Whilst writing and researching my WW1 history book, Lest We Forget, I came across a number of semi-mythical events and accounts that went from the completely unbelievable to those that actually occurred despite being hugely unlikely. There is the grim tale of the Crucified Soldier which went from being common knowledge in WW1 to increasingly a work of wartime propaganda until 21st century investigations and a stroke of luck meant that in all likelihood this awful event did occur.
There was another interesting story of how a young soldier was woken in the night and urged to leave his position as he was told he was in great danger. The young man was confused and reluctant to move but as it was his brother helping him with his kit and rife he agreed. They scurried a short distance until the exhausted soldiers’ brother told him to stop and rest. As the soldier sorted himself out he turned to speak to his brother who had been there just seconds earlier only to find out that he had vanished. Later that night, the former position of the young British soldier was hit by a direct enemy artillery shell, killing his comrades. The twist in the tale is of course that the brother of this soldier had already been killed some weeks earlier.
The Angel of Mons is the biggest supernatural event of WW1 and possibly the last such occurrence, at least in the western world. Some military actions are still enacted in the name of God. Suicide bombers kill innocents in the name of God, the President of America always manages to bless his country on ever television broadcast whilst in Great Britain much less often, it is proclaimed God Save The Queen though interestingly not the country or the people.
Being a Protestant nation, England and then Britain was not so much in the habit of seeing appearances of Angels, the Virgin Mary or anyone else and in fact this was a side of the national consciousness that separated us from the Catholic nations who were at war with throughout the centuries.
The Battle of Mons took place on 22-23rd August 1914 and was the first major British engagement of the war. Incredibly a British force of 70,000 managed to hold off the overwhelmingly superior German force of 240,0000 until they were almost entirely surrounded. Then, without adequate, food, water or military supplies they retreated and escaped where they had no right to expect even to keep their lives, let alone come through unscathed.
It was an incredible military feat that very quickly became ascribed being down to Angels and the view that God would protect Britain and save the righteous from defeat.
The fact is the army did escape and many in the modern-day would obviously look at the facts. The men had fought a huge battle against the odds before escaping on foot, marching 5 days and 5 nights without food, drink or rest and so obviously any Angels present must have been only through hallucinations or cloud formations.
Many believe the Angel of Mons was inspired by the published book “The Bowmen” where British forces were assisted by St. George and a force of supernatural medieval bowmen.
Nevertheless, reports of divine intervention spread like wildfire. Numerous men and officers swore on record that Angels appeared and protected them, sceptics might claim this was part of a government campaign to re-assure the people back home that we were fighting on the side of good.
However, the weather that day was hot and sunny at Mons and correspondence from front-line soldiers mentioned that their army was protected by Angels long before The Bowmen book was published. One soldier who had previously been a hard drinking individual saw the angels and never drank again and became a pillar of his community after the war.
There are even records of German soldiers also witnessing the Angels giving their enemy protection and inspiration to escape.
Whatever side of the fence you take, the one thing most people can agree on is that something strange and hugely unlikely occurred that afternoon and it is a good thing too as the gallant effort at Mons combined with another a few weeks later at Marne fought the unstoppable men of the Kaiser to a standstill and bought time to save Paris permanently otherwise the war would likely have been over in weeks.
Whether the 3 Angels actually did appear is now almost irrelevant, the people who were there believed something happened and so did the entire country at a time when the nation needed more than ever in something to believe in. Given that, the Angel of Mons is as definite a historic event as any other.
If you’d like to know more about the Angel of Mons, the Crucified Allied Soldier or anything else about WW1 why not follow my shameless promotional links for my book Lest We Forget: A Concise Companion to the First World war available on Kindle and in Paperback at Amazons worldwide and from all good bookshops.