January 6


A Bigamy Scandal that Left a Church Empty…

Hello my dearest lads and lassies,

I have a little story for you. And it’s not a happy one

Not so long ago, six-year-old Astrid found a home in the Highlands. But that home cast her out as a pariah. 

It all started when her mom, Elsa married the minister of Foss Kirk. 

An Estonian citizen, Elsa had been married before, to Bruno, a medic who was taken prisoner on the Russian front and put in a concentration camp. There, executions were fairly common. So, after five years of not hearing any news of Bruno, he was presumed dead. Then, a golden ticket came for Elsa: the Baltic Swan programme offered women work as nurses in the UK, and Elsa landed a spot at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire.

With two children, Astrid and Dagmar, Elsa had a lot on her plate. The family’s journey to Perthshire started in a refugee camp in East Germany after the Russian tanks tightened their grip on Estonia in 1944. Astrid, who tells the story, was used to sleeping on train station floors and eating the worst food imaginable, as the world was shattered by the war around them. 

And then, a letter came.

Elsa Gilles (far right) is pictured heading for a picnic at Loch Tay with her father (left), friend Leida and children in 1947. Image source.

William Gilles, a recently ordained minister in Edinburgh, who had been Elsa’s pen pal when they were young, managed to find her again. Mutual visits to and fro Scotland and England led to a marriage proposal, in 1946. Nothing seemed to be able to harm them there. The Highlands had not been ravaged by the war

“We were in a beautiful little valley with heather covered hills on one side and what is now Loch Tummel on the other. I was deliriously happy.” Astrid said. 

But then, Bruno emerged, in 1947, unscathed. He had escaped death by performing an operation that saved the Camp Kommandant’s life. An allegation for bigamy befell the happy family in the Highlands. But of course, this was common in the life after war, and the court declared no guilty parties. Elsa had to choose a husband: she chose the minister. 

But the allegations were enough to ruin their life forever. “The parishioners of Foss were not so happy. They made their feelings clear. As an entire body they stopped attending church,” Astrid remembers being just her and her mother sitting in the pews. William actually had to relocate to Australia for a while, but he eventually came back. They lived together at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh.

Astrid is pictured sitting on the bench, surrounded by friends, at the Foss Manse in 1947. Image source.

Despite all, Foss is still remembered fondly by Astrid. “And then there was the wonderful walk back to the manse, with the singing of the larks and the beautiful flowers. Yes – it was paradise.”

Did you like the story my dear?

Let me know in the comments!

Until next time…
Written by
Lydia Kendall



Articles, Scottish Romance

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  • I love reading about romantic historical stories, fiction and non fiction. Stories set in the highlands of Scotland are my favorite, but other areas of the United Kingdom, Russia and also Australia are on my list too. I do love happy endings, but there is also sadness and loneliness when your heart is involved. Thank you for that true story during WWll.

  • It was a lovely but sad story! But I can understand that time period because I was born in 1947 and my father fought in walk. There were a lot of things that happened in that time period with religion also! My grandfather on my mother side was what then was called a holy roller visiting minister! Or Pentecostal now! They were very judgemental!!!

    • Great piece of history right there, something we weren’t aware of! Let’s hope that things can only get better for us from now on 🙂

  • Oh I liked that story. I wonder why the missing husband did mot ty to find Elsa. I would have stayed married to the Minister too. The first husband had beern gone too long with no word from him.

    • Perhaps he had no way to contact them? Or perhaps he also didn’t want to…Who knows! Let’s hope they all found their happy ending 🙂

  • A sad story. I wonder how the members of the Kirk justify being Christians whille being such judgemental hypocrits.

  • This was a lovely story indeed. The effects of war are sometimes so personal and deep. I am sure she loved her first husband deeply, but after so long and with children to care for you embrace that life moves forward. Really sorry for the “lost” husband too who was probably doing all he could to get back to her.

  • The story has a good point of view and story lines . The poor mother had to feed her children and help provide them a home . There is sadness yes but it is a true story of real life in that era. Would I have done different , for my children No . She thought her husband died and moved on . The good church members could practice a little compassion for their minister and his decisions . Thank you it is a good story line.

  • Why is it always the children that suffer for something they had no control over?
    Thank you Lydia for sharing.

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