WW1: A Soldier’s Bible

Time to read: 3 mins

This week Royal Mail issued the latest in their series of stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War 1. The 2017 stamps have been issued to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Passchendaele which took place between 31st July and 6th November 1917. The Battle of Passchendaele was fought in the vicinity of the Belgian town of Ypres and has become famous both for the number of casualties – over half a million – and the mud.

The infantry attack began on 31 July. Constant shelling had churned the clay soil and smashed the drainage systems. Within a few days, the heaviest rain for 30 years had turned the soil into a quagmire, producing thick mud that clogged up rifles and immobilised tanks. It eventually became so deep that men and horses drowned in it. [1]

(Royal Mail/PA)One of the stamps issued today features a remarkable Bible (pictured). This Bible belonged to a Welsh soldier, Lemuel Thomas Rees (known as Thomas), a Private in the 6th Battalion, South Wales Borderers, who fought at Passchendaele. His was a Pioneer Battalion and they spent much of the battle digging and lemuel-thomas-rees-newspaperrepairing trenches, roads and bridges. They were continually hampered by the thick, sometimes thigh deep, mud and subject to regular bombardment from German artillery.

During one such bombardment, ‘Thomas took the brunt of the force of an exploding German shell that landed in the trench along side him. As the shrapnel, debris and mud was strewn across the area, he was hit. His life was saved by the small pocket Bible that was presented to him by the Cenarth C. M. [Calvinistic Methodist] Sunday School, which he kept in his breast pocket. He was seriously wounded and spent four months in a field hospital before being sent home on leave.’ [2]

During his time at home a reception concert was held in his honour. This concert was described in the local newspaper (pictured) – see [2] for a translation of the poem.

Whilst it is a fascinating piece of history, this account should also make us all think. Thomas Rees clearly prized his Bible, keeping it with him even when caught up in the middle of one of the most horrendous battles of the Great War – do we prize our Bibles in the same way? Thomas’s Bible saved his life that day in 1917 – how important for us all to remember that the Bible also is able ‘to make us wise unto salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15) and contains the words of the Lord Jesus which, as confessed by Peter are ‘the words of eternal life’ (John 6:68).

Returning to Thomas’s story, there is a poignant and sad post-script. A year later in 1918, Thomas was back in active service in France. Through a combination of poison gas and exposure to wet and cold, he contracted pneumonia and died on 13th November, 2 days after the guns fell silent on Armistice day. He was 23.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/battle_passchendaele.shtml

[2] http://www.yprespeacemonument.com/lemuel-thomas-rees-saved-by-a-bible/

[A00043 – 31/07/2017]


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