Families of soldiers to meet in France

The descendants of two World War 1 soldiers united by a mud-spattered Bible will meet for the first time later this year.

Private Richard Cook, of Colac Bay, in Southland, lost the Bible in 1917 near Messines, in Belgium, while serving in the Otago Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

It was picked up the following year by British soldier Herbert Hodgson when he fell into a shell hole, and was taken back to England when he returned home.

Earlier this year, his son, Bernard Hodgson, used the army serial number inscribed across the top of the book's pages to identify the original owner and made contact with Pte Cook's family after asking for information in the Otago Daily Times and other newspapers.

Pte Cook died on October 8, 1917, of battle wounds and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery in France. Descendants of both families would meet at his graveside on October 9 this year, the 93rd anniversary of his death, Herbert Hodgson's grandson, Prof Geoffrey Hodgson, said.

A short commemorative ceremony would be held "to honour the lives of two great soldiers", he said.

The family had decided to donate the Bible to the New Zealand National Army Museum in Waiouru where it would be accessible to Pte Cook's family and other New Zealanders, and a hand-over ceremony was planned for March next year, Prof Hodgson said.

His research has revealed that before they were linked by the loss and discovery of the Bible, Richard Cook and Herbert Hodgson served within a few kilometres of each other during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, and around the town of Albert, in France, in October 1916.

After his return to England, Herbert Hodgson became a well-known printer of fine books. He died in 1974. His memoirs, Impressions of War, have just been published by Martlet Books in the United Kingdom.

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