A soldier’s Bible restored

2014-07-12 00:00

STRANGERS from different countries feel like family after being brought ­together by one of the first Bibles printed in Afrikaans.

Sister paper Beeld arranged a Skype session yesterday between Maxie Nel (87) — the oldest living relative of ­Norman Edward Muller — and Jill Porter (60) — the New Zealand woman who has the Bible.

Porter had mounted an international search via Facebook to trace the relatives of Natal man Muller, who went to war in North Africa carrying the Bible, inscribed “Maak tog gebruik van jou Bybel Normie en help die ander jong mense ook reg” (Make use of your Bible Normie and help other young people), by his mother, Maud Muller.

Porter’s father, Andy Porter, found the Bible in North Africa in 1942, where he was serving, and sent it to his parents.

“The Bible is not where it belongs and I am desperate to send it back to South Africa, hopefully to the family of the soldier whose Bible it was,” Porter wrote on a Facebook page where people look for lost loved ones.

Combing military archives, Porter had discovered a lot about Muller — he was posted to North Africa in 1940, was taken prisoner on December 5, 1941, and survived the war — but no link to any surviving relatives.

But that changed this week, when a story on the Bible appeared in sister papers Beeld and Die Burger.

Nel’s son-in-law, Pierre Joubert, posted the story on his Facebook page, and his wife, Nel’s daughter Irma, thought the handwriting in the Bible looked a lot like her mother’s. The story mentioned that the Muller family had lived in Devonshire Avenue, Durban.

She asked her mother where her own mother had lived, and when she said Devonshire Avenue, they both burst into tears.

Nel remembered her uncle Norman fondly: “He was our pal, not just my Pappie’s brother. He always played Snakes and Ladders with us when he came home on army leave and spoilt us terribly.”

Talking to Porter via Skype yesterday, Nel said: “I think you are a remarkable woman, to look after a Bible that isn’t even yours, so well for so many years.”

Porter was overwhelmed to meet a member of the family she had been seeking since 2004.

Showing Nel the Bible, she sorted through its contents. “Here’s a handmade bookmark, newspaper clippings, a crochet pattern and a letter my mother wrote telling how she came to have the Bible.”

The women showed each other old black and white photos of their families, and related their war stories.

“I can’t thank you enough, Jill. Words are not enough to express gratitude at times like this,” said an emotional Nel.

But it wasn’t all tears.

“Norman and my father wouldn’t have believed how we got in contact,” laughed Porter. “Thank goodness for technology.”

Although Porter was nervous at first when Beeld tracked Nel down, not wanting to send the Bible to the wrong family, she no longer doubts Nel must have it.

“When I saw the video [of Nel talking about the story to Beeld], I couldn’t understand a word, but I felt Maxie’s integrity and emotion and I knew these were the people I had been looking for for so long.”

Porter and Joubert have become Facebook friends to arrange for the Bible to be sent to Nel. Porter is going to send it via courier, along with copies of her father’s war pictures and the story of how she searched for the family.

“I wish I could just get on a plane and bring it to you personally,” she told Nel.

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