The Angels of Mons, by Arthur Machen


While this volume was passing through the press, Mr. Ralph Shirley, the Editor of “The Occult Review” callled my attention to an article that is appearing in the August issue of his magazine, and was kind enough to let me see the advance proof sheets.

The article is called “The Angelic Leaders” It is written by Miss Phyllis Campbell. I have read it with great care.

Miss Campbell says that she was in France when the war broke out. She became a nurse, and while she was nursing the wounded she was informed that an English soldier wanted a “holy picture.” She went to the man and found him to be a Lancashire Fusilier. He said that he was a Wesleyan Methodist, and asked “for a picture or medal (he didn’t care which) of St. George . . . because he had seen him on a white horse, leading the British at Vitry-le-François, when the Allies turned”

This statement was corroborated by a wounded R.F.A. man who was present. He saw a tall man with yellow hair, in golden armour, on a white horse, holding his sword up, and his mouth open as if he was saying, “Come on, boys! I’ll put the kybosh on the devils” This figure was bareheaded — as appeared later from the testimony of other soldiers — and the R.F.A. man and the Fusilier knew that he was St. George, because he was exactly like the figure of St. George on the sovereigns. “Hadn’t they seen him with his sword on every ‘quid’ they’d ever had?”

From further evidence it seemed that while the English had seen the apparition of St. George coming out of a “yellow mist” or “cloud of light,” to the French had been vouchsafed visions of St. Michael the Archangel and Joan of Arc. Miss Campbell says:—

“Everybody has seen them who has fought through from Mons to Ypres; they all agree on them individually, and have no doubt at all as to the final issue of their interference”

Such are the main points of the article as it concerns the great legend of “The Angels of Mons.” I cannot say that the author has shaken my incredulity — firstly, because the evidence is second-hand. Miss Campbell is perhaps acquainted with “Pickwick” and I would remind her of that famous (and golden) ruling of Stareleigh, J.: to the effect that you mustn’t tell us what the soldier said; it’s not evidence. Miss Campbell has offended against this rule, and she has not only told us what the soldier said, but she has omitted to give us the soldier’s name and address.

If Miss Campbell proffered herself as a witness at the Old Bailey and said, “John Doe is undoubtedly guilty. A soldier I met told me that he had seen the prisoner put his hand into an old gentleman’s pocket and take out a purse”— well, she would find that the stout spirit of Mr. Justice Stareleigh still survives in our judges.

The soldier must be produced. Before that is done we are not technically aware that he exists at all.

Then there are one or two points in the article itself which puzzle me. The Fusilier and the R.F.A. man had seen “St, George leading the British at Vitry-le-François, when the Allies turned.” Thus the time of the apparition and the place of the apparition were firmly fixed in the two soldiers’ minds.

Yet the very next paragraph in the article begins:—

“‘Where was this?’ I asked. But neither of them could tell”

This is an odd circumstance. They knew, and yet they did not know; or, rather, they had forgotten a piece of information that they had themselves imparted a few seconds before.

Another point. The soldiers knew that the figure on the horse was St. George by his exact likeness to the figure of the saint on the English sovereign.

This, again, is odd. The apparition was of a bareheaded figure in golden armour. The St. George of the coinage is naked, except for a short cape flying from the shoulders, and a helmet. He is not bareheaded, and has no armour — save the piece on his head. I do not quite see how the soldiers were so certain as to the identity of the apparition.

Lastly, Miss Campbell declares that “everybody” who fought from Mons to Ypres saw the apparitions. If that be so, it is again odd that Nobody has come forward to testify at first hand to the most amazing event of his life. Many men have been back on leave from the front, we have many wounded in hospital, many soldiers have written letters home. And they have all combined, this great host, to keep silence as to the most wonderful of occurrences, the most inspiring assurance, the surest omen of victory.

It may be so, but —

Arthur Machen.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58