Soldiers

When Pte Curtis Welsby’s friend Jamie died in Afghanistan just weeks before their battalion was to return to the UK, the 20-year-old from Manchester turned to the Bible.

Pte Welsby, from the 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, carried an Armed Services Testament from 1916 in his body armour. After his friend’s death he found himself reading Revelation 21.4.

It reads, ‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’

‘I was upset, I was angry and every emotion I could go through,’ Pte Welsby recalls of the tragedy which happened in March 2013.

‘We all had our body armour on. I noticed the Bible popping out a little bit from my pocket. I went to put it back and then I thought, “No, I’m going to read it. I need something to make me feel good right now”.’

Randomly, he found himself at Revelation. ‘I read it over and over again,’ he recalls. ‘And I thought, there’s nothing for Jamie to worry about now.

‘It was exactly what I needed to read, because what happened was so totally devastating and unexpected.’

Pte Welsby’s little New Testament has seen five conflicts. It first belonged to his great-great grandfather, Jay Greenwood, a teenager who fought in WW1 having lied about his age to join the army.

It was passed on to Pte Welsby’s great-grandfather who took it with him to the battlefields of WW2.

It then travelled to Korea with Pte Welsby’s grandfather and spent time in Northern Ireland with his uncle.

Its thin pages are worn with use and it readily falls open both at Acts and John. But it’s Revelation that spoke to Pte Welsby on his tour of Afghanistan in 2012-13.

‘Arriving in Afghanistan was scary,’ he recalls. ‘When you leave Camp Bastion you realise that it’s really real. It’s you and your friends now.

‘I kept my Bible with me in my pocket all the time and it calmed me down. I thought that God would be looking down over me. I had a sense of him being with me.

‘I would pull it out and read it when we went on patrol and I had a tingling feeling go through my body every time. Anything could happen. Nobody had a clue what would happen. But, when I picked up my Bible, I felt that nothing would happen to us. We got into firefights, but we always got out of them.

‘When we were out on patrols and we would stop and I would pull it out and the stories in there make you feel happy. I could read it all day.

‘The local kids used to ask me for it. But I always said “no”. It’s been in my family for so long. It’ll be passed on to my nephew. He’s only seven, but he already wants to be in the army.’

All five generations of Pte Welsby’s family have served in the infantry, so it is perhaps surprising that both the Bible and men survived.

‘It means a lot to me,’ he says. ‘All of my family have read it. I wish I could know what they read.

‘But me and my granddad were very close and we both liked exactly the same things. I reckon he had a hand in saying, “Stop at that page”. I reckon somehow he guided me to reading Revelation.’

Hazel Southam

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