Arthur Conan Doyle

Famous British writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes. President of the College of Psychic Studies, Federation Spirite Internationale and the London Spiritualist Alliance. Between 1885-88 he was invited to take part in table-turning experiments at the house of a patient, General Drayson, a teacher in the Greenwich Naval College, a keen mathematician and a man of scholarly education. He later joined the SPR and carried out a series of experiments with a Mrs. Ball and satisfied himself that telepathy was a fact. As regards survival, in 1902 when he first met Sir Oliver Lodge he had not arrived at a definite conclusion. But Myers' "Human Personality" made a deep impression on his mind, and eventually Doyle became a prominent advocate of the spirit hypothesis and wrote many books on the subject, including his two-volume "The History of Spiritualism".

Spiritualism and the First World War

 - Arthur Conan Doyle -

          MANY PEOPLE had never heard of Spiritualism until the period that began in 1914, when into so many homes the Angel of Death entered suddenly. The opponents of Spiritualism have found it convenient to regard this world upheaval as being the chief cause of the widening interest in psychical research. It has been said, too, by these unscrupulous opponents that the author's advocacy of the subject, as well as that of his distinguished friend, Sir Oliver Lodge, was due to the fact that each of them had a son killed in the war, the inference being that grief had lessened their critical faculties and made them believe what in more normal times they would not have believed. The author has many times refuted this clumsy lie, and pointed out the fact that his investigation dates back as far as 1886. Sir Oliver Lodge, for his part, says:[1]

[1] "Raymond," p. 374.

It must not be supposed that my outlook has changed appreciably since the event, and the particular experiences related in the foregoing pages; my conclusion has been gradually forming itself for years, though, undoubtedly, it is based on experience of the same sort of thing. But this event has strengthened and liberated my testimony. It can now be associated with a private experience of my own, instead of with the private experiences of others. So long as one was dependent on evidence connected, even indirectly connected, with the bereavement of others, one had to be reticent and cautious, and in some cases silent. Only by special permission could any portion of the facts be reproduced; and that permission might in important cases be withheld. My own deductions were the same then as they are now, but the facts are now my own.

While it is true that Spiritualism counted its believers in millions before the war, there is no doubt that the subject was not understood by the world at large, and hardly recognized as having an existence. The war changed all that. The deaths occurring in almost every family in the land brought a sudden and concentrated interest in the life after death. 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. They sought for "the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still." Not only did thousands investigate for themselves, but, as in the early history of the movement, the first opening was often made by those who had passed on. The newspaper Press was not able to resist the pressure of public opinion, and much publicity was given to stories of soldiers' return, and generally to the life after death.

In this chapter only brief reference can be made to the different ways in which the spiritual world intermingled with the various phases of the war. The conflict itself was predicted over and over again; dead soldiers showed themselves in their old homes, and also gave warnings of danger to their comrades on the battlefield; they impressed their images on the photographic plate; solitary figures and legendary hosts, not of this world, were seen in the war area; indeed, over the whole scene there was from time to time a strong atmosphere of other-world presence and activity.

If for a moment the author may strike a personal note he would say that, while his own loss had no effect upon his views, the sight of a world which was distraught with sorrow, and which was eagerly asking for help and knowledge, did certainly affect his mind and cause him to understand that these psychic studies, which he had so long pursued, were of immense practical importance and could no longer be regarded as a mere intellectual hobby or fascinating pursuit of a novel research. Evidence of the presence of the dead appeared in his own household, and the relief afforded by posthumous messages taught him how great a solace it would be to a tortured world if it could share in the knowledge which had become clear to himself. It was this realization which, from early in 1916, caused him and his wife to devote themselves largely to this subject, to lecture upon it in many countries, and to travel to Australia, New Zealand, America, and Canada upon missions of instruction. Indeed, this history of the subject may be said to derive from the same impulse which first caused him to throw himself wholeheartedly into the cause. This work may well fill a very small space in any general history, but it becomes apposite in a chapter dealing with the war, since it was the atmosphere of war in which it was engendered and grew.

Prophecy is one of the spiritual gifts, and any clear proof of its existence points to psychic powers outside our usual knowledge. In the case of the war, many could, of course, by normal means and the use of their own reason, foresee that the situation in the world had become so top-heavy with militarism that equilibrium could not be sustained. But some of the prophecies appear to be so distinct and detailed that they are beyond the power of mere reason and foresight.[2]

[2] Reference to some of these will be found in the following publications: "Prophecies and Omens of the Great War," by Ralph Shirley, "The War and the Prophets," by Herbert Thurston, and "War Prophecies," by F. C. S. Schiller (SPR Journal, June, 1916).

The general fact of a great world catastrophe, and England's* share in it, is thus spoken of in a spirit communication received by the Oxley Circle in Manchester and published in 1885:[3]

* Throughout this article Doyle and other authors mistakenly refer to Great Britain as England.
[3] "Angelic Revelations," Vol. V, pp. 170-171.

For twice seven years - from the period already noted to you - the influences that are brought to bear against the British Nation will be successful; and after that time comes a fearful contest, a mighty struggle, a terrible bloodshed - according to human modes of expression, a dethronement of kings, an overthrow of Powers, great riot and disturbance; and still greater commotion amongst the masses concerning wealth and its possession. In using these words I speak according to human apprehension.

The most important question is - shall Britain for ever be lost? We see the prophecies of many, and the attitude of many Representatives upon the outer plane, and we see more clearly than many upon the Earth give us credit for, that amongst the latter-named there are those who are lovers of gold more than the interior principle which that gold represents.

Unless at the coming crisis the Great Power intervenes, that is, the Grand Operating Power of which I have spoken before, and in calm dignity flows forth and issues the mandate - Peace, be still! - the prophecy of some, that England shall sink in the depths for ever, will be fulfilled. Like the specific atoms of life who compose the State called England, who must sink for a time in order that they may rise again, even so must the Nation sink, and that to a great depth for a season; because she is immersed in the love of what is false, and has not yet acquired the intelligence that will act as a powerful lever to raise her up to her own dignity. Will she, like a drowning man going down for the third and last time, go down and be lost for ever? Once in the grand whole of the Mighty One, so she must continue an integral part. There is a kindly hand that will be stretched forth to save her, and bear her up from the billows of the self-hood that would otherwise engulf her. With an energy that is irrepressible, that power says - England once, England for ever! But not in the same state will that continuance be. She must and will sink the lower, in order that she may rise the higher. The how, why, and in what manner, and by what treatment we shall use to bring about her safety and serenity, I shall speak of further on; but, here I affirm, that in order to save her, England must be drained of her best blood.

For particulars of M. Sonrel's famous prophecy in 1868 of the war of 1870, and his less direct prophecy of that of 1914, readers are referred to Professor Charles Richet's book, "Thirty Years of Psychical Research" (pp. 387-9). The essential part of the latter prophecy is expressed as follows:

Wait now, wait... years pass. It is a vast war. What bloodshed! God! What bloodshed! Oh, France, oh, my country, thou art saved! Thou art on the Rhine!

The prophecy was uttered in 1868, but was not put on record by Dr. Tardieu until April, 1914.

The author has previously referred[4] to the prophecy given in Sydney, Australia, by the well-known medium, Mrs. Foster Turner, but it will bear repeating. At a Sunday meeting in February, 1914, at the Little Theatre, Castlereagh Street, before an audience of nearly a thousand people, in a trance-address in which Mr. W. T. Stead purported to be the influence, she said, as reported in notes taken on the occasion of her address:

[4] "The Wanderings of a Spiritualist" (1921), p. 260.

Now, although there is not at present a whisper of a great European War at hand, yet I want to warn you that before this year 1914 has run its course, Europe will be deluged in blood. Great Britain, our beloved nation, will be drawn into the most awful war the world has ever known. Germany will be the great antagonist, and will draw other nations in her train. Austria will totter to its ruin. Kings and kingdoms will fall. Millions of precious lives will be slaughtered, but Britain will finally triumph and emerge victorious.

The date of the ending of the Great War was given correctly in "Private Dowding," by W. T. P (Major W. Tudor Pole), who calls his book "A Plain Record of the After-Death Experiences of a Soldier killed in Battle." In this book, which was first published in London in 1917, we find (p. 99) a communication which reads:

Messenger: In Europe there will be three great federations of states. These federations will come to birth naturally and without bloodshed, but Armageddon must first be fought out.

W. T. P.: How long will this take?

Messenger: I am not a very high being, and to me are not revealed details of all these wonderful happenings. So far as I am allowed to see, peace will be re-established during 1919, and world-federations will come into being during the following seven years. Although actual fighting may end in 1918, it will take many years to bring poise and peace into actual and permanent being.

In the list of prophecies, that of Mrs. Piper, the famous trance-medium of Boston. U.S.A., deserves a place, though it may be considered by some to have an element of vagueness. It occurred about 1898 at a sitting with Dr. Richard Hodgson, who was so prominently associated with the English and American Societies for Psychical Research.

Never since the days of Melchizedek has the earthly world been so susceptible to the influence of spirit. It will in the next century be astonishingly perceptible to the minds of men. I will also make a statement which you will surely see verified. Before the clear revelation of spirit communication, there will be a terrible war in different parts of the world. This will precede much clear communication. The entire world must be purified and cleansed before mortal man can see, through his spiritual vision, his friends on this side, and it will take just this line of action to bring about a state of perfection. Friend, kindly think on this.[5]

[5] Quoted in Light, 1914, p. 349.

Mr. J. G. Piddington, in the "Proceedings" of the Society for Psychical Research,[6] speaks at length of the war predictions contained in various automatic scripts, particularly in those of Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton. In his summing up he says:

[6] SPR, Vol. XXXIII (March, 1923).

The scripts in general terms predicted the War; so did many people. Some half-dozen scripts written between July 9 and 21, 1914, predicted that the War was close at hand; so also, and earlier, had Sir Cecil Spring-Rice. The scripts predict that the War will eventually lead to a great improvement in international relations and social conditions; so, too, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens throughout the British Empire believed or hoped that the Great War was, as the phrase went, "a war to end war."

But this last parallel between the predictions in the scripts and the beliefs or aspirations that declared themselves with such strange ubiquity and intensity when war broke out, is in truth only a superficial parallel; for whereas the wave of idealism that swept over the Empire followed, or at best synchronized with, the beginning of the War, for many years before August, 1914, the scripts had repeatedly combined predictions of a Utopia with predictions of war, and had combined them in such a manner as to imply that the one is to be the outcome of the other. I know of no parallel to that. The writers, the soldiers, the diplomatists, and the politicians who forewarned us of the War, preached its dangers and its horrors, but they did not tell us that this perilous and horrible tragedy would yet prove to be the birth-throes of a happier world. Nor did the propagandists of Hague Conferences and other schemes for allaying international rivalries warn us that a world-war must precede the attainment of their desires. All alike predicted or feared a coming chaos; the scripts alone, so far as I know, spoke a hope for the world in the coming wars, and hailed the approaching chaos as the prelude to a new kosmos.

The predictions of the War in the scripts cannot be separated from the predictions of an eventual Utopia. The scripts do not say, "There will be a war," stop there, and then start afresh and say, "There will be a Utopia." They clearly imply that the Utopia will result from the War. Yet it cannot be said that the two component parts of the whole prophecy stand or fall together, because the predictions of war have been fulfilled; but the fulfilment or the failure of the Utopian predictions must eventually influence opinion as to the source of the war predictions. Should the Utopia foreshadowed in the scripts be translated into fact, it would be very difficult to attribute the prediction of it as an outcome of the War to ordinary human prescience, and a strong case would arise for admitting the claim made in the scripts, and for giving the credit of the prediction to discarnate beings. And if the Utopian predictions were held to be the work of discarnate minds, in all probability the predictions of the War, which are so closely bound up with them, would be assigned to the same source.

There are very many other prophecies which have been more or less successful. A perusal of them, however, cannot fail to impress the student with the conviction that the sense of time is the least accurate of spiritual details. Very often where the facts are right the dates are hopelessly at fault.

The most exact of all the prophecies concerning the War seems to have been that of Sophie, a Greek young woman who, having been hypnotized by Dr. Antoniou of Athens, delivered her oracles vocally in a state of trance. The date was June 6, 1914. She not only predicted the Great War and who the parties would be, but gave a great deal of detail such as the neutrality of Italy at the beginning, her subsequent alliance with the Entente, the action of Greece, the place of the final battle on the Vardar, and so forth. It is interesting, however, to note that she made certain errors which tend to show that the position of the Fatalist is not secure, and that there is at least a broad margin which can be affected by human will and energy.[7]

[7] Revue Métapsychique, December, 1925, pp. 380,390.

There is much testimony regarding the occurrence of what may be called spirit intervention during the war. Captain W. E. Newcome has related the following:[8]

[8] Pearson's Magazine, August, 1919, pp. 190-91.

It was in September, 1916, that the 2nd Sufflolks left Loos to go up into the northern sector of Albert. I accompanied them, and whilst in the front line trenches of that sector I, with others, witnessed one of the most remarkable occurrences of the war.

About the end of October, up to November 5th, we were actually holding that part of the line with very few troops. On November 1st the Germans made a very determined attack, doing their utmost to break through. I had occasion to go down to the reserve line, and during my absence the German attack began.

I hurried back to my company with all speed, and arrived in time to give a helping hand in throwing the enemy back to his own line. He never gained a footing in our trenches. The assault was sharp and short, and we had settled down to watch and wait again for his next attack.

We had not long to wait, for we soon saw Germans again coming over No Man's Land in massed waves; but before they reached our wire a white, spiritual figure of a soldier rose from a shell-hole, or out of the ground about one hundred yards on our left, just in front of our wire and between the first line of Germans and ourselves. The spectral figure then slowly walked along our front for a distance of about one thousand yards. Its outline suggested to my mind that of an old pre-war officer, for it appeared to be in a shell coat, with field-service cap on its head. It looked, first, across at the oncoming Germans, then turned its head away and commenced to walk slowly outside our wire along the sector that we were holding.

Our SOS signal had been answered by our artillery. Shells and bullets were whistling across No Man's Land... but none in anyway impeded the spectre's progress. It steadily marched from the left of us till it got to the extreme right of the sector, then it turned its face right full on to us. It seemed to look up and down our trench, and as each Véry light rose it stood out more prominently.

After a brief survey of us it turned sharply to the right and made a bee-line for the German trenches. The Germans scattered back... and no more was seen of them that night.

The Angels of Mons seemed to be the first thought of the men; then some said it looked like Lord Kitchener, and others said its face, when turned full on to us, was not unlike Lord Roberts. I know that it gave me personally a great shock, and for some time it was the talk of the company.

Its appearance can be vouched for by sergeants and men of my section.

In the same article in Pearson's Magazine the story is told of Mr. William M. Speight, who had lost a brother officer, and his best friend, in the Ypres salient in December, 1915, seeing this officer come to his dug-out the same night. The next evening Mr. Speight invited another officer to come to the dugout in order to confirm him should the vision reappear. The dead officer came once more and, after pointing to a spot on the floor of the dug-out, vanished. A hole was dug at the indicated spot, and at a depth of three feet there was discovered a narrow tunnel excavated by the Germans, with fuses and mines timed to explode thirteen hours later. By the discovery of this mine the lives of a number of men were saved.

Mrs. E. A. Cannock, a well-known London clairvoyant, described[9] at a Spiritualist meeting how a number of deceased soldiers adopted a novel and convincing method of making known their identity. The soldiers (as seen in her clairvoyant vision) advanced in single file up the aisle, led by a young lieutenant. Each man bore on his chest what appeared to be a large placard on which was written his name and the place where he had lived on earth. Mrs. Cannock was able to read these names and descriptions, and they were all identified by various members of the audience. A curious feature was that as each name was recognized the spirit form faded away, thus making way for the one who was following.

[9] Light, 1919, p. 215.

As a type of other reports of a similar nature we may quote a case of what is described as "Telepathy from the Battle-front." On November 4, 1914, Mrs. Fussey, of Wimbledon, whose son "Tab" was serving in France with the 9th Lancers, was sitting at home when she felt in her arm the sharp sting of a wound. She jumped up and cried out, "How it smarts!" and rubbed the place. Her husband also attended to her arm, but could find no trace of anything wrong with it. Mrs. Fussey continued to suffer pain and exclaimed: "Tab is wounded in the arm. I know it." The following Monday a letter arrived from Private Fussey, saying that he had been shot in the arm and was in hospital.[10] The case coincides with the recorded experiences of many psychics who by some unknown law of sympathy have suffered shocks simultaneously with accidents occurring to friends, and sometimes strangers, at a distance.

[10] Light, 1914, p. 595.

In a number of cases dead soldiers have manifested themselves through psychic photography. One of the most remarkable instances occurred in London on Armistice Day, November 11, 1922, when the medium, Mrs. Deane, in the presence of Miss Estelle Stead, took a photograph of the crowd in Whitehall, in the neighbourhood of the Cenotaph. It was during the Two Minutes Silence, and on the photograph there is to be seen a broad circle of light, in the midst of which are two or three dozen heads, many of them those of soldiers, who were subsequently recognized. These photographs have been repeated on each succeeding year, and though the usual reckless and malicious attacks have been made upon the medium and her work, those who had the best opportunity of checking it have no doubt of the supernormal character of these pictures.

We must content ourselves with one more case as typical of many hundreds of results. Mr. R. S. Hipwood, 174, Cleveland Road, Sunderland, writes:[11]

[11] "The Case for Spirit Photography," by Sir A. Conan Doyle, p. 108.

We lost our only son in France, August 27, 1918. Being a good amateur photographer I was curious about the photos that had been taken by the Crewe Circle. We took our own plate with us, and I put the plate in the dark slide myself and put my name on it. We exposed two plates in the camera and got a well-recognized photo. Even my nine-year-old grandson could tell who the extra was, without anyone saying anything to him. Having a thorough knowledge of photography, I can vouch for the veracity of the photograph in every particular. I claim the print which I send you to be an ordinary photograph of myself and Mrs. Hipwood, with the extra of my son, R. W. Hipwood, 13th Welsh Regiment, killed in France in the great advance in August, 1918. I tender to our friends at Crewe our unbounded confidence in their work.

Of the many cases recorded of the return of dead soldiers, the following stands out because the particulars were received from two independent sources. It is related[12] by Mr. W. T. Waters, of Tunbridge Wells, who says that he is only a novice in the study of Spiritualism.

[12] Light (December 20, 1919), p. 407.

In July last I had a sitting with Mr. J. J. Vango, in the course of which the control suddenly told me that there was standing by me a young soldier who was most anxious that I should take a message to his mother and sister who live in this town. I replied that I did not know any soldier near to me who had passed over. However, the lad would not be put off, and as my own friends seemed to stand aside to enable him to speak, I promised to endeavour to carry out his wishes.

At once came an exact description which enabled me instantly to recognize in this soldier lad the son of an acquaintance of my family. He told me certain things by which I was made doubly certain that it was he and no other, and he then gave me his message of comfort and assurance to his mother and sister (his father had died when he was a baby), who, for over two years, had been uncertain as to his fate, as he had been posted as "missing." He described how he had been badly wounded and captured by the Germans in a retreat, and that he had died about a week afterwards, and he implored me to tell his dear ones that he was often with them, and that the only bar to his complete happiness was the witnessing of his mother's great grief and his inability to make himself known.

I fully intended to keep my promise, but knowing that the lad's people favoured the High Church party and would most likely be absolutely sceptical, I was puzzled how to convey the message, as I felt they would only think that my own loss had affected my brain. I ventured to approach his aunt, but what I told her only called forth the remark: "It cannot be," and I therefore decided to await an opportunity of speaking to his mother direct.

Before this looked-for opportunity came, a young lady of this town, having lost her mother about two years ago, and hearing from my daughter that I was investigating these matters, called to see me, and I lent her my books. One of these books is "Rupert Lives," with which she was particularly struck, and she eventually arranged a sitting with Miss McCreadie, through whom she received such convincing testimony that she is now a firm believer. During this sitting, the soldier boy who came to me came to her also. He repeated the same description that I had received, mentioned in addition his name - Charlie - and begged her to give a message to his mother and sister - the selfsame message which I had failed to give. So anxious was he in the matter, that at the close of the sitting he came again and implored her not to fail him.

Now, these events happened at different dates - July and September - the same message exactly being given through different mediums to different persons, and yet people tell us it is all a myth and that mediums simply read our thoughts.

When my friend told me of her experience I at once asked her to go with me to the lad's mother, and I am pleased to state that this double message convinced both his mother and his sister, and that his aunt is almost brought to the truth if not quite.

Sir William Barrett[13] records this evidential communication which was obtained in Dublin through the ouija board, with Mrs. Travers Smith, the daughter of the late Professor Edward Dowden. Her friend, Miss C, who is mentioned, was the daughter of a medical man. Sir William calls it "The Pearl Tie-pin Case."

[13] "On The Threshold of the Unseen," p. 184.

Miss C., the sitter, had a cousin an officer with our Army in France, who was killed in battle a month previously to the sitting: this she knew. One day after the name of her cousin had unexpectedly been spelt out on the ouija board, and her name given in answer to her query: "Do you know who I am?" the following message came:

"Tell mother to give my pearl tie-pin to the girl I was going to marry. I think she ought to have it." When asked what was the name and address of the lady both were given; the name spelt out included the full Christian and surname, the latter being a very unusual one and quite unknown to both the sitters. The address given in London was either fictitious or taken down incorrectly, as a letter sent there was returned and the whole message was thought to be fictitious.

Six months later, however, it was discovered that the officer had been engaged, shortly before he left for the Front, to the very lady whose name was given; he had, however, told no one. Neither his cousin nor any of his own family in Ireland were aware of the fact, and had never seen the lady nor heard her name until the War Office sent over the deceased officer's effects. Then they found that he had put this lady's name in his will as his next-of-kin, both Christian and surname being precisely the same as given through the automatist; and what is equally remarkable, a pearl-tie-pin was found in his effects.

Both the ladies have signed a document they sent me, affirming the accuracy of the above statement. The message was recorded at the time, and not written from memory after verification had been obtained. Here there could be no explanation of the facts by subliminal memory, or telepathy or collusion, and the evidence points unmistakably to a telepathic message from the deceased officer.

The Rev. G. Vale Owen describes[14] the return of George Leaf, one of his Bible Class lads in Orford, Warrington, who joined the R.F.A. and was killed in the Great War.

[14] "Facts and the Future Life" (1922), pp. 53-54.

Some weeks later his mother was tidying up the hearth in the sitting-room. She was on her knees before the grate when she felt an impulse to turn round and look at the door which opened into the entrance hall. She did so, and saw her son clad in his working clothes, just as he used to come home every evening when he was alive. He took off his coat and hung it upon the door, an old familiar habit of his. Then he turned to her, nodded and smiled, and walked through to the back kitchen where he had been in the habit of washing before sitting down to his evening meal. It was all quite natural and lifelike. She knew that it was her dead boy who had come to show her that he was alive in the spirit land and living a natural life, well, happy and content. Also that smile of love told her that his heart was still with the old folks at home. She is a sensible woman and I did not doubt her story for a moment. As a matter of fact, since his death he had been seen in Orford Church, which he used to attend, and has been seen in various places since.

There are many instances of visions of soldiers coinciding with death. In Rosa Stuart's "Dreams and Visions of the War" this case is given:

A very touching story was told me by a Bournemouth wife. Her husband, a sergeant in the Devons, went to France on July 25th, 1915. She had received letters regularly from him, all of which were very happy and cheerful, and so she began to be quite reassured in her mind about him, feeling certain that whatsoever danger he had to face he would come safely through.

On the evening of September 25th, 1915, at about ten o'clock, she was sitting on her bed in her room talking to another girl, who was sharing it with her. The light was full on, and neither of them had as yet thought of getting into bed, so deep were they in their chat about the events of the day and the war.

And then suddenly there came a silence. The wife had broken off sharply in the middle of a sentence and sat there staring into space.

For, standing there before her in uniform, was her husband! For two or three minutes she remained there looking at him, and she was struck by the expression of sadness in his eyes. Getting up quickly she advanced to the spot where he was standing, but by the time she had reached it the vision had disappeared.

Though only that morning the wife had had a letter saying her husband was safe and well, she felt sure that the vision foreboded evil. She was right. Soon afterwards she received a letter from the War Office, saying that he had been killed in the Battle of Loos on September 25th, 1915, the very date she had seemed to see him stand beside her bed.

A deeper mystical side of the visions of the Great War centres round the "Angels of Mons." Mr. Arthur Machen, the well-known London journalist, wrote a story telling how English bowmen from the field of Agincourt intervened during the terrible retreat from Mons. But he stated afterwards that he had invented the incident. But here, as so often before, truth proved fiction to be a fact, or at least facts of a like character were reported by a number of credible witnesses. Mr. Harold Begbie published a little book, "On the Side of the Angels," giving much evidence, and Mr. Ralph Shirley, editor of the Occult Review (London), followed with "The Angel Warriors at Mons," in which he added to Mr. Begbie's testimony.

A British officer, replying to Mr. Machen in the London Evening News (September 14, 1915), mentions that he was fighting at Le Cateau on August 26, 1914, and that his division retired and marched throughout the night of the 26th and during the 27th. He says:

On the night of the 27th I was riding along in the column with two other officers. We had been talking and doing our best to keep from falling asleep on our horses.

As we rode along I became conscious of the fact that, in the fields on both sides of the road along which we were marching, I could see a very large body of horsemen. These horsemen had the appearance of squadrons of cavalry, and they seemed to be riding across the fields and going in the same direction as we were going, and keeping level with us.

The night was not very dark, and I fancied that I could see the squadron of these cavalrymen quite distinctly.

I did not say a word about it at first, but I watched them for about twenty minutes. The other two officers had stopped talking.

At last one of them asked me if I saw anything in the fields. I then told him what I had seen. The third officer then confessed that he, too, had been watching these horsemen for the past twenty minutes.

So convinced were we that they were really cavalry that, at the next halt, one of the officers took a party of men out to reconnoitre, and found no one there. The night then grew darker, and we saw no more.

The same phenomenon was seen by many men in our column. Of course, we were all dog-tired and overtaxed, but it is an extraordinary thing that the same phenomenon should be witnessed by so many people.

I myself am absolutely convinced that I saw these horsemen; and I feel sure that they did not exist only in my imagination. I do not attempt to explain the mystery - I only state facts.

This evidence sounds good, and yet it must be admitted that in the stress and tension of the great retreat men's minds were not in the best condition to weigh evidence. On the other hand, it is at such times of hardship that the psychic powers of man are usually most alive.

A profound aspect of the World War is involved in the consideration that the war on earth is but one aspect of unseen battles on higher planes where the powers of Good and Evil are engaged. The late Mr. A. P. Sinnett, a prominent Theosophist, deals with this question in an article entitled "Super-Physical Aspects of the War."[15] We cannot enter into the subject here, except to say that there are evidences from many sources to indicate that what Mr. Sinnett speaks of has a basis of fact.

[15] The Occult Review, December 1914, p. 346.

A considerable number of books, and a very much larger number of manuscripts, record the alleged experiences of those who passed over in the war, which differ, of course, in no way from those who pass over at any other time, but are rendered more dramatic by the historical occasion. The greatest of these books is "Raymond." Sir Oliver Lodge is so famous a scientist and so profound a thinker that his brave and frank avowal produced a great impression upon the public. The book appeared later in a condensed form, and it is likely to remain for many years a classic of the subject. Other books of the same class, all of them corroborative in their main details, are "The Case of Lester Coltman," "Claude's Book," "Rupert Lives," "Grenadier Rolf," "Private Dowding," and others. All of them depict the sort of after-life existence which is described in a subsequent chapter.


The article above was taken from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The History of Spiritualism. Vol. II" (London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1926). 

More articles by Arthur Conan Doyle

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