The Bible and World War One


Alfred Algar was a member of the Suffolk Regiment when war broke out. He was among the first to be sent to war, on 5 August 1914, the day after hostilities were announced.

Just three weeks later (on 28 August) the Germans captured him. He was held for more than four years, making him one of the longest-held prisoners of war to survive World War 1.

There were ‘terrible privations’ in the prison camp in Dobertiz, says his granddaughter, Barbara Burns (70).

In 1915, a postcard of a group of the prisoners, including Alfred, smartly dressed and looking well-fed, was produced. It was sent to family members, including Alfred’s brother, Robert, for his birthday.

But this early PR-stunt belied the facts, says Barbara. ‘He wouldn’t talk about it after the war,’ she recalls. ‘He was very badly beaten. He still had the scars on his back when I was a child.

‘He saw horrific things happen to other prisoners. They crucified people,’ she says.

Barbara remembers her grandfather – who went on to test drive tanks at Woolwich Barracks – as ‘a broken down little old man’.

‘His health was very badly affected by the war,’ she says of the man who spent nearly six months recuperating after the Armistice. He returned home in May 1919, nearly five years after going to war and being captured.

During all this time Alfred carried his New Testament with him.  Poignantly, it falls open at Matthew 24:6, which reads, ‘And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.’

‘His New Testament is my most-treasured possession,’ says Barbara. I like to think he had it with him in that prison camp and that he did actually read it.

‘I think it must have brought him comfort. I hang onto that hope.

‘I didn’t know him as a child,’ she adds, ‘but I’ve really got to know him through his possessions, including his Bible.’

Five years ago Barbara visited Le Cateau in France, where Alfred fought before he was captured. It was ‘very emotional’ she says.

‘I realized that he had suffered so much to give me freedom.’

Hazel Southam

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