[Ads-l] Quote: There are no atheists in foxholes

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 3 14:46:47 UTC 2016

Back in September 2006 Bonnie Taylor-Blake posted a great message to
this mailing list about the expression in the subject line and about
an earlier saying "There are no atheists in the trenches".


I've located an earlier citation for the "trenches" adage in "The
Western Times" newspaper of Devon, England in November 1914. A speaker
at a memorial service for a fallen soldier held at St. Matthias'
Church, Ilsham read from the letter of an unnamed chaplain serving at
the front.

[ref] 1914 November 6, The Western Times, Col. Burn's Late Son:
Torquay's Expression of Sincere Sympathy, Quote Page 8, Column 3,
Devon, England. (British Newspaper Archive)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
The writer further said, "Tell the Territorials and soldiers at home
that they must know God before they come to the front if they would
face what lies before them. We have no atheists in the trenches. Men
are not ashamed to say that, though they never prayed before, they
pray now with all their hearts."
[End excerpt]

Bonnie also pointed to an interesting precursor attributed to "Henry
More". Apparently, the actual author was the playwright and religious
writer Hannah More, and I've located a relevant citation for her:

[ref] 1815, An Essay on the Character and Practical Writings of Saint
Paul by Hannah More, Volume 2 of 2, Fourth Edition, Chapter 19, Quote
Page 232, Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, London. (Google Books
Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
Under circumstances of distress, indeed, prayer is adopted with
comparatively little reluctance; the mind, which knows not where to
fly, flies to God. In agony, nature is no Atheist.
[End excerpt]

A research summary is available on the QI website here:

[Begin acknowledgement]
Special thanks to Bonnie Taylor-Blake who uncovered the version of the
adage that referred to trenches instead of foxholes. She also found
pertinent instances of the precursor quotations ascribed to Michel de
Montaigne and Hannah More. Additional thanks to Charles Doyle et al
for the research on this topic in "The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs"
and to Barry Popik for the research available on his website.
[End acknowledgement]


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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