As the centenary of The Angels of Mons, the greatest urban legend of WW1, approaches, I am on the look out for rumours and stories about supernatural intervention in modern warfare.
So I was pleased to read a contemporary story in a review of Valery Rees’s new cultural history of angels by TV historian Tom Holland (author of In the Shadow of the Sword).
In his article for Guardian Review, Holland tells the story of an Israeli veteran of the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 who claimed to have met an angel.
“During the battle of the Golan Heights, a Syrian shell had sent him flying from his tank,” Holland writes. “As he lay wounded and immobile on the ground, he saw enemy soldiers advancing towards him. They raised their guns. Then, abruptly, a golden figure appeared. The Israeli had been chosen, so the mysterious figure informed him, for an awesome mission. God wished him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Then all went black.”
When the soldier woke he was being treated in hospital. But shortly afterwards he was visited by United Nations staff. On telling them his story they were astonished as, a few days earlier, they had interviewed a group of Syrian soldiers.
“These had spoken of a golden figure that had miraculously appeared between them and an injured Israeli, and put them to flight.”
This story was “proof enough” for the Israeli that an angel had indeed appeared in the heat of the battle to save him that day.
Holland does not refer to the Angels of Mons, but the Israeli soldier’s story could have been written at the height of the Great War. During the crisis of 1914-15 newspapers in Britain and the Commonwealth were filled with similar accounts.
For example this story, allegedly from the lips of a Lancashire Fusilier wounded in the Battle of the Frontiers, was reported by nurse Phyllis Campbell in the London Evening News (31 July 1915):
“It’s true, sister. We all saw it. First there was a sort of a yellow mist like, sort of risin’ before the Germans as they came to the top of a hill, come on like a solid wall they did…no use fighting the whole German race, thinks I; it’s all up with us. The next minute comes this funny cloud of light, and when it clears there’s a tall man with yellow hair in golden armour, on a white horse, holding his sword up, and his mouth open as if to say, ‘Come on boys! I’ll put the kybosh on the devils.’ The minute I saw it, I knew we were going to win. It fair bucked me up – yes, sister, thank you…”
Both accounts refer to a “golden figure” that appeared in the midst of battle at the moment that defeat was imminent and annihilation was expected. So unless the Israeli soldier was familiar with the accounts of the Angels of Mons published in 1915, then here we have a good example of a personal experience that appears to reflect a legend of supernatural intervention in battle that can be traced all the way back to prehistory.
Herotodus, in The Histories (written from 450-420 BC) gives examples of Greek deities appearing in the midst of battle with the Persians, pursuing and slaying the enemy forces. There are, of course, many similar examples in The Old Testament, which the Israeli soldier in Holland’s account would have been more familiar with.
As for the soldier’s mission to rebuild the Temple, Holland notes that any such project would have to demolish the Dome of the Rock, which stands on the site where an angel spoke to Abraham.
In Muslim tradition, the prophet Muhammad was brought from Mecca to Jerusalem by the angel Jibra’il (Gabriel) in a miraculous night-flight prior to his ascension through the heavens. The Dome of the Rock was built to commemorate this event.
Ironically, my first blog post in 2011 was a report on a UFO alleged photographed and filmed by tourists at the Dome of the Rock.
UFOs and angels may vie for position in the supernatural traditions of the modern world, but really here’s nothing new under the sun.
*Valery Rees’s book From Gabriel to Lucifer: A Cultural History of Angels, will be published by IB Tauris in March.
*A short story aimed at teenagers, Angel of Mons, based on the WW1 legend, by author Robin Bennett, was published by Monster Books in October 2012.