Angels in the Trenches

Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War

The unimaginable slaughter of the First World War brought a swift and concentrated interest in the paranormal. Was the war predicted? Could one communicate with the dead? Were the British on the side of the angels? Could lucky charms avert bombs and bullets?

The Role of the Supernatural in the Great War

The supernatural, so frequently a part of the everyday experience of the Great War, has been edited out of most histories of this period.

Angels in the Trenches is the missing history of the First World War. It tells the story of the war, year by year, from Mons to the Armistice, through the experiences of soldiers, scientists, spiritualists and ordinary people exposed to unexplained and mystical, supernatural events.

Angels in the Trenches is a narrative history involving the voices of the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W.B. Yeats, Rupert Brooke and many others, now forgotten. Using contemporary sources and previously unpublished accounts, these stories are told in the context of the earth-shattering catastrophe of the First World War.

The Defining Supernatural Moment: The Angels of Mons

After their miraculous escape from the German military juggernaut in the small Belgian town of Mons in 1914, many British soldiers really did believe that they had been saved by angels. On the home front, the number of spiritualist meetings in the United Kingdom increased dramatically. While the Society for Psychical Research set out to discover the truth of the Angels, supernatural or otherwise, W.B. Yeats entertained his fellow members of the Ghost Club with stories of his own experiences. From apparitions on the battlefield to the popular boom in spiritualism as the horrors of industrialised warfare reaped their terrible harvest, the paranormal – and, significantly, its use in propaganda – was one of the defining aspects of the First World War.

People at every level of society were struggling to come to terms with the ferocity and terror of the war, and their own losses: soldiers looking for supernatural miracles on the battlefield; parents searching for lost sons in the séance rooms of Spiritualists.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Spiritualist Crusade

Famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would also lose a son and many other close relatives during these terrible years. One of the foremost scientists of the day, Sir Oliver Lodge, would be similarly stricken by loss and like Doyle would also champion spiritualism, writing one of the most persuasive books on the existence of life after death.

The supernatural touched some of the most important figures of the First World War. W.B. Yeats would investigate spirit communication for himself. Lord Kitchener would have his fate foretold. War poet Rupert Brooke would ‘return’ from the dead.

Supernatural Secrets from Forgotten Archives

Based on original sources and archival research, the story told here is the very human one of people forced to look beyond the apparent certainties of the everyday; it is a story that still challenges those certainties today.

‘People not only asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” but they eagerly sought to know if communication was possible with the dear ones they had lost.’  – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Angels in the Trenches: Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War
ISBN: 9781472139597
Publication date: 08 Nov 2018
Page count: 432
Published by Robinson, an imprint of Little, Brown.

Angels in the Trenches in the News

The book is therefore a clear recommendation! – Kai Mügge, Felix Circle

Featured in The Cambridge Independent (print), Watkin’s Magazine website, The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, Magonia, Felix Circle, Paranormal Globe, Society for Psychical Research, Supernatural Magazine, Warfare.Today. The website has also been mentioned in Psi in the News and the wargaming website Grogheads.

A fascinating book. – Alec Russell, Editor FT Weekend

Angels in the Trenches: Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War by Dr Leo Ruickbie is available from and

An audio book version is available from