WW1 Soldier’s Bible Reunited

One of South Dublin Libraries’ Decade of Centenaries projects was the creation of a website using as its source an early 20th Century magazine called Irish Life. During WWI, it published pages of photos and information on Irishmen in the British Army who were either killed in action or were decorated for bravery. A hundred years later we made it available online as a free database called Our Heroes.

It has been in existence since 2014, and in the database there is an online enquiry form which attracts enquiries, both locally and as far afield as the USA and Australia. Many people search for a relative’s name and up comes our information and a photograph which in some cases they never knew existed.

An unusual query popped into our inbox on the 12th of July. A woman named Janet from Manchester had picked up a small New Testament in a local flea market ten years ago.  It was inscribed:

With every good wish

From Mrs. W Montgomery Coates

Sheringham 1916

John 3-16





Janet searched the internet with the name on the inner leaf of the book, and her search results returned our site which lists a soldier named Basil Montgomery Coates who was killed in 1915. He was the son of a Mr. W Montgomery Coates MA – a double medallist graduate (mathematics and experimental physics) of Trinity College Dublin. The soldier’s mother, Mrs. W. Montgomery Coates was from Sheringham in Norfolk.

This confirmed that the bible had been inscribed by the mother of the deceased soldier – a year after he was killed. Poignantly, the Bible verse referred to in the inscription is “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”



Further research revealed that Basil Montgomery Coates was killed while on patrol by a German sniper on the 7th of September 1915. Attempts by his comrades to locate his body failed due to enemy gunfire. It appears that his body was retrieved by the Germans and buried, but subsequently lost. Consequently he has no known grave.

We were asked by Janet if we would be interested in acquiring the book, or if we knew how to go about finding any descendents. She made the point that she found it incredibly sad when items such as these get discarded.

We agreed, so a quick search on Ancestry’s website revealed the existence of a hidden photograph of Basil Montgomery Coates on a family tree. A message was swiftly dispatched to the owner of the tree (coincidentally named Janet), who confirmed she was indeed a distant cousin of Basil Montgomery Coates and was living in the USA in Michigan.

So, in September 2017, “USA Janet” will be visiting the UK, and “UK Janet” will reunite the hundred year old New Testament with the family of Basil Montgomery Coates.

“UK Janet” told us “This makes me so happy to think after all this time ‘The Little Book’ will be back with a Family Member.”

Well, we in Local Studies are delighted that we played such an important part in making it happen.



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