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Western Front Ghosts

Posted by Paranormal History / CJ Linton on January 4, 2009 at 10:48 AM

This is an article I wrote for Paranormal Magazine in October 2007

 

In August 1919 Pearson’s Magazine printed a story concerning a report credited to Captain W.E. Newcome of the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. His unit had been sent from Loos northwards to a place called Albert, this happened at the end of October 1916 where the fighting was still raging from the Somme Offensive of the 1st July, a battle which saw in the first day 20'000 dead English. Commonwealth and French troops. From July to the end of November the Allies tried time and time again to drive a wedge through the German lines but failed miserably as the rains started to fall and turn the dry shell-riddled fields into a morass of glutenous mud which was just as deadly as the dreaded gas attacks. The 2nd Battalion was sent straight into this hell hole and on the 5th of November something strange happened to the men of this Battalion. Captain Newcome was holding a part of the line against German counter-attacks, he had very few men to lead as they were coming to the end of their stint on the front line, very soon they would be going back for reinforcement and rest. At midnight on the 4th -5th of November the Germans tried to re-take their trenches with a small probing attack, easily repulsed by British rifle fire (the best in the world even in 1916), however a little later the Germans came back en masse, but before the Suffolk’s were overwhelmed a ghost appeared before the lines, a single spirit being, although the witnesses (including Newcome’s official report) described it as being a brilliant white light they also said it wore an older style of service uniform. The spectral figure rose as if from out of the ground and walked along the front of the trenches for about one thousand yards, then stopped, turned and looked towards the Germans (who by now had become fixated on its presence too) then turned and looked at the British manning the trenches, with it still being early morning the British were firing flares onto no-mans-land to illuminate the Germans, each time a flare passed close to this ghost it seemed to stand out more prominently. Red flares were fired signalling Artillery help and soon British shells were falling on no-mans-land. And not before long the German attack was beaten off, and the Ghost had disappeared too. Some of the eye witnesses claimed that it bore a certain resemblance to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener who had created a "New Army", this army had first seen major action as part of the Somme Offensive, Kitchener, Lord of Khartoum (the troops called him K-of-K) died on the 5th June 1916 whilst en route to Russia his ship HMS Hampshire, struck a mine and sank, he never saw his troops go into action, or did he?

 

The main thing which makes this story stand out from the others is that the officer who witnessed it left us his name and his unit identification, so was there a Captain Newcome? Yes there was, a Scot by birth he had moved to Suffolk at the age of ten and joined up in 1914 just a week before Gavrilo Princip shot dead the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand. Was there a Regiment from Suffolk, yes again, throughout WW1 they had 2 Battalions in the Regular Army pre-war, another three were formed for Kitcheners Army and another 8 Battalions as Territorial Battalions. Did they fight at the Battle of the Somme, yes again.

 

However, could the soldiers all have seen something else, perhaps a mass hallucination? I suppose it is perfectly possible, the soldiers were right at the end of their stay on the front line and would have been extremely stressed and tired, the perfect conditions for hallucinations (without drugs that is). Either way, it’s a good story.

Other stories are even more astounding, another Officer called William M. Speight had seen a phantom figure in his dug-out one night, the next evening he invited another officer to witness the strange spectre, sure enough the two of them witnessed the spirit of a British Officer walking around in the dugout, then he stopped pacing and pointed to the floor, Speight gathered a party of engineers to take apart the floor boards, then sent for miners to dig down a few feet to see if something was underneath the soil, thinking perhaps this dead officer had buried something valuable and maybe wanted it sending home, but what the miners uncovered was something of far greater importance, it was a Mine, a German one filled with High Explosives and a timer timed to go off in 13 Hours time, the Engineers came back and defused the explosives and took them away, no doubt to be used in a British Mine somewhere else.

 

One story which holds some credence was that of an anonymous Lieutenant who on the 27th August was leading his men forwards towards the front, where they passed "Squadron after Squadron of French Cuirassiers, wearing their bright polished Cuirass (metal Breastplate) and their Blue uniforms, all about them seemed to shine and they made no sound at all as we marched past" at the time the French Cavalry did still wear these kinds of uniforms, though not for fighting, but they did 100 years before for Napoleon, could this anonymous Lieutenant have seen the ghosts of French Cavalry from a century before? A few days later he sought out his commanding officer to tell him about the Cavalry, suggesting they blacken their armour lest they be shot by a German for being so shiny, his Commanding officer told him straight that all French Cavalry was fighting much further south (the Germans were almost overrunning Paris at the time) and he must have been seeing things. Unfortunately like a lot of these stories the witnesses leave out their names so finding wether Lieutenant such and such was real is very hard to do.

Poets seemed to be associated with the spirit world in France at the time of WW1, here are two stories that relate to firstly Wilfred Owen and secondly Robert Graves.

 

"I had gone down to my cabin thinking to write some letters, I drew aside the door curtain and stepped inside to my amazement I saw Wilfred sitting in my chair. I felt shock run through me with appalling force and with it I could feel the blood draining away from my face. I did not rush towards him but walked jerkily into the cabin - all my limbs stiff and slow to respond. I did not sit down but looking at him I spoke quietly : " Wilfred how did you get here? " he did not rise and I saw that he was Involuntary immobile, but his eyes which had never left mine were alive with the familiar look of trying to make me understand; when I spoke his whole face broke down into his sweetest and most endearing dark smile. I felt no fear - I had not when I first opened my door curtain and saw him there; only exquisite mental pleasure at thus beholding him. All I was conscious of was a sensation of enormous shock and profound astonishment that he should be here in my cabin. I spoke again " Wilfred dear, how can you be here, its just not possible..." But still he did not speak but only smiled his most gentle smile. This not speaking did not now as it had done at first seem strange or even unnatural; it was not only in some inexplicable way seem perfectly natural but radiated a quality which made his presence somehow right and in no way somehow out of the ordinary. I loved having him there; I could not and did not try to understand how he had got there. I was content to accept him, the meeting in itself was complete and strangely perfect. He was in uniform and I remember thinking how out of place his Khaki looked amongst my cabin furnishings. With this thought I must have turned my eyes away from him; when I looked back my cabin chair was empty... I felt the blood run slowly back to my face and looseness into my limbs and with these an overpowering sense of emptiness and absolute loss... I wondered if I had been dreaming, but looking down I saw that I was still standing. Suddenly I felt terribly tired and moving to my bunk I lay down; instantly I fell into a deep and oblivious sleep. When I woke I knew with absolute certainty that Wilfred was dead.

This was written by Harold Owen, a Naval officer aboard his ship at Scarpa Flow in the Orkney Islands, he had his vision on the day peace was declared, the 11th November, his brother, the poet Wilfred Owen, had been dead a week and he would not have had the news by then.

 

The poet Robert Graves was the witness in the next story, in his memoirs he recalls that...

"I saw a ghost at Bethune. He was a man called Private Challenor who had been at Lancaster with me and again at F Company in Wrexham. When he went out with First Battalion he shook my hand and said " I’ll meet you again in France Sir " he was killed in Festubert in May and in June he passed by our C Company billet where we were just having a special dinner to celebrate our safe return from Cuinchy... Challoner looked in through the window, saluted and walked away. There was no mistaking him, or the cap badge he was wearing. There was no Royal Welch Battalions billeted within miles of Bethune at the time. I jumped up and looked out of the window, but saw nothing except a fag end smoking on the pavement. Ghosts were numerous in France at the time."

When asked a few years later about what he perceived ghosts to be he replied.

" I think one should accept Ghosts very much like one accepts fire - a common but equally mysterious phenomenon. What is fire? It is not really an element, not a principle of motion, not a living creature - not even disease, though a house can catch it from its neighbours. It is an event rather than a thing or creature. Ghosts, similarly, seem to be events rather than things or creatures "

Makes you think... wether the Ghostbusters were onto something when they made an old Fire Station as their HQ :)

The most famous of all paranormal stories associated with the horrors of WW1 is the following, known universally as, The Angel of Mons.

 

On the 14th of September 1914 there appeared an unusual story in the London Evening News, written by Arthur Machen. The Author had already written many supernatural stories and was a one time member of the Mystical Society , The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Story was titled "The Bowmen" and told by implication, not explicit description, that St George and a host of ethereal Medieval Archers, came to the aid of beleaguered British troops fighting at Mons and helped them repel German attacks. Machen made no promise of fact to the story and stated quite a number of times that it was fiction, however the editors of The Occult Review and Light, two supernatural publications printed at the time, made their own enquiries about this strange manifestation. Several Parish magazines up and down the country sought permission to re-print the article and a fierce argument started when a clergyman actually stated that the story was genuine, claiming that Mr Machen’s plea that it was false was not true, not only this but the ghosts were not those of long dead English bowmen but Archangels sent down to earth to defeat the Hun! Machen replied that he had started "a Snowball of rumour which had grown to a monstrous size". A Miss Phyllis Campbell contributed an article in the Occult Review in August 1915 stating that "everyone who had fought between Mons and Ypres had seen them", Machen replied to her stating that if it were so then there would be at least one eye witness account to come from the front, instead all of the articles concerning the Angels of Mons were anonymous, was it through fear of ridicule or was it all made up? The story of the Angels of Mons does not end with an argument in Britain, the Reverend C. M. Chavasse, whose own brother won two Victoria Crosses, posed a serious question: was Machen correct in his recollection that the story of all a figment of his own imagination, or had it been influenced by reports such as the ghostly Cavalry? A Grandson of an employee of Mr Machen claimed after the war that it was from him that Machen acquired the story, and that it was genuine. Not only this but the man was well known for being a hard drinker, after his sighting at Mons he became tee-total and a local pillar of his community. Another confirmation of some kind of strange sighting came during the Allied counter-offensive in 1918, a German dug-out was captured further south by American troops, inside was a luggage box of diaries taken from dead German officers throughout the war, inside the diary of a Hauptmann (Captain) Karl Herlisch he wrote about joining the army as a student in 1914, after a little training he was sent straight to Mons to fight the British there, as his men attacked one day he was sending reinforcements to his firing line, when himself and about a dozen of his reserves saw a strange sight, in the area of the British firing line there was a brilliant light, two large clouds of white, nothing but white, started to rise from the ground and took on the forms of two men, with their arms stretched upwards these bright white clouds descended up into the sky. The men around him all made the sign of the cross and they were very reluctant to go forwards. Hauptmann Herlisch was killed in the Somme in 1916 and so cannot verify what he saw that day. Me personally I believe that something strange was seen that day, a ghostly re-enactment of some long lost event perhaps? The only trouble is that all of the English reports are anonymous and some of them are very unbelievable, such as the reports of German soldiers seen dead with arrows protruding from them. The report of Hauptmann Herlisch may also be false, he may not have existed at all and his diary may have been a fake, after the war people made money from things brought back from France, such as fake Iron Crosses, fake German Pickelhaube helmets and fake documents such as diary’s.

 

The reasons for the amount of carnage witnessed during the "Great War" today would seem barbaric, yet the bravery of the men and boys of all nations should never be forgotten, whatever their cause, their colour or religion. To die before your time is not just a waste of life, but a waste of all the things which matter to everyone, the essence of being, love, honour, charity. Thank you for reading this, I am no advocate for war, I get asked a fair bit if I’ve ever been in the army, I always reply "No, instead of being a hero, I’d rather talk about heroes".

 

Thank you for your time.

CJ Linton.

Categories: Haunted Battlefields

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