THE NANTWICH family of a First World War sailor who served at Jutland have revealed his legacy and how the young man turned to his general issue bible for solace on the high seas.

Edgar Ellis was one of millions who turned to the good book for hope, solace and encouragement during the Great War.

His son, Major John Ellis, 77, from Nantwich, recalls the story of how, aged just 15, his father ran away to sign up.

“He went down to the naval recruiting office and saw a sign saying that you had to be over 18.

“He told the Petty Officer that he was 17. The man said, ‘Come back when you’re 18’.

“So he went to the back of the queue, came back and the same Petty Officer said: ‘How old are you now son?’ He said he was 18 and he was in.”

Edgar spent the war as a signaler patrolling the North Sea on the battleship HMS Ajax.

At 15-years-old Edgar took part in the Battle of Jutland and received a shrapnel wound to his forehead.

“He really thought he was dead because his scalp came down over his eyes and there was blood everywhere.

“The officer of signals came over and pushed the skin back and wrapped the bandana that he wore round his head and said, ‘You’ll be alright. Stay on your post.’ “And he did, but he had terrible headaches for the rest of his life.”

Edgar spent the rest of the war at Scapa Flow in Orkney and when he was off duty he helped to scrape ice from the ship to prevent it from capsizing.

“He grew up incredibly fast on that ship. I think that the Bible that his grandmother had given him got him through the war. He would have relied on it, I’m sure of that.”

Leading Signalman Ellis survived went on to fight in the Second World War, recording his Christmases spent away from home in the same tiny New Testament.

Both his son and grandson subsequently used the same bible when they were in the Forces.

“His faith meant a tremendous amount to him,’ said John.

“He was strong-willed and dutiful, but it was his faith that pulled him through.

“When I read it today I feel my father’s presence,’ said John. “Reading it reinforced my faith and I’m sure it did his too.”


During the First World War the British and Foreign Bible Society gave out 9 million Bibles in 80 languages over 4 years.

They were an integral part of every British soldier’s kit; given out as a matter of course along with their weapons and ration packs.

On average more than 7,000 volumes were sent out every working day, year in, year out during the war.