The Bible and World War One


The Gallipoli campaign that began in April 1915 is often remembered as a sideshow to the fighting in France and Belgium. But tens of thousands of British, ANZAC and other Allied soldiers and sailors fought and died there in an attempt to open a sea route through to Constantinople via the adjacent strait of water known as the Dardanelles.

Located at the junction of Europe and Asia, the Gallipoli peninsula became the focus of intense and prolonged fighting over many months, with the Turks, supported by their German allies, feeding tens of thousands of troops into the peninsula to contain the Allied landings.

Ultimately, British and Allied attempts to seize the Gallipoli peninsula proved unsuccessful. Between the Allied landings of April 1915, and the Allied evacuation of January 1916, more than 50,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, French and Indian servicemen perished.

Turkish losses are hard to estimate, but are thought to have been much higher - perhaps by almost twice as much.

Regardless of their nationalities, the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli had to endure not only ferocious fighting, but intense heat, extreme thirst, bitter cold, and very high levels of disease such as dysentery and malaria.

Very few of the troops from the British Empire were seasoned or professional soldiers, the great majority wartime volunteers or members of the pre-war Territorial Force. Still, the men from Britain, Australia and New Zealand were products of societies in which knowledge of the Bible was widespread, and Bible-reading a common practice, and so the Bible naturally proved to be a major source of support for them throughout their ordeal.

Every British soldier was issued with a New Testament by the War Office, but many preferred to carry more personal copies of scripture given to them by their home churches, or by their Army chaplains.

Before setting off for the Dardanelles in March 1915, Oswin Creighton, an Army chaplain and the son of a former Bishop of London, made sure to order plenty of Testaments from the Scripture Gift Mission, and sailed from England ‘properly supplied’ with religious literature of all sorts that he knew would be needed in the coming weeks.

During the Gallipoli campaign, one wounded soldier showed William Ewing, a Scottish Presbyterian chaplain, a New Testament he had given him some months earlier. As Ewing remembered, ‘He had carried it in his pocket constantly’ and it proved its worth in more than one respect.

After he was wounded, and as Ewing testified, the soldier found that ‘A Turkish bullet had ploughed its way right through the book, but did not quite reach his side. He showed me the bullet, and where it had lodged harmlessly inside his belt. He felt, he said, as if he had been struck by a sledge-hammer; he was, however, only “winded” for the moment. There is no doubt that the Testament saved his life.’

Read more about a soldier whose life was saved by his Bible at Gallipoli

Read more about a chaplain who died at Gallipoli

Read more about the young man blinded at Gallipoli

By Michael Snape

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