The year now drawing to a close marked one hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War. A conflict that I came face to face back in the summer. Not in a clipped and cared-for cemetery, embracing war graves of the fallen, but on a book-stall at a car boot sale held near Castle Combe in Wiltshire.
My attention was drawn to a little embossed and leather-bound book with the Royal Crest and words ‘Official Copy’ barely readable on its age-darkened cover.
It was a pocket-sized copy of ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ and – inside its cover and alongside ‘A Soldier’s Prayer’ – was the name ‘Private Leonard Davis, Coldstream Guards No 12410.’
In different ink beneath was written ‘Caterham, Surrey, September 7th, 1914.’ Where this soldier had joined his regiment.
Did he survive the war to end all wars? Well he was not killed in action. Nor was he sent home from the Front with an obvious war wound.
It appears Private Davis was given an honourable discharge in 1917 and a Silver War Badge – issued to all service personnel forced to retire from action through wounds or sickness. In Leonard’s case his discharge was put down on his record as ‘valvular disease-heart’.
I subsequently discovered that Leonard lived into old age and was able to send on his prayer-book to relations down in Devon.
Imagine my surprise when the Virtual Museum receives an email from an American ‘visitor’ who lives in Granger in Indiana
MaryJo Hayden tells me: ‘With reference to your article ‘A Soldier’s Story’ – I purchased an identical “Official Copy – The Book of Common Prayer” at a flea market in South Bend, Indiana, USA a few yrs ago.
It’s signed Church of England, Rev Husband, Vicar, July 1918.’
Thanks for sharing that with us MaryJo and – who knows – someone might just recognise that clergyman’s name!