A subject that comes up every so often is one of people experiencing strange or supernatural goings on whilst visiting the battlefields.
Is it really the souls of the dead, many of whom still lay beneath our feet, reaching out to us? Are we transported back in time due to the events leaving behind like a piece of negative film that we then become a part of? Or is it simply because of our heightened emotions, of knowing what happened in these places, that then causes our minds to play tricks on us?
Whatever you think there’s no doubting that many of us have experienced things that can be difficult to explain or justify.
Of course supernatural links aren’t something new. Many of us have heard the story of the Angels of Mons. In 1914 faced with overwhelming German forces some British soldiers recounted seeing Angels appearing as Archers in the skies above or a cloud descend upon the battlefield keeping the German forces at bay & allowing the British to get away safely.
Stories of mother’s & wives back home in blighty seeing their loved ones standing in front of them as clear as day, only days or weeks later receiving the telegram informing them of their sons or husbands death at more or less the same time as the vision had appeared.
Veterans & letters recount stories of men in the trenches before going ‘Over the top’ being overcome with a sense of doom. Somehow knowing that their time was up and that they wouldn’t be coming back. In letters men urging their families to look after the children or each other, to move on with their lives & not to grieve too much in the knowledge that they had died doing the right thing. Men sharing out their belongings or urging their pal to write to their mother’s or to look after their wives & children.
Spiritualism had been around since Victorian times, most notable of supporters being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes. Of course many would unscrupulously seek to make money out of all the grief & peoples losses by holding seances claiming to speak to those who had passed. Or then again were some of them just trying to provide some comfort to the bereaved?
Some modern day experiences that people recount are the feeling of bring watched, of seeing something in human form either clearly or as dark shadows. Other recount hearing voices,shouts or whispers in their ears when noone else is around. For some they experience overwhelming emotion and physically breakdown in tears or have an immense feeling of terror and they have to get away from the area right away.
Personally I have experienced a couple of things whilst out & about on the old front line that I can’t explain.
The first is at High Wood. I always park up outside London Cemetery & then decide which way to walk around the wood, either starting on the western side, round the back where the switch line came out before walking down the eastern side passing the craters & memorials or I’ll do it in reverse.
As soon as I pull up there always seems to be rooks flying above or in the trees making those distinctive haunting sounds. And there’s that constant feeling of being watched from inside the wood itself. It can be a glorious warm sunny day but the feeling I get is of cold & darkness as I look into the wood. Dark shadows seem to pass across the old trenches & shell holes that are still visible. Again it’s probably my senses & emotions knowing that hundreds if not thousands still lay beneath the ground as High Wood wasn’t cleared fully after the war so in fact it’s a mass grave containing men lost from both sides. My Great Grandfather served here as a Tunneller responsible for digging & laying the mines on the eastern side & was wounded here on 8th September 1916, so I have a connection with this place.But I’m definitely glad when I’m back in my car.
My second experience is rather more a nicer one. A few years ago on a lads only trip myself, my best mate Andy & his dad Brian were at Sucerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps visiting one of our London Road memorial men Driver T.E Fitzgerald , C Bty 211th bde RFA. It was late March and a pleasantly warm day with sun shining and we had a wander as you do around the cemetery. We recounted the story of men marching down the tree lined avenue from Colincamps, which still exists to this day, on the eve of the Battle of the Somme and seeing grave pits being dug & piles of crosses in the cemetery in anticipation of expected losses.
After a while we left the cemetery and were walking back up the lane back to the car that we’d parked by the farm on the main road. The tune of ‘Pack up your troubles’ or ‘Its a long way to Tipperary’ , I can’t recall which, suddenly came into my head and I began to start whistling it. Trust me I’m far from musical at all so it was no Roger Whittaker rendition!
Almost immediately a beautiful red admiral butterfly appeared to my left and followed me as we walked up the path passing in front of me before taking its pamce at my side again. It was a goosebump moment but I didn’t feel any sense of dread or apprehension. As we neared the road it settled on some foilage. Again probably totally a coincidence but it felt so serene and peaceful.
Finally another occurrence was when on a visit to Talana Farm Cemetery with Andy & his family. We were there to visit Andy’s wife’s Great Uncle Herbert Sidebotham. His wife Helen was carrying their daughter Ellla,who was only 1 year old, when a field mouse ran across in front of us on the access path. Nothing unusual there I hear you say it is the middle of a field after all.
Fast forward to 2 years later, Ella is now 3 and of course can now walk herself and talk. As we walked along the familiar track she turned to her mum and said is the mouse still here? Helen and I just looked at each other and thought how on earth does she remember that when she was only 1 years old when she saw it!
Again those with far more knowledge about the human mind will most probably be able to explain it rationally. But how many times have many of us visited cemeteries and found ourselves drawn to a particular grave and found out it has a link to where we live or someone else we’ve researched. Or a family member visiting for the first time walks straight to the grave of their relative without any prior knowledge of where they lay.
I think there are things that we don’t know about that can’t be explained. Some moments can be chilling whilst others feel warming & are meant to be. Thanks for reading
I’d love to hear some of your own experiences so please feel free to share them on twitter @terriermcd