Perhaps the greatest horror story of the Western Front during World War I was the death surrounding the trenches. The stress, fear of dying, and the terrible and unsanitary conditions in the trenches affected the soldiers’ morale. The tales in the war zone perhaps reflected how the soldiers saw their current situation: their low morales brought the harbingers of doom, while their positive outlook created the story of divine beings saving men from death in No-Man’s land. Different stories sprung up, and here are some of those supernatural stories of World War I.
The Angels of Mons
According to the legend, the prayers uttered at Mons in Belgium were answered in the form of a ghostly apparition that descended from the heavens to protect the one who prayed.
On August 23, 1914, not even a month after World War I broke out, the British Expeditionary Force crossed the Channel when a large group of German invaders had just swept through most of Belgium. The British forces were caught in the muddy fields of Mons, exhausted, and could no longer resist the fresh German troops. They were surrounded and ready to be annihilated when someone said his prayer. It was answered by a ghostly host that stopped the Germans on track and scared the Germans and their horses.
On September 29, 1914, fantasy author Arthur Machen wrote a fictional story titled The Bowmen and published it in a London newspaper. His story was inspired by the rumors of divine intervention at Mons, sprinkled with his imagination. He told the late of a host of phantom archers from the 1415 Battle of Agincourt that appeared back to earth to save the Brits. What was interesting was the fact that people bought his story, with soldiers from the trenches confirming the tales of Mons angels. Even more interesting was in 1915, an officer told a curious phenomenon said to be witnessed by the Germans and the British when a cloud that protected the Tommies appeared and shielded them from enemies.
Apparition in Ypres
The area of Ypres in Belgium witnessed some of the most extreme battles, bearing hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. One of those casualties was an unnamed friend of Lieutenant William Speight. It seemed that death did not stop this friend from performing his duties, for one gloomy December night in 1915, Speight was in his dug-out when his fallen friend walked in. This spooked Speight invited another officer to sit with him in his dug-out the next night. His deceased comrade returned the next night, much to their horror. As per the lieutenant,
The dead officer came once more and, after pointing to a spot on the floor of the dug-out, vanished.
Speight ordered his men to dig where the ghost pointed. A few feet later, they found out that the spot was packed with explosives, as the Germans successfully rigged the area, and it was supposed to be blown out in 13 hours. They immediately defused the bombs and avoided death with the help of his friend’s apparition.
In his 1918 book Fairies and Fusiliers, poet, scholar, and captain in the British Army during WWI, Robert Graves wrote a poem titled Corporal Stare. The poem talked about his unexplainable experience in Bethune one June evening when he and his men were enjoying a festive night after a bloody and grueling tour at Cuinchy. While enjoying his meal, he saw Private Challoner at the window, who saluted him before walking away. Graves got up and looked out the window, although he was not expecting to see anyone. The thing was, he knew Chanoller had been killed in the battle that May. The last time he saw him was in Britain when Challoner shook his hand and told him, “I’ll meet you again in France, sir.” So he did.
Here’s the chilling poem:
Back from the line one night in June,
I gave a dinner at Bethune—
Seven courses, the most gorgeous meal
Money could buy or batman steal.
Five hungry lads welcomed the fish
With shouts that nearly cracked the dish;
Asparagus came with tender tops,
Strawberries in cream, and mutton chops.
Said Jenkins, as my hand he shook,
“They’ll put this in the history book.”
We bawled Church anthems in choro
Of Bethlehem and Hermon snow,
With drinking songs, a jolly sound
To help the good red Pommard round.
Stories and laughter interspersed,
We drowned a long La Bassée thirst—
Trenches in June make throats damned dry.
Then through the window suddenly,
Badge, stripes and medals all complete,
We saw him swagger up the street,
Just like a live man—Corporal Stare!
Stare! Killed last May at Festubert.
Caught on patrol near the Boche wire,
Torn horribly by machine-gun fire!
He paused, saluted smartly, grinned,
Then passed away like a puff of wind,
Leaving us blank astonishment.
The song broke, up we started, leant
Out of the window—nothing there,
Not the least shadow of Corporal Stare,
Only a quiver of smoke that showed
A fag-end dropped on the silent road.