was happening, and Esselmont went over to speak to the German officers, in the hopes of securing a truce to bury the dead lying on no-man's land. It was the beginning of an extraordinary, if brief peace. After the dead were buried, Esselmont Adams and a German divinity student officiated at a service, at which the 23rd Psalm was read in English and German. At the end of the service he shook hands with the German commander. The truce lasted until the 3rd of January 1915 when the guns were heard again.

Colonel John Esslemont Adams had a distinguished war service. His gallantry and dedication were recognised in his rank and decorations. Colonel Adams was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He was twice Mentioned in Despatches (MID). Though he had gladly seized the opportunity for truce that Christmas Day, he was sure of his cause in war. In 1917 he edited a book concerned with German atrocities, entitled Their Crimes. When the war ended he returned to his Ministry in Aberdeen. He was a Doctor of Divinity of Aberdeen University and died on 22nd April 1935.

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


Colonel John Esslemont Adams
Rank: Colonel
Regiment: Army Chaplains Department
Degree: MA BD
Awards: Military Cross, Distinguished Service Order, Mentioned in Despatches
Comments: N/A
Note/Press Clipping: N/A
Photo ID: N/A


University of Glasgow Registry, Faculty and General Council Records

The Scotsman, 5th January 1915

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