The Angels of Mons: Did they save British soldiers in the First World War?
Many people believed so at the time. The First World War – and the following years – saw a huge increase in the belief of spiritualism and the supernatural.
We can understand this. So many young men were killed in the conflict and it was comforting for their loved ones to believe that they had gone to’a better place’ — and that they could be communicated with through mediums and spiritualists.
Then in 1918 came the violent flu pandemic that lasted for two years and, it’s said, killed approximately five percent of the world’s population. Again, it was understandable that the bereaved preferred to think of their lost family and friends being in a better place and hence, the craze for spiritualism and communicating with the dead was enormous and taken very seriously indeed.
This had its roots at the beginning of the Great War – in 1914 – when it was reported that a battalion of British soldiers fighting in Europe had been saved thanks to the intervention of angelic, ghostly beings.
A soldier’s account
The soldier was in his early thirties. He was in hospital in England because of the injuries he had sustained in battle. He recounted that the event had taken place ‘on or about’ August 28th. His battalion was expecting the German cavalry to charge. Because the German aeroplanes knew where the English soldiers were, they remained in place. The weather was warm and the skies were clear and that evening and the soldier was on duty along with nine other men; the remainder of the battalion were resting in the woods nearby. He recounted that an officer came to them and asked them if they’d seen anything astonishing.
The officer seemed to be greatly anxious and without waiting for any further conversation moved on to another group of soldiers. The soldier who was recounting this said that he and his colleagues thought the officer had meant that he was asking them whether they had seen any unusual German activity.
But the officer returned and pointed out that there was a strange light in the sky.The soldier reported that he had seen three distinct shapes form and that they appeared to have wings and were dressed in flowing robes. The men stood and watched this phenomenon for about thirty five minutes.
He said that these supernatural beings were above the German line and facing them. He said that many men saw this and that only a handful of them were still alive. He went onto say ‘I have a record of fifteen years good service and I should be very sorry to make a fool of myself by telling a story merely to please anyone.’
Another soldier, a lieutenant colonel described as ‘distinguished’ also write a report of seeing supernatural beings on the evening of 27th August. But what he saw were squadrons of ghostly cavalry who were riding alongside him and his men. Three of his fellow officers and many of the soldiers under his command saw them too, he claimed, and they all thought at first that these were real cavalry soldiers.
Enter Arthur Machen
Machen was a writer who heard the rumours about divide intervention and supernatural creatures aiding the British war effort. He wrote a short story about it that was published in a popular newspaper in September 1914, the month following the supposed sightings.
Although it was written in the first person, and as an eye witness account, Machen was adamant that it was fiction.
But people believed the story about the angels
It was something that irritated Machen for the rest of his life. He didn’t consider his story as being particularly well-written and yet it was what he became well known for. He repeatedly insisted that the work was fiction.
But the population wanted to believe that God was on the side of the allies and protecting them from the Germans. It was even preached from the pulpits of the day. Long and scholarly articles and pamphlets were written explaining that the story about the Angels of Mons were true. Several eye witness accounts were reported, although no-one could ever provide any proof and accounts varied quite considerably.
Yet it was exactly what the public wanted to hear
God was their ally against the evil Germans. It’s easy to understand how this rumour became ‘fact’ and contributed to the morale of the public. It even became generally accepted ‘knowledge’ that a supreme being, angles or spirits had stepped in to save England from the Hun.
Of course, there are many explanations. The soldiers who claimed to have seen these phenomena were tired, under stress and in fear for their lives. There are many types of weather systems that can be seen as signs from above. There were no official reports pertaining to any of these sightings or miracles and yet they were widely believed and became ‘common knowledge’ both at home in Britain and on the battlefields.
The stories gave hope and optimism to both the population back home and to soldiers out in the fray in Europe. There was a public outcry when Machen explained that his published story was fiction – very few people believed this to be the case.
Because the story was published in a popular newspaper right at the beginning of the war, the story spread rapidly. New soldiers who were heading out to Europe to the battlefields had heard about the phenomenon – and believed (or wanted to believe) it.
It might be the case that it would be far too cynical of me to suspect that this was deliberately manufactured propaganda to bolster the morale of the soldiers and those on the home front but if that was the case, it was an inspired idea.