A PRAYER book that helped to save a young soldier’s life when he was bayoneted during fighting on the Western Front has been donated to his regiment’s archives.
Corporal Tommy Crawford was part of an assault on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on 1 July 1916, when he was confronted by a German soldier, who lunged at him with his bayonet. Crawford tried to shoot him, but his rifle jammed, and the blade struck him in the chest. Fortunately for him, what could have been a fatal blow was deflected by the prayer book and a silver cigarette case in his tunic pocket. Although wounded, Crawford was not killed.
Now his son Brian Crawford, who lives in Thailand, has returned to his native Co. Durham to present the book — bearing the mark made by the bayonet — and other mementos of his father’s war service with the 15th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry to his old unit.
Mr Crawford said: “He was just 18 years old when he joined the army, and, during his time in service, he fought in battles at Loos and the Somme. The bayonet entered his cigarette box, and then went half way through the prayer book. My father’s friend shot the German dead.”
In the confusion, the book was lost, but it was later recovered and returned to his sweetheart, Amy Boast. “It’s amazing to think there are over 70,000 names of the missing on the Thiepval Memorial,” Mr Crawford said, “but this little prayer book found its way home. We have a duty towards these men: to honour those who served, to remember those who died, and to ensure that the lessons learned live with us for ever.”
The book had been presented to Crawford by the Revd Fred Philps, the Vicar at his church of St Andrew’s, Stanley, shortly before he left for France in 1915. After being invalided out of the army, he married Miss Boast, but she died not long after. Later, he married Brian Crawford’s mother, and died in 1980, aged 84.
He set down his memories of the trenches while working in a power station, and Mr Crawford has published them to raise funds for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They include a poem written on the Somme in 1916, “The Stretcher Bearer”, in which the young soldier questions his faith amid the carnage, concluding:
Look, like a ball of blood the sun
Hangs o’er the scene of wrath and wrong,
“Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!”,
Oh Prince of Peace! How long, how long?