The Bible and World War One

Soldiers

Shelton Frost, a farm labourer from Lincolnshire was ‘a visionary’ according to his granddaughters Sheila Richardson (52) and Joy Robinson (58).

‘When he was a young man, he decided that the motor car was the future,’ says Sheila. ‘And so he took himself off to Manchester to take a driving course.’

The result of this was that when World War 1 broke out, 25-year-old Shelton signed up for the Army Service Corps and found himself first in Egypt and then Palestine.

A committed Christian and regular churchgoer, he took with him a small black New Testament, one of millions printed by Bible Society. Inside the front cover is his name, and the legend ‘Alexandria October 28 1916’.

The New Testament falls open at Mark 1 where Shelton would have read about the temptation of Christ.

Sheila, herself a committed Christian, believes that reading passages like this would have sustained Shelton through the war.

‘It would have been important to him to have his Bible with him,’ she says. ‘As a child he had been brought up with a Christian faith and he was a regular churchgoer and member of the parish church.

‘To have been thrown into a country on the other side of the world, with different terrain, where it’s dry and dusty and had temperatures that he’d never experienced, separated from his family, I would imagine it would have been very important to him to be reading his Bible.’

Shelton had ‘a quiet faith’ that ‘never wavered’ despite his war experiences, she says.

Because of Shelton’s love of photography, it’s possible to look back 100 years and see snapshots of his war experience.

He took with him a box Brownie, which still works today, and took hundreds of photographs that are now stored in shoeboxes.

There are shots of Shelton at sites that he’d have read about in the Bible, including Jacob’s Well, and packs of photographs bought in the early tourist trade, showing biblical sites in Jerusalem.

Pictures of lorries that have come off what passed for roads across the desert hint at the difficulties of the work that Shelton faced.

But there’s also the lighter side of camaraderie, with pictures of his colleagues in a tent, and a splendid shot of Shelton in uniform and pith helmet on a camel in front of the pyramids.

‘Everybody says that being in the Holy Land really speaks to you,’ says Sheila. ‘So for him to be in the places that he was reading about in the Bible, it must have spoken to him a great deal.’

Hazel Southam

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