Canadian soldiers embraced the ‘supernatural, uncanny and ghostly’ on the front lines, historian says
One of Canada’s top military historians has published the first serious study of the First World War’s eeriest phenomena: frontline soldiers’ accounts of ghosts and other “supernatural experiences” amid the bloody battles of Europe almost a century ago.
Award-winning author Tim Cook, the Canadian War Museum’s leading expert on the 1914-18 conflict, has unearthed a host of poignant and spine-tingling stories involving bizarre apparitions, life-saving premonitions and other unexplained happenings that — beyond the mysteries that linger — shed fresh light on “the unending mental and physical strain of fighting on the edge of No Man’s Land.”
Writing in the Journal of Military History, the field’s most prestigious scholarly publication, Cook describes how the knife-edge existence of Canada’s troops in battles such as Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge — perhaps fuelled by widespread interest in the occult and spiritualism in the early 20th century — led some men to believe they’d seen dead comrades resurrected and wandering the scarred landscapes of the Western Front.
In other cases, soldiers claimed to have seen angels hovering over battlefields or felt an “otherworldly” presence that somehow silenced enemy guns to allow escapes from vulnerable positions. (Photo: George Metcalf Archival Collection, Canadian War Museum)