Not all that long ago, someone I know was telling me about some story they heard about angels showing up on a battlefield in World War One. They said it “sounds like the Angel of Mars or something”.
Ah, I thought. The Angels of Mons.
I will explain to you as I explained to the aforementioned friend, starting with: The Angels of Mons is a complete myth created by one of the greatest writers who have ever lived, Arthur Machen.
First off, some background. Who’s this Arthur Machen fellow? If you are too lazy to follow the link provided, no worries; I have the short of it for you. Arthur Machen was a Cymraeg (read: Welsh) writer and mystic from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote The Great God Pan, which is widely regarded one of the best horror stories in the English language. Or at least Stephen King thinks so. His work is also responsible for influencing the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle.
In short-short, he was pretty awesome. My favorite Machen story is The White People.
Anyways, the Battle of Mons takes place at the end of August, 1914. The super Cliff Notes version is that the British forces engaged the German forces who were trying to kick their ass; the Brits, in turn, kicked some ass; but the Brits were outnumbered and ze Germans forced them to retreat, showing the British that taking Germany down was not going to be an easy “Hup hup! Hi-ho! Now let’s have some tea, gents!” task. To be fair to the Brits, they stopped the German advance and showed the Germans they’d be hard fighters, too. I mentioned the British forces were outnumbered, right? Read up on the whole thing here.
A month later, Arthur Machen, being the badass spooky writer he was (and still is– ghost Machen will own your soul), published The Bowmen in London’s The Evening News. The story involves phantom dudes with bows from the Battle of Agincourt showing up because one of the lads called upon St. George. That’s the patron saint of England, in case you’re wondering. Since it was written as a firsthand account, and since it saw reprintings, people started started missing the part where it said The Bowmen was fiction, and then some priest printed up a pamphlet, and then the rest is, of course, legends-as-history.
Personally, seeing as people now believe in lizard aliens because some BBC sports guy decided he REALLY loved V and decided to tune his tinfoil hat into that crazysauce stuff; that there are a lot of people who think the moon landing was hoaxed; and that yoga moms who live and die for Lululemon right here in Victoria, BC think they’re talking to Atlantean spirit guides… well, it’s not a stretch to see that many a person back in 1914 and the following heady war years would accept a story of battlefield angels* to be true.
(*Time-travelling ghost-angels, to be exact)
Oh, yeah, and in 1915 Spiritualist magazine talked about how these supernatural beings showed up to help out at Mons, and that all lead to people coming to the logical conclusion that it must have been angels doing all that coolness to save the Brits’ behinds.
The full account of the Angels of Mons can be found here.
You may be in my boat and think it’s rather insulting to attribute the hard work of what was surviving insurmountable odds by hard-nosed and brave soldiers to a bunch of ghosts and/or angels, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. I find it– and pardon the pun– gravely insulting.
So, there you go. I hope you enjoyed reading up a bit on an interesting Weird War factoid. It’s strange how urban myths and legends can persist for so long. Luckily, as it is in many cases, the story of the myth can be just as or more interesting than the myth itself!