‘Angels of the Battlefield‘ – published in 2003 – came 4th in a list of 40 articles voted for by the panel to mark the 40th anniversary of the leading journal of strange phenomena. In his endorsement, former BBC religious affairs correspondent Ted Harrison says:
‘The Angels of Mons investigation by David Clarke took a classic and much-loved national myth and subjected it to serious research and the right dose of Fortean scepticism’.
The article was written to mark the publication of my 2004 book, The Angel of Mons: phantom soldiers and ghostly guardians, published by Wiley, that examined what was undoubtedly the greatest legend of the conflict.
And as the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War approaches, the city of Mons in Belgium will adopt a high profile as the battleground upon which the conflict began and ended in 1918.
Mons will be European Capital of Culture in 2015 and next year it is hosting a series of commemorative events to mark the battle both in the city and at Saint Symphorien military cemetery, just over a mile to the east of the old town.
Among those buried in the Commonwealth cemeteries around Mons is Maurice Dease, the first soldier to win a Victoria Cross in the war. The 24-year-old died whilst commanding a machine gun section on Nimy bridge on the Mons-Conde canal during the battle on 23 August 1914. His final stand will be marked in the battle of Mons Remembrance Trail that is being developed to mark centenary next year.
Also in the cemetery at Mons there is a stone marking the grave of Private John Parr, who was the first British soldier to die in the First World War. Parr served with the 4th Middlesex Regiment and is thought to have been just 16 years old when he shot by a German patrol.
Parr is buried close to the grave of the last British soldier to die in the war, George Ellison from Leeds in Yorkshire. Ellison fought in the battle of Mons in 1914 and tragically was killed whilst on patrol just an hour and a half before the armistice was declared on 11 November 1918.
All three soldiers were part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that arrived on the continent in 1914 to face the full weight of the German armies moving towards Paris. It was from the midst of the chaos that followed that stories emerged of phantom bowmen and ‘angels’ appearing on the battlefield to defend Allied soldiers against the axis forces.
A summary of the legend and Welsh writer Arthur Machen’s role in creating a urban myth that refused to die can be followed on my webpages here.