On 18 August 1914, the German troops in the Mons region were trying to take a little hill. Right from the start, their attacks, supported by strong artillery, were of extreme violence. Troops swarmed from all sides, and the British, who were defending the position, seemed to be in a very bad situation. It was obvious that the Germans, with much greater numbers, were going to take the mound. An Uhlan regiment was already starting the final attack. Suddenly, while the British were awaiting the clash with fixed bayonets, the assailants slowed, stopped, then fled as if struck with terror.
What had happened?
An extraordinary thing that the combatants would not soon forget, but which the High Command would only learn much later. In fact, the officers present didn’t dare to report what they had seen.
For what they had seen was beyond imagination.
It took a nurse, Miss Phyllis Campbell, serving in an evacuation hospital, to overhear a conversation among some of the wounded who had fought on the hill, for the rumour of the prodigy to spread outside the regiment.
All the men were vehemently talking, and the young girl thought that she heard them speaking of a “knight”.
She approached, smiling about it:
“Who is this knight? Who have you given this nickname to?”
The soldiers stopped talking, like children caught in a forbidden act.
“Is it one of your officers?”
“So, you’re hiding things from me?”
A gunner decides to tell her, but makes her swear that she will not laugh at them. She swears.
“Well, this is going to seem unbelievable to you, but it’s the truth. Yesterday, at the moment of the attack, I was on the hill with a battery. Our fire was neither rapid enough, nor heavy enough to stop the Germans, and their advance was causing us some anguish. At a certain moment, we saw an Uhlan regiment start to attack, and it was going to storm our position when, suddenly, a luminous cloud appeared between them and us. We watched, astounded. Then the light grew dimmer, the cloud grew thinner, and, in its place, there was…”
“There was what?”
“Something astounding… You have to believe me, you will, won’t you?… There was a warrior in armour on a white horse… “
Miss Campbell looks at the other wounded men. They all clamour that it is true; they had all seen him. The gunner continues:
“It was a knight, but he didn’t have a helmet. You could see his long, blond hair very easily. At the sight, the Germans stopped. Then, he raised his sword toward them. Taken with panic, they turned around and ran away without looking back… We were just as stunned as the Germans were of course; but we took advantage of their retreat to charge and push them back to Mons. An hour later, reinforcements had arrived and our position on the hill was assured…”
“And the knight?”
“He disappeared while we were charging… But it’s thanks to him that we won!”
On the following days, Miss Campbell hears this story dozens of times. Very intrigued, which is understandable, – but still a bit sceptical – , she questions the men who had fought on the hill, seeking to know the exact circumstances surrounding the apparition. All confirm the details given by the gunner: the knight’s blond hair, the armour shining like gold, the white horse and the sparkling sword pointed at the Germans.
Miss Campbell, who had a Cartesian mind, finally thinks that all these soldiers must have been victims of a sort of collective hallucination.
Years go by, the war ends and the nurse goes back to England.
Then, one day, she takes part in an international gathering of the Red Cross. There are nurses there from all the countries (both allies and enemies) which had fought each other for four years.
Miss Campbell meets a group of very friendly German ladies with whom she spends her evenings talking about the war. Among these charming ladies, there is a nurse from Potsdam who, one evening while Miss Campbell is talking about the combats to which she had been connected, suddenly reacts:
“You were near Mons in August 1914! So was I… About that, I’m going to tell you an extremely strange story: one day, our troops were attacking a little hill which was held by the British. An Uhlan regiment was starting to attack when an extraordinary phenomenon occurred. A sort of cloud was transformed into a giant cavalier mounted on a white horse. This cavalier was in armour, like a knight of the Middle Ages, and was brandishing a sword. At the sight of this fantastic person, the Uhlans were taken with fright and fled…”
Miss Campbell asks her who had told her this story.
“An officer from this Uhlan regiment whom I was nursing at Mons Hospital…”
Miss Campbell wants to know whether the officer had given any details on this mysterious knight.
“Yes, he told me that he wasn’t wearing a helmet and that he had long blond hair… It’s strange, isn’t it?”
Then she bursts out laughing:
“If the British had only known that they owed their victory to an apparition!…”
“But they did know.”
And Miss Campbell recounts what the Tommies had seen. She adds:
“Our soldiers thought that it was Saint George, the patron saint of England, who had come to the aid of the British Army…”
The German nurse says:
“That’s funny, our soldiers thought that it was the Devil…”
And the Ladies of the Red Cross had trouble going to sleep that night…
To be continued.