Philip J. Davies almost never spoke about the war.
The outbreak of conflict in 1914 was welcomed in Australia, and the soldiers departed confidently, not knowing how many would never return. Those who did return wanted nothing more than to close that horrific chapter of their lives, and Philip was no exception.
But, when Philip was cleaning out a room and his teenage son Richard asked about a New Testament he had found amid the clutter, wrapped with a red string, the story poured out. Although he heard it only once, Richard would never forget it.
Philip recounted how he – ‘Lance Corporal Davies’ – was elected to lead five soldiers from the 39th Battalion in digging and laying telephone cables at Messines Ridge in Belgium, near the German border.
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Late that night, on the eve of his 21st birthday, two large shells exploded nearby, killing one soldier and injuring three, including Philip, who was struck by shrapnel on the back of his legs and arms. When help arrived, Philip was transported to London for surgery on his leg wounds.
The next morning, he found in his top-left pocket the ‘Soldier’s Bible’ New Testament given to him by the Bible Society of Australia, still intact, with a piece of shrapnel embedded in it. The surgeons near the bed told Philip that without the book’s stiff back cover, the shrapnel would have pierced his heart. Instead, it was buried in the pages of the New Testament, stopping at Ephesians 6:16: “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” (KJV)
After months of recovery and treatment, Lance Corporal Davies returned to Australia. He married his sweetheart, Victoria Turpie, who gave birth to their first son, Richard, in 1922 and his brother Raymond the following year.
“If not for this little book, I wouldn’t be here.”
Before he died in 1972, Philip told Richard to treasure the Bible, to hold on to it until his own death, and then to return it with gratitude to the Bible Society. On 14 September 2023, Philip’s wish was granted as Max White, co-executor of Richard’s will, presented the New Testament back to the Bible Society of Australia on his late friend’s behalf. Richard Davies lived to the age of 100 years and 19 days.
“Philip was very much aware of the fact that the Bible had saved his life and enabled him to come back home, marry his sweetheart and have two sons,” Max told Eternity.
“Returning it was so important to Richard that it was the first bequest in his will,” Max continued, adding that Philip’s granddaughter Marion* told him at the presentation, ‘If not for this little book, I wouldn’t be here.’ Generations later, the family remains gratefully aware that the New Testament that saved Philip’s life also enabled theirs.
Men of faith
Max never met Philip, although they lived on the same street in the latter years of Philip’s life. At the end of the street was the local Church of Christ, which Max and Richard attended together for decades.
Richard was a regular, serving in different seasons as a church secretary, a deacon and a prayer convener. Max describes him as “an avid reader of the Bible” with “a very strong faith”. Richard loved the 23rd Psalm, and his favourite hymn was What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
In his 90s, Richard embarked enthusiastically on a three-state tour with Bible Society, chaperoned by Max, to tell his story and display the Bible to illustrate the theme ‘Their Sacrifice’, commemorating the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign.
Max sees the recent presentation as a way to grant Philip and Richard’s wish and to honour God by continuing to share this story of deliverance and fruitfulness. He describes the impact of the story on many unbelievers who knew Richard.
Occupying a pastoral care role at the church, Max cared for Richard and his family in his latter years. It was he who helped Richard first write and edit the story. He explains that, as a man of faith, he sees his role as co-executor of Richard’s will “not just as a job, but as a ministry to the family and a mission to other people.”
Max says that, for Christians and unbelievers alike, the story is “like a ripple that comes when you throw a stone into a pond, that just goes out and out, and you never know where it’s going to splash upon the shore.”
For more on Philip J. Davies and many remarkable stories of faith in conflict, including another bullet-bearing Bible, check out Their Sacrifice: The Brave and Their Bibles, presented by Bible Society Australia.
*Marion is the daughter of Raymond Davies, not Richard.