Bible from WWI traced to Kiwi soldier

Last updated 05:00 16/06/2010

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A bible found in the World War I trenches has finally been traced to its original owner – a New Zealand soldier killed on the front line.

A British soldier, Herbert Hodgson, born in London in 1893, found the bible while fighting at Messines Ridge in Belgium.

Mr Hodgson, who died in 1974, refers to the 1918 find in memoirs to be published this year. He fell into a shell hole during an attack on the German lines.

"I spread my arms and my hand grasped something in the mud. It was a book. I shoved it in my pocket, got up and carried on. I don't remember much else except hearing a loud bang. A shell had landed nearby and the blast had knocked me out.

"I was picked up by a stretcher party and carried back to the line. When I came to I remembered the book. It was a bible. How long it had lain there I don't know but it was encrusted with mud. There was no name inside it but the army service number 34816 had been written across the top outer edges of the pages."

The bible remained in the possession of Herbert Hodgson's son, Bernard Hodgson, of Crawley, West Sussex, England. Ninety-two years later, using the internet and the army service number, the family traced the bible to Private Richard Cook, of the Otago Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

The son of Reuben and Mary Jane Cook, of Colac Bay, Southland, Private Cook died, aged 26, of wounds in 1917 and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery in France.

Herbert Hodgson fought with the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He survived the war and became an acclaimed printer.

Professor Geoffrey Hodgson, who is researching family history, is trying to contact Richard Cook's relatives in New Zealand. His email address is g.m.hodgson@herts.ac.uk .

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- The Dominion Post

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