Their Meaning & Purpose 1915
Many people have read accounts of the visions said to have been seen by our soldiers in the early days of the war, and which have been called The Angels of Mons. The object of this pamphlet is to show their reality and to suggest the way in which they should be regarded.
In order to do this it is first, necessary ,to give an account of the principal testimonies concerning them, as collected by Mr. Ralph Shirley and Mr. Harold Begbie. ~ The first account is by Miss Phyllis Campbell,a cousin of Lady Archibald Campbell, and who has been a nurse at the front throughout the war. Speaking of “the awful days” of the retreat from Mons she said:
“I paid little attention to the stories at the time. The Commandant had warned us to be ready for evacuating the base at a moment’s notice. But we hung on.
“Train after train crept into the forest without lights, almost without a sound. We went around with small lanterns, had to climb from the ground into cattle trucks, and then sort the living from the dead. This post was the first stopping-place.
“It was pitch dark, and I was attending a poor French fellow when the Lady President of the post called me. Miss Campbell,’ she said, ‘there is an English soldier in the fifth wagon—he wants a holy picture."
The Angel warriors of Mons, by Ralph Shirley, published by The Newspaper Publicity Co., 61, Fleet Street, E.C., price id.; On the Side of the Angels, by Harold Begbie; Hodder & Stoughton, price 1s.
“It seemed an extraordinary thing to ask for in that awful scene, but I went to him. ‘Miss,’ he asked, ‘please give me a picture of St. George. I want a picture or a medal, because I have seen St. George on a white horse!
“An R.F.A. man lying near by corroborated this seeming madness. ‘It’s true, Sister,’ he interjected, we all saw it."
“While helping to make these men as comfortable as possible, I questioned them. Yes, they had seen it; others had seen it from different points of the battle. There was no doubt about it; St. George had saved them from utter annihilation.
“They had seen him come out of a funny-looking cloud of light. He was a tall man with yellow hair, in golden armour, and was riding a white horse. He was holding a sword above his head. Then came the order to advance, and the German hordes were in full flight.
“But why had they fled? None could say, for the British were hopelessly outnumbered.
"Later, during that awful night, I tended French soldiers who all brought, in effect, the same testimony. But some of these poor fellows said it was Joan of Arc, while others said it was St. Michael.
'When God sends St. Michael to fight for us,’ they said, then the case is hard indeed.’
“One French soldier—he was a sergeant-major, and has since been given an adjutancy — was particularly explicit and lucid in his account of the vision. He had seen Joan of Arc leading them on to victory. She was brandishing a sword and rode a white charger.
“On this night there were six of us women at the post, including Madame de A—, the President. Similar stories were told to all of us, except one, who was mounting guard over some wounded Germans.
“When there came a lull in the work we compared notes. The accumulated evidence was from the lips of scores of wounded. Amongst these eye-witnesses were officers of high rank, a Roman Catholic priest, and English and French soldiers.
“I had the testimony, amongst others, of three poor fellows of the Irish Guard. One of them was an enormous man who stood over 6 ft. 5 ins.
“St. George was in golden armour, bare-headed, and riding a white horse. He cried, ‘Come on!’ as he brandished his sword. This had occurred at the most critical point of the retreat.
“They had given themselves up for lost; nothing known to them could save them. ‘then suddenly there had been this interposition from heaven, and to their amazement the Germans were in full retreat.
“The French testimony differed. Some said it was Joan of Arc, that she was bare-headed, riding a white horse and flourishinga sword as she called ‘Advance!’ Others had seen St. Michael the Archangel, clad in golden armour, bare-headed, riding a white horse, and crying Victory" as lie brandished his sword.
“These eye-witnesses came from widely-separated points of the field of battle. I cannot give names of places; not even could the officers do this. They had been retreating and fighting for days and nights. None knew where they were.”
Miss Campbell said that her French colleagues at “The Place in the Forest” could supply corroborative testimony. She would see, she said, if she could get written statements to that effect.
In another account of the same facts, Miss Campbell says that “while bandaging a shattered arm the President of the post, Madame de A— (presumably a Catholic), came and took her place, asking her to attend to an Englishman who was begging for a holy picture. The idea of an English soldier making such a request at such a time seemed curious enough, but she hurried off to attend to his needs. He proved to be a Lancashire Fusilier.”
“He was propped up in a corner “ (says Miss Campbell), “his left arm tied up in a peasant woman’s headkerchief, and his head newly bandaged. He should have been in a state of collapse from loss of blood, for his tattered uniform was soaked and caked in blood, and his face paper-white under the dirt of conflict. He looked at me with bright, courageous eyes and asked for a picture or a medal (he did not care which) of St. George. I asked if he was a Catholic. ‘No,' he was a Wesleyan Methodist, and he wanted a picture or a medal of St. George, because he had seen him on a white horse, leading the British at Vitry-le-Francois, when the Allies turned. There was an R.F.A.man, wounded in the leg, sitting beside him on the floor; he saw my amazement, and hastened in, ‘It’s true, Sister, we all saw it. First there was a sort of yellow mist, sort of risin’ before the Germans as they come on to the top of the hill, come on like a solid wall they did—springing out of the earth just solid—no end of ‘em. I just give up. No use fighting the whole German race, thinks I; it's all up with us. The next minute comes this funny cloud of light, and when it clears off there’s a tall man with yellow hair, in golden armour, on a white horse, holding his sword up, and his mouth open as if he was saying, “Come on, boys! I’ll put the kybosh on the devils.” (This is my picnic expression.) Then, before you could say “knife,” the Germans had turned, and we were after them, fighting’ like ninety. We had a few scores to settle, Sister, and we fair settled them.’ “
In another account Miss Campbell writes “For forty-eight hours no food, no drink under a tropical sun, choked with dust, harried by shell and marching, marching, marching, till even the pursuing Germans gave it up, and at Vitry-le-Freincois the Allies fell in their tracks and slept for three hours—horse, foot and guns—while the exhausted pursuers slept behind them.
“Then came the trumpet-call and each man sprang to his arms to find himself made anew. One man said, ‘I felt as if I had just come out of the sea after a swim. Fit, just grand. I never felt so fit in my life, and every man of us the same. The Germans were coming on just the same as ever, when suddenly the “Advance” sounded and I saw the luminous mist and the great man on the white horse, and I knew the Boches would never get to Paris, for God was fighting on our side.’”
Miss Campbell further states that the French wounded were in “a curiously exalted condition, a sort of rapture of happiness. It was quite true, they maintained, the Germans were in full retreat and the Allies were being led to victory by St. Michael and Joan of Arc. One of the wounded French soldiers happened to have come from Domremy, Joan of Arc’s native home, and declared he saw her brandishing her sword and crying, ‘Turn, turn, advance.’ No wonder, he said, the Boches fled down the hill.”
Miss Campbell also refers to the case of the three soldiers of the Irish Guards, who were mortally wounded and asked for the Sacrament before death, and before dying told the same story to the old Abbe who confessed them.
She also says that “immediately before the apparitions were seen all our wounded soldiers who were brought in expressed the conviction of swiftly approaching disaster, but that immediately afterwards there was a complete transformation of their attitude, the sense of despair giving place to a state of strange exaltation and confidence of victory.”
Another nurse, Miss Courtney Wilson, gives the following statement by a lance-corporal “I was with my battalion in the retreat from Mons on or about August 28th. The German cavalry were expected to make a charge and we were waiting to fire and scatter them so as to enable the French cavalry who were on our right to make a dash forward. However, the German aeroplanes discovered our position and we remained where we were.
“The weather was very hot and clear, and between eight or nine o’clock in the evening I was standing with a party of nine other men on duty and some distance on either side were parties of ten on guard. Immediately behind us, half of my battalion was on the edge of a wood resting. An officer suddenly came to us in a state of great anxiety and asked us if we had seen anything astonishing. He hurried away from my ten to the next party of ten. When he had got out of sight I, who was the noncommissioned officer in charge, ordered two men to go forward out of the way of the trees, in order to find out what the officer meant. The two men returned, reporting that they could see no sign of the Germans. At that time we thought that the officer must be expecting a surprise attack.
“Immediately afterwards the officer came back, and, taking me and some others a few yards away, showed us the sky. I could see quite plainly in mid-air a strange light, which seemed to be quite distinctly outlined, and was not a reflection of the moon, nor were there any clouds in the neighbourhood. The light became brighter, and I could see quite distinctly three shapes, one in the centre having what looked like outspread wings; the other two were not so large, but were quite plainly distinct from the centre one. They appeared to have a long, loose-hanging garment of a golden tint, and they were above the German line facing us. “We stood watching them for about three-quarters of an hour. All the men with me saw them, and other men came up from other groups who told usthey had seen the same thing. I am not a believer in such things, but I have not the slightest doubt that we really did see what I now tell you.
“I remember the day because it was a day of terrible anxiety for us. That morning the Munsters had a bad time;on our right, and so had the Scots Guards. We managed to get to the wood, and there we barricaded the roads, and remained in the formation I have told you. Later on theUhlans attacked us, and we drove them back with heavy loss. It was after this engagement, when we were dog-tired, that the vision appeared to us.
“I shall never forget it as long as I live. I lie awake in bed and picture it all as I saw it on that night. Of my battalion there are now only five men alive besides myself ~ and I have no hopes of ever getting back to the front. 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.”
Miss Wilson asked him if the figures resembled anybody, and he replied: “You could discern there were faces, but you couldn’t see what they were like.” Miss Wilsoii also asked him, “What was the effect of the vision on your feelings, and the feelings of the other men?”
“Well, it was very funny. We came over quiet and still. It took us that way. \Ve didn’t know what to make of it. And there we all were looking up at those three figures, saying nothing, just wondering, when one of the chaps called, ‘God is with us' - and that kind of loosened us. Then when we were falling-in for the march the Captain said to us, ‘Well, men, we can cheer up now, we've got Someone with us.' And that's just how we felt. As I tell you, we marched thirty-two miles that night, and the Germans didn't fire rifle or cannon the whole way.” asked, “Did the effect — the moral effect—last?"
Asked, “Did the effect—the moral effect—last? He replied slowly: “There was a certain non-commissioned officer with us who was a fair coward, not fit to be a soldier, much less a non-commissioned officer, and that man----well, he was a fair honest coward, and no mistake about it — he became quite different from that night. He didn’t mind what happened to him. He set a good example. That's a fact. He got killed at Wipers” (Ypres). Asked about other changes in the men. “We were a decent lot of men on the whole, amid of course fighting keeps a man quiet, but there was one very rough fellow along with us, always cursing and swearing and going for all the drink he could get — not exactly a bad fellow he wasn’t, but he was rough, very rough, and not particular about himself. Well, that man was changed right through by the vision. I think it had more effect on him than any of us. He didn’t speak about it, but we could see for ourselves It made a man of him.”
On being asked whether he had met, since he got back, any of the men who saw the vision, lie replied: “Only one. He’s lying in Netley Hospital at this moment. He’s in the Scots Guards. I saw him the other day, and asked him about it. He remembers it just as well as I do. Of course, these chaps in here won’t believe it. They think I must have dreamed it. But the sergeant in the Scots Guards could tell them. It was no dreaming. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. I know very well what I saw.”
Miss Callow, Secretary to the Higher Thought Centre at South Kensington, also writes :—
“An officer has sent to one of the members of the Centre a detailed account of a vision that appeared to himself and others when fighting against fearful odds at Mons. He plainly saw an apparition representing St. George, the patron saint of England, the exact counterpart of a picture that hangs today in a London restaurant. So terrible was their plight at the time that the officer could not refrain from appealing to the vision to help them. Then, as if the enemy had also seen the apparition, the Germans abandoned their positions in precipitate terror. In other instances men had written about seeing clouds of celestial horsemen hovering over the British lines.”
Miss Callow also adds that a nurse at the front on one occasion asked her patients why they were so silent, to which the men replied, “We have had strange experiences, which we do not care to talk about. We have seen many of our mates killed, but they are fighting for us still.”
Mr. Hazlehurst, a Justice of the Peace in Flintshire, wrote to the Daily Mail on August 22nd, 1915, concerning Private Cleaver, of the 1st Cheshire Regimnent. He said “Cleaver frequently spoke to his friends in the canteen of what he had seen at Mons, and finding he was only forty miles off I went to see him. He gave me the following words in writing: ‘I myself was at Mons, and saw the vision of angels.’ He also expressed his willingness to sign an affidavit to that effect. Well content, I returned home, and the following day procured an affidavit and again travelled forty miles to see him sign it. A copy is enclosed.”
The Rev. G. G. Monck, M.A., Prebendary of Wells and Rural Dean of Martock, quotes a letter he received from a friend concerning the angels at Mons, in which the following passage occurs: -
“The account I sent you was taken down from the lips of a wounded man in hospital in London by one of Sir H.'s sisters, who was working there. Curiously enough, about two months ago in Oxford I met a young lieutenant of the —— who had been all through the retreat from Mons,’ and had been wounded at Neuve Chapelle. I asked him if he knew the story. He replied: ‘I read it in hospital. It is simply miraculous, but it is perfectly true.’ He added: ‘Do you know that almost the same thing happened at Neuve Chapelle?"
The Rev. Alexander Boddy, Vicar of All Saints, Monkwearmouth, who was for two months at the front with the troops, also gives an account of similar visions having been seen at the second battle of Ypres, when the British were attacked by overwhelming numbers of Germans. He says: “A soldier of the 3rd Canadians stated that after the second battle of Ypres, when the battalion was retiring through their communication trenches towards their rest camp, they were obliged to halt where a West Ridingregiment was stationed. During the halt one of the men of this regiment was narrating to those around him a strange experience of his own. He had seen, he said, what at first appeared to be a ball of fire. Afterwards it took the form of an angel with outstretched wings, standing between the British front line and that of the enemy.” Mr. Boddy also mentions a story told to the sister of a gentleman who had given up his house as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. One of the wounded soldiers told the lady that “at a critical moment an angel with’ outspread wings, like a luminous cloud, stood between the advancing Germans and themselves. This figure appeared to render it impossible for the Germans to advance and annihilate them.” The lady in question was subsequently speaking of this incident in the presence of some officers, and expressed her own incredulity. One of the officers, a colonel, looked up at this, and said, “Young lady, the thing happened. You need not be incredulous. I saw it myself.”
Similar phenomena to those which have occurred in the present war were narrated of the siege of the British Legation by the Boxers at Pekin. The occupants of the Legation found the house they occupied untenable, and were obliged to move to another position, and while the removal took place the British were in full view of the Chinese insurgents, who, they took for granted, would fire upon them. To their great surprise they failed to do so. An Englishman who was present on the occasion, and who knew Chinese as well as his own native language, took the opportunity afterwards of asking one of the Chinese soldiers why they missed such a fine chance. The Chinaman gave as a reason the fact that “there were so many people in white between them and the British that they did not like to fire.”
In most of the records ofthe appearance the apparition of a luminous cloud is alluded to. One of these records narrates how “in this cloud there seemed to be bright objects moving. The moment it appeared the German onslaught received a check. The horses could be seen rearing and plunging, and ceased to advance.” A soldier of the Dublin Fusiliers is cited as confirming this phenomenon, adding, with regard to the cloud, that it quite hid them from the enemy. Numerous references have been made in the pulpits to these phenomena, some of the clergy going so far as to read letters from soldiers at the front to their congregations. Mr. Lancaster, for instance, a Weymouth clergyman, read one of these letters from a soldier who said that his regiment was pursued by a large number of German cavalry, from which they took refuge in a quarry, where the Germans found them and were on the point of shooting them. “At that moment,” said the writer, “the whole top edge of the quarry was lined by angels, who were seen by all the soldiers, and the Germans as well. The Germans suddenly stopped, turned round, and galloped away at top speed.”
Dr. Richardson, in a sermon on the Angels of Mons, asked whether there was anyone in the congregation who had seen letters from any soldiers who could tell of seeing angels on the battlefield. A lady, Mrs. Guest, of St. Leonard’s-on-Sea, immediately got up and said that she had seen letters from three different soldiers. In each one she said there was clear and convincing testimony that these soldiers had themselves seen the angels. The letters were not hysterical outbursts, but were written in a calm and sober fashion. These soldiers stated that the Germans had been kept back by a troop of angels, and that the French soldiers also declared that they had seen the vision. Mrs. Guest was travelling from St. Leonard’s to London when a hospital nurse just back from France got into conversation with her. “She spoke to me,” said Mrs. Guest, “because I was wearing my son’s regimental badge. He is an Australian officer, recently wounded in the Dardanelles. The nurse showed moe three letters from different soldiers. All testified to having personally seen the angels, and that the French soldiers claimed to have seen St. Michael leading a troop of horsemen.”
“This intervention,” the soldiers said, “came at a most critical stage and certainly made the German horses stampede.”
Some German prisoners vowed that the English had contrived to tamper with their horses beforehand. Other Germans said they fled because of large reinforcements which the English soldiers said was the phantom army. Another lady who has established a rest-house and club for our soldiers in France, relates the following incident — “A dying soldier said to me, ‘It’s a funny thing, Sister, isn’t it, how the Germans say we had a lot of troops behind us?’ He went on to assure me that the German prisoners had said, ‘How could we break through your line when you had all those thousands of troops behind you?’ The soldier added, ‘Thousands of troops! Why, we were just a thin line of two regiments with nothing behind us.'
“A Sergeant-Major afterwards told me that he had heard a British officer talking to a German prisoner, and that the prisoner talked of the crowd of troops behind the British line, saying that all the Germans had seen them.” The lady added, “I don’t believe in the angels, but I do believe—I can’t help believing—that our soldiers, many of them, are aware of something supernatural in this war. They talk about it among themselves, some of them ; and I suppose that they would talk as freely as they are able to others if those others showed sympathy. But I am positive they would even deny having seen anything at all if they were questioned by one who appeared to them sceptical and superior. Tommy is much more sensitive than people suppose.”
The following from A. M. B. in a letter to the Church Times, July 28th, 1915, is worth recording :—
".A lady in Germany at that time, who is well known for her work among English girls there, tells me that there was much discussion in Berlin because a certain regiment which had been told off to do a certain thing at a certain Battle failed to carry out their orders, and when censured declared that they did go forward, but found themselves absolutely powerless to proceed with their orders, and their horses turned sharply round and fled like the wind and nothing could stop them. The explanation given by the Germans was, ‘We simply could not go on; those devils of Englishmen were up to some devilry or other, and we could do nothing; we were powerless.’”
The same lady asked one, the lieutenant of the regiment, what really happened. He said, “I cannot tell you. I only know that we were charging full on the British at a certain place and in a moment we were stopped. It was almost like going full speed and being suddenly pulled up on a precipice, but there was no precipice there, only our horses swerved round and we could do nothing.”
Mr. Ralph Shirley, referring to the visions seen by our men and the French, relates that he has interviewed two English ladies who have been nursing at a hospital at St. Germain en Laye, in the neighbourhood of Paris. These ladies stated that the accounts in question were in France “not merely implicitly believed, but were absolutely known to be true,” and they added “that no French paper would have made itself ridiculous by disputing the authenticity of what was vouched for by so many thousands of eye-witness.”
Similar visions were reported from Russia. Miss Campbell states that a Russian princess wrote to some of her friends in France stating that St. Michael had been seen during the battles in Russia. The letter arrived September 14th, 1914. The princess is a voluntary nurse, and her letter says that numbers of Russian wounded testified to seeing the visions. In a recent telegram also from Petrograd to La France de de;nazn it is stated that many Russian sentries declare that they have seen the ghost of General Skob~ioff(who gained fame in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877) in a white uniform, riding a white horse.
REMARKS ON THE VISIONS
The records of the phenomena witnessed by numerous British and French soldiers, including officers, do not admit of any doubt as to their reality. The visions are not always the same. In one case a central figure is seen with a figure on each side, in other cases, a number of angelic forms are seen standing between our soldiers and the enemy at a critical moment. But the vision seen apparently by the greater number of both British and French soldiers was that of a warrior on a white horse, encouraging them to advance, and sometimes accompanied by other warriors. The various interpretations of the latter vision are just what we might expect from the different poimits of view of the beholders. The British soldier believes he saw St. George of England, with which he was more or less familiar from pictures or coins. The French soldier believes he saw Michael the Archangel, or more generally Joan of Arc. The Russian soldier also sees St. Michael or else General Skobeloff. Each one clothes the vision in accordance with his preconceived ideas. These different interpretations of the vision are the best proof of its reality and that the same vision was seen by all. They are also wholly opposed to the suggestion that the phenomena were due to psychic hallucination induced by great mental and nervous strain; for in that case the different beholders, widely separated from each other, would have had greatly different hallucinations in accordance with the different idiosyncrasies of each.
The fact that the warrior on the white horse was sometimes accompanied by other warriors appearing in a luminous cloud may explain the remark of some of the British wounded who said, “We have seen many of our mates killed, but they are fighting for us still.” They doubtless alluded to the warriors who accompanied the rider on the white horse, and very naturally supposed they were their dead “mates.” It will be noticed that in one of Miss Campbell's accounts she speaks of the vision as the angels of Mons, and as having taken place after certain days and nights of the continuous fighting and marching which followed the battle of Mons on August 23rd. But in other accounts Miss Campbell speaks of the vision as having been seen at Vitry Le Francois "when the Allies turned."
Now Vitry Le Francois is on the Marne, more than eighty miles to the south-east of the position held by the British at the end of the four days’ battle which commenced at Mons on the 23rd. Vitry Le Francois was the point at which General Joifre ordered the retreat to stop and was followed by the counter attack of the Allies, which resulted in the complete defeat of the Germans and their being driven across the Marne and back to the Aisne with heavy losses. Vitry Le Francois was not on the British front, but being the point where the retreat of the French was stopped and their attack commenced, it no doubt became among our soldiers, ignorant of localities, a general term for the point at which the Allies turned.
It seems clear that Miss Campbell’s accounts refer to two distinct occasions, on each of which there appeared the vision of the rider on the white horse, and that she has mixed the two incidents together. This might naturally be expected in the case of a young lady writing from memory after months of the stress and turmoil of war, and intent only on recording the facts connected with the vision itself, compared with which details of time and place would seem of secondary importance. It is in itself an evidence of the reality of the facts she relates, for in an artificially invented story particulars of time and place would have been given a prominent place.
There is a distinction to be observed in the accounts of the various visions. Where the British soldiers were hard pressed and in danger of being overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the enemy, the vision was generally of three or more angelic forms standing between them and the enemy, which had the effect of paralysing tile latter's advance. But when the British and the French were intended to attack, the vision was always that of a single warrior on a white horse, urging them to attack. This figure appears to have been seen not only previous to the Allies’ attack and defeat of the Germans behind the Marne, but also during the retreat from Mons.
The battles of Le Cateau and Landrecies, by which the British checked for the moment the German pursuit, were fought on August 25th and 26th, the retreat being continued through the night of the 26th. But on August 28th the Allies, having retreated behind the Oise, turned upon their German pursuers, and the British cavalry inflicted two severe defeats on the pursuing German cavalry south of the Somme at Cerizv and near St. Quentin, while at the same time the French turned and attacked the German guard corps and two other German corps, completely defeating them and driving them back on Guise. In fact, so completely were the Germans checked at this time that it is a question whether the Allies could not have held the line of the Oise and Aisne instead of retreating to the Marne. It may be that it was at this time when the Allies turned on their pursuers that the vision of the rider on the white horse was seen.
On the other hand, it seems more probable that the vision may have occurred before the battle of Le Cateau, when the British turned and held the greatly superior forces of the Germans at bay for the greater part of the day, August 26th. This is supported by the allusion of Miss Campbell to the Forest, for a large portion of the British had just retreated from the position near the fortress of Mauberge through the Forest of Mormal.
But after the battle of La Cateau the weak British army was in great danger of being overwhelmed by the enormous forces of the Germans, three or four times their number, which had accumulated on their front and flank and threatened to envelop them. Yet it was just at this period that the German pursuit slackened, thereby enabling the British to retreat from Le Cateau with little or no molestation and reform their forces behind the Oise. Sir John French in his report attributed this slackness of the German pursuit to the severe losses they had suffered at Mons, Le Cateau, &c. But considering the German recklessness of loss, their great numerical superiority, and their vindictive determination to crush the British, this is wholly insufficient to explain their sudden cessation of pursuit. May not the visions of the guardian angels. who stood between our troops and the pursuing Germans, as recorded by various witnesses, account for this?
In the account of the lance-corporal, recorded by Miss Courtney Wilson, of the three angel forms seen by him and the men of his regimemt, he says that it occurred about August 28th. It might be expected that in the storm and stress of that period he would lose count of days, and that speaking of the event a year afterwards he could not be certain of the exact date. It is clear from his account that the vision occurred on the night of the 26th. From Sir John French’s report, the forced march of thirty-two miles of which the lance-corporal speaks, took place after the battles of Le Cateau and Landrecies, nor was there any other such march during the whole of the retreat to the Marne. Sir John, recognising the overwhelming forces of the Germans, determined to make this great effort in order to place the river Oise covering his front and left flank between him and the enemy. The retreat commenced by Sir Horace Smith Dorien’s masterly~ withdrawal of his army corps from the position of Le Cateau. It commenced in the afternoon of August 26th, and had to be done gradually in the face of a greatly superior enemy, a most hazardous operation. The retreat was continued during the greater part of the night of the 26th and the whole of August 27th, and it was not until the 28th that the whole army was collected and reformed behind the Oise between Noyon on the left and the fortress of La Fere on the right, the whole distance by road from Le Cateau and Landrecies being fully forty-five miles.
It is also clear from the lance-corporal’s account that there had been heavy fighting on the day on which he speaks, and that the Munsters and Scots Guards had suffered severely. Now, beyond the cavalry actions at St. Quentin and Cerizy, and some rear-guard actions in the forest of Cornpeigne, south of the Aisne, there was no serious battle after the battles of Le Cateau and Landrecies. It was at the latter place that the Scots Guards suffered severely, the Guards’ division having to withstand the attack of a whole German corps nearly four times their number.
This shows that the time spoken of by the lance-corporal was the night of the 26th, after the battles of Le Cateau and Landrecies, when his battalion had retreated some miles and was halted under cover of a wood to keep the pursuing German cavalry at bay. The further retreat of thirty.two miles, commencing that night, with of course intervals of rest, was clearly that spoken of by Sir John French as continuing through the night of the 26th and the whole of August 27th.
The vision of the guardian angels, therefore, must have occurred at what was undoubtedly the most critical moment of tile war. For had the Germans pursued with their usual vigour, the British columns, separated from each other on a long line of retreat, would almost certainly have been attacked and overwhelmed in detail. As it was, the pursuit was feeble, and when the German cavalry did pursue they were attacked and defeated with heavy loss by inferior numbers of British cavalry.
Equally well authenticated records of similar visions of guardian angels were said to have been seen at the second battle of Ypres, where the Germans made their great attempt with vastly superior forces to break through our thinly-held lines, and in this case also the visions appear to have been guardian angels holding back the German onslaught. In every case this vision seems to have taken place at the critical moment when the British were in danger of being overwhelmed by greatly superior numbers.
We may here refer to the story of “ The Bowmen,” written by Mr. Machen. He claims that his story, invented by himself, was the real origin of the various visions; that it suggested the idea to the British and French soldiers and caused them to imagine they saw these visions, or in other words, that they were hypnotised by his story.
But apart from the practical impossibility of Mr. Machen’s story having been read by soldiers who for days and nights had been marching and fighting with little or no time even for sleep, and the still greater unlikelihood of its having affected French soldiers, ignorant of English, there is the fact that the story was not published until September 29th, over a month after the time of the vision in the retreat from Mons and three weeks after the time when the Allies turned and attacked at Vitry-le-Francois. Mr. Machen’s story could not therefore have suggested the vision. Moreover, with one exception of doubtful authority, the accounts of the visions were not of bowmen but of angelic forms.
Mr. Machen, in short, admits that his invention was suggested by the stories which he had read in the papers describing tile terrible days of the retreat from Mons. He says, in rather high-flown and exaggerated language :— “I seemed to see a furnace of torment and death and agony arid terror seven times heated, and in the midst of the burning was the British army. In the midst of the flames consumed by it amid yet aureoled by it, scattered like ashes and vet triumphant, martyred and for ever glorious; so I saw these men with a shining about them, so I took these thoughts with me to church and I am sorry to say was making up a story while the deacon was singing tile gospel.”
Considering that there were no correspondents at the front and that no details of tile retreat from Mons were known for some days afterwards, it is quite possible that during that time some rumours of the vision had reached England and that a vague but forgotten mention of it had reached Mr. Machen, and unconsciously to himself had suggested his story—that, in short, the visions had suggested the story and not the story the vision.
It has also been pointed out by Mr. Harold Begbie that there is such a thing as telepathy or the transference of thought from one person to another without words, a fact ‘which has been proven beyond dispute by numberless well authenticated instances. Tne telepathy between animals is often most wonderful, and there are many people who have had experience of it, generally of trivial importance, in everyday life between themselves and others with whom they had strong sympathies. It is therefore not impossible that Mr. Machen’s mind, being wrought up to a high pitch of sympathy with our men in their retreat from Mons, may have had, unconsciously to himself, some telepathic communication of the vision seen by them.
But Mr. Maclien was probably fully aware of the numerous traditions of supernatural appearances on the eve of great conflicts or at critical moments and this, in itself would be quite sufficient to suggest his story, which it must be remembered differed considerably from the actual visions.
Mr. Machen, however, is anxious to be thought the sole originator of the visions and to prove that they were merely hallucimiations, the product of his suggestion. He therefore endeavours to throw discredit on their reality, and among other objections to them, he says that if these visions were seen by so many men how is it that none have come forward to testify of them.
But of the men who fought in the first battles of the war a large proportion are killed or prisoners, and probably not more than one-third now remain. Of these the majority are still fighting at the front, and their testimony is not available in England. The only testimony available is that of those among them who have been wounded and are still in hospital or incapable of further service, and these are necessarily very few.
It is not true that none of these have not testified to the reality of the visions, for many on being questioned have done so. But, as we have seen, they are loth to speak about them. The effect of the visions on them was to make them silent. They did not like to talk about them. They did not understand them, and there is nothing the British soldier shrinks from more than to be thought weakly credulous and foolish. Rather than be thought this by anyone affecting a sceptical superiority, he would deny the vision altogether. There is little or nothing of this reticence among the French soldiers, who are only too willing to relate their experiences, and as the testimony of most of them is available on the spot, the reality of the visions is not even questioned in France. Mr. Machen also, in support of his contention that the visions were a psychological illusion, compares them to the fact that many people in England were led to believe that they had seen large numbers of Russian soldiers passing in trains from the North for embarkation to France, although no such soldiers existed. But this was not an illusion of the senses. The people who testified to the fact really saw what they believed to be Russian soldiers, and it seems that they were intended to do so. The mystery attending the transit of these soldiers in railway carriages with the blinds drawn down helped to confirm this belief, and it is stated on good authority that it was a ruse of Lord Kitchener’s to create the belief that a powerful Russian force was about to be landed on the West Coast of France, in order to attack in flank the line of the German advance on Paris. It seems that the Germans also feared this, and it therefore was very possible that the Russian story had no little effect in inducing them to turn aside from Paris.
It is difficult to quite understand Mr. Machen’s anxiety to prove that the visions were merely hallucinations suggested by his story of “The Bowman.”
How, then, are we to regard the visions the reality of which cannot be denied, and what did they portend?
It is clear that we are living at the time foretold in Luke 21: 10, when “nation is to rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” For unlike former wars, when the fighting was confined to the regular armies of the States of War, this is a war of nations against nations, waged by the whole peoples of the nations engaged. It is in connection with these wars of the last days that "fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven." It would therefore be a serious error to reject the possibility of their taking place at the present time, or to receive with incredulity the strong evidence of their occurrence, as in the case of the visions of Mons and Ypres, lest in so doing we should reject the testimony of God vouchsafed for our benefit and encouragement.
It must further be remembered that the forces arrayed against us in this war, viz., Ultramontane Rome and Germany, are wholly evil and opposed to God, and that their purpose in making this war has been to crush Britain as the stronghold of Protestantism, and the chief witness of God in the world, and the chief propagator of the Bible throughout the world. Moreover, we are fighting against foes who are not only opposed to God and the truth of God but whose methods of warfare, treachery, falsehood and ruthless cruelty are wholly Satanic.
The war must therefore be regarded as the beginning or foreshadow of the final great conflict which is to take place at the close of this dispensation between Satan and Christ — the “battle (or war, polemon) of that great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 14. 4). See also Rev. 17. 14.
In all wars between the people of God and the enemies of God, the former, as shown by the history of Israel, whenever they are true to God, were miraculously helped by God. The battle was not merely on earth but in heaven — as in the case of the defeat of Sisera —" they fought from heaven. The stars in their courses fought against Sisera” (Judges 5. 20). So also in the overthrow of Paganism by Christianity in the reign of Constantine the Great, the conflict, although decided on earth, is represented as taking place also in heaven between Michael and his angels and Satan and his angels (Rev. 9).
Again, in Dan. 10 we see the veil lifted which conceals the heavenly combatants in earthly conflicts. The description of the man clothed in white who appeared to Daniel and in whose presence Daniel’s strength was turned to corruption, shows Him to be Christ, who appeared to John in Patmos, and before whom the apostle fell as dead (Rev. 1. 13 -15 ). The description in both cases is practically identical.*
He tells Daniel : “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days : but, lo, Michael, one of tile chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia . . . and now will I return to fight with [i.e., on the side of the prince of Persia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come “ (Dan. 10: 13 - 20).
The words appear to refer to the raising up the power of the Persians for the overthrow of the Babylonian empire and to the establishment of the Persian empire as long as Christ remained with them; but that when He had “gone forth,” or left them, the Greeks would come, by whom, under Alexander the Great, the Persian empire was in its turn overthrown.
It shows that behind the conflicts of earthly kingdoms there are unseen heavenly powers by whom the issues of these conflicts are decided.
We may also refer to the story of Elisha (2 Kings)
Vi. 13—17), when the king of Syria sent an army to capture the town in which he lived, where we are shown that he was really defended by the invisible hosts of heaven. For “the angel of the Lord encamnpeth round about them that fear Him and delivereth them” (Psalm 34:7).
*It will be noted that in other visions the appearance of angels only do not produce the overwhelming physical effect as in the two cases mentioned above.
If, then, the present war is the beginning of the final great conflict between Christ and Satan, we may believe that Christ and the armies of heaven are, unseen, fighting on our side. But in all such conflicts the people of God have to suffer failures, reverses, arid defeats before they finally overcome. It is part of their discipline and teaching either as chastisement for national sin, or in order that they may recognise the power and malignity of the enemy and their own dependence on God. In the same way the individual Christian has to suffer chastisement, failure, defeat, and overthrow in order that he may recognise the power of the evil he has to overcome, and be made humble and poor in spirit, and recognise more fully his dependence on Christ, whose strength is made perfect in his weakness. It is at such times, whether in the case of the individual or the nation, that faith and hope are liable to waver and fail. If, then, in the time of His great temptation an angel was sent to strengthen Christ Himself, there is nothing improbable that in times of overwhelming danger and need the eyes of some, like those of the servant of Elisha, should be opened and enabled to perceive the heavenly forces arrayed on their side, thereby filling them, as in the case of the soldiers in the retreat from Mons, with a strange confidence and exaltation of spirit. Nor would such vision be intended for them alone, but for all believers in Christ who in the dark hours of the war, and the still darker hours which the nation may yet have to pass through, might be tempted to despair.
Now the final battle of the great war between Christ and Satan is described in Rev. 19., where it is shown that Christ, followed by the armies of heaven, will appear on earth for the salvation of His people and the destruction of His enemies ~ Christ is there revealed as a rider on a white horse, Who “in righteousness doth judge and make war.” We may, therefore, conclude that any previous manifestation of Him as an earnest of His presence for the purpose of strengthening and encouraging those who are fighting on His side would take that form.
Finally, it may be shown that in the great conflicts of the last days between Christ amid Satan time chief earthly protagonist on the side of God is to be the British nation, who are to be specially raised up by God for this purpose. This has already been partially fulfilled in the present war.
Therefore, as many great signs from heaven are to appear during the final conflicts, it seems highly probable that they will come as special revelations to the British for their encouragement in the hour of their need, and should be received as assurances of the help of God in the dark hours which may yet await the British race.
FALSE SIGNS AND LYING WONDERS
We are told that in these last days false Christs and false prophets are to appear, who shall show great signs amid wonders, and deceive if possible the very elect (Matt. 24. 24). But Scripture tells us how we are to regard such signs and wonders. If their effect is to support idolatry or false religion, we are to give no heed to them. They are permitted by God as tests to prove the reality or otherwise of people’s faith (Deut. 13. 1 - 3). But the case of the rider on the white horse in the vision of Mons is not of this character. If, as pointed out, the vision can only be a manifestation of Christ as an earnest that He is fighting, unseen, on our side, it must lead to faith in Him and not to idolatry. It would not only induce numbers to seek His aid in the hour of earthly need and conflict, but beget in many, hitherto ignorant of Him, the desire to know more of Him, and thence to seek His aid in spiritual things as "the only name under heaven given among men by which we can be saved,” and Who has said “Him that cometh unto Me I wiIl by no means cast out and I will raise him up at the last day “ (John 6: 37 - 40).
But whatever evidence of truth is given by God to man, Satan will do his best to pervert it, or else neutralise its effect by sowing tares among the wheat so as to make it difficult for the world generally to distinguish between truth and error. The teaching of Romanism is wholly opposed to any direct appeal to or trust in Christ Himself. The sinner is warned that if he goes to Christ direct he will be rejected, and that he must first seek the mediation of the Virgin as "the only hope of sinners." As the Jesuits told the Rev. Hobart Seymour, the religion of Rome is practically the worship of Mary ; that is, Mariolatry.*; We may therefore expect that the advocates and supporters of Romanism would endeavour as far as possible to either pervert, or wholly deny, visions such as those of Mons and Ypres, which, if believed, might lead numbers to put their trust in Christ.
Such is probably the explanation of the supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary with Christ in her arms to the Russian soldiers before the battle of Angustovo. Nothing would be more likely than that the priests or devotees of superstition would make use of the actual vision in order to support their false religion by persuading the ignorant soldiers that what they saw, more or less indistinctly in a luminous cloud, was a vision of “the Virgin and Child,” which is the usual way in which the false Christ of both Paganism and Romanism is represented.
The above is not the only case in which these visions have been Perverted by fables and inventions to teach idolatry and false religion. Such accretions and fables must be expected, and will doubtless deceive those who are not guided by the “Spirit of Truth” (1 John 2: 20 - 27).
The press in this country has recently given publicity to various stories claiming to be authentic of appearances of phantom warriors who are stated to have come to the rescue of the hardly-pressed armies of France and England at the time of the retreat from Mons. At this date it will be recollected that the German army was carrying everything before it in a triumphant advance towards Paris, and it seemed to the majority of people both in this country and across the Channel that nothing could prevent the capture of the French capital. Suddenly there came a change over the whole outlook—a change that was explained in all sorts of different ways according to the conceptions of the military situation as seen from the point of view of innumerable armchair strategists. An opinion which held favour with many, and which rumour loudly supported, was that a Russian army had come by sea to an English port, and passing through this country and across the Channel had landed on the French coast, and was threatening the German line of retreat. This bubble was soon burst, but people still continued to ask themselves how it was that the triumphant onward march of the irresistible German army had suddenly been thrown back at the battle of the Marne, in disastrous and ignominious retreat.
It was about this time (September 29, 19 14, to be precise that a circumstantial narrative which might have been intended to be taken either as fact or fiction appeared in the columns of the Swewn^g News under the title of The Bowmen. This story narrated how at a critical point in the retreat of the Allies an apparition of an army of English bowmen with St. George at their head had come to the rescue of the retreating forces of General Joffre and Sir John French, and had struck terror into the German armies. Many readers took this charmingly-written tale as a statement of fact, but a letter addressed to the author, Mr. Machen, by the present writer, elicited the response that the narrative had no foundation outside the writer's vivid fancy. Soon, however, correspondence began to reach the papers from various quarters giving records more or less circumstantial of appearances of phantom warriors who, it was confidently averred, had actually come to the rescue of the defeated armies at this critical moment. These correspondents would have none of Mr. Machen's statement that his story was pure romance. ' It might not be, they said in effect, that the phantom English bowmen had been seen on the battlefield (though one of the narratives actually maintains this), but they stoutly declared that of the apparitions of spirit warriors and especially of St. George on his white charger, there could be no possible doubt. These stories were in their turn borne out by the French wounded, many of whom maintained that while the English had seen the figure they took for St. George, they themselves had seen St. Michael, while many others had witnessed the apparition of Joan of Arc riding at their head in full armour.
Such stories had indeed been widely current in France at the time of the retreat from Mons — nearly a month before the appearance of Mr. Machen's story. Thus a lance-cerporal, who was subsequently wounded, and is now in an English hospital, told his nurse (Miss C. M. Wilson) of his own experience on or about August 28. It is not so definite or circumstantial as some of the others, but it has the merit at least of being first-hand. "The weather," he states, "was at the time very hot and clear, and between eight and nine o'clock in the evening we were standing with a party of nine other men on duty. Immediately behind us half of our battalion was on the edge of a wood resting, when an officer suddenly came up in a state of great anxiety and asked if we had seen anything startling," the impression at the moment being that a German surprise attack was threatened. Immediately after this the lance-corporal's attention was drawn to a strange appearance in the sky.
A Lance-Corporal's Evidence
I could see quite plainly in mid-air (he said) a strange light which seemed to be quite distinctly outlined and was not a reflection of the moon, nor were there any clouds in the neighbourhood. The light became brighter and I could see quite distinctly three shapes, one in the centre having what looked like outspread wings, the other two were not so large, but were quite plainly distinct from the centre one. They appeared to have a long loose-hanging garment of a golden tint, and they were above the German line facing us.
We stood watching them for about three-quarters of an hour. All the men with me saw them, and other men came up from other groups who also told us that they had seen the same thing. I am not a believer in such things, but I have not the slightest doubt that we really did see what I now tell you.
In most of the records of the appearance the apparition of a luminous cloud is alluded to. One of these narrates how " in this cloud there seemed to be bright objects moving. The moment it appeared the German onslaught received a check. The horses could be seen rearing and plunging and ceased to advance." A soldier of the Dublin Fusiliers is cited as confirming this phenomenon, adding, with regard to the cloud, that it quite hid them from the enemy. Numerous references have been made in the pulpits to these phenomena, some of the clergy going so far as to read letters from soldiers at the front to their congregations. Mr. Lancaster, for instance, a Weymouth clergyman, read one of these letters from a soldier who said that his regiment was pursued by a large number of German cavalry, from which they took refuge in a quarry, where the Germans found them and were on the point of shooting them, "At that moment," said the writer," the whole top edge of the quarry was lined by angels, who were seen by all the soldiers and the Germans as well. The Germans suddenly stopped, turned round, and galloped away at top speed. "The Universe, a Roman Catholic paper, gives a story told by a Roman Catholic officer at the front, of an apparition of men with bows and arrows, and states that when he was talking to a German prisoner afterwards the man asked who was the officer on a great white horse who led them, for although he was such a conspicuous figure they had none of them been able to hit him. This is the single instance above alluded to where the story tallies with Mr. Machen's bowmen.
Such stories as that of the apparitions at Mons have been told in connexion with various great historical battles, but they have always been put down as legendary. The most famous instance of this is that so brilliantly utilized by Lord Macaulay in his ballad entitled " The Battle of Lake Regillus," where two mysterious horsemen appear, who lead the Roman army to victory and are subsequently averred to have been the great Twin Brethren of Roman Mythology, Castor and Pollux, Among Bible records we have the story of the siege of Dothan by the King of Assyria, when Elisha is narrated as turning to his terrified servant and stating that, " They that be with us are more than they that be with them," Ehsha then prays that his servant's eyes may be opened, that he may see, and, continues the Bible narrative, " The Lord opened the eyes of the young man and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." A somewhat similar story is told with regard to the victory of Judas Maccabeus in the second century b.c. over Lysias, the General of Antiochus Epiphanes. The army of Judas only consisted of 10,000 men whereas that of Lysias numbered 80,000. " When they were at Jerusalem," says the historian,* "there appeared before them on horseback one in white apparel shaking his armour of gold. Thus they marched forward in their armour, having an helper from heaven; for the Lord was merciful unto them."
Among the most important records of psychic phenomena occurring on the occasion of the Battle of Mons is that of Miss Phyllis Campbell, who has for many months of the war been a nurse at a hospital near the front. It fell to her lot to tend various wounded soldiers who had witnessed these strange phenomena and she gave a record of her experiences in the form of an article which appeared in the August issue of the Occult Review. ✙ On one occasion while she was bandaging a shattered arm, the President of the post, Mme de A , came and took her place, asking her to attend to an Englishman who was begging for a holy picture. The idea of an English soldier making such a request at such a time seemed curious enough, but she hurried off to attend to his needs. He proved to be a Lancashire Fusller.
St. George at Mons
He was propped in a corner (says Miss Campbell), his left arm tied up in a peasant woman's head kerchief, and his head newly bandaged. He should have been in a state of collapse from loss of blood, for his tattered uniform was soaked and caked in blood, and his face paper-white under the dirt of conflict. He looked at me with bright courageous eyes and asked for a picture or a medal (he did not care which) of St. George. I asked if he was a Catholic. " No,"# he was a Wesleyan Methodist, and he wanted a picture, or a medal of St. George, because he had seen him on a white horse, leading the British at Vitry-le-Frangois, when the Allies turned. There was an R.F.A. man, wounded in the leg, sitting beside him on the floor ; he saw my look of amazement, and hastened in, " It's true, Sister," he said." We all saw it. First there was a sort of yellow mist, sort of risin' before the Germans as they come on to the top of the hill, come on like a solid wall they did—springing out of the earth just solid—no end to 'em. I just give up. No use fighting the whole German race, thinks I ; it's all up with us. The next minute comes this funny cloud of light, and when it clears off there's a tall man with yellow hair, in golden armour, on a white horse, holding his sword up, and his mouth open as if he was saying, ' Come on, boys ! I'll put the kybosh on the devils.' Sort of ' This is my picnic ' expression. Then, before you could say' knife,' the Germans had turned, and we were after them, fighting like ninety. We had a few scores to settle, Sister, and we fair settled them."
Both these soldiers knew it was St. George, for " Had not they seen him with his sword on every quid they'd ever had ? " The " Frenchies," however, they admitted, maintained that it was St. Michael. The French wounded Miss Campbell) describes as being in a curiously exalted condition—a sort of rapture of happiness. It was quite true, they maintained. The Germans were in full retreat, and the Allies were being led to victory by St. Michael and Joan of Arc. One of the wounded French soldiers happened to have come from Domremy, Joan of Arc's native home, and declared that he saw her brandishing her sword and crying, " Turn ! turn ! advance ! "No wonder," he cried, " the Boches fled down the hill."
* II Maccabeus, xi, 8, 9, 10.
* t Reprinted in the September number.
A Dying Guardsman's Narrative
Miss Phyllis Campbell told Mme de A___her experience with the soldiers, and they agreed to compare notes with the rest of the staff. All but one had heard the tale of the angelic leaders, and this one had been detailed to guard three wounded Germans, and had therefore had no opportunity of conversation. Miss Campbell mentions the case of three men of the Irish Guard who were mortally wounded and asked for the Sacrament before death, and before dying told the same story to the old abbe who confessed them. The author of this remarkable article draws attention to the fact that whereas immediately before the apparitions were seen all the wounded soldiers who were brought in expressed the conviction of swiftly approaching disaster, immediately afterwards there was a complete transformation of their attitude, the sense of despair giving place to a state of strange exaltation and confidence of victory. It is only natural that long forced marches without adequate food, under a condition of intense strain and anxiety, should produce a condition of the nerves which is far from normal, and however ready we may be to grant the genuineness of the experiences above narrated, it must be borne in mind that men in such a state of tension will be far more susceptible to psychic influences than they would be under normal, everyday conditions. Granted, however, that such conditions were prevalent, it is noteworthy that very similar, though not identical, experiences were undergone, if the records are to be relied upon, by thousands of French and English soldiers.
The abnormal conditions induced by the intense strain of the long marches enforced by the rearguard fighting is made evident by a curious passage which appears in a recently published work entitled The Crucible, by Mabel Collins.She here cites a letter from a young officer who was killed immediately afterwards, who says, " I had the most amazing hallucinations marching at night, so I was fast asleep, I think. Every one was reeling about the road and seeing things." And again, of the following night, he adds, " I saw aU sorts of things, enormous men walking towards me and lights and chairs and things in the road."
Another contribution to the evidence on the subject of the apparitions at the front has been sent me by the Rev. Alexander A. Boddy Vicar of All Saints, Monkwearmouth. the Rev. Alexander A. Bodd5^ Vicar of All Saints, Monkwearmouth. ✝ Mr. Boddy was for two months at the front with the troops in France, and in the course of his work was the recipient of some interesting communications. Among other stories he gives that of a soldier of the third Canadians who stated that after the second battle of Ypres, when their battalion was retiring through their communication trenches towards their rest camp, they were obliged to halt where a West Riding regiment was stationed. During the halt one of the men of this regiment was narrating to those 'around him a strange experience of his own. He had seen, he said, what appeared at first to be a ball of fire. Afterwards it took the form of an angel with outstretched wings standing between the British front line and that of the enemy. Mr. Boddy also mentions a story told to the sister of a gentleman who had given up his house as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. One of the wounded soldiers told the lady that at a critical moment an angel with outspread wings like a luminous cloud stood between the advancing Germans and themselves. This figure appeared to render it impossible for the Germans to advance and annihilate them. The lady in question was subsequently speaking of this incident in the presence of some officers and expressed her own incredulity. One of the officers, a colonel, looked up at this, and observed " Young lady, the thing happened. You need not be incredulous. I saw it myself." It is curious to note that similar phenomena to those which have occurred in the present war were narrated of the siege of the British Legation by the Boxers at Pekin. The occupants of the Legation found the house they occupied untenable, and were obliged to move to another position, and while the removal took place the British were in full view of the Chinese insurgents, who they took for granted would fire upon them. To their great surprise they failed to do so. An Englishman who was present on the occasion and who knew Chinese as well as his own native language, took the opportunity afterwards of asking one of the Chinese soldiers why they missed such a fine chance. The Chinaman gave as a reason the fact that " There were so many people in white between them and the British that they did not like to fire."
✝ From an address at an open-air meeting reported in
THE SUNDERLAND ECHO OF AUGUST I6
A valuable addition to the list of records in connexion with the phenomena at :Mons was supphed by Miss Callow, secretary of the Higher Thought Centre, at South Kensington, to the Weekly Dispatch. She writes:
An officer has sent to one of the members of the Centre a detailed account of a vision that appeared to himself and others when fighting against fearful odds at Mons. He plainly saw an apparition representing St. George the patron saint of England, the exact counterpart of a picture that hangs to-day in a London restaurant. So terrible was their plight at the time that the officer could not refrain from appealing to the vision to help them. Then, as if the enemy had also seen the apparition, the Germans abandoned their positions in precipitate terror. In other instances men had written about seeing Clouds of Celestial Horsemen hovering over the British lines.
Miss Callow also adds that a nurse at the front on one occasion asked her patients why they were so silent, to which the men replied, " We have had strange experiences, which we do not care to talk about. We have seen many of our mates killed, but they are fighting for us still."
Doubt has, not unnaturally, been cast upon the credibility of these records in England, owing to the publication of Mr. Machen's story and his persistent affirmation that this story was purely evolved from his own inner consciousness. There appears, however, to be no question that at the time of his writing The Bowmen and for weeks before, these stories had been current, especially on the other side of the Channel, and if we are to accept the now generally admitted fact of telepathy, nothing is more Hkely than that a record passing from mouth to mouth might have reached Mr. Machen's subconscious intelUgence and formed the basis of a story the main details of which, after all, only approximately corresponded to the experiences of the soldiers at the front.
The spiritual exaltation above alluded to, which is always liable to accompany great battles, has indeed given rise in numerous authenticated instances of physical phenomena of an entirely abnormal kind, and such phenomena on the present occasion have not been confined to only one theatre of the war. Stories have been widely current in the Russian army that many Russian sentinels have seen the famous ghost of General Skobeleff in white uniform and riding his white charger. This apparition is supposed to appear when the armies of the Tsar are in imminent danger, and invariably to create a panic in the enemy's ranks. General Skobeleff, it will be remembered, played a conspicuous part in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, in particular in the storming of the then Turkish fortress of Plevna.
A spiritual experience of another kind is also told in connecion with the battle of Augustovo in October 1914, in which the German army met with its first disastrous defeat at the hands of the Russians. The story, which was communicated by a Russian general who was wit!i the army operating in East Prussia, runs as follows
Vision of The Virgin Mary
While our troops were in the region of Suwalki, the captain of one of my regiments witnessed a marvellous revelation.
It was eleven o'clock at night, and the troops were in bivouac. Suddenly a soldier from one of our outposts, wearing a startled look, rushed in and called the captain. The latter went with the soldier to the outskirts of the camp and witnessed an amazing apparition in the sky. It was that of the Virgin Mary, with the Infant Christ on one hand, the other hand pointing to the west.
Our soldiers knelt on the ground and gazed fervently at the vision. After a time the apparition faded, and in its place came a great image of the Cross, shining against the dark night sky.
This strange state of psychic exaltation is also doubtless accountable for the remarkable and well-attested phenomena which took place nightly for some months after theBattle of Edge Hill, in the English Civil War, on the subject of which Lord Nugent makes comment " that the world abounds with histories of preternatural appearances, the most utterly incredible, supported by testimonies the most undeniable." Here is a ghost story of the most preposterous sort. " Yet is this story," he adds, " attested upon the oath of three officers, men of honour and distinction, and of three other gentlemen of credit, selected by the King as commissioners to report upon these prodigies, and to tranquillize and disabuse the alarms of a country town." The record of these phenomena is given in a rare and curious tract entitled A Great Wonder in Heaven, showing the late Apparitions and Prodigious Noyses of War and Battels, seen on Edge Hill, neere Keinton in Northamptonshire. Certified under the Hands of William Wood, Esquire, and Justice for the Peace in the said Countie, Samuel Marshall, Preacher of Gods Word in Keinton, and other Persons of Qualitie.— London : Printed for Thomas Jackson, January 23, ArmoDom. 1642 (1643 ?). Its bearing on the question under discussion seems to me to warrant its reproduction here in the words of the narrator:
The Battle of Edge Hill
Between twelve and one o'clock in the morning (says our authority), was heard by some shepherds, and other country-men, and travellers, first the sound of drummes afar off, and the noyse of souldiers, as it were, giving out their last groanes ; at which they were much amazed, and amazed stood still, till it seemed, by the neernesse of the noyse, to approach them ; at which too much affrighted, they sought to withdraw as fast as possibly they could ; but then, on the sudden, whilest they were in these cogitations, appeared in the ayre the same incorporeall souldiers that made those clamours, and immediately, with ensignes display'd, drummes beating, musquets going off, cannons discharged, horses neyghing, which also to these men were visible, the alarum or entrance to this game of death was strucke up, one Army, which gave the first charge, having the King's colours, and the other the Parliaments, in their head or front of the battel's, and so pell mell to it they went ; the battell that appeared to the Kings forces seeming at first to have the best, but afterwards to be put into apparent rout ; but till two or three in the morning in equal! scale continued this dreadful fight, the clattering of Armes, noyse of cannons, cries of soldiers, so amazing and terrifying the poore men, that they could not believe they were mortal, or give credit to their ears and eyes ; runne away they durst not, for fear of being made a prey to these infernal soldiers, and so they, with much fear and affright, stayed to behold the success of the business, which at last suited to this effect : after some three hours fight, that Army which carried the Kings colours withdrew, or rather appeared to flie ; the other remaining, as it were, masters of the field, stayed a good space triumphing, and expressing all the signs of joy and conquest, and then, with all their drummes, trumpets, ordinance, and soldiers, vanished ; the poor men were glad they were gone, that had so long staid them there against their wills, made with all haste to Keinton, and there knocking up Mr. Wood, a Justice of Peace, who called up his neighbour, Mr. Marshall, the Minister, they gave them an account of the whole passage, and averred it upon their oaths to be true. At which affirmation of theirs, being much amazed, they should hardly have given credit to it, but would have conjectured the men to have been either mad or drunk, had they not known some of them to have been of approved integritie: and so, suspending their judgements till the next night about the same hour, they, with the same men, and all the substantial! inhabitants of that and the neighbouring parishes, drew thither ; where, about half an hour after their arrival, on Sunday, being Christmas night, appeared in the same tumultuous warhke manner, the same two adverse Armies, fighting with as much spite and spleen as formerly. The next night they appeared not, nor all the week, so that the dwellers thereabout were in good hope they had for ever departed ; but on the ensuing Saturday night, in the same place, and at the same hour, they were again scene with far greater tumult* fighting in the manner afore-mentioned for four hours, and then vanished, appearing again on Sunday night, and performing the same actions of hostilitie and bloodshed ; so that both Mr. Wood and others, whose faith, it should seem, was not strong enough to carry them out against these delusions, forsook their habitations thereabout, and retired themselves to other more secure dwellings ; but Mr. Marshall stayed, and some other ; and so successively the next Saturday and Sunday the same tumults and prodigious sights and actions were put in the state and condition they were formerly. The rumour whereof coming to his Majestic at Oxford, he immediately dispatched thither Colonel Lewis Kirke, Captain Dudley, Captain Wainman, and three other gentlemen of credit, to take the full view and notice of the said business, who, first hearing the true attestation and relation of Mr. Marshall and others staid there till Saturday night following, wherein they heard and saw the fore-mentioned prodigies, and so on Sunday, distinctly knowing divers of the apparitions or incorporeall substances by their faces, as that of Sir Edmund Varney, and others that were there slain ; of which upon oath they made testimony to his Majestic. What this does portend God only knoweth, and time perhaps will discover ; but doubtlessly it is a signe of his wrath against this Land, for these civil wars, which He in His good time finish, and send a sudden peace between his Majestic and Parliament.
This strange psychic record is not indeed in any sense an exact parallel to the phenomena which have excited so great an interest at the present time, but it serves to show the effect that war is liable to produce upon the psychic atmosphere, and in this manner may render such incidents as those recently recorded credible to the minds of many who would at first sight be disposed to reject them as old wives' tales. If the phenomena following the Battle of Edge Hill so fully substantiated by contemporary evidence actually took place, why should it not be possible for psychic phenomena of a certainly no more remarkable kind, to be one of the concomitant circumstances of the greatest war in the world's history? Would it not rather be strange it if were otherwise ?
These records do not in fact stand alone. The ghostly story of the Battle of Edge Hill which has been perpetuated in the Memorials of John Hampden, His Party and Times, by Lord Nugent, finds a close parallel in the record of the Battle of Mook-Heath of April 13, 1574, as narrated in Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic. In both cases were individual combatants identified. In both cases the phenomena were not confined to experiences of the sight alone. The shouts of the combatants and the discharge of cannon and the rattle of musketry were clearly audible in both instances. The main difference indeed lay in the curious fact that whereas the phenomena at Edge Hill followed the date of the battle, in the case of Mook-Heath they preceded it by some two months. It appears, indeed, that in some peculiar way great wars open up fresh channels for the psychic senses, and the physical struggle of great armies appears ever to have its counterpart on the spiritual plane, by the bringing into action of psychic forces working for good or evil, on the side of Light or of Darkness" principalities and powers mustering their unseen array " upon whose efforts no less than upon the efforts of those now living on the physical plane the great and final issues of this vast world-conflict ultimately depend.
The Pros and Cons
One important point is inevitably raised with regard to these apparitions on the European battlefields. They have this in common, with many similar apparitions—that is they are not seen alike by all witnesses. Where one sees St. George another sees St. Michael, and a third Joan of Arc. Were all three of these heroes of the past actually present on the battlefield, or indeed were any of them ? Even assuming that we accept the authenticity of the visions, we are not, I think, called upon to say that they were. Spirit is plastic. May we not rather say that it is Protean? It is clothed upon by the imagination of the beholder to an almost hmitless extent. In a further account of Miss Phyllis Campbell's which she gave to the editor of the Evening News, she relates how a soldier of the Irish Guards,an enormous man who stood over six feet five inches, told her, narrating his own experiences, that " St. George was in golden armour, bareheaded, and riding a white horse." He cried "Come on!" as he brandished his sword. Why, we may ask, was St. George in golden armour? Doubtless because the Irish guardsman had seen him most recently on the back of a sovereign. Here also he is brandishing a sword. The apparitions which created such a sensation in the South of France a few months before the outbreak of war had the same tendency to vary according to the temperament of the beholder. Here, too, Joan of Arc was seen (among others) and foretold the fact that she was the harbinger of a great war, by making stars appear from out of a clouded sky at the request of the village cure. Who can doubt that if a Theosophist had been present at the retreat of Mons he would have witnessed an apparition of one of the Mahatmas, just as the Russian soldiers saw the phantom of General Skobeleff? The gods of ancient days, according to classical story, became visible to* the heroes whose causes they espoused, in the guise of mortal men. The radiant forms of the spiritual hierarchies can only be made manifest to mortal eye in a form which the beholder can interpret. The spirit champion of British arms inevitably takes the form of St. George. He comes in the spirit and power of St. George to do St. George's work, and thus the British soldier interprets his spiritual leaders in terms of the ancient traditions of his race.
ALLEGED VISIONS ON THE BATTLEFIELD
A Large number of enquiries have reached us as to the authenticity of the alleged visions of angels, etc., seen on the battlefields in France, and in many cases the enquirers have sent us copies of accounts that have appeared in a number of newspapers, parish magazines, etc.
Practically all these accounts are identical, beginning "Last Sunday I met Miss M., daughter of the well-known Canon M., and she told me she knew two officers, both of whom had themselves seen the angels. ..."
On first receiving the account, we wrote to Miss M., asking if she could put us into communication with these officers. She replied, " I cannot give you the names of the men referred to in your letter of May 26 , as the story I heard was quite anonymous and I do not know who they were."
It thus appears that the account was repeated and circulated on purely hearsay evidence; and there is reason for believing that it was founded on the story of visionary archers led by St. George, which was invented by a journalist, Mr. Arthur Machen, and published in the Evening News.
If, however, any of our readers can obtain first-hand accounts from the witnesses of any actual apparitions, we should be very glad to receive them.
Page 95 of Journal of Society for Psychical Research. July, 1915.
AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING " THE ANGELS AT MONS."
By Mrs. W. H. Salter (H. de G. Verrall),
[In the following report the names of the various people concerned have usually been omitted or else they have been replaced by pseudonyms or initials. In one or two instances this has been done because correspondents asked that their names should he withheld, and in other cases the identity of the writer being a matter of no moment for the purpose we had in view, we have not asked permission to reveal it. We take this opportunity of thanking all those who have assisted us in our enquiry, and especially the Editor of "The All Saints Clifton Parish Magazine." — Ed.]
Very widespread interest has been aroused by the stories current during the past year of "visions" seen by British soldiers during the retreat from Mons. Many enquiries have reached us as to whether we have received any first-hand evidence of these visions, and it seems worth while to go into the question at some length, not only with a view to determining, so far as is possible, what is the truth of the matter, but also because the whole history of the case throws an interesting light on the value of human testimony and the growth of rumour. These points are of particular interest to those concerned in psychical research, because it is upon human testimony that their conclusions must to a great extent be founded.
The tide of rumour was at its height in May and June of this year, and of the reports which reached us about that time a large number can be directly traced to an article which first appeared in The All Saints' Clifton Parish Magazine for May, 1915, and was there reprinted in July. This article ran as follows :
Last Sunday I met Miss M., daughter of the well-known Canon M., and she told me she knew two officers both of whom had themselves seen the angels who saved our left wing from the Germans, when they came right upon them during the retreat from Mons.
They expected annihilation, as they were almost helpless, when to their amazement they stood like dazed men, never so much as touched their guns, nor stirred till we had turned round and escaped by some cross-roads. One of Miss M.'s friends, who was not a religious man, told her that he saw a troop of angels between us and the enemy. He has been a changed man ever since. The other man she met in London. She asked him if he had heard the wonderful stories of angels. He said he had seen them himself and under the following circumstances.
While he and his company were retreating, they heard the German cavalry tearing after them. They saw a place where they thought a stand might be made with sure hope of safety ; but, before they could reach it, the German cavalry were upon them. They therefore turned round and faced the enemy, expecting nothing but instant death, when to their wonder they saw between them and the enemy a whole troop of angels. The German horses turned round terrified and regularly stampeded. The men tugged at their bridles, while the poor beasts tore away in every direction from our men.
This officer swore he saw the angels, which the horses saw plainly enough. This gave them time to reach the little fort, or whatever it was, and save themselves. We received reports almost exactly identical with the above from several other sources. It is worth noting that these statements are ascribed to various authors, but taking into account the fact that, save for a word here and there, all the statements are verbally identical, we are justified in assuming that they all originate from one source, probably the All Saints' Magazine.
In each case the story is told on the authority of Miss M., who is said to have known personally the officers concerned. Accordingly we wrote to Miss M. to ask whether she could corroborate these stories, and received the following reply :
May 28, 1915.
I cannot give you the names of the men referred to in your letter of May 26, as the story I heard was quite anonymous, and I do not know who they were.
It will be seen, therefore, that these reports, based on the authority of Miss M., break down at a crucial point. They prove to be no more than rumours which it is impossible to trace to their original source. There is also another suggestive point to note in this connexion.
The Vicar of All Saints' Parish, Clifton, when he sent us the statement, which had appeared in his parish magazine and is printed above, sent with it another report, attributed to a certain Miss E. W., as follows:
A Hospital Nurse, who has been attending to a wounded British Soldier, said to him the other day : Do you believe in God?"
He answered: "I do now, but I used not to. But ever since the Battle of Mons my opinions have changed." Proceeding, he said: "We had a terrible time and at last a company of us was hemmed into a large chalk pit. We were quite powerless and heard the German cavalry approaching. Suddenly I looked up and encircling the top of the pit was a ring of shining Angels. As the cavalry rushed up the horses saw them and there was a general stampede. Our lives were saved and the Germans were put to confusion."
Seven soldiers including officers saw the Angels. The soldier gave the names and addresses and the nurse wrote and had the story authenticated, one of the officers writing: "It's all perfectly true, but it is too sacred to put in a paper, so it must not be published."
This story was told me by Miss [Leonard], of _______.
We have also received through a member of the Society, Mrs. S., the following statement, which was sent to her by a friend:
A hospital Nurse who has been attending to a wounded British Soldier said to him the other day: "Do you believe in God ?"
He answered : "I do now, but I used not to, but ever since the Battle of Mons my opinions have changed. We had a terrible time and at last a company of us was hemmed into a large chalk pit. We were quite powerless and heard the German cavalry approaching. Suddenly I looked up and encircling the top of the pit was a ring of shining Angels. As the Cavalry rushed up the horses saw them and there was a general stampede. Our lives were saved and the Germans put to confusion. Seven soldiers including an officer saw the Angels."
The Soldier gave the names and addresses and the Nurse wrote to them and the story was authenticated ; one of the officers writing says: "Its all perfectly true but it's too sacred to put in a paper. "One of the officers was a friend of Miss M., Canon M.'s daughter; he was not a religious man before, but has been a changed man ever since.
If this last statement is compared with Miss E. W.'s report and the report in the All Saints' Parish Magazine, it will be seen to be a combination of the two. The first paragraph and the first half of the second are verbally identical with Miss E. W.'s statement, but whereas Miss E. W. gives Miss Leonard as her authority, in the account sent by Mrs. S. Miss M. appears again as the source of the story. One of the officers was a friend of Miss M., Canon M.'s daughter; he was not a religious man before, but has been a changed man ever since.
There can be little doubt that this sentence is from the same source as one which occurred in the All Saints Magazine: One of Miss M.'s friends, who was not a religious man, told her that he saw a troop of angels between us and the enemy. He has been a changed man ever since.
It has already been shown that Miss M. denies having any authority in this matter. As regards Miss Leonard, one of our members wrote to ask whether she could substantiate the story attributed to her. He was referred by Miss Leonard to another lady, to whom he also wrote ; but so far he has received no reply. One other piece of alleged evidence in support of the "Angels of Mons" may be briefly dismissed. In the Daily Mail for August 24, 1915, there appeared a communication from Mr. G. S. Hazlehurst stating that a certain Private Robert Cleaver, 1st Cheshire Regiment, had signed an affidavit in his presence to the effect that he "personally was at Mons and saw the Vision of Angels with [his] own eyes." Speaking of his interview with Private Cleaver, Mr. Hazlehurst said:
When I saw Private Cleaver, who struck me as being a very sound, intelligent man, he at once volunteered his statement and had no objection to signing an affidavit before me that he had seen the Angels of Mons.
He said that things were at the blackest with our troops, and if it had not been for the supernatural intervention they would have been annihilated. The men were in retreat, and lying down behind small tufts of grass for cover. Suddenly the vision came between them and the German cavalry.
He described it as a "flash "... The cavalry horses rushed in all directions and were disorganised.
In the Daily Mail for September 2, 1915, there appeared a further communication from Mr. Hazlehurst to the effect that in consequence of a rumour that Private Cleaver was not present at the battle of Mons, he had written to the headquarters at Salisbury for information as to his movements, and received the following reply :
Records Office, Cheshire Regiment.
. . . (10515 R. Cleaver.) . . .
With regard to your enquiries concerning the above man, the following are the particulars concerning him. He mobilised at Chester on August 22, 1914:. He was posted out to the 1st Battalion, Expeditionary Force, France, with a draft on September 6, 1914. He returned to England on December 14, sick.
Mr. Hazlehurst concludes:
The battle of Mons was in August, 1914, and readers will draw their own conclusions. Information sworn on oath is usually regarded as sufficiently trustworthy for publication, but apparently not in this case. . . .
So far, therefore, as concerns Private Cleaver and the other evidence which has been considered up to this point, the legend of the Angels at Mons remains insufficiently corroborated, and the suggestion has even been made that it owes its origin entirely to a story by Mr. Arthur Machen, called The Bowmen, which first appeared in the Evening News of September 29, 1914, and, as its author himself affirms, was purely fictitious. Subsequently The Bowmen was published in book form, and in his preface to the first edition Mr. Machen supports the contention that the source from which the legend of the "Angels of Mons" sprang is no other than his own tale. In his preface, however, to the second edition he says that, in consequence of further evidence which has been brought to his notice, he has modified this opinion. Apart from this evidence, — which will be considered in due course, — one would have expected that, had Mr. Machen's story been the sole origin of the legend, the various versions of it that have been current would have borne clearer traces of their origin. Those versions which have been quoted above bear hardly any resemblance to Mr. Machen's tale beyond the fact that the central incident in each case is a supernatural intervention on behalf of the British army. Shortly after the publication of The Bowmen in book form, Mr. Harold Begbie published a pamphlet entitled On the Side of tlie Angels, in which he set out to refute the assertion that Mr. Machen was solely responsible for the reports concerning the Angels at Mons. Mr. Begbie's object is to prove "not that Angels appeared at Mons, but that before Mr. Machen had written his fiction British soldiers in France believed that Angels had appeared to them." We may therefore expect to find, as we in fact do, that Mr. Begbie's evidence is not such as to throw any clear light on the precise nature of the experiences which he relates. That is not primarily his purpose, and the reports which he has collected are in some cases given at second hand, and in others have been described by the percipients only after an interval of many months since the date of the experience, so that due allowance must be made for inaccuracy of memory, the force of suggestion, and other common sources of error. We have, however, tried to get further particulars in all cases which seemed likely to prove interesting, but the result has hitherto been small. In one way or another many possible witnesses have passed out of reach, and other witnesses do not feel themselves able to assist us. It may, however, be of interest to quote and discuss some of the best accredited reports, together with such additional information as we have been able to obtain about them. In the Daily Mail of August 12, 1915, there appeared a report of an interview with a wounded lance-corporal, whose name was not given. His statement—quoted also by Mr. Begbie — was as follows :
I was with my battalion in the retreat from Mens on or about August 28. The German cavalry were expected to make a charge, and we were waiting to fire and scatter them. . . .
The weather was very hot and clear, and between eight and nine o'clock in the evening I was standing with a party of nine other men on duty, and some distance on either side there were parties of ten on guard. . . . An officer suddenly came up to us in a state of great anxiety and asked us if we had seen anything startling. . . . He hurried away from my ten to the next party of ten. At the time we thought 'that the officer must be expecting a surprise attack.
Immediately afterwards the officer came back, and taking me and some others a few yards away showed us the sky. I could see quite plainly in mid-air a strange light which seemed to be quite distinctly outlined and was not a reflection of the moon, nor were there any clouds in the neighbourhood. The light became brighter and I could see distinctly three shapes, one in the centre having what looked like outspread wings; the other two were not so large, but were quite plainly distinct from the centre one. They appeared to have a long loose-hanging garment of a golden tint, and they were above the German line facing us.
We stood watching them for about three quarters of an hour. All the men with me saw them, and other men came up from other groups who also told us they had seen the same thing. . . . I remember the day because it was a day of terrible anxiety for us. That morning the Munsters had a bad time on our right, and so had the Scots Guards. We managed to get to the wood. . . . Later on the Uhlans attacked us and we drove them back with heavy loss. It was after this engagement, when we were dog-tired, that the vision appeared to us.
We wrote to the Lady Superintendent of the hospital at which the man had been treated, to whom he was said to have told his experience before it was published, and asked her whether she could put us into communication with him. She replied on October 28, 1915:
The man about whom you enquire has left here and has failed to answer my letter and postcard. I do not therefore know his present whereabouts. When I hear from him again 1 will write to you.
We have heard nothing further, and up to the present, therefore, the report, having reached us only at second hand, does not conform to the standard of evidence which any scientific enquiry demands. But assuming for the moment that this report gives an accurate account of the lance-corporal's experience, it would be a weak scaffolding upon which to build up a theory of supernatural intervention.
It appears that, having had their attention directed to it by an officer " in a state of great anxiety," the lance-corporal and some of his companions saw a light in the sky, divided into three parts, of which the central part resembled a figure with outstretched wings. We are not told how, or by whom, this resemblance was first observed, and nothing is easier than to interpret a vague cloud like shape according to one's fancy. The lance-corporal tells us that there were no clouds in the sky that night, but tells us nothing about smoke. It seems on the face of it not improbable that a bank of smoke, which was in some way lit up, might have been hanging "above the German line," and it has to be remembered that men who are "dog-tired," who have just repulsed one hostile attack and are momentarily expecting another, are not likely to be in a state conducing to accurate observation. The lance-corporal told the Lady Superintendent at the hospital that "under the feet of the three figures was a bright star and that when the figures disappeared, the star remained." It was in fact a "real" star, and perhaps constituted the point de repere of the illusion.
It is interesting to compare with the lance-corporal's statement the following report in the Liverpool Courier (October 25, 1915) of a sermon by the Rev. C. M. Chavasse:
He had never yet got first-hand evidence on the subject, but he had been told by a general, a brigadier, who was far from superstitious, that a captain and subaltern serving under him were certain they saw something at Mons. They were men who would never dream of seeing angels, but they said they saw something, some bright pulsating light, which came between the little company of Englishmen and a troop of charging Uhlans on their horses, which frightened the horses so that they scattered and bolted, while a little further along, where the British line was broken, the German troops refused to advance, saying that they saw so many English troops there, although there was not a man to oppose them.
Mr. Begbie also quotes several incidents reported by Miss Phyllis Campbell in an article in the August number of the Occtdt Review. Miss Campbell was working at a hospital in France during the early part of the war, and she says that several of her patients told her of the "visions " they had seen on the battlefield. We wrote some time ago to Miss Campbell asking whether she could give us any further information or put us in touch with the soldiers to whom these experiences had come, but we have not yet heard from her. In any event, it does not seem likely that we should now be able to get any first-hand knowledge of these cases, and without this we cannot judge them.
We have communicated with several other people whom Mr. Begbie quotes as having first-hand information on the subject of these visions.
One writes that he is "not able to help us"; another refers us to a friend as the chief source of his information. We have written to this friend, but received no reply. A third correspondent writes that she is not in the least concerned as to the proofs. ... I do not really think it is the smallest use trying to bring these things home to roost. They are revealed by God for individual need andare not intended to become the talk and speculation of the market-place.
Below page 115
Two other incidents remain which are worth relating. In September of this year Mr. Machen received a letter from a lieutenant-colonel at the Front, which was published in the Evening News of September 14, 1915. The colonel's statement was as follows :
On August 26, 1914, was fought the battle of Le Cateau. We came into action at dawn, and fought till dusk. We were heavily shelled by the German artillery during the day, and in common with the rest of our division had a bad time of it. Our division however retired in good order. We were on the march all night of the 26th and on the 27th with only about two hours' rest.
The brigade to which 1 belonged was rearguard to the division, and during the 27th we took up a great many different positions to cover the retirement of the rest of the division, so that we had very hard work and by the night of the 27th we were all absolutely worn out with fatigue—both bodily and mental fatigue.
No doubt we also suffered to a certain extent from shock ; but the retirement still continued in excellent order, and I feel sure that our mental faculties were still ... in good working condition.
On the night of the 27th I was riding along in the column with two other officers. We had been talking and doing our best to keep from falling asleep on our horses.
As we rode along I became conscious of the fact that, in the fields on both sides of the road along which we were marching, I could see a very large body of horsemen.
These horsemen had the appearance of squadrons of cavalry, and they seemed to be riding across the fields and going in the same direction as we were going, and keeping level with us. . . .
I did not say a word about it at first, but I watched them for about twenty minutes. The other two officers had stopped talking.
At last one of them asked me if I saw anything in the fields. I then told him what I had seen. The third officer then confessed that he too had been watching these horsemen for the past twenty minutes.
So convinced were we that they were real cavalry that, at the next halt, one of the officers took a party of men out to reconnoitre, and found no one there. The night then grew darker, and we saw no more.
From page 115
The same phenomenon was seen by many men in our column. Of course, we were all dog-tired and overtaxed, but it is an extraordinary thing that the same phenomenon should be witnessed by so many different people.
I myself am absolutely convinced that I saw these horsemen; and I feel sure that they did not exist only in my imagination. . . .
It is interesting to compare with this statement a letter from Lance-Corporal A. Johnstone, late of the Royal Engineers, which was published in the Evening News of August 11, 1915, as follows:
We had almost reached the end of the retreat, and, after marching a whole day and night with but one half-hour's rest in between, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Langy, near Paris, just at dawn, and as the day broke we saw in front of us large bodies of cavalry, all formed up into squadrons — fine, big men, on massive chargers.
I remember turning to my chums in the ranks and saying: "Thank God ! We are not far off Paris now. Look at the French cavalry."
They, too, saw them quite plainly, but on getting closer, to our surprise the horsemen vanished and gave place to banks of white mist, with clumps of trees and bushes dimly showing through them. . . .
When I tell you that hardened soldiers who had been through many a campaign were marching quite mechanically along the road and babbling all sorts of nonsense in sheer delirium, you can well believe we were in a fit state to take a row of beanstalks for all the saints in the Calendar.
It will be seen that the colonel's experience and that of Lance-Corporal Johnstone have much in common, but whereas the latter finds the explanation in an illusion of the senses, due mainly to physical fatigue, the former is convinced that the horsemen did not exist only in his imagination. Although it is not possible to prove that the colonel was mistaken, it will, I think, be generally held that the weight of probability is against him, especially in view of his admission that he and his companions were " absolutely worn out with fatigue — both bodily and mental," and that some effort had been necessary" to keep from falling asleep on [their] horses."
In addition to the enquiries to which reference has been made above, we have also written to a considerable number of people who had been mentioned to us as possessing first-hand information on the subject of these "visions," but in no case have we succeeded in obtaining satisfactory evidence. Sometimes our letters have been unanswered, sometimes it has transpired on enquiry that a story purporting to be at first-hand was in reality only at second or even at third-hand. The following is a typical case. Miss R. wrote to the secretary as follows :
The day after I saw you I . . . saw Mrs, B. When talking of the story of Mons, she said she had met a lady who told her she knew a man who had seen the vision. I asked her to send me his name.
Mrs. B., on being asked for the name of the man, replied: ... I have been told the name of one man who saw it [the vision], but it was given me under strict secrecy, so I may not tell it ; and then, again, it is not first-hand, for I did not hear it from him. . . .
Another correspondent, in reporting to us his unsuccessful efforts to track down a story, writes that "somehow, first-hand knowledge seems to be purposely withheld," and we have certainly found it very elusive, whether " purposely " so or not.
Summing up the evidence at our disposal, the following conclusions may be drawn:
(a) Many of the stories which have been cm'rent during the past year concerning "visions" on the battlefield prove on investigation to be founded on mere rumour and cannot be traced to any authoritative source.
(b) After we have discounted these rumours, we are left with a small residue of evidence, which seems to indicate that a certain number of men who took part in the retreat from Mons honestly beUeve themselves to have had at that time supernormal experiences of a remarkable character. The best piece of evidence of this kind is the statement of the colonel who wrote to ]\Ir. Machen (see p. 115).
Ctrl + F to open the find box in the top right corner and type 115
(c) When, however, we turn to the question of what grounds there are for assuming that these experiences were in fact supernormal, it must be admitted that these grounds are slight. In the last of the three narratives printed above, the author himself, Lance-Corporal A. Johnstone, puts forward the view that he and his friends were subject to a sensory illusion due to extreme fatigue. When we remember that this condition of fatigue was also present in the other two cases, it seems not unlikely that the same explanation will account for them. The best piece of evidence, as I have said, is that of the lieutenant-colonel, and it may be that we have here a case of collective hallucination rather than illusion. But whether this is so, and whether the hallucination, assuming that it occurred, was purely subjective or due to any external cause, we have not evidence to show, nor does it seem likely that we shall now be able to obtain such evidence. In the main, therefore, the result of our enquiry is negative, at least as regards the question of whether any apparitions were seen on the battlefield, either at Mons or elsewhere. Of first-hand testimony we have received none at all, and of testimony at second-hand none that would justify us in assuming the occurrence of any supernormal phenomenon. For we cannot make this assumption, until we have established at least a strong probability that the observed effects are such as only a supernormal phenomenon could produce, and in the present instance, as I have tried to show, all our efforts to obtain the detailed evidence upon which an enquiry of this kind must be based have proved unavailing.
Page 106 to 118 of Journal of Society for Psychical Research. December, 1915.