Armistice 100: Leeds soldier saved from sniper’s bullet by bible

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Dateline: October 16: 1918: We have all heard stories or seen films in which a sniper’s bullet is stopped by a book fortuitously placed about the would-be victim’s person but here is a real version of that story.

It is recounted in the pages of the Yorkshire Evening Post 100 years ago and it tells the tale of Private Gordon Stowell, the younger son of the Rev A K Stowell, of Newton Park Union Church, Leeds. He was serving with the City of London Regiment when he came under fire but fate, it seems, was smiling upon him.

The story runs: “Some three weeks ago he was in the attacking party, crawling on hands and knees through a wood, when he felt a terrific blow on the back. Later investigations showed that a bullet had struck a New Testament which he was carrying in the haversack on his back and it was clear that but for the volume, with its leather binding, the bullet would have found its billet in his spine, inflicting a mortal wound.”

Moreover, when his father examined the book, he discovered the bullet had pushed three quarters of the way through the book, stopping at St Mark xiv, 35.

The verse reads: “And he went forward a little and fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass from him.”

Private Stowell did not escape from the incident unscathed. He was hit in the leg by a second bullet, which followed the first. He was recovering in hospital when the discovery of his bible was made.

His father was so impressed by the apt illustration of the words that he took the verse for the text of his sermon the following Sunday.