The writer, Denis Saurat, was born in 1890 and died in 1958. He was a Professor at London University from 1925 to 1945, the author of works on Milton, Blake, Victor Hugo, and of a curious study on Atlantis and the Reign of the Giants [L’Atlantide et le Regne des geants].
On 31 January 1939, Denis Saurat was in bed with the ‘flu. Feverish, he had taken two grains of quinine around 11 p. m. Just before going to sleep, in that intermediate state between wakefulness and sleep, when the Conscious is still functioning clearly, he suddenly had a curious vision. Two young officers in a navy-blue uniform were leaning over a table where a fairly big map was spread. They were attentively looking at this map and appeared very satisfied.
Denis Saurat then had the impression that he was double. While witnessing the scene, he was at the same time identifying himself with one of the officers, the younger one. This is how he knew that the two men had received the order to make all the necessary preparations for a passage of troops through a country that they did not know, and that they were happy to have discovered this map.
This feeling of being double, which was making him live both in an unclear past and, at the same time, on the 31 January 1939, allowed him to see the two officers and know as well what the younger of the two was thinking. This is how he knew that these soldiers were not organizing a war operation, but a movement of troops during peacetime. They were not of a very high grade, Lieutenant or Captain at the most. Denis Saurat understood that they must be preparing the manoeuvre on paper and submitting their work to a higher authority.
They were, for the moment, very interested in the course of a river which flowed from North to South. Denis Saurat noticed that this river began by a fork. That is to say by two bodies of water which joined into one. It received, on the right bank, two principal affluents. He also noticed that the second affluent toward the South, itself had one on the right bank.
The two officers were seeking, it seemed, to avoid as much as possible crossing the river, trying not to concentrate troops between the Southern affluent and its secondary affluent.
The map, which was extremely detailed, allowed them to minutely prepare all the operations. Denis Saurat, who was carefully following all of their movements, noticed that they were not thinking of sending their troops through the two Northern water courses.
While observing the scene which continued to unfold in front of his half-closed eyes, the writer then held the following reasoning:
“The map that I see at the moment is perfectly unknown to me. What a marvellous proof if I could identify the rivers! That would bring absolute proof of the perception of events before my birth; what a pity that I can’t get up and write down all of this; for I would catch a worse cold than the one that I already have. I shall therefore go to sleep, and, as usual, tomorrow morning I shall have forgotten everything. Anyway, I probably wouldn’t have been able to identify the river system… “
Upon which, he went to sleep.
But the following day, to his great amazement, he remembered the map perfectly. As he had to remain in bed all day and had nothing to do, he decided to try to identify the river. He would later write:
“I was sure that it existed. If I was lucky enough to discover its name and situate it, I would have succeeded in the observation of a phenomenon of real vision.”
Firstly, he drew the map to the best of his ability and showed it to his daughter – so as to have a witness. He told her to look at the sketch, then go to the library for an atlas. While she was gone he reflected. He would write:
“I was perfectly awake on this morning of 1st February 1939, in full possession of the memory of the vision, but was no longer, in any way, identifying myself with the young officer.
“The first fact which now hit me, was that the map that I had seen the day before was excellent, and not one of those sketches from the XVIIth or XVIIIth Centuries, more picturesque than precise. It was, in its way, a scientific map: no doubt a map from the beginning of the XIXth Century”.
The second fact which appeared to him was that there weren’t any railroads on the map; and that, in the minds of the young officers, railroads did not exist. Their problem was a road problem, and as they did not regret the absence of railroads, Denis Saurat concluded that it was because they hadn’t been invented at the time.
These two facts seemed to designate – and this corresponded to the uniforms – a period of the Napoleonic epoch; but, a rather curious detail, a period of peace.
Plus, it wasn’t an important operation, but a small movement, prepared by young officers.
To have a starting point, the writer tried to concentrate his thoughts on the rivers flowing from the North to the South near which Napoleon had fought battles. He soon realised that there weren’t many in Europe. The Saone and the Rhone first came to mind; but, very evidently, they had nothing to do with the facts. Then he thought of the Ulm, one of Napoleon’s great victories. A glance at the atlas brought by his daughter showed him that no river around Ulm flowed from North to South.
He was beginning to think that the search was impossible when his eyes, following the course of the Danube, fell on Ratisbonne. Immediately, the shape of its water course clearly appeared to him. And he recognised all the details of the map: the fork to the North, the two affluents on the right bank and the secondary affluent of the most Southern water course. The map that he had seen was bigger, more detailed than that which was now in front of him, but it concerned the same region, that is to say a country going from Fichtel Gebirge to Ratisbonne. There, he was able to see why the two young officers were not thinking of making the troops cross the Northern fork: that region was that of the high mountains of the Boehmer Wald. The river was the Naab.
“My rough morning sketch was therefore not too bad for an inexperienced eye and hand; the river system was perfectly recognizable, even on my sketch.
“I had therefore proven that my vision was a real vision, since it had given me the drawing of something which really existed and which I had never seen before.”
There remained the historical aspect of the vision. To what event was the scene which he had witnessed connected?
To be continued.