I love the smell of new books almost as much as I dislike the musty smell of old ones. With old books – particularly paperbacks – there is that sense of mouldering decay… that the words and pages in front of you might crumble to dust before you reach the end.
That said, there is something special about holding an old book in your hands. It’s a curious sensation – a bit like wearing someone else’s clothes – and makes you wonder who else opened those leaves and read those pages. When this happens it is not the story itself that intrigues, rather the name that you find scrawled inside the front cover. Who was the person, and what became of them after the book was put back on its shelf?
Allan Greensitt took this sense of curiosity to a new level when in 1977, aged nine, he was given a black leather-bound book found by his builder father, Ken, while renovating an attic. The book – a Bible – had been gathering dust in a storage box for 59 years.
It bore an inscription inside the front cover to Private George Ford, of the Sherwood Foresters, urging him to ‘put his faith in God’.
Allan was intrigued, so much so that he spent the next 35 years trying to trace Pte Ford’s relatives and return the Bible to them.
Using birth, marriage and death certificates, he built up Pte Ford’s family tree and even contacted the Sherwood Foresters for help. But it was only when the British 1911 census became available last year that Allan made a real breakthrough.
It emerged that Pte Ford was shot during combat in the Somme in January 1918. His bloodied uniform and all his belongings – including the Bible he was carrying at the time of his death – were sent back to his distraught family in Nottingham and were placed in an attic for safe keeping.
Incredibly, Allan managed to find an address for Pte Ford’s deceased sister’s sons George and Larry Hanes, now 83 and 76, who lived in Nottinghamshire. He wrote to the brothers, who confirmed their uncle was the dead soldier.
Allan travelled 127 miles from his home in Middlesbrough to meet Pte Ford’s family and give them their late uncle’s treasured Bible – 95 years since his death.
An emotional George, named after his uncle whom he never met, said: ‘Having his Bible in my hands is a really special moment for me and Larry. Shivers went down my spine when it was handed to me. I’ve hardly let go of it since.
‘I can’t quite believe this was with him while he was in combat – while he was in the trenches, he had this with him and when he was tragically killed.
Due to Allan’s research, he was able to reveal the whereabouts of Pte Ford’s grave – something that George and Larry never knew. The family plan to visit his grave at Fins British Cemetery, in the district of Sorel Le Grand, in France.