Bible coming home after 93 years

The bible belonging to Private Richard Cook of Colac Bay (inset).
The bible belonging to Private Richard Cook of Colac Bay (inset).

From Southland to the trenches of the Western Front, it's a story of biblical proportions ... literally.

In October, relatives of a Southland soldier who lost a Bible near Messines, Belgium, in June 1917 and of the British soldier who found it in a World War I trench will meet.

Colac Bay man Richard Cook was never reunited with the Bible. The 26-year-old died four months later on October 8, 1917, of wounds received near Passchendaele.

Six months after his death, and 10 months after it was lost, the Bible was found by then-25-year-old British soldier Herbert Hodgson.

On the 93rd anniversary of Private Cook's death, descendants of both men will meet at his gravesite in Etaples Military Cemetery, in France.

Meanwhile, the Bible will return to the country its original owner never saw again and will be donated to the New Zealand National Army Museum.

Private Cook's nephew, Paraparaumu man Jim Matheson, who grew up in Southland, said he and his wife had been invited to France, but did not plan to go.

Mr Matheson said his uncle was unmarried and had no children. While he understood other relatives had been traced and did plan to go, he did not know them.

He would go to the official handover of the Bible, planned for March, he said.

Meanwhile, he was looking forward to reading the newly published memoirs of the man who found the Bible after a copy was sent to him, he said.

Mr Hodgson's book, Impressions of War, includes the story of the Bible.

An excerpt from publisher Martlet Books' website reads:

"I went over the top. As with my first experience I fell after the first few yards, this time stumbling in a shell hole. I spread my arms and my hand grasped something in the mud. It was a book. I shoved it in my pocket ..."

Knocked out, when he came to he still had 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 edges of the pages ..."

The Bible remained in Herbert Hodgson's family following his death in 1974.

However, who it belonged to remained a mystery until June, when Mr Hodgson's son Bernard Hodgson, of West Sussex, did a web search.

The search revealed the number belonged to Private Richard Llewellyn Cook, of the 14th Company, 3rd Battalion of the Otago Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, that he was the son of Reuben and Mary Jane Cook and he was from Colac Bay.

Do you know family of Private Richard Cook? If so, please contact The Southland Times at  or phone (03) 211 1111

The Southland Times