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Bloodstained Bible evokes the thunder of 100-year-old guns

DONATION: Coffs Harbour’s Norma McConnell plans to donate the bible given to her uncle James Gordon Edwards in Dorrigo in 1915 to the Australian War Memorial. TREVOR VEALE
DONATION: Coffs Harbour’s Norma McConnell plans to donate the bible given to her uncle James Gordon Edwards in Dorrigo in 1915 to the Australian War Memorial. TREVOR VEALE

WHEN Norma McConnell opens her uncle's tiny leather-bound bible, it is not the flimsy pages you notice, but the shocking stains.

It is Private James Gordon Edwards' heart's blood that obscures the words of the New Testament.

The machine gunner was fatally wounded on April 1, 1918 while storming the German trenches at Villers-Bretonneux.

Shot through the chest by a German rifle, he nevertheless managed to salute his commanding officer and tell him "I'm shot, sir,' as he stumbled away from his Lewis machine gun in the heat of the battle.

The bloodstained bible James Gordon Edwards carried through the war until his death on May 1, 1918.
The bloodstained bible James Gordon Edwards carried through the war until his death on May 1, 1918.

 

The officer was astounded to learn later that Edwards had managed to make his way to the dressing station without help, in spite of his terrible wound.

He died in hospital a month later, on May 1, 1918, aged just 21.

He is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery in France's Pas de Calais and his name is included on the Dorrigo cenotaph, the Dorrigo District Scroll and the Dorrigo Methodist honour scroll.

He was described in a soldiers' memorial book as "a fine soldier" and after his death his mates all sent messages of sympathy to his parents James and Rebecca Edwards on the family dairy farm at Dorrigo, Cedar Vale.

Private Gordon Edwards had received special praise for his work at Bullecourt.

He was later forced to leave the trenches, due to an attack of shell shock, but returned to the firing line a few weeks later to go into action at Ypres.

C. James Gordon Edwards was just 21 when he died on the Western Front in France while attacking the German trenches at Villers-Bretonneux. CONTRIBUTED
C. James Gordon Edwards was just 21 when he died on the Western Front in France while attacking the German trenches at Villers-Bretonneux. CONTRIBUTED

 

The little bible he carried into the front line, the Workers Testament, was given to him by Methodist friends at Dorrigo in 1915 after he had enlisted with his mates, a group described in the Dorrigo newspaper as "all young and vigorous - some mere youths".

The volunteers were "cheered to the echo" all along the route to Armidale and "the fatted turkey was decapitated against their coming" at Ebor, but the mood had changed by 1918 as the deaths piled up.

"It touched me greatly," Ms McConnell said of reading the inscriptions penned 100 years ago after inheriting the book from her mother.

"Those poor young fellows had no idea what they were getting into.

"My mother was the third youngest of 13 children and Gordon was the second eldest, so she was only little when he went off to war."

"I have no idea how she ended up with his book."

Mrs McConnell now plans to donate the book to the Australian War Memorial.

The names of 62,000 Australian soldiers killed during WWI will be projected on to the facade of the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial during the Centenary of Gallipoli period, from sunset to sunrise.

Each name will be projected for 30 seconds.

Topics:  anzac-centenary, editors picks



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