Though battle and spirituality have gone hand in hand for centuries, soldiers rarely witness the presence of the divine mid-fight. Several stories of angels intervening on the field of battle exist, however, with perhaps the most famous incident occurring during World War I at the Battle of Mons.
British soldiers fought the Germans, who possessed superior numbers. Ultimately forced to retreat, several soldiers claimed to have seen supernatural forces watching over them during the battle. Some think the mysterious presence was a group of archers, while others believe it was an army of formidable angels.
Considerable evidence suggests the Angels of Mons began in a fictional short story. But the tale served as an inspiration to the British people during WWI - especially after the shock of Germans defeating them in battle. Many historians view the ordeal as an example of well-executed propaganda, but religious individuals see it as a sign of God fighting on England's side.
Many expected the British to win the Battle of Mons; it was their first major action in the conflict, and they possessed support from troops in the French Fifth Army. The English public kept faith in their army - the battle was their first significant attack on Germany.
On August 23, 1914, German and British troops clashed, and it quickly became clear the Germans were the larger and more powerful force. Thousands died in combat, and the French forces retreated - leaving the British soldiers open to attack. They started to withdraw, which ended up taking weeks longer than expected.
While the British people viewed the fallen soldiers as heroes, the battle left them stunned and shook their confidence - until a strange story surfaced about a guardian angel.
Arthur Machen wrote a short story, "The Bowmen," based on accounts from the battle. It appeared in the London Evening News on September 29, 1914. The tale, told as a personal account, concerned a legion of spiritual archers protecting the British troops and allowing for a safe retreat.
Machen's story was fictional, and only based on the battle itself. It was printed, however, without any warning to that effect. Machen soon received messages from people seeking confirmation and sources. The writer responded by saying he didn't wish to perpetuate a hoax, confirming he invented it.
Many members of the public believed Arthur Machen's story about ghostly archers on the field of battle. It circulated quickly, and other publishers soon reached out to Machen asking to speak with his sources and reprint the story.
On April 3, 1915, a small newspaper published a story about the Battle of Mons, called "A Troop of Angels," based on the account of a woman who claimed to have met soldiers who said they'd been protected by angels in the battle. The publication Light followed with a similar article. The public erupted in support of the tale, taking it as a sign of God being on their side.
When Machen published his story in book form to ride its wave of popularity, he included a forward stating it was fiction. He was criticized, however, for trying to take the tale away from the public. Machen reportedly regretted ever writing the story.
In 1915, several soldiers described a mystical force assisting them during their retreat at Mons. William George Ludlow, a teenager when the battle took place, said he remembered seeing the distinct form of an angel with a beautiful face holding back the German army; he even told the story to his children and grandchildren.
Members of the West Riding Regiment insisted they saw one specific angel, as well. Capt. Hayward, an intelligence officer for the British, said he saw four or five angels.
One unnamed soldier sent a letter to the Bath Society Paper in 1915, claiming he saw a whole host of heavenly creatures:
I myself saw the angels who saved our left wing from the Germans during the retreat from Mons. We heard the German cavalry tearing after us and ran for a place where we thought a stand could be made. We saw between us and the enemy a whole troop of Angels.