Many years ago while on my road to Damascus I found myself in a Cathedral of Wellingtonia in the high Sierra. A few yards away from the track and I was awe struck. Here amongst the Giant Redwoods I understood why John Muir found his better God. I could see and touch be inspired. If God lived anywhere it was here. Here in the midst of those truly amazing trees, here on the high Sierra where streams are crystal clear, here where the bright sun shone through the Cathedral of trees canopy it was possible to believe one could hear God’s voice in the breeze. Here then was a reason to turn John Muir from a harsh Scots Calvinist to a saviour of the forest and creator of National Parks.
John Muir died on the 24th December 1914, he lived long enough to see the start of the Great War, a war in which many Scots Calvinists would fight and die. Here are the names of some of them. They are from Stow, a village some 30 or so miles from Dunbar as the crow flies.
John H Anderson, 9th Battalion Royal Scots, died 12th April 1917, buried in Brown’s Copse Cemetery, Roeux.
Alex Bell, K.O.S.B. (Could be anyone of four killed/die in the Great War.)
Chas Chisholm, Gordon Highlanders, died 25th September 1915, commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
James Brydon, 46th Battalion Canadian Infantry, died 10th April 1917, Commemorated on the Vimy Memorial
Robert G Crombie, 5th/6th Cameronians, died 20th May 1917, commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
Robert Frier, 1st/4th K.O.S.B, died 18th April 1917. commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial.
Walter Linton, Life Guards? other details unknown
Gordon Lumsden 12th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, died 9th May 1917, Commemorated on the Doiran Memorial.
Robert Johnston 12th Battalion Cameronians, died 15th March 1916, buried in Bethune Town Cemetery.
Walter Nicol 2nd Battalion K.O.S.B. died 30th July 1916, commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Robert Oliver, 11th Battalion Cameronians, died 19th September 1916, Commemorated on the Doiran Memorial.
Alex Rutherford 1st/4th K.O.S.B. died 12th july 1915, Commemorated on the Helles Memorial.
John Stuart attch 4th/5th Bn Black Watch died 28th July 1918, buried Buzancy Military Cemetery
James Waters Unknown
Archibald R Wood 1st/4th K.O.S.B. 29th October 1918 Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery
and Chris Young, Unknown
The above are all on one memorial and all belonged to a Calvinist Church. it is known what they believed before 1914. Keep the Lord’s day holy. Walk to the kirk, only read the bible on Sunday, Do not celebrate Christmas day. Take the king James version literally. They had a disdain of Catholicism, Roman, or Inglish-that is how they would have spelt and pronounced it, and kept the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Church of Scotland at a distance. These men would have regarded the very idea of a truce on Christmas day as Inglish Popery and would have winced at the idea. Their view of life was harsh, after all they had came from the same mold as John Muir. It is also known how difficult it was for some men to keep a faith in God in the trenches. Life with the dead and dying, seeing men wounded and maimed day in day out. they died in different battles at different times. men from their church fought everywhere the Empire did. The Western Front, Dardanelles, Palestine Mesopotamia Most men from their Church survived and returned to Stow where most resumed their pre war lives. all had experienced first hand the horrors of war, a collective hell. Very different from the experiences of John Muir. Indeed a different time as well as a different place. Yet the men who returned had also found a better God, in a decade the old kirk had embraced Christmas, there would be hymns, singing, a happier church. Those men went away to fight for an old world order and returned to seek a better way.
Leave Calvin and the Bible
To the parish o’ Dunbar
Give a blind man back his eyes to find
The brightest o’ the stars
They lead him to the altar of a better God by far
It is remarkable where some men find a better God, and others see only death and desolation.