Photo Courtesy: [David Dixon/Wikimedia Commons]
A short story based on a real-life battle became the basis for one of World War I’s most famous paranormal legends
On the night of August 23-24, 1914, nearly 21,000 British soldiers were valiantly defending the Belgian city of Mons as the Germans were set to invade. During this infamous World War I battle, the British mistakenly assumed the Germans would be easy to defeat.
But the Battle of Mons resulted in heavy casualties, and remaining British soldiers thought they’d be slaughtered during their retreat. But against all the odds, the remaining British soldiers were able to escape and safely return to their camp. The outcome of this battle set the stage for the Angels of Mons myth.
The Battle of Mons inspires a great story
The story of the soldiers’ remarkable retreat inspired London Evening News correspondent Arthur Machen to publish his fictional story, “The Bowmen.” The paranormal tale was written as a first-hand account by a British soldier who escaped the Germans after calling upon St. George, the patron saint of warriors.
His prayers were answered when British phantom archers from the 1415 Battle of Agincourt appeared. The angelic archers saved the British forces by holding back German foes.
Machen typically covered actual wartime events, so many of his readers assumed he was reporting an actual occurrence experienced by British soldiers. Adding to the confusion, Machen’s paper hadn’t labeled “The Bowmen” as a work of fiction.
“The Bowmen” goes viral in Victorian England
It wasn’t long before Machen was being asked for evidence of this event. He quickly admitted the story was fiction, but by then, the piece had gone viral in Victorian England.
The story was so popular that churches began asking to reprint “The Bowmen” in their parish magazines. One priest asked if he could publish the story as a pamphlet and asked for sources. When Machen again explained the story was something he’d thought up, the priest insisted he must be wrong.
Several versions of the story appeared in parish publications as well as occult magazines. The tale continued to become more elaborate. One account described corpses of German soldiers found on the battlefield who’d been struck down by arrows. Throughout the war, the myth continued to snowball into stories of divine intervention by heavenly forces and angels.
The Angels of Mons myth becomes a propaganda tool
When Britain first entered the war, it drastically underestimated the German military. The British government was so confident; they declared the war would likely end by Christmas of that year. But the Germans proved to be a far more dangerous foe than anticipated.
“….If I had failed in the art of letters, I had succeeded, unwittingly, in the art of deceit.” – Arthur Machen
As the war dragged on, the Angels of Mons myth served as the perfect propaganda tool to recruit troops and boost morale. It powerfully conveyed that battle against the Germans would be difficult, but it was God’s will that the Germans should be defeated.
Machen republished “The Bowmen,” hoping to discount the rumors but was chastised for trying to refute a true story. The Angels of Mons fable lived on well past World War I and gained heightened prominence in the 1980s with New Age followers.
The legend also attracted hoaxsters claiming to have proof of the even. While the story continues to have hard-core believers, skeptics use it to illustrate just how easy it is for people to be duped.
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