Monday, September 13, 2010

Strange Angels

Fantastic talk at Sheffield Skeptics in the Pub tonight from David Clarke about the Angel of Mons. This wartime legend of ghostly bowmen led by Saint George coming to the rescue of beleaguered British troops proved to have its roots in a short story written by one Arthur Machen shortly after the battle. The story spread as a mixture of patriotic inspiration and urban legend, and one enterprising soldier swore a legal affidavit that he was an eye witness to the manifestation until a magistrate did a bit of checking and discovered that his unit hadn't even left for France until a month after the battle.

The truth of the matter is more likely to lie in the superior rate of rifle fire of the British troops as they defended the bridges over the canal and then fought a determined rear guard action on the retreat from Mons rather than any supernatural intervention, but why let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh? One important message to take away from the talk though is the importance of going back to primary sources of information to verify (or debunk) a story - contemporary newspaper stories, letters, diaries and interviews - rather than second or third hand reports.

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