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More details on article about Angels of Mons

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 01, 2014

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FIRST of all let me say a big thank you to you and all at the Bugle for producing a fantastic book titled "We Will Remember Them." This is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the First World War, so very well done.

I am writing about the article on page 57 of your war book about The Angel of Mons, and wish to provide more detail of the legend.

I visited Mons in August 2010, when making what has become an annual First World War Battlefields and War Graves pilgrimage for me. I visited the Battlefields of Mons, which lies south of Brussels, and just south of Waterloo.

Mons has a unique place in the history of the First World War. It is where the first shot was fired in the war in August, 1914, and also the last shot fired on November 11, 1918.

The Battle of Mons covered the battles of Nimy, Shape, Obourg, La Bascule, the Mons-Conde canal and Mauberge.

Early on August 23, 1914, the British Expeditionary Force of some 80,000 troops marched in to Mauberge, near Mons, Belgium, to face the advancing German army.

The 80,000 "BEF" took up their position along the Mons-Conde canal against approximately 1.3 million Germans. The Germans made a number of small crossings late that morning and by mid afternoon they launched a major offensive, forcing further withdrawals along the whole of the British line. This was the beginning of the famous retreat from Mons.

Over the entrance to the war museum in Mons is a large oil painting depicting the legend of the "Angels of Mons."

The legend claims that during the evening of the retreat by the "BEF", bowmen angels, like the ghosts of fallen archers from Agincourt allegedly appeared in the sky over Mons.

They drew longbows and showered the advancing Germans with deadly arrows, killing thousands of the grey coated infantrymen without leaving a mark. This then prevented the Germans from annihilating the British troops, and allowed the British forces to retreat.

At the time there were many stories given by British and French soldiers that St George and King Arthur together with Henry V, as in the battle of Agincourt, together with hundreds of angels, all fired long bows on the Germans.

The story had been invented by a journalist, Arthur Machen of the London Evening News, and it was first published on September 29, 1914. He admitted later that he had invented the story to boost morale at home.

Nevertheless, "The Legend of the Angels of Mons" is now fully enshrined in the First World War folklore of Mons.

The first British casualty of the Great War was in Mons, and was Private John Parr, of the 4th Middlesex Regiment, who had volunteered on August 10 and was shot dead by German cavalry along the Mons-Conde canal just outside Mons on August 21.

It is believed that he lied about his age and was in fact only 16 when he joined the Army.

He is buried with honour in the St Symphorien Cemetery. It contains 233 British and 284 German soldiers killed in the First World War. Although it is now a British and Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery, it was originally a German Cemetery.

Just 20 yards from Private Parr's grave there is the grave of Private George Price from Moosejaw, Canada.

At 10.58 am on the morning of November 11, 1918, just two minutes before the ceasefire came into effect, he was shot dead by a German sniper in the streets of Mons.

This visit to the Mons Battlefields was very emotional indeed, but equally very memorable.

Michael F. Sampson,

Bassenthwaite Court,

Kingswinford.

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