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Issue: 30 April 2017
Title: How a Bible abandoned in the WW I trenches made its way back to a Quebec family
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How a Bible abandoned in the WW I trenches made its way back to a Quebec family

Bible found on Ypres battlefield in 1915 travelled back and forth across Atlantic, now links 2 families

By Leah Hendry, CBC News Posted: Apr 30, 2017 7:00 PM ET

After spying a very old Bible on a shelf in his mother's home in Texas, Andy Carr got curious about its origins.

The family keepsake had belonged to Carr's great-uncle, who picked it up on a battlefield in Ypres, Belgium in 1915.

Inside, there was a handwritten dedication to someone named Herbert V. Naylor.

The inscription was dated Aug. 18, 1914.

It read, "May God keep, protect and guide you throughout this one great struggle," signed by a woman named Hellena.

Intrigued, Carr, a retired U.S. army captain, started looking through archival material for information about Naylor. He could only find one Naylor with the middle initial V.

He believed Naylor was Herbert Vaughn Naylor ? a Canadian soldier from Noyan, Que., who had fought in World War I.

Judging from the date on the Bible, it had to have been given to the 24-year-old lance-corporal a month before he signed up to join the Canadian forces and was shipped overseas.

A Canadian Army war diary reports Naylor was killed several months later in northern France while laying wire during the night of March 9, 1915.

"He was killed two months before my great-uncle found the Bible," said Carr.

It's unclear how the Bible ended up on the Ypres battlefield, but the war diary shows Naylor's battalion moved from northern France into Belgium the month after Naylor died.

Carr's great-uncle, a French military officer named Gaston de Launay, spotted it as he crouched in a trench during an artillery bombardment.

The Bible remained in Carr's family for more than a century, but once Carr became aware of its existence, he felt obligated to track down Naylor's descendants.

"Some people go off to war and don't come back, but sometimes their keepsakes do," said Carr. "It means a lot to the family when they come home, even if the soldier doesn't."

Carr, a Gulf War veteran, doesn't like to dwell on his own war experiences, but, as he wiped tears from his eyes, it's clear he feels a kinship with Naylor.

"I haven't lost a brother, but I have lost friends in war, so I know what it's like," said Carr.

Search for descendants in Quebec

To help in his search for Naylor's descendants, Carr reached out to half a dozen major news networks in the U.S. but never heard back from them.

Knowing Naylor was from Quebec, Carr contacted CBC Montreal Investigates.

Sifting through material in the Canadian National Archives, century-old census data, obituaries and a family tree published online, we were able to find Naylor's great-nephew, Brian Derick, a retired musician who lives in Ottawa.

Carr insisted on coming in person to show Derick the Bible.

Last week, Carr and his brother Paul flew from Houston, Texas to Montreal.

The Carr brothers met Derick in Noyan, near the border crossing at Lacolle, at the historic red brick church some of Herbert Vaughn Naylor's descendants still attend.

Naylor's parents are buried in the churchyard cemetery, and the church is built on land donated by Derick's ancestors.

"You fellas are a long way from the great state of Texas," said Derick, as he strolled across the churchyard to greet the Carrs.

"This is very kind of you to come all this way with such an unusual artifact."

Andy Carr gingerly removed the small Bible from the Ziploc bag it was tucked in. He read out the inscription.

"This is just amazing," said Derick. "That it survived amidst the muck and gore and mess of a World War I trench is nothing short of remarkable."

Derick had something of his own to show Carr. He'd brought along his great-uncle's war medals, awarded to Naylor posthumously.

He also gave the Carrs a tour of the church, showing them the commemorative plaque in Naylor's honour and a photo of the soldier in his military uniform mounted on the wall.

The photo reminded them of just how young Naylor had been when he was killed.

Derick said his great-uncle's death was a terrible loss for his family. Herbert Naylor's two older brothers also served in the war but rarely spoke of their time in the trenches.

"It evoked all kinds of sad memories and feelings of loss and tragedy," said Derick, whose father was named after his Uncle Herbert.

Derick has been in touch with the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and hopes the Bible, along with Herbert V. Naylor's medals, may find a home there one day.

Extraordinary journey

The Bible has had an extraordinary journey.

It crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Canada to Europe early in the war, 103 years ago. After the war, it eventually crossed the Atlantic again, winding up in the U.S.

Carr has taken the Bible back home with him because he has relatives there who still want to see it.

After that, he'd like to take it to the cemetery in northern France where Herbert V. Naylor is buried.

He thinks it would be fitting to go on August 18, the anniversary of the date that the Bible was given to Naylor.

"There couldn't be a better date," said Carr. If possible, he'd like Derick to accompany him.

Carr also wants the Bible to end up in a military museum and hopes visitors will appreciate the sacrifice Naylor and his fellow soldiers made.

"We didn't want it to wind up in a drawer some day, and a grandkid didn't know what it was," said Carr.

"This was for Herbert and all the guys like him. This is to honour him and to bring a part of him home."