The Bible and World War One


Aged just 15 Edgar Ellis ran away to sea. His son, Major John Ellis (77) recalls, ‘He went down to the naval recruiting office and saw a sign saying that you had to be over 18.

‘So he told the Petty Officer that he was 17. The man said, “Come back when you’re 18.”

‘So he went to the back of the queue, came back and the same Petty Officer said, “How old are you now son?” He said he was 18 and he was in.’

Edgar spent his war as a signaler patrolling the North Sea on the battleship HMS Ajax. Here he helped to intercept and detain thousands of merchant ships thought to be carrying cargo bound for enemy shores.

He was still only 15-years-old when he took part in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War 1.

‘A piece of shrapnel from a German shell lodged in his forehead,’ John says. ‘He really thought he was dead because his scalp came down over his eyes and there was blood everywhere.

‘The officer of signals came over and pushed the skin back and wrapped the bandana that he wore round his head and said, “You’ll be alright. Stay on your post.” And he did, but he had terrible headaches for the rest of his life!’

Edgar spent the rest of the war at Scapa Flow and, when he was off duty, helped to scrape ice from the ship to prevent it from capsizing.

‘He grew up incredibly fast on that ship. I think that the Bible that his grandmother had given him got him through the war. He would have relied on it, I’m sure of that.’

Edgar’s New Testament falls open at Psalm 23: the Lord is my shepherd. ‘His faith meant a tremendous amount to him,’ says John. ‘He was strong-willed and dutiful, but it was his faith that pulled him through. He had great faith that all would be well.’

Leading Signalman Ellis survived the war and went on to fight in WW2, recording his Christmases spent away from home in the same tiny New Testament.

Both his son and grandson subsequently used the same New Testament when they were in the Forces.

‘When I read it today I feel my father’s presence,’ says John. ‘Reading it reinforced my faith and I’m sure it did his too.’

Hazel Southam

Read more stories

Soldier’s life saved at the Somme by his Bible

Soldier’s life saved at the Somme by his Bible

The life of 21-year-old British soldier, Pte Frank Viner, was saved at the Somme by his Bible.

Bible ‘major support’ during Gallipoli campaign

Bible ‘major support’ during Gallipoli campaign

The Gallipoli campaign that began in April 1915 is often remembered as a sideshow to the fighting in France and Belgium.

The man who saved others’ lives at Passchendaele

The man who saved others’ lives at Passchendaele

Cricket-loving Ronald Marchant was the youngest of four brothers from the village of Weald in Kent to sign up at the start of World War One. Herbert, Robert, Reuben and Ronald all left their family home and headed for the Western Front. Ronald, who’d left school at 14, was just 19 years old.

Read more about






Bible Society

Poetry and poets

Conscientious objectors

Bringing the Bible to life

Bible Society, Stonehill Green, Westlea, Swindon, SN5 7DG. Registered charity 232759

Read the Bible icon Read Bible
Open full Bible