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Mysteries revisited: the phantom bowmen and angels of Mons

By T.K. Randall
December 26, 2022 · Comment icon 10 comments

An illustration of the phantom bowmen. Image Credit: The Illustrated London News
During a fierce battle in the early days of World War I, it was said that supernatural forces had appeared to aid the British Army.
Stories of the ghosts of fallen heroes appearing to turn the tide of battle are nothing new, but during the Battle of the Mons in August 1914, British soldiers who had been attempting to hold the line against overwhelming German forces in Belgium were later said to have received unexpected aid in the form of phantom bowmen who had appeared out of thin air to attack the enemy.

Although the British were eventually pushed back, they did manage to inflict a disproportionately high number of casualties on the Germans despite being heavily outnumbered.

In the months that followed, more and more stories began to emerge of phantoms and angels appearing on the battlefield during the fight to help the British side.

Some of the stories described ghostly bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt as well as German soldiers with arrow wounds lying on the ground, but these tales were later attributed to author Arthur Machen who had published a fictional piece entitled "The Bowmen" in a local newspaper.
Similar tales, including accounts of phantom bowmen and angelic warriors, would also later be published in Spiritualist magazine, prompting another wave of reports and coverage.

Some even came to believe that the appearance of these entities during the battle meant that the British had divine providence on their side, which lead to considerable controversy at the time.

Ultimately, though, few to no first-hand accounts of such sightings were ever reported.

While the stories certainly helped to boost morale among the troops, it seems that they were based more upon Machen's fictional short story than upon anything the soldiers saw themselves.

Comments (10)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Hammerclaw 1 year ago
Oh, for God's sake, this rumor started from a short story written by Arthur Machen, written and published shortly after the battle but not listed as fiction. He tried to correct his mistake back then, but no one preferred the truth.
Comment icon #2 Posted by quiXilver 1 year ago
Bad UM-Bot!  Bad! Now log off for an hour and contemplate your transgressions.
Comment icon #3 Posted by the13bats 1 year ago
Not unlike the jersey devil myth.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Hammerclaw 1 year ago
The story caught on because in the idealistic, nationalistic first rush of militaristic fervor on entering the War and engaging the Germans, it was promoted as a sign from God that he was on the UK's side and the war would be short and relatively painless. That didn't work out, too well. Instead, over the next four years the UK lost the flower of manhood of an entire generation and most of their best first-rate officers.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Saru 1 year ago
From the article:
Comment icon #6 Posted by XenoFish 1 year ago
Wouldn't this be a fine example of not reading the link?
Comment icon #7 Posted by Hammerclaw 1 year ago
Yet over the fifty plus years of my reading experience, references to The Angels of Mons appeared in anthologies of the mysterious and continue to appear, sometimes with that denouement, often without it. A historical curiosity, often appearing alongside Tom Thumb and The Cardiff Giant, Believe It or Not.
Comment icon #8 Posted by and-then 1 year ago
I first heard of this story as part of a plotline in a recent work of fiction by author Robert Masello.  The book was THE HAUNTING OF H.G. WELLS He writes action/adventure works interwoven with characters from history.  He often writes of personages like Conan Doyle, RL Stevenson, and Bram Stoker, to name a few.  He's one of my favorite authors of that type fiction.
Comment icon #9 Posted by the13bats 1 year ago
Spoiler alerts I enjoy that type fiction i just love that movie time after time about jack the ripper highjacking a time machine built by HG Wells. In a bit of irony the actress mary steenburgen lives in the present and becomes the love interest of HG, and about 10 years later in back to the future 3 she lives in the past and becomes doc browns love interest.
Comment icon #10 Posted by DamienV 1 year ago
One of my colleges whilst working at the library was a professor (who has appeared on some UFO related programs giving is knowledge on the progressive folklore and social backgrounds of this phenomena) well his friend is David Clarke (another fellow folklorist academic)  he wrote a fascinating book on the Angel of Mons:--   worth checking out.

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