angels of Mons Bogus but curious story of Apparitions of angels who allegedly saved French and British soldiers from death during a battle at Mons, Belgium in World War I.
Between August 26 and 28, 1914, during the first engagements of the war, French and British troops set out near Mons to engage the Germans, expecting a quick victory. Instead, they were overpowered by the German artillery, and 15,000 French and British men were lost in the initial stages of fighting. The survivors were forced to retreat, all the while being shelled by the Germans.
Afterward, reports began to circulate that the retreating soldiers had seen phantom fighters on horseback who had prevented the Germans from slaughtering them all. After being moved by a radio report, British journalist Arthur Machen wrote a short story, “The Bowmen,” telling about how the retreating men had seen ghostly bowmen and medieval soldiers from the battle of Agincourt (located near Mons), which took place in the 15th century. The story was published on September 14, 1914 in the London Evening News.
Immediately, confirmations were made. Others reported seeing winged and robed angels interposing themselves between the retreating soldiers and the Germans. French soldiers saw visions of the archangel Michael, or JOAN OF ARC, and some British claimed to have seen one of their legendary national heroes, Saint George. Nurses reported that men who were fatally wounded died in states of exaltation.
Similar reports from other battlefronts were made. Books were written and published, including one by Machen, The Angels of Mons: The Bowmen & Other Legends of War (1915) and one by Harold Begbie, On the Side of the Angels (1915).
Machen later confessed that he had made his story up. Some refused to believe him, however; those who reported seeing apparitions of saviors during battle insisted on the truth of their experiences.
To complicate the case, in 1930 the director of German espionage, Friedrich Herzenwirth, stated the Mons soldiers had indeed seen angels, but they were movie projections cast on clouds by German aviators to prove that God was on their side. No proof of this claim was ever made.
Most likely, the stories of the Mons angels and phantom armies are based on faulty memories and fabrication (albeit sincere) to buttress Machen’s story. However, the possibility that the soldiers did see apparitions of some sort cannot be ruled out. Some may have been visions due to stress, fear and pain, and an intense desire to be saved. It has been theorized that some of the apparitions may have been the souls of soldiers freshly killed in the battle.
- McClure, Kevin. Visions of Bowmen and Angels: Mons 1914. St. Austell, England: Wild Places, ca. 1992.
- Machen, Arthur. The Angels of Mons: The Bowmen & Other Legends of War. London, 1915.