The World War One soldier whose Bible stopped a bullet
The Bible was a key part of every British serviceman's kit during World War One – and when death came very close to them, it often took on a deep significance.
As the commemorations of the centenary of the end of the war next week draw closer, Bible Society has urged the importance of remembering how much the Bible meant to frontline troops.
Every British serviceman was issued with his uniform, helmet, boots and a Bible. To commemorate this fact, Bible Society has produced a video which will celebrate the role of the Bible in soldiers' lives during the Great War. This will be shown at churches across this country on Sunday.
One of those affected by a brush with death was George Vinall, who came under enemy fire when he was in the trenches of the Western Front. He had gone into his billet – an aviary – to rest when he saw a friend approaching and went to the door to speak to him. Shells started falling and they ran for a trench. When he returned, he found a dozen men had been wounded, two of whom later died. He sent his family his pocket Bible, which had been in the tunic he left behind, and three bullets, saying: 'As far as we could trace, four bullets came in, one being embedded in my kit where my head would have been but for the arrival of my friend. Another was on the floor where I would have been lying. The third was in the pocket of my tunic having been stopped by my Bible, as you can see, and the fourth went through Gibson's mackintosh which was hung up in the compartment next to mine, where he would have been had he not started off a few seconds before for the horse lines.
'So you see our escape was only a matter of seconds. How quickly I have had to prove the truth of what I said in my last letter, "safe in the hands" and yet such is the case that I am here without a scratch, safe and well.'
He noticed the bullet that went through his tunic had stopped at Isaiah 49:8, which says: 'I will preserve thee.' 'May his be true of future days until I see you all again is my heartfelt prayer,' he wrote.
George survived the war and became a missionary.
Between 1914 and 1918 Bible Society distributed more than 9 million copies of Scripture in over 80 languages, to members of the British Armed Forces, but also to prisoners of war on all sides.
The Bible was widely read in the trenches, and particularly when men were injured or dying. 'Soldiers, when they were very badly wounded, had a tendency to produce the New Testament from their breast pocket and read it as they died,' says Professor Michael Snape, from the Department of Theology at Durham University.
'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.'
'As we mark Remembrance Sunday this weekend, and remember the 65 million men who were mobilised across Europe, it is a moment to reflect on the importance that the Bible had in their lives, and that it still offers to us today,' said Bible Society's head of media and communication Rachel Rounds.
Bible Society has produced a video for use in churches on Remembrance Sunday.
George Vinall's letter to his family can be read here.