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War and Angels

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The British Expeditionary Force’s first significant combat in World War I took place during the Battle of Mons. Despite being vastly outnumbered by German forces from August 22 to 23, 1914, British troops were able to hold the position at the Mons-Conde Canal close to Mons, Belgium, until being compelled to retire. Although officially a loss, the tale of the British soldiers at Mons became renowned. And in a variety of ways.

Stories about the retreat at Mons started to circulate in Christian and Theosophical journals as well as by word-of-mouth starting in 1915. The British forces reportedly experienced supernatural protection throughout their withdrawal, according to several “eyewitness” testimonies. The stories included a “strange mist” that concealed soldiers from the Germans, St. George himself leading phantom horses, or even a swarm of angels.

Similar tales from medieval conflicts have been reported, but this was the first instance of its sort in contemporary conflict. The “Miracle of the Sun” at Fatima in 1917 was one of several accounts of mass hallucinations that occurred around that time, but the Mons occurrence doesn’t seem to be one of them. All reports of sightings were second- or third-hand and included either troops’ buddies or nurses who afterwards cared for the soldiers.

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Despite the tenuous nature of the real proof for the Angels of Mons sightings, the dispute began when the British spiritualist publication Spiritualist published information about the “miracle” in a 1915 edition. The account of the miraculous happenings at the Battle of Mons was retold in newspapers and in religious sermons all throughout the United Kingdom. As soon as the British people understood how drawn out and bloody the war would be, it became unpopular. Morale was raised by the idea that God was on the side of the Allies and prepared to destroy the bad Germans. While World War I continued with terrible deaths and no additional indication of supernatural intervention, the myth of the Angels of Mons became as one of the conflict’s most often told tales.

Spiritualists asserted that although Machen insisted his narrative was all made up, he had based it on rumors that British soldiers had already started spreading. It was plain “unpatriotic” to refute the tale because it became so widely accepted (which placed skeptics in an awkward position). These assertions may have originated from letters that Brigadier-General John Charteris allegedly sent between 1914 and 1915. Charteris stated in the letters that “the narrative of the Angels of Mons [is] running strong through the 2nd Corps” in his memoirs, which were published in 1931.

Despite the fact that the letter seems to precede Machen’s account, there is significant debate about whether the dates were fabricated given the absence of the letters from Charteris’ genuine archives. Other first-hand accounts were never written down. Although Arthur Machen emphasized that his narrative was fictional, The Bowmen and other Legends of the War, which was published in 1915, was a smashing hit, selling 3000 copies on its first day in London. The book’s prologue, which painstakingly described how his first tale became into a legend, did nothing to quell the rumors.

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Consequently, why did the rumors of the Angels of Mons continue? One explanation for this could be that World War I was one of the first modern conflicts in which propaganda played a significant role in raising morale among both Allied troops and civilians. There were reports of German crimes, including the crucifying of Allied soldiers, the death and mutilation of Belgian women and children, and the execution of Allied nurses, in addition to the rumors about the Angel. Military leaders sometimes relied on deception efforts to win over the public since the war was growing unpopular as the death toll increased (Brigadier-General Charteris was part of British Army Intelligence).

The idea that God had supplied supernatural assistance for the Allies played well to churchgoers in Britain, whether or not the military actively promoted the angel myth (even though there was no divine support in later battles). Both believers and doubters continued their fruitless hunt for first-hand accounts of angel sightings even after World War II had finished.

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