You normally expect a special delivery to be quick, rather than take 70 years, but when Paddy Douglas received his late father’s bible it was a moment he’d treasure forever. The story of its return is one of love, prisoners of war, and escape, helped along by a letter to The Royal British Legion.
Paddy’s father, Albert, was Serving in the Royal Army Service Corps in 1941 when he was captured by Rommel’s Afrika Korps. He would be a prisoner for the next two years, transferred from Egypt to Italy and ending up in Camp 59 at Servigliano. During this time he was comforted by the pocket bible he was carrying when it was captured. Its comfort wasn’t just from his Christian faith: for it also held a treasured picture of him with his wife Ellen, who he’d married in 1939.
But when the opportunity to escape came, Albert was forced to leave the bible, and the picture, behind. Luckily he was to write an inscription before he left.
“If anyone should ever find this book will they please return to L/CPL Douglas, Belfast, Ireland, as it means more than all the world to me and is of great sentimental value.”
Whilst Albert made his way to Switzerland, arriving in Zermatt on his wedding anniversary, the bible was kept safe by a fellow prisoner, Sapper George Alan Boanas. After George was freed from the Stalag Luft IV camp in 1945 he tried to get in touch with Albert but found that the address he had was for a house that had been demolished.
George always wanted to return the bible but didn’t make any headway until his daughter contacted a certain Rowland Clarke, who used his connection to the Legion to find Douglas’s service records.
They sent a letter in which we ran in our monthly magazine, and this was picked up by a newspaper in Northern Ireland. Mr Douglas’s son, Paddy, was sent a clipping of the article and they arranged to meet.
Finally, after 70 years, the bible was returned, fulfilling the wishes of the two soldiers who met during the Second World War.