Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Mysterious Angels of Mons by Hereward Carrington 1919

The Angels of Mons by Hereward Carrington 1919

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Peculiarly conflicting evidence has been presented in the case of a semi-religious vision which is said to have been seen by numbers of soldiers on the historic retreat from Mons—I refer to the now-famous "Angels of Mons." The main outlines of this incident are doubtless too well known to need more than the briefest mention. At the very moment when the German hordes seemed about to overwhelm the British Army, phantom warriors (so the story goes) intervened— English bowmen from the field of Agincourt—and kept the Germans at bay until the main army succeeded in making good its escape. Such was the report, circulated at the time.

No sooner had this account been spread than Mr. Arthur Machen, a well-known English writer, came forward, and asserted that he had invented the whole tale, in his story "The Bowmen," which was then published in book form. The whole story, he claimed, originated in his imagination. As opposed to this, however, several soldiers now came forward, and asserted that they had actually seen the phantom army referred to, or something very like it; and Mr. Harold Begbie published a book, On the Side of the Angels, in which he produced quite a volume of evidence, varying in excellence from first-hand reports to mere hearsay; and Mr. Ralph Shirley, the editor of the Occult Review, also published a booklet, The Angel Warriors of Mons, containing additional evidence.

The case is assuredly puzzling. I do not for one moment pretend to say that phantom bowmen actually took part in this historical battle, or that they saved the British army from destruction—as has been asserted in the past; but, on the other hand, it appears to me that the evidence which was presented at the time cannot be brushed aside as easily as it has been in certain quarters, as unworthy of serious consideration. Rather, we have here, it seems to me, on any theory, a remarkably interesting psychological problem,—one which is well worthy of being recorded and being studied,—at least from that point-of-view. Partly because of this, and partly because it throws so interesting a light upon the early days of the war, I reproduce here, by kind permission, a portion of an article by Miss Phyllis Campbell, published in the Occult Review, September, 1915. It runs as follows:—

The torrent of blistered, bleeding, stony-eyed Belgian refugees which had poured through our hands unceasingly, night and day, for the first hot breathless weeks of last August, was suddenly stemmed by the wounded. The miseries of those first wounded cannot ever be written. To those who tended them they brought like misery, for, individually and in the mass, they expressed a conviction of swiftly approaching disaster. They bore their sufferings with unexampled heroism; but their very dumbness suggested the hopeless silence of defeat. When they spoke at all, they spoke, if they were French, of "soixante-dix"; if they were British they said heavily they were "up against it now." One man, a Highlander, opened his dying eyes and urged us to fly while there was time. "Get awa', lassie," he whispered. "Get awa'! They Germans is no men; they're devils. All Hell is open now.''

Briefly, that is what all the wounded thought—what they all sought to convey to us, and as the days dragged on and the bloody toll increased, the members of the ambulance diminished. They, or their fathers and mothers, remembered "soixante-dix," and those who could go went; and so our work became harder, and the wounded poured in and in, till the expectation of quick victory for the Allies faded, and though the small band of us remaining disdained to acknowledge fear, yet we also were instructed by the commandant to prepare for retreat, taking the wounded with us. Then came the torrid days of Mons, and suddenly a change in the wounded, utterly unaccountable. The French, who had tolerantly accepted badges and medals of the saints from the Catholics of our post, now eagerly asked for them, and were profusely grateful for "holy pictures"—those little prints of saints and angels so common in all Catholic communities. But what puzzled the post was that these men, without a solitary exception, demanded invariably, "St. Michael" or "Joan of Arc."

Also, these men, in spite of their horrible wounds and great weakness from loss of blood, were in a state of singular exaltation. We thought at first that some of them had been supplied with wine, but that was clearly impossible, as our post was the first stop, and the trains came right through from the clearing station, without attention of any sort, as the fighting was then at its fiercest.

This curious mental condition in the wounded continued during the long retreat on Paris. Many of the wounded died in our hands, but the living no longer urged us to fly; they "died in hope," as if they were mentally visioning victory, where their immediate forerunners had only seen defeat.

I tremble, now that it is safely past, to look back on the terrible week that brought the Allies to Vitry-le-Francois. We had not had our clothes off for the whole of that week, because no sooner had we reached home, too weary to undress, or to eat, and fallen on our beds, than the "chug-chug" of the commandant's car would sound into the silence of the deserted street, and the horn would imperatively summon us back to duty,— because, in addition to our duties, as ambulancier auxiliare, we were interpreters to the post, now at this moment diminished to half a dozen.

Returning at 4.30 in the morning, we stood on the end of the platform, watching the train crawl through the blue-green of the forest into the clearing, and draw up with the first wounded from Vitry-le-Francois. It was packed with dead and dying and badly wounded. For a time we forgot our weariness in a race against time, removing the dead and dying, and attending to those in need. I was bandaging a man's shattered arm with the majeur instructing me, while he stitched a horrible gap in his head, when Madame d'A_____, the heroic President of the post, came and replaced me. "There is an English in the fifth wagon," she said. "He demands a something—I think a holy picture." The idea of an English soldier demanding a holy picture struck me, even in that atmosphere of blood and misery, as something to smile at, but I hurried away. "The English" was a Lancashire Fusilier. He was propped in a corner, 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 didn't care which) of St. George. I asked if he was a Catholic. "No," he was a Wesleyan Methodist (I hope I have it right), 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 look of amazement, and hastened in. "It's true, Sister," he said. "We all saw it. First there was a sort of a yellowish mist like, sort of risin' before the Germans as they come 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 jackknife, 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!''

"Where was this?" I asked. But neither of them could tell. They had marched, fighting a rearguard action, from Mons, till St. George had appeared through the haze of light, and turned the Germans. They both knew it was St. George. Hadn't they seen him with his sword on every "quid" they'd ever had? The Frenchies had seen him, too, ask them; but they said it was St. Michael.

The French wounded were again in that curiously exalted condition we had remarked before—only more so—a sort of self-contained rapture of happiness— "Yes" it was quite true. The Boches were in full retreat, and the Allies were being led to victory by St. Michael and Joan of Arc.

"As for petite Jeanne d'Arc," said one soldier, "I know her well, for I am of Domremy. I saw her brandishing her sword and crying, 'Turn! Turn! Advance!" Yes, he knew others had seen the Archangel, but little Joan of Arc was good enough for him. He had fought with the English from Mons—and little Joan of Arc had defeated the English—par exemple' Now she was leading them. There was a combination for you! No wonder the Boches fled down hill.

After the train crawled out, and we had time to speak, the President drew me aside, and confided to me, that a wounded officer of high rank had told her he had seen St. Michael at Vitry-le-Francois. He was quite close to the Blessed Visitant and there could be no doubt on the subject. At first he thought he was to die, and, as he had been a violent Agnostic and materialist all his life, that this was a warning to him to make swift repentance in preparation for judgment. Soon, however, he saw that, so far from requiring his life, God had sent assistance in the fight, and that so clearly was on the side of the Allies, that the Germans must needs therefore be evil, and of the Devil.

I then told Madame d'A____ the story of the two British soldiers who wanted pictures of St. George, and we decided to compare notes with the others. Only one of us had not heard the tale of the Angelic Leaders, and she had been detailed by the majeur to guard three wounded Germans, one of whom had died of tetanus, the other two had gangrene. Her duty was to stand some paces off and prevent any one touching them, so she had consequently no opportunity of conversation.

On discussing the matter between the trains of wounded, we remarked: First, that the French soldiers of all ranks had seen two well-known saints— Joan of Arc—to whom many of those delirious with the torrid heat and loss of blood were praying—that she was in armour, bareheaded, riding a white horse, and calling "Advance," while she brandished her sword high in the air; and St. Michael the Archangel, clad in golden armour, bareheaded, riding a white horse, and flourishing his sword, while he shouted "Victory!" Second, the British had seen St. George, in golden armour, bareheaded, riding a white horse and crying while he held up his sword, "Come on!"

There were individual discrepancies, naturally, but in the main the story was the same, seen in cold blood at a moment of despair, and continued in the realization of victory. It was always related quietly and sanely, in a matter-of-fact fashion, as if it were a usual and quite expected occurrence for the lords of heaven to lead the hosts of earth. Of one thing all were assured—that the Germans represented the powers of evil, and that so doubtfully did victory hang in the balance, that the powers of good found it necessary to fight hand in hand and foot to foot with the Allies, lest the whole world be lost.

That night we heard the tale again, from the lips of a priest this time, two officers, and three men of the Irish Guard. These three men were mortally wounded, they asked for the Sacrament before death, and before dying told the same story to the old abbe who confessed them.

That was our last night with the ambulance at the post, we were now moved on to the hospital, and took our regular work as ambulancier. There we had time to hear more, and the men told us in fragments of the long retreat from Mons, fighting all the way like Trojans, marching night and day, and day and night, of the men falling in the ranks and being kicked to their feet by the officers—of the officers falling off their feet drunk with sleep, and being kicked and pushed to their feet again by the men—of men who dragged and carried their officers, of officers who dragged and carried their men—of horses falling dead in their traces, and of men who harnessed themselves in and dragged the guns—of motor transport that drove itself with drivers hanging dead asleep over the wheels, or sitting with wide-open eyes, and dead hands steering the munitions and food of the retreating army.

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-Francois 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 Paris, for God was fighting on our side...."

Additional evidence, as to the actuality of visions seen by many of the men at this time was soon forthcoming. An officer, for example, who had shared in the historic Mons retreat, reading what Mr. Machen had said regarding the origin of these phenomena, wrote to the London Evening News, for September 14 (1915), giving an account of certain visions he himself has seen—differing, however, considerably from the "historic" phenomena. The letter was in reply to a statement made by Mr. Machen to the effect that:

"It is odd that nobody has come forward to testify at first hand to the most amazing event of his life." "It is this remark," wrote the officer in question, "which inclines me to write," and he proceeds to tell his own experiences. It appears from this account that on August 26,1914, he was fighting in the battle of Le Cateau. From this sanguinary engagement his division retired in good order and was marching all the night of the 26th and during the 27th with only two hours' rest.

"On the night of the 27th," says Mr. Machen's correspondent, "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.

"The night was not very dark, and I fancied that I could see the squadron of these cavalrymen quite distinctly.

"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 really 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.

"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 people.

"I myself am absolutely convinced that I saw these horsemen; and I feel sure that they did not exist only in my imagination. I do not attempt to explain the mystery—I only state facts."

The above evidence, which is obviously of considerable importance, does not appear in Mr. Harold Begbie's book On the Side of the Angels, which claims to be a counterblast to Mr. Machen's Bowmen, the evidence apparently having come to light too late for insertion. Mr. Begbie, however, gives a very detailed account of another first-hand record,—which is perhaps,—at least up to the present date,—the most important statement of the kind with the exception of the Lieut.-Colonel's. This is the record of a certain wounded soldier, a lance-corporal, who was lying, at the time the statement was made public, at an English hospital, and, in fact, was awaiting an operation, which has since been performed. Though the lance-corporal's name is not given, it is well-known to a number of people who have been investigating these matters, and in particular Mr. Begbie went out of his way to have a long interview with the soldier in question. The statement was first made by him in conversation with the hospital nurse, who in turn repeated it to the Lady Superintendent of the Red Cross,—Miss M. Courtney Wilson. This account was first given with no idea at all of its attracting public attention, but merely in casual conversation with the nurse referred to, and the narrator was a good deal surprised to learn of the publicity that had been given to it. "He is a soldier," says Mr. Begbie (quoting a friend of his who went to see him), "of many years' service, with a clean military record. I should take him to be a man of two or three and thirty. He spoke to me of his vision in a cool, calm, matter-of-fact way, as of something he had certainly seen. He made no attempt either to theorize or dogmatize about it. His whole narrative was marked by sincerity." The soldier's verbatim statement is given by Mr. Begbie, and it may be worth while reproducing it here, though it appears in an abbreviated form in The Angel Warriors of Mons.

"I was in my battalion in the retreat from Mons on or about August 28. 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 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. Immediately behind us half of my battalion was on the edge of a wood resting. An officer suddenly came up to us in a state of great anxiety and asked us if we had seen anything startling (the word used was 'astonishing'). He hurried away from my ten to the next party of ten. When he had got out of sight I, who was the non-commissioned 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 any 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 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.

"I remember the day because it was a day of terrible anxiety for us. That morning the Munsters had 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 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.

"I shall never forget it as long as I live. I lie awake in bed and picture it as I saw it that night. Of my battalion there are now only five men alive besides myself, and I have no hope 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 any one."

Our author obtained further interesting information from the soldier when he went to interview him, especially as regards the impression that the vision made upon the other men in his regiment.

"It was very funny," he said. "We came over quiet and still. It took us that way. We 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 out, 'God's 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 Some One 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 either cannon or rifle the whole way."

Mr. Begbie inquired of the lance-corporal if he had met any of the men who saw the vision since he had got back to England. He stated that he had only met one—a sergeant of the Scots Guards who was lying in Netley hospital, and added, "He remembers it just the same as I do." "Of course," he continued, "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. I have never seen anything like it before or since—I know very well what I saw."

Such is the character of the first-hand evidence which has come to us regarding the most remarkable religious vision of the war—"The Angels of Mons." Some see in this merely a wide-spread delusion; a systematic hallucination, followed by an eager public credulity—a species of toxic delirium followed by a form of popular hysteria. Yet perhaps the case cannot be dismissed so lightly as this; visions of varying characters were undoubtedly seen by many soldiers at this time; and if ever the men of earth had need of the hosts of heaven to help them, it was then! Another view of the case might perhaps be tenable—for instance the following, communicated by a New Zealander to the columns of the Harbinger of Light (Melbourne):

"Testimony of a similar character has poured in ever since the memorable retreat from Mons, when General French's 'contemptible little army' was saved from annihilation by what many people are convinced to have been the direct intervention of powerful spiritual forces. We know of no reason for questioning this conclusion. On the other hand there is abundant Biblical and other evidence which supports the occurrence of such phenomena, including the very significant incident in relation to Elisha and 'the young man,' when the latter, on having his spiritual eyes opened—or, as we say in these modern times, after he had become clairvoyant—saw the hillside covered with celestial horsemen, who had come to the aid of the hard-pressed prophet.

"The spirit world is a greater reality and much nearer to us than most people think, and the emissaries of the Most High keep constant watch over mundane affairs and unceasingly direct the evolution of the human race. This spiritual truth is not generally recognized today, but the time is coming when it will be universally accepted, and mankind will be compelled to realize it is literally true that 'the angel of the Lord encampeth round them that fear Him, and delivereth them.'"

Whatever the ultimate truth regarding these "Visions" may prove to be, however, it is certain that, from the psychological and historical points of view, they deserve careful consideration and study; and it is because of these reasons that I have deemed them worthy of inclusion in this book. From any point of view— whether they be regarded as a species of remarkable hallucinatory experiences, or as a direct manifestation of the spiritual world—they constitute an essential historical part of the psychology of the present war; and, as such, they justify their insertion in this book, and particularly in this Chapter.

And thus, by dream and vision,—by deeds of heroism and self-sacrifice,—has the soul of man become regenerated—has a great Spiritual quickening and revival spread through all the nations—for nations have become regenerated no less than individuals.

Indeed, as M. Le Bon says—and what he says of France applies equally to the soldiers of all the Allies, though no one will begrudge France—bleeding yet glorious—the words of praise he bestows upon her:—

"France will no doubt emerge regenerated and all the stronger from the present tragedy, for the heroic qualities of her defenders show that the anarchy which seemed to threaten her was purely superficial. The dauntless courage of our young men is a consoling sight to the wondering eyes of us who behold it. They will have lived through the most prodigious adventure in history, an epoch whose grandeur transcends that of the most far-famed legends. For what are the exploits of Homer's warriors, or the gallant feats of Charlemagne's fabulous companions, or the combats of paladins and magicians, compared with the gigantic struggles at whose progress the world looks on amazed?

"No one could have foreseen the marvellous efflorescence of the self-same virtues of men who come from the most widely sundered classes of society. Withdrawn from their tranquil existence on the farm, in the office, the workshop, the school, or even the palace, they find themselves abruptly transported into the heart of an adventure so stupendous and impossible that only in dreams have men ever had glimpses of its like. Truly they are new beings whom threatened France has seen rise up in her defense; being created by a rejuvenescence of the astral soul, which sometimes slumbers but never dies. Sons of the heroes of Tolbiac, Bouvines, and Marengo, these dauntless fighters felt all the valour of their glorious fathers revive within them at their country's first call. Plunged into a hideous inferno, they have often spoken heroic words such as history makes immortal. 'Arise, ye dead!' cried the last soldier in a trench surrounded on every side, to his wounded companions who had been laid low by the enemy's machine-guns. Greece would have plaited crowns for that man and sung his memory.

"To die a hero in a noble cause is an enviable lot for one who has believed himself destined to naught save an empty and monotonous existence; for not according to length of days is life worth living, but according to work accomplished, and the defenders of the sacred soil of our fathers, the handicrafts-men of our future, they who have forged a new France on the anvil of Fate, our dead, who yet are immortal, are already entered into the pantheon of those demi-gods whom the nations adore and whom the hand of Time himself can no more harm."

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