On display at Norwich Castle Museum, these gospels were carried by Private JP Benstead during the First World War, designed to instil confidence and peace into the soldiers who no doubt needed some considerable reassurance. There were nine million Bibles distributed to British troops throughout the war years and the National Army Museum has the full text of one.
The Gospel of Saint Mark has the following message from Field Marshal Roberts inside it, dated 25 August 1914:
“I ask you to put your trust in God. He will watch over you and strengthen you. You will find in this little book, guidance when you are in sickness, and strength when you are in adversity.”
On 14 November 1914, the elderly Roberts was dead, dying of pneumonia in France when visiting Indian troops fighting in the war. The religious texts were evidently important to soldiers though, it’s mentioned by the Bible Society that Professor Michael Snape from the Department of Theology at Durham University said:
‘This is a phenomenon that was recorded when soldiers who were killed on 1 July 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme – were recovered and buried, many of them were found dead with the Bible, or New Testament in their hands.”
Much as reassurance must have been a real comfort, I wonder how many young servicemen pondered how on earth God had let them get into this situation and what exactly He was doing to protect them. Anyway, I don’t digress to much, I just rather liked the exhibit as it would have been a hugely important thing for a serviceman to take into war and that it has survived is likely a testament (no pun intended) to that.