My Grandfather’s Bible
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (II Timothy 4: 6-8)
Wilfred Bernard Hood – born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England on 30 Nov 1894, died on 15 May 1989 in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. He served in WWI with the 13th Battalion of the Royal Highlanders of Canada. When he enlisted – having lied about his age – he was given, as were all men who enlisted, a copy of The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To the best of my knowledge, from the day of his enlistment to his death, he carried that same little Bible with him in his breast pocket always.
The only material thing that I inherited from my Grandfather is this Bible. It has a stained cheap kaki cloth cover, is worn and discoloured, has thin thin pages, and measures 3 ½” x 4 ½” by ½” – a bit wider and shorter than my smart phone. It is stained through by the sweat of my Grandfather, a hard-working carpenter and house builder. It is impossible to imagine a humbler book, and yet, its words carried my Grandfather throughout his life and into the next giving him solace, peace, contentment, and happiness. In my lifetime I know with certainty that my Grandfather read the Bible every day. And I suspect that indeed, he read the Bible every day of his adult life.
Inside, written with an ink-nib pen, it is inscribed:
“Wilfred Hood With all best wishes from his friend, M. ???esley “Fear Not, for I am with thee”
This friend is the same young man who died in my Grandfather’s arms in a battle at Regina Trench during the Battle of the Somme, in France. His last words were: “Save yourself Hoodie”.
My Grandfather was captured by the Germans soon after, and spent the remainder of the day serving as a stretcher-bearer for the Germans before being sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. When the German’s captured my Grandfather, he had in his hand a grenade, and was on the cusp of pulling the pin and killing both himself and his captors. He didn’t, thanks be to God. And I am here. The small space between life and death is a precarious one.
My Grandfather was forced, as prisoner labour, to work on German rail cars. He surreptitiously made a compass by magnetizing a needle by rubbing it, and escaped using the compass to head north. He was re-captured. He escaped later a second time and was again imprisoned, but put in solitary confinement for punishment.
And that is all I know. My Grandfather talked little of his wartime experiences, and it is only my keen young ears that eked out even this small bit of information from my many conversations with him. There was never any sense that his being in the war was at all glorious or even right. He joined up for the same reasons that I suppose most young men joined up, as a matter of the course of convention. While I only knew my Grandfather when he was already aged, my impression has always been that his belief in Jesus Christ was inspired at Regina Trench. Indeed, apart from the handwritten inscription on his (now my) Bible’s flyleaf, it has preserved between the covers a clipping taken from the Brockville, Ontario, newspaper consisting of his photo – dashing and young sporting his Highlander uniform’s cap – saying simply that he served and was a prisoner of war.
Two other things are notable about my Grandfather’s Bible. One is that as I read its pages, I come across passages that have been marked or underlined by my Grandfather – not always carefully – in either pencil or pen. I read these passages with great attentiveness. For this is a window into the great faith in Jesus of my Grandfather. I imagine that some of the marks were made while he was in solitary confinement. It makes me smile to think that while the Germans intended to punish him, I can well-imagine my Grandfather happy and content because he had this small Bible to study and to remind him of his faith. I knew my Grandfather in many contexts, including his year of teaching me in his Sunday school class for the senior boys. I also knew my Grandfather as a stubborn man who knew his own mind, and who was independent of the normal pressures of the world. It is, perhaps from him, I have inherited my own indifference to materialism. On no occasion do I remember him being angry or emotionally distraught. I expect that he infuriated others around him – notably my Grandmother who had more worldly aspirations – but I recognize that the wellspring of his life was found in this humble little New Testament that is now mine.
The second notable thing about my Grandfather’s Bible is where the thin cloth bookmark that is part of this little Book’s binding was last left. After my Grandfather’s death when I was eventually given his Bible, the bookmark was at II Timothy. I expect that inspiration my Grandfather had before he lay asleep for his last time was the passage I quote above. I have no doubt that my Grandfather left his earthy bounds with joy and faith. I felt, and feel, no sadness at all for his death for I know he has everlasting life through his faith in Jesus Christ.