Mystery of The Angels of Mons
December 16, 2013
Marjorie Broadbent was chairwoman of her book club, The Page-Turners, and this month’s meeting was in her own home. The group stuck mainly to cozy mysteries. Occasionally, they tip-toed into deeper waters that contained more heinous fictional crimes, but not now. This was the joyous holiday season.
Marjorie dreamed up a project for the group of eight that she thought would be fun, and as usual she did not ask anyone else for a second opinion. She had a copy of a book, a pamphlet really, that had been passed down in her family for a couple of generations.
“I could not make copies of this book for each of you to have. It is not lengthy, but would be too much of an undertaking, I’m afraid. Therefore, I am going to read it aloud to you. Take notes if you wish.”
“The reason I am reading this story is because it is one of the greatest mysteries of all time—and mysteries are our thing. The Bowmen are sometimes also known as The Angels of Mons.” “The Bowmen” took almost thirty minutes for Marjorie to read. “Have any of you ever heard of these ethereal creatures?”
Although the room was filled with well-educated women, not one raised her hand. It was one of those stories that fades with time. “Oh dear, I am afraid my voice is getting tired. Would one of you be kind enough to summarize what I have read?”
Eloise Pritchett raised her hand and said she would try. “It is an article by Arthur Machen, printed in the afternoon and evening editions of The London Evening News on September 29, 1914. In the article, the British Expeditionary Force was making a retreat from Mons in Flanders where they had held back a huge German force, seeing how badly they were outnumbered by them. Then, it seems thousands of voices were heard calling out the name of St. George. A long line of ethereal archers appeared, the bowmen, the archers drew back their bows and ten thousand advancing German soldiers were cut down, dead. Yet not one bore a wound.”
Marjorie then said, “Thank you Eloise. That was exactly what I had in mind. There was something not quite right about all of this and this is what it was. They published Mr. Machen’s story as an article, as you said, in the London newspaper, and not as the piece of short fiction it actually was—simply a product of his own imagination. He did not mean for it to be thought of as an actual event. At this point, Mr. Machen’s story took on a life of its own and had many twists and turns.”
“What do you mean?” Asked Betty Brown.
“Stories began to pour in from the war front. British soldiers claimed to have seen shining archers there at Mons. Some claimed to have seen glistening, shining angels—angels that aided them in their battles with the Germans at this location. Soon, pamphlets similar to Machen’s appeared published by different British religious groups and denominations. All dwelt on the subject of the angels at Mons. It was unavoidable to conclude that the angels were behind the British, all the way. Time after time the British had won victories over superior forces that greatly outnumbered them. Surely this could only be attributed to divine intervention.”
“Did Machen have anything to say about these developments?” Betty Brown asked.
“Machen did his best to explain that his story of the bowmen was fiction. It did no good. The stories rolled in. British soldiers who had never read his article had seen the bowmen or the angels. Many claimed that St. George, himself, on a white horse, brandishing a gleaming, flaming sword had parted the clouds and led the archers. Germans who weren’t killed, supposedly fled in terror.”
“What happened next if you don’t mind my asking, Marjorie?” Penelope Dickey asked.
“Two important people served to fuel the stories, one pro, one con. One, a young Nurse Campbell who had constant involvement treating wounded soldiers, reported hundreds of accounts that the soldiers relayed to her—they had witnessed the angels. Another confuser was Abbe Felix Kline who worked with an ambulance division. He kept detailed diaries, was at the battle of Mons and mentioned NO angels or bowmen in his diaries or in person. Surely a man of such religious convictions would be the first to report such events, and if the testimony of any witness were to be believed, it surely would have been his.”
The woman in the room sat there silently.
Marjorie continued. “For years stories continued to circulate, passed down from family member to family member, of soldiers who had seen the heavenly hosts. One of my own family members, was a soldier who saw the bowmen, as you might have already guessed. Otherwise, I would not have this little book, nor would I have developed such an interest in the subject. The Germans got in on it and cooked up a story themselves. They had projected the angels on clouds with movie projectors to scare the British, they said. This was quickly debunked, naturally, as being preposterous. High ranking officers often attributed the incident to battle fatigue, mass hallucinations caused by the horrors of war, as you can imagine.”
“It sure is a big mystery! I want the angels to be true!” Frances Fegley exclaimed. “No doubt, many men who saw the angels were afraid to report it, from fear of ridicule. That surely entered into the confusion, also.”
“Let’s have a secret vote, the old black bean,” Penelope suggested. “If you believe it is true, cast a bean. If not, cast nothing.”
It was on a whim. A secret vote held by the reading club, The Page-Turners, revealed by evidence of seven beans in an earthenware pot, that the majority believed some version of The Bowmen or The Angels of Mons to be absolutely true.
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