Bible Story History

              A Soldier's Prayer              

What is the story connecting a deck of cards with the Bible?

The earliest printed source I have seen is that of the Rev. Taylor, reproduced below. This story is also well known in the form of a song, called "Deck of Cards", which has been performed by many people (Tex Ritter and Ernest Tubb, among others) but is particularly associated with the singer Wink Martindale.

Here is a scan of a copy of a tract, which was found sandwiched between the sheets of an 1811 bible. Clicking here will bring up a larger copy of the tract in a separate window; it is large (613K).

                                             

 

To purchase a deck of cards that celebrates the "Soldier's Deck of Cards" check out our new deck at...
http://www.newtsgames.com/soldiers-deck-of-cards-military-bible-playing-cards.html

Deck of Cards
As Narrated by Wink Martindale 

    During the North African campaign, a bunch of soldier boys had been on a long hike and they arrived in a little town called Casino.

    The next morning being Sunday, several of the boys went to Church.

   A sergeant commanded the boys in Church and after the Chaplain had read the prayer, the text was taken up next. Those of the boys who had a prayer book took them out, but this one boy had only a deck of cards, and so he spread them out. 

    The Sergeant saw the cards and said,  "Soldier, put away those cards."

   After the services was over, the soldier was taken prisoner and brought before the Provost Marshall. The Marshall said, "Sergeant, why have you brought this man here?"

 "For playing cards in church, Sir." 
"And what have you to say for yourself, son?"

 "Much, Sir," replied the soldier. 

The Marshall said, "I hope so, for if not I shall punish you more  than any man was ever punished." 

The soldier said, "Sir, I have been on the march for about six days.

I have neither a Bible nor a prayer book, but I hope to satisfy you, Sir, with the purity of my intentions." And with that, the boy  started his story:
 

"You see Sir, when I look at the Ace,  it reminds me that there is but one God.

Ace of Hearts Soldiers Deck of Cards - One God
And the Deuce  reminds me that the Bible is divided into two parts, the Old and the New Testaments. Two of Clubs Soldiers Deck of Cards - 2 parts of the Bible
When I see the Trey, I think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Three of Diamonds Soldiers Deck of Cards - Trinity

And when I see the Four,  I think of the four Evangelists who preached the Gospel; there was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   Four of Clubs Soldiers Deck of Cards - 4 Gospels
And when I see the Five,  it reminds me of the five wise virgins who trimmed their lamps; there were ten of them: five were wise and were saved, five were foolish and were shut out.  Five of Hearts Soldiers Deck of Cards - Five Wise Virgins
When I see the Six, it reminds me that in six days, God made this great heaven and earth.  Six of Spades Soldiers Deck of Cards - Six Days to Create Heaven and Earth
When I see the Seven,  it reminds me that on the seventh day, God rested from His great work.  Seven of Hearts Soldiers Deck of Cards - God Rested on the 7th Day
And when I see the Eight,  I think of the eight righteous persons God saved when He destroyed this earth; there was Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives.  Eight of Diamonds Soldiers Deck of Cards - Eight were saved from the flood
And when I see the Nine,  I think of the lepers our Savior cleansed, and nine out of the ten didn't even thank Him.  Nine of Clubs Soldiers Deck of Cards - 9 Lepers did not thank Jesus
When I see the Ten,  I think of the Ten Commandments God handed down to Moses on a table of stone.  Ten of Hearts Soldiers Deck of Cards - Ten Commandments
When I see the King, it reminds me that there is but one King of Heaven, God Almighty.  King of Spades Soldiers Deck of Cards - Jesus, King of kings
And when I see the Queen,  I think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is Queen of Heaven.  Queen of Hearts Soldiers Deck of Cards - Virgin Mary
And the Jack  or Knave is the Devil.   Jack of Spades Soldiers Deck of Cards -  Satan, knave, joker

 


When I count the number of spots on a deck of cards,
 
I find 365, the number of days in a year. There are 52 cards,  the number of weeks in a year. There are 4 suits, the number of weeks in a month.

There are 12 picture cards, the number of months in
a year.

There are 13 tricks, the number of weeks in a quarter.

So you see, Sir, my pack of cards serves me as a Bible, an Almanac and a Prayer Book." 

"And friends, the story is true. I know, I was that soldier."

 

 

To purchase a deck of cards that celebrates the "Soldier's Deck of Cards" check out our new deck at...
http://www.newtsgames.com/soldiers-deck-of-cards-military-bible-playing-cards.html

            

              The Origin?                                          

 

 

The above items are compiled from various places on the internet and other written information.  What I have learned is that much of it is hearsay and not a real story.  Let's face it, the story is really old but it is a lot of fun!

 

 

Here is a version of the song put to video that I was not aware of. This one really just has the song without much video action. This is the Max Bygraves Version from 1973.

 Here is the Tex Ritter version from 1948. It has the same lyrics as the one from Tex Tyler.

 

Origins:   Although recent events have inspired an e-mail-circulated version featuring a soldier serving in Afghanistan, the tale about a serviceman using a deck of ordinary playing cards as an aid to prayer and meditation dates at least to at least 1788.  The popular song Deck of Cards (sometimes known as "A Soldier's Prayer Book") was written in 1948 by "T." Texas Tyler and was recorded by (among others) Tex Ritter in 1948, Wink Martindale in 1959, and Bill Anderson in 1991.

In that 1948 musical offering, the story is set during World War II and stars a soldier whose outfit, which has been fighting in North Africa, is newly arrived at Casino. One Sunday morning, some of the soldiers in that unit go to church; those who have prayer books read them during the service, but one soldier pulls out a deck of cards, prompting his sergeant to haul this apparent blasphemer before the provost marshal. In the e-mailed version of fifty-five years later, certain details about this prologue to the cards' meanings have been updated to better fit the current climate: the soldier sits alone in a bunkhouse rather than with his buddies in church because he's in a non-Christian country, and he turns to his deck of playing cards not because of a shortage of prayer books for the congregation but because Bibles are supposedly banned in Afghanistan. Once those scene-setting details are out of the way, the two versions dovetail, with the meanings of each of the cards agreeing from one version to the other.

Differences between the two versions aside, is it an account of an actual event? The 1948 song concludes with "Friends, I know this story is true, because I knew that soldier," a statement that on the surface would seem to confirm the veracity of the narrative. However, tellers of tales do sometimes add flourishes of such nature to their offerings, especially those of an inspirational or tear-jerking nature.

Moreover, a broadsheet titled "The Soldier's Prayer-Book" which recounts the same story as the 1948 song "Deck of Cards" appears in an 1865 book about the history of playing cards. French versions of the tale were printed in 1778 and 1809. Throughout the years the story about the soldier, his playing cards, and his explanation of their meanings to a superior he's been brought before has gone by many names: Deck of Cards, The Soldier's Prayer Book, Cards Spiritualized. Some of the meanings assigned to the pasteboards have changed too: the queen symbolized the Queen of Sheba instead of Mary, and the jack was a knave. The older versions also mention the deck being divided into thirteen ranks, one for each (lunar) month, a detail dropped from more contemporary versions in recognition of modern society having moved away from the lunar calendar.

Some point out that if you count up all the spots on the cards, you come up with only 364, not the 365 claimed. The 1865 version contained an explanation for that, which has also been dropped from newer accounts:

 

When I count how many spots there are in a pack of cards, I find there are three hundred and sixty-five, there are so many days in the year.

 

 

 

Given that the tale has been in print since 1778, if the author of the 1948 song "knew that soldier," as he claimed in the final line of the song, he was very long-lived indeed.

What a wonderful, 300 year old piece of history!

 PLEASE NOTE:

 

 

Over the past few years we have been asked over and over again if we have this story in a real "Deck of Cards" format.  We have now created such a deck using the images above and many other vintage images. 

To purchase a deck of cards that celebrates the "Soldier's Deck of Cards" check out our new deck at...
http://www.newtsgames.com/soldiers-deck-of-cards-military-bible-playing-cards.html

Purchase Soldiers Deck of Cards Now!
Card Back Design to the Soldier's Deck of Cards

 

  

 

Stop, said the mayor that is a mistake. I grant it, said the soldier, but as I have never yet seen an Almanack that was teoroughly [sic] correct in all points it would have been impossible for me to have imitated an Almanack exactly without a mistake. Your observations are very correct said the mayor. Go on.

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