Keepsake from the trenches is still being treasured

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ALMOST 100 years after George Sinclair carried his Bible in the trenches around Ypres, his grandson still treasures it as a Great War keepsake.

Private George Sinclair was one of millions who turned to the Bible for hope, solace and encouragement during the Great War.

As a member of the Machine Gun Corps in 1917-18 he needed as much protection, divine or otherwise, as he could get.

Almost a century later his Bible and service medals are in the possession of the Reverend Nigel Sinclair, 49, a team rector based at Horsforth, Leeds.

As a boy of about six, Reverend Sinclair can recall playing toy soldiers with his grandfather.

He shudders at the memory.

“Goodness knows what it (playing soldiers) did to the man,” he reflects now.

“It fills me with dread to think back but he was very gracious about it.”

The Bible was passed down after his death in the 1970s.

Growing up in a Presbyterian church in Gateshead, he “would have known his Bible,” his grandson says.

“And the fact that it survived shows that it was important to him.

“He then gave it to his son who was going off to the Second World War. That suggests a symbolic view of the Bible. It’s not just about reading what’s in it, but having that tangible sense of faith and God there with you.

“I can see him there at his gun position reading it. I know he read a lot and thought deeply. He was a reflective man and his faith survived the war.”

The Bible was passed to his son, Alan - Reverend Sinclair’s uncle - who was a rear gunner in the RAF during the Second World War. Both men survived their war service.

The small book has been to Iraq and Canada but now lives a quieter life at Mr Sinclair’s home in Leeds.

His grandfather’s Great War memoirs are also a treasured possession.

“He did talk about his experiences after the war but then stopped talking altogether about it. In the 1970s my father persuaded him to write his memories down. He wrote a bit about walking but there is no mention of any actual fighting; it would have been a pretty grim experience.”

Dr Michael Snape, reader in religion, war and society at Birmingham University, said: “Soldiers were happy to have something sacred with them in the hope it might stop bullets. It also connected soldiers with their loved ones emotionally and devotionally as they may have agreed to read the same texts.

“There are poignant stories from the Battle of the Somme of bodies being recovered from shell holes of men who died with a New Testament in their hands. What else could you do if you were alone, badly wounded and going to meet your maker?”

Matthew Van Duyvenbode, from Bible Society, said: “The Bible was a huge influence on working class culture. Ninety per cent of children went to Sunday school. Around a quarter of the population were at least weekly churchgoers. From the public school to the Sunday school, from art and music to political debate, the Bible was in the blood of British people. As we mark the centenary of the start of World War One it’s important that we hear the voices from the past, their stories of suffering and faith.”