Thanks to the efforts of Crown Court Church, a First World War Canadian soldier’s bible has been returned to his family 94 years after the soldier died.
On Christmas Day last year, while collecting the Communion vessels from the safe, our Session Clerk Alan Imrie came across this small bible with its unusual coat of arms on the front. Inside was the inscriptionPte S J Small 26 Batt CEF New Brun Canada Reg No 69879
Who was this man, and why was his bible left in Crown Court Church?
Together, Alan and Sheena Tait (who works as a genealogist) started to investigate.
They quickly discovered that Private S J Small was Samuel John Small who had enlisted with the 26th New Brunswick Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 25 November 1914 in Saint John, New Brunswick. He died on 28 September 1916 during the battle for Thiepval Ridge, part of the infamous Battle of the Somme, and is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, the memorial to all Canadian soldiers who served during World War I.
This information was enough for them to find out that Samuel Small was a carpenter who had been born in Walsall, Staffordshire, towards the end of 1877. Samuel’s father, another Samuel, died early in 1906 and a few months later in June Samuel and his widowed mother, Betsey, sailed from Liverpool to start a new life in Canada.
Just two weeks before this a Stirlingshire girl, Catherine Hardie McDonald, had sailed from Glasgow with her brothers, sisters and parents who intended to buy a farm in Canada.
Samuel and Catherine were married in Saint John, New Brunswick on 22 October 1910 and settled in the parish of Chipman where Samuel had been living and working as a music teacher.
Samuel and Catherine had three children: Annie McDonald Small, born in 1911; William Samuel John Small, born in 1913 and Alexander Stanley Small, born in 1914 less than two weeks before Samuel enlisted in the Canadian Army.
Samuel spent seven months training and then, together with 35 officers and 995 other men from the 26th Battalion, sailed from Saint John aboard the SS Caledonia in June 1915. They landed at Portsmouth and travelled to Shorncliffe, near Folkestone, where the Battalion underwent further training until it was transferred to France in October 1915.
At some point during these four months, Samuel must have visited Crown Court Church. We’ve no way of knowing whether he simply tagged along with some of his comrades on a visit to London, or if Crown Court was a deliberate choice because of his wife’s Scottish origins.
Alan and Sheena managed to find out that all three of Samuel’s children had married and that William had died in 1975 and Alexander in 1995. There the trail ran out. They assumed that Annie had also died, but the only way to find out if Samuel had had any grandchildren or other descendants to whom the bible could be returned was to enlist some help in Canada.
At this point, Alan went on holiday to France. On the way home, he visited the Somme battlefield and the Vimy Memorial where Private Small is commemorated. There Alan met a man who worked for the Canadian Veterans’ Association to whom he told this story. This man actually came from New Brunswick and advised Alan to contact the Telegraph-Journal of Saint John, New Brunswick.
Andrew McGilligan, editor of the Telegraph-Journal was very interested and printed an article about Private Small on 13 October. The same day, he received a series of calls from Samuel’s grandchildren and was also told that Samuel’s eldest daughter, Annie, was still living. The church also received a faxed letter from Samuel’s granddaughter together with a photograph of Samuel.
Just five days later, Samuel’s 99-year-old daughter Annie had been contacted and told about her father’s bible.
The local radio station, CBC New Brunswick Radio, also picked up the story and interviewed Alan which generated further interest.
Samuel’s bible was carefully packed up and Fedexed to New Brunswick where, on 23 October 2010, Annie was finally able to hold her father’s bible – exactly 47 years to the day after Samuel’s wife, Catherine, had died.