Letter: Soldiers' mass hallucination was a fantasy

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The Independent Online
IT IS strange that the myth of the Angel of Mons should be presented in a play as though it actually happened ('The Somme comes to Glasgow', 4 September). In fact there is no first-hand documentation of 'the best documented mass hallucination of modern times', as David Lister describes it, for the simple reason that it never occurred.

A report in the Times on 30 August 1914 by A Moore mistakenly exaggerated a defeat of the British Expeditionary Force. Another journalist, A Machen of the Evening News, thought about this and wrote a fictional piece called The Bowmen. This was published on 29 September 1914. It was inspired by the archers at Agincourt reappearing on earth, said Machen, an established fantasy writer. It was taken up by The Occult Review and some clergymen, several of whom asked permission to reprint The Bowmen in their parish magazines. Machen gave permission, repeatedly pointing out that it was just fiction. The trouble started when a clergyman refused to believe him. Further difficulties arose because the Universe printed a story that an officer was said to have seen a horseman (St George). Later he was joined by St Michael and even Joan of Arc. Then in May 1915 the Agincourt archers changed into angels.

The story had largely died out by the end of 1916 though in 1938 Machen published The True Story of the Angel of Mons. Little more was heard of the story until 1994 when the play was reported in the Independent on Sunday. I used to use the story on one of my cognitive thinking courses. Perhaps it is time to start using it again with the new twist at the end.

Lionel G Titman

Ashford, Middlesex