This is a story about two soldiers from the Western Front in World War 1, who met each other in no man’s land. Its as true as I can get it, for its a puzzle with broken pieces, and much remains a mystery.
No man’s land can also be a place in the soul, for some things never get talked about. While on a visit to my Great Grandmother in Gisborne (NZ), I asked her to tell me about her family, but she wouldn’t. There was too much loss. “Don’t go there” was the silent message. No man’s land. So while I poked around in her shed, looking at stuff in boxes for my family history, I found somebody else’s. It was an extraordinary find, a paper thin army document from World War 1, belonging to a German soldier called Emil.
Folded within Emil’s paper was a scripture bearing a picture of Jesus and Lazarus, with verses in German. I was baffled. How on earth did it get there? Who was he? My Great Grandmother had an Irish father and a Scots mother, so Emil couldn’t have been a German cousin. I could see the papers were from World War 1. I knew Great Nana’s brother David had died in that war. The old photo that hung in the passage of her house depicted him as a young soldier with a solemn expression, as he stood next to his gun. Had he shot this German soldier? It was another thing I could not talk about with Great Nana. I stared at the papers I held in my hand, and debated whether to ask her about it.
Eventually I decided not to, but instead of sliding the papers back into the box I carefully folded them into my pocket. I felt the papers were too important to leave in the bicycle shed. Its just as well I did because some kids set fire to her shed not long after that. I never did bring the subject up with Great Nana. Instead I put the papers in a stamp tin, and kept them for years.
Ypres was the place where David died, in World War 1 it was a cruel place of mud, blood, bullets, chlorine and mustard gas. The only time the guns went quiet was in the Christmas truce of 1914 and 1915. Perhaps it was there that Emil Ospin Binthur and David Walsh met, smiling and and exchanging handshakes, not bullets.
This morning, our friend Thomas who hails from Germany helped us translate Emil’s paper and the scripture card, no easy task as the letters are printed in old German. Thomas spotted 1969 on the bottom of the card and said it was made for Easter, to commemorate a battle of 1917. The card was printed by Max Hirmer of Munich. This leads to more questions and detective work for us.
The scripture card translates “I have come back from life for living”; John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;”
Translation: I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28
Perfect Repentance. O mein Gott! Alle mein sünden meines ganzen lebens find mir leid und reuen mich von herzen, weil ich dich, das höchste gut beleidigt und deine gerechte strafe verdient habe. O Gott, …. mir gnadig und barmherzig! Amen
Oh my God! All my sins my whole life find sorry and repent of my heart, because I love you, insulted the highest good and your appropriate penalty deserves punishment. O God, be gracious to me! Amen
If anyone reading this knows the family of the solder Emil, we think his name is Emil Ospin Binftuz, or Binftur, or Binthur, I would like to find them. Please get in touch with me. I would welcome any information you can provide about these papers.