Angels in the Trenches: Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War
The mechanised slaughter of the First World War brought a sudden and concentrated interest in life after death, living in spite of death and trying to predict, or even influence, when the merciless killing would end. People asked, can one communicate with the dead? Are the angels on the side of the British? Can black cat amulets and lucky shillings avert bombs and bullets? Can the fate of nations be foretold in the stars?
War Poet’s Lucky Escapes, Superstitions and a Ghost Sighting At the Front in 1915, Lieutenant Robert Graves, 3rd Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, was counting his lucky escapes. On 28 May in the chaotic trenches among the brick stacks at Cuinchy in the sector between Ypres and the Somme, he had met a rifle-grenade at close […]
Was Corporal Bird Saved by His Dead Brother at Vimy Ridge? Corporal Will Bird of the 42nd Battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, was sleeping fitfully in his cold dugout near Vimy Ridge, April 1917. Two warm hands on his back woke him. He opened his eyes expecting to see one of […]
Did the Spirit of a Dead Soldier Save His Friends in the Ypres Salient? December 1915, in a frontline trench somewhere in the Ypres salient, Belgium, Second Lieutenant William M. Speight of the 3rd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own), sat in his dug-out. The First and Second Battles of Ypres had already […]
The Thirteenth Casualty, A Story of Luck During the First World War The number thirteen had followed Joe Cassells through the First World War. First at Dixmude, then at La Bassée and when ‘crossing the bar,’ now the number would crop up a final and fateful time. From what I can tell, Cassells was still […]
Could Unlucky Thirteen Be This First World War Soldier’s Lucky Number? Joe Cassells and his unusual relationship with the number thirteen during the First World War were not over after the strange events at Dixmude and La Bassée. The Black Watch scout had another tale to tell and this one, more than the others, was […]
War Poet Rupert Brooke died during the First World War. The mystic Aelfrida Tillyard claimed to have paranormal experiences in which she was visited by his ghost or spirit in dreams and received communications allegedly from Brook via automatic writing.
Soldier Joe Cassells, a scout with the Black Watch, told several stories of how he came to regard thirteen as his lucky number. Trench superstitions were rife during the First World War, but whereas most people think of thirteen as unlucky, a series of strange coincidences and events convinced Cassells that thirteen would always bring him good fortune.
A British Soldier’s Account of the Christmas Truce during the First World War Almost as incredible as the many stories of the supernatural recounted in Angels in the Trenches is that of the Christmas Truce between the British and Germans. Scotsman Joe Cassells, a scout in the Black Watch, was in the trenches on Christmas […]
How Christianity United Enemies During the First World War The Christmas Truce of 1914 began on Christmas Eve at some parts of the Frontline. Here Bruce Bairnsfather, famous for his ‘Old Bill’ sketches, recounts his experience of a truce on Christmas Eve. It is a testimony to the shared culture of the warring parties and […]