A Question I Was Asked:

"Were There Angelic Interventions During the First World War?"

The Question:

I really welcome your more open attitude to miracles, or miraculous events, as shown by your comments on Fatima. I have always believed that a true miracle must have occurred there which those children witnessed. I have mentioned my view to three baptist ministers over the last ten years. All three of them immediately warned me off Roman Catholicism (in which I have never shown any interest at all, I might say) and just seemed to refuse to consider the substance of the stories and claims. They did not seem to find it possible to be objective over the matter. I have to say that they were prejudicial. This is why I welcome your comments on what happened at Fatima. In my opinion, though you are not Roman Catholic, you gave the claims very fair treatment indeed and the points you raise are certainly most intriguing. Food for further thought!

While on the subject of miracles, would you have any view on such things as the alleged angelical visitations/appearances during certain First World War battles? I think especially of the 'Angel of Mons,' and the strange disappearance of the Sandringhams at Galipolli in 1915. Any thoughts?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Look, angels are a reality. To be perfectly frank, it would be more surprising if there were no angelic claims in view of the often terrible bloodshed of World War I. Many of these men were in fear of their lives, after all, and they came from a western society which was much more firmly Christian than our present society. They undoubtedly sent up many prayers, plus there were the prayers of all their families back at home. If angels appeared on a few rare occasions, should we be surprised? I think not.

Over the years I have taken much interest in the history of the earlier twentieth century so I have already read much on some of these topics.

Turkish soldiers at the time of World War I

(Our picture shows Turkish soldiers at the time of World War I. The Turks refused to recognise any rules of war and were famous for training young girls as snipers).

Appalling Turkish Atrocities (1914-1922) Still Not Confronted

Quite apart from it's sometimes dreadful excesses as Germany's World War I allies (something the Germans themselves sometimes seemed embarrassed about at the time), Moslem Turkey has still never been called to account by the international community for their genocide of the mainly Christian Armenians. April 24, 1915 marks the darkest day in Armenia's 3000 years history. A day that has left a deep scar in the hearts of Armenians worldwide. That day the Ottoman Turkish government began the systematic genocide of the Armenian people. By 1922, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians had been slaughtered. Decades have passed and yet the facts about the Armenian Genocide and the crimes committed by the Ottoman Turks in the forgotten Genocide of the 20th century has still not been satisfactorily confronted nor apologised for.

The Angel of Mons

Okay, let us just briefly consider stories of the 'angel of Mons.' Now obviously none of us can now wholly arrive at the truth of these things but we can look at what is known.

On 22-23 August 1914, the first major engagement of the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War occurred at the Battle of Mons. Advancing German forces were thrown back by British troops who were actually heavily outnumbered, who also suffered casualties and being outflanked were forced to rapidly retreat the next day. The retreat and the battle were rapidly perceived by the British public as being a key moment in the war. This battle was the first indication the British public had that defeating Germany would not be as easy as some had thought. For sure, considering the numbers of German forces that were involved in the battle, the British ability to hold them off for as long as they did seemed truly remarkable and recruitment to the army shot up in the weeks that followed. The whole thing was very stirring and encouraging even though the British were certainly forced into a retreat. Apparently, some saw manifestations of an angel or angels at that battle. These days those stories are usually ridiculed but, in my opinion, there is no reason to ridicule the stories. If we believe in God, we should also know that God has angels, moreover, the Bible shows that angels do occasionally have some involvement in great battles! See Daniel 12:1 for instance.

In 1914, British author Arthur Machen published a short story which he called 'The Bowmen.' It was first published in the London newspaper The Evening News, and it was inspired by accounts that Machen had read of the fighting at Mons and an idea that came to him after the battle. However, it would appear that he was also affected by reports of very strange occurrences at Mons, although he later seemed to deny this part.

Machen, who had already written a number of factual articles on the conflict for the same paper, set his story at the time of the retreat from the Battle of Mons in August 1914. The story described phantom bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt (where, we may recall, a tiny English army had defeated a huge, fresh and well-supplied French army) suddenly appearing on the scene after being summoned by a soldier calling on the name of Saint George; the 'bowmen' destroyed a German host. This was the general idea behind Machen's apparently fictional story, however, the idea was inspired by reports of angelic visitations at Mons. It is believed that Machen was not even present at Mons but he was a skilled and inventive writer. Today people often say that the angelic reports first appeared in Machen's book and it was only from there that the idea circulated, however, that is simply not so. Machen simply wrote a piece of (apparent) fiction based on the idea of angels appearing in battle. It seems that he got the idea from several reports of angels present at Mons. Therefore, to say that, but for this writer, the idea would never have developed is plainly incorrect.

Eventually the Church took a great interest in Machen's writings and wanted more details about any angelic intervention at Mons. Machen responded by stating that his work was pure fiction. That may or may not be so but he apparently only got the idea because of some incredible reports coming from the field of battle. The point being that to state that reports of angelic manifestations at Mons only arose because of Machen's writings is incorrect; he simply wrote a fictionalised, or partly fictionalised, book based on widespread reports which were around at the time.

I am afraid that, in our day, it is now impossible to get at the truth about what may have happened at Mons, all one can say is that - for the Christian believer - the idea of angelic visitation at such a time should not be so incredible.

Did the 'Sandringhams' March Straight Into Heaven?

Now, what of the disappearing 'Sandringhams'? This is a particularly interesting and strange story.

The men of this company had grown up together, even playing cricket for the same village team, now, as members of the 5th Territorial Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment, they were about to go to war together. It was the August of 1914 and groups of young British men were only too eager to fight against 'the Bosch.' But what the soldiers of E Company had in common was something rather unusual: they all belonged to the staff of the Royal Estate at Sandringham, Norfolk, England. Historic-UK.com says this of them:

What happened to the Sandringhams during the disastrous Dardanelles campaign in the middle of their very first battle, on the afternoon of August 12, 1915? One minute the men, led by their commanding officer, Sir Horace Proctor-Beauchamp, were charging bravely against the Turkish enemy. The next they had disappeared. Their bodies were never found. There were no survivors. They did not turn up as prisoners of war.

They simply vanished.

General Sir Ian Hamilton, the British Commander-in-Chief in Gallipoli, appeared as puzzled as everyone else. He reported 'there happened a very mysterious thing'. Explaining that during the attack, the Norfolks had drawn somewhat ahead of the rest of the British line. He went on, 'The fighting grew hotter, and the ground became more wooded and broken.' But Colonel Beauchamp with 16 officers and 250 men, 'still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before him.'

'Among these ardent souls was part of a fine company enlisted from the King's Sandringham estates. Nothing more was ever seen or heard of any of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight and sound. Not one of them ever came back.' Their families had nothing to go on but rumours and a vague official telegram stating that their loved ones had been 'reported missing'.

All of this is true. No bodies were ever found although a watch which was believed to belong to one of the men was later found (soldiers frequently lose watches in battle) and, much later, there were discoveries of bodies in shallow graves at least a few of which were believed to be of this company of soldiers.

But there is more on this:

Many years later, in April 1965, at the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, a former New Zealand sapper called Frederick Reichardt issued an extraordinary testimony. Supported by three other veterans, Reichardt claimed to have witnessed the supernatural disappearance of the 5th Norfolks in August 1915.

According to Reichardt, on the afternoon in question he and his comrades had watched a formation of 'six or eight' loaf-shaped clouds hovering over the area where the Norfolks were pressing home their attack. Into one of these low lying clouds marched the advancing battalion. An hour or so later, the cloud 'very unobtrusively' rose and joined the other clouds overhead and sailed off, leaving no trace of the soldiers behind them. This strange story first appeared in a New Zealand publication. (Source: http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/England-History/LostSandringhams.htm).

This strange report, apparently coming from a very reliable source, stunned many people. The report got one or two things wrong, such as citing the wrong date but that is understandable after so many years. So it appeared - to many who were following behind these men - that the 'Sandringhams' marched straight into a low cloud, which later moved up and away, taking the men with it! Fascinating, but there are other things we should consider here: frankly, the moslem Turks were bloodthirsty and unmerciful, almost never taking prisoners but re-visiting any battlefield and shooting or bayoneting all the wounded without mercy, neither was it unusual for them to then bury these people in shallow graves. The lack of respect for human life shown by the Turks during this period of history has become famous. Since the 'Sandringhams' had got ahead of the rest of the charging soldiers it would not have been too difficult for the Turks to isolate this leading charge, kill as many as possible, then butcher all the wounded (we speak of about 260 men in total). This is probably now the consensus opinion.

But this does not rule out what many of the following men actually saw! Very possibly, these men were indeed all killed by the Turks but a merciful God allowed a vision to be seen which - effectively - showed these men to be marching straight into Heaven! Again, let us recall that these men came from a society which was a strongly Christian society; in such a dangerous situation, prayers would have been the order of the day! Therefore a merciful God allowed a vision which should have comforted many people. This small company were exceptionally brave, leading the charge despite their small numbers. Would it be so strange for our merciful God to allow these men's souls to march straight into Heaven? I suggest that this may be exactly what occurred. The valorous men undoubtedly quickly perished at the hands of the Turks, but the vision which certain New Zealanders following behind experienced revealed a rare human glimpse of the spiritual dimension. Was not a merciful God - effectively - telling relatives of the men, 'Yes they perished but I will look after their souls in Heaven.' Of course, to a now godless secular society that sounds utterly preposterous but I suggest that it could be exactly what happened.
Robin A. Brace. January, 7th, 2011.