Our summer vacation included visiting family in Europe. While wandering about, we discovered the National War Museum of Scotland where we learned this remarkable story. The first item donated to the collection when the museum opened in 1930 was the “McNab Bible.” The McNab Clan website provides the backstory (edited for length).
On the morning of 21 March, 1918, the 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders lay entrenched across the Bapaume-Cábrai road awaiting the German Spring offensive. At 5 am…the enemy guns opened up a devastating bombardment of the British lines and five hours later launched their great attack. Opposite the 5th Seaforths, the attack utterly failed at first, but as the day wore on…the Battalion (was) forced to fall back.
Early the following day a German battery took up the position which had been captured from the Seaforths. A German soldier in that battery, Heinz Metz by name, in a letter home afterwards recorded the scene:
‘Our battery lay in the middle of the British infantry position which had been stormed by our troops the previous day, in front of which lay heaps of fallen German infantry. In and behind the captured trenches there were also many dead Scottish Highlanders; their bodies all showed the marks of rifle fire and were not disfigured or mutilated as they would have been by shell fire. They had defended their position to the last man.’
Among the dead, Metz noticed one who lay ‘with a wonderful look of peace on his face.’ In the dead Highlander’s hand was clutched an open Bible. Greatly touched by the sight and knowing the Bible would be trampled on and lost on the battlefield, he removed from the rigid fingers what was destined eventually to become the Museum’s first war relic.
Heinz Metz survived the war. Twelve years later a Scottish lady was attending the University in Harburg, Germany, and happened one day to be in conversation with the pastor there, who turned out to be none other than Heinz Metz’ father. She learned the history of the Bible which was still in his son’s possession. She was also told efforts had been made to restore the Bible to Donald McNab’s relatives, but without success.
Further enquiries were made and it was learned Donald’s parents were dead, but his brother was still alive. Heinz Metz sent the Bible to Scotland and Donald McNab’s brother, on being fully informed of the facts, graciously consented to the Bible being gifted to the Museum.
The following is an excerpt from a letter sent by Heinz Metz when forwarding the Bible from Germany to the Scottish National War Memorial Committee, April 1930:
‘It is a great joy to me that now, after twelve years this has been accomplished. I do not know at what passage the Bible was open; I only remember that the morning dew lay heavy on its leaves. Even though we were enemies, each fighting for his own country, we did not hate each other, and I have always esteemed and respected this gallant soldier for his bravery and piety; and I should like to say so now to his brother and other relatives. I can well understand their grief, for I too lost a beloved brother and many dear friends in the war.’
War destroys and separates. The Bible comforts and unifies. May God make it so among the global Christian community as we strive for peace amidst wars and rumors of wars.