Wednesday 14 April 2015
It’s a story of romance, sacrifice, courage and tragedy. A new documentary produced by Bible Society Australia traces the story of Elvas Jenkins, WWI digger and the little pocket New Testament which saved his life.
The Bible with the Bullet documentary was produced over a period of 10 months, with the crew travelling to France and Turkey along with a current serving officer the same age as Elvas Jenkins, to retrace Jenkins’ ANZAC journey. With cutting edge drone technology, sensitive storytelling and beautiful cinematography, Bible Society has told the story of one man’s sacrifice for his country and the faith which spurred him on.
The story of Elvas Jenkins is one of a number of stories Bible Society Australia is sharing with the nation as part of Their Sacrifice, a national travelling exhibition of wartime Bibles which opens in Sydney on Monday (check the website for tour details). Below is a little of his story.
Elvas grew up in country Ararat in Victoria, where he became Christian before heading to the big smoke to be an apprentice printer, and from there, study theology at the University of Melbourne.
But while he was there he met a young woman. Jeanie Reid was studying medicine when the two met. Their love blossomed, so that when Elvas headed off to fight in the Great War, a heartbroken Jeanie was left behind.
Elvas left Melbourne for the war in the first convoy of AIEF troops on the transport ship Orvieto on 21st October, 1914. From there he went to Egypt to train for battle. It was in Egypt where he picked up his pocket Bible – a French Protestant Bible.
Six months later, on what we now know as ANZAC Day Elvas found himself at Gallipoli, and in charge of a group of men establishing lines, unloading equipment, building infrastructure and trenches. That first day, 901 ANZACs were killed.
On 7th May, less than a month later, a shell landed and exploded where Elvas and his men were working. Lance-Corporal Elvas Jenkins was struck directly over his heart by a lead ball from an exploding shell. He would have died instantly but the the ball struck his Bible, the New Testament he carried in his shirt pocket. The Bible saved his life that day.
But Elvas Jenkins did not survive the war. Among the first ANZACs to reach Gallipoli on Anzac Day, 25th April 1915, he was also one of the last to leave. He was among those who survived the whole of the terrible Gallipoli campaign, only to lay down his life a few months later in France, the first Australian to die on the Western Front. His Colonel wrote, ‘Had he survived, I intended to recommend him for the Military Cross.’
While away at war Elvas had sent love letters to his sweetheart Jeanie back home in Australia. Elvas and Jeanie had an understanding. Officially or unofficially, she was his fiancée. They were in love and they planned a future together, but now all that was dashed.
When Elvas had first arrived in Egypt he had been required to write a will. Leaving almost everything to his brothers, he made a very specific bequest of his books to Jeanie Lawson Reid, whose address he provided. So it was that the little Bible ended up in her possession.
Jeanie grieved for Elvas for a long time. 10 years later she married another wounded war veteran, Albert Jeays. Theirs was a happy marriage but Jeanie’s love for Elvas was no secret to the family. Jeanie treasured Elvas’s little French New Testament, his photos and the letters he wrote from the war. Her family has lovingly preserved Elvas’ memory ever since. It is through her family that the Bible Society has finally become the custodian of the ‘Bible with the bullet’.
After considerable research, Bible Society Australia was able to locate and contact the Jenkins’ family. They too had kept alive the memory of their great uncle Elvas. It seems, however, that the Jenkins family knew nothing of the ‘Bible with the bullet’. And Elvas’ family, it seems, had had no contact with Jeanie after his death and his memorial service in Australia. They certainly did not know that she had received a package from the military. It was only when Bible Society brought the two families together that the pieces of the puzzle came together.
The families, their first meeting and the story behind the Bible are all part of the documentary Bible with the Bullet. The film retraces the journey of WWI digger Elvas Jenkins, travelling from his hometown in Victoria through Gallipoli to his final resting place in France. Current serving ADF officer, Major Ian North, who is the same age as Elvas at the time of his death, joins the journey of discovery, offering his own insights into the world of the brave men and women who sacrificed so much in defence of our nation.
You can buy a copy of the documentary online here or by calling 1300 BIBLES. If you would like to screen the documentary in your church or community organisation, you can receive a free copy courtesy of Bible Society Australia by contacting [email protected]