The Owner of a Bible, Lost in the Trenches in the First World War, has been Traced 92 Years Later to a New Zealand Soldier
Herbert Hodgson (1893-1974) was born in London in England. He fought in France and Belgium in the First World War. He later became an acclaimed printer and he produced the rare subscribers’ edition of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
In his hitherto unpublished memoirs, Herbert Hodgson refers to an incident in 1918 when he fell into a shell hole during an attack on the German lines:
“I spread my arms and my hand grasped something in the mud. It was a book. I shoved it in my pocket, got up and carried on. I don’t remember much else except hearing a loud bang. A shell had landed nearby and the blast had knocked me out. I was picked up by a stretcher party and carried back to the line. When I came to I remembered the book. It was a Bible. How long it had lain there I don’t know but it was encrusted with mud. There was no name inside it but the army service number 34816 had been written across the top outer edges of the pages. I was sent back to a field hospital and there I told an officer about my find and asked what I should do with it. He told me that in the chaos going on it was pointless trying to find its rightful owner. ‘I’d keep it if I were you,’ he said, ‘it might bring you luck.’ It occurred to me that having come through unscathed after being blown up by a shell it might already have done just that.”
That Bible remains in the possession of Bernard Hodgson, of Crawley, West Sussex, England, who is Herbert Hodgson’s second son. Ninety-two years later, using the Web and the army service number, I have traced the original owner of the Bible as Private Richard Cook, of the Otago Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (son of Reuben and Mary Jane Cook, of Colac Bay, Southland, New Zealand) who died aged 26 of wounds on 8 October 1917 and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery in France.
The New Zealand Expeditionary Force fought heroically at Messines in Belgium from 7-14 June 1917, in one of the most successful Allied operations of the war. Richard Cook was wounded and sent to Etaples in France where there were numerous British hospitals and reinforcement camps.
In their Lys Offensive the Germans recaptured Messines on 10 April 1918. Herbert Hodgson was in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and his Battalion moved onto the Messines Ridge on 11 April. He fell into a shell hole during an attack of 12 April.
Bernard Hodgson and I would be delighted to hear from any of Richard Cook’s relatives in New Zealand. Please contact email@example.com.
Herbert Hodgson’s memoirs, Impressions of War, will be published in a limited edition later this year by Martlet Books (www.martlet-books.co.uk).