The British Government never anticipated the conflict of the first world war to become anything but a short conflict. The Foreign Secretary at the time, Sir Edward Grey, who in his leisure hours was an ornithologist and fisherman, had sent the Government’s ultimatum to Germany, demanding an end to the violation of neutral Belgian territory. The ultimatum expired on August 4th. On August 3rd he reminded the House of Commons of Britain’s obligations to France and Belgium, and said, “If we are engaged in war we shall suffer but little more than if we stand aside.”
The next day he watched the gas lights being dimmed in Whitehall and said, “The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” It has been said that this was a gloomily enigmatic remark from a gloomy and enigmatic man. But whether he understood the force of what he was saying or not, his words were nevertheless amazingly accurate. Europe has never been the same since that day, and never will be. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on how one views pre-1914Europe.
King George V, whose second son was in the Royal Navy, expressed his feelings on that memorable morning.
“TUESDAY AUGUST 4th. I held a Council at 10.45 to declare war with Germany. It isa terrible catastrophe, but it is not our fault. An enormous crowd collected outside the Palace; we went on the balcony both before and after dinner. When they heard that war had been declared, the excitement increased & May & I with David went on to the balcony; the cheering was terrific. Please God it may soon be over & that he will protect dear Bertie’s life.”
[David was King George’s eldest son, who was to become Edward VIIIth, and Bertie, his second son, was to become King George VIth]
But the war turned out to be an unimaginable horror of a type that had never before been witnessed. Trench warfare was a very poor exchange for the dashing campaigns of great armies that everyone had expected. Even at sea there were unexpected setbacks, when on September 22nd one German U-boat sank three British Battlecruisers, and when, a month later, another U-boat penetrated the defences of the great naval base at Scapa Flow, the Battleship Audacious was lost.
Only days after the outbreak of war, King George Vth called the country to a national day of prayer because the massive German advances in Belgium were such that vast numbers of Belgian, French and British troops were likely to be massacred. The result of that day of prayer may best be judged by the account of a principal witness, written by Captain Cecil Wightwick Hayward, who was Staff Officer in the 1st Corps Intelligence, British Army Headquarters. He wrote as follows:-
The first of these visions was near the town of Mons, during the battle of that name between the German forces and the British Army, towards the end of August 1914. The German army, after sweeping all resistance aside, had advanced on a wide front into the heart of Belgium and France. Although the Belgians, French, and British put up a stout defence, it was principally against the British that the heaviest enemy attacks were launched. Our troops, greatly outnumbered, had been fighting continuously for several days, with little or no rest, and our men were almost dropping from fatigue after a prolonged rearguard action during which we had lost numbers of men and guns. Serious defeat appeared inevitable, especially as we had practically no reserves ready. It wasrealised that a “Day of Trouble” had arrived, and that God alone could help us. Churches were crowded with the whole of the British nation at prayer.
Then occurred the event afterwards known as the appearance of the “Angels of Mons” in answer to National Prayer. Of several accounts referring to the appearance of “Angels” the following two are typical, both having been related by British soldiers who vouched for the occurrences as having been observed by them personally.
While a detachment of British soldiers was retiring through Mons under very heavy German artillery and machine-gun fire in August 1914, they knelt behind a hastily erected barricade and endeavoured to hold up the enemy advance. The firing on both sides was very intensive, and the air reverberated with deafening crashes of exploding shells.
Suddenly, firing on both sides stopped dead and a silence fell. Looking over their barrier, the astonished British saw four or five wonderful beings much bigger than men, between themselves and the halted Germans. They were white robed and bareheaded, and seemed rather to float than stand. Their backs were towards the British, and they faced the enemy with outstrected arm and hand as if to say, “Stop! Thus far and no further!” The sun was shining quite brightly at the time. Next thing the British knew was that the Germans were retreating in great disorder.
On another occasion, the British were in danger of being surrounded by the Germans, and had lost numbers of guns and men. Just when matters seemed hopeless, the heavy enemy fire suddenly stopped dead and a great silence fell over all.
The sky opened with a bright shining light and figures of “luminous beings” appeared. They seemed to float between the British and the German forces, and to prevent the further advance of the enemy. Some of the German cavalry were advancing and the officers and men were unable to get their horses to go forward.
Before the surprised British were able to realise what had happened, the whole of the apparently victorious enemy force were retreating in great disorder. This allowed the British and Allied Armies to re-form and fall back upon a line of defence several miles further west, where they “dug in”. Then began a period of trench warfare which continued for over three years, with varying fortunes to either side until the spring of 1918.
Notice these last words by Captain Hayward. The trench warfare dragged on for three years. It was a deadlock. What about the Angels who helped? Didn’t the message get to the nation that had prayed? Oh yes. The news was in the papers. It became a talking point throughout the nation. Two years later a piece of music was composed by Paul Paree, and published by Lawrence Wright Music Co., entitled The “Angel of Mons”Valse. On the front cover was depicted a splendid drawing of a winged angel-knight upon a white charger, suspended in the clouds and surrounded by a heavenly host.
If this was so, then why didn’t the prayer barrage continue? Why didn’t the King and Parliament order a further day of thanksgiving for heavenly help, and a plea for continued prayer by the nation? British people of those days had been bred on Bible stories, and the occasion when Israel was in a similar position to the British army was well known. They were fighting against Amalek, a bitter foe, and Moses held up his arms, and the Israelites were victorious. But as soon as he lowered his arms, Amalek gained ground. And so Joshua and Hur held his arms up until Israel was wholly victorious. The occasion was unique, but sufficient to prove that the forces of righteousness can only be victorious when “upheld” by godly men at prayer. Could it be that the nation had sunk too low, and therefore we were handed over to the fiery ravages of trench warfare, becausewe were already beginning to forget the God of our fathers?
In the spring of 1918, in France, a similar situation occurred to that in Mons in 1914. British troops were worn out, and it seemed that the enemy was about to overwhelm us. Captain Hayward again takes up the tale:-
The following account of what occurred between the months of April and August 1918, I can personally vouch for as being true; as far as that area of the front line trenches is concerned, lying roughly between the town of Bailleul, some 15 miles south of Ypres, and the town of Arras, some 15 miles south of Bethune, in La Bassee, France.
It was an anxious time for Great Britain. The British troops had been in the trenches fighting for weeks without rest or relief, owing to the fact that reserves were practically exhausted.
Although by the middle of May the Unites States of America had decided to join Great Britain and her Allies, their troops were still being formed, though the first contingent was on its way across the Atlantic. Later on they came over at the rate of50,000 weekly, but these reinforcements were not available for the front line much before the middle of June.
As things stood, owing to vigorous enemy action against the Allied lines to the north of Bethune, the line from La Bassee to Lens and Arras was left in a “pocket” which was liable to be “hemmed in” at any moment, with all the troops, ammunition, arms and equipment it contained.
In Britain everyone was asking, “Would the Germans get through to Paris?” “Would the Americans arrive in time to check their advance?” “Will the English ports be shelled shortly by German big guns from the coast of France?”
But then we [i.e., the nation] remembered the “Angels of Mons” and once again the whole British Nation was called to prayer [by King George Vth] and the President of the Unites States summoned the American people to do likewise; and united prayer went up from all the English-speaking peoples.
In the meantime the enemy shell fire, which had been largely directed against the shattered town of Bethune, suddenly lifted and began to burst on a slight rise beyond its outskirts. This open ground was absolutely bare of trees, houses, or human beings, yet the enemy fire broke on it with increasing fury, and was augmented by heavy bursts of massed machine guns which raked it backward and forward with a hail of lead. We stood looking on in astonishment.
“Fritz has gone balmy, Sir,” said the Sergeant; “what in the world is he peppering that naked ground for?”
“I can’t think,” I replied, “Get along down to the canal and see what is happening there.”
I followed him shortly afterwards, being eager to see for myself, as there were obviously no troops within sight against whom the Germans could be directing their fire.
As I made my way over the scattered debris of the ruined houses, the enemy’s fire suddenly ceased and a curious calm fell on everything. I went on, wonderingly, and got outside the town. Then a lark suddenly arose from the remains of a meadow, and soared up, up, up, singing a trilling song which rings on my inward ear today when I think of it.
I saw my Seargent and men standing on the edge of a shell hole waving their tin hats. They shouted out, “Fritz is retiring!”
Indeed he was. Outlined on the slight rise by the La Bassee village, and as far as we could see, was a dense line of German troops, who a short time before had commenced a forward movement to victory, in mass formation. This line suddenly halted, and as we watched, we saw it break!
Before our astonished eyes, that well-drilled and seemingly victorious army broke up into groups of frightened men who were fleeing from us, throwing down their arms, haversacks, rifles, coats and anything which might impede their flight.
It was not long before my Seargent arrived with two German officer prisoners, and he was soon followed by Tommies bringing in batches of twenty or so at a time. Briefly, the statement the senior German officer made was as follows:- The order had been given to advance in mass formation, and our troops were marching behind us singing their way to victory, when Fritz, my lieutenant here, said, –
“Herr Kapitan, just look at that open ground behind Bethune, there is a brigade of cavalry coming up through the smoke drifting across it. They must be mad, these English, to advance against such a force as ours in the open. I suppose they must be cavalry of one of their Colonial forces, for see, they are all in white uniform and are mounted on white horses.”
“Strange,” I said, “I never heard of the English having any white uniformed cavalry, whether Colonial or not. They have all been fighting on foot for several years past, and anyway, they wear khaki, not white.”
“Well, they are plain enough,” he replied. “See, our guns have got their range now; they will be blown to pieces in no time.”
“We saw the shells bursting amongst the horses and their riders, all of whom came forward at a quiet walk trot, in parade ground formation, each man and his horse in exact place. Shortly afterwards, our machine guns opened a heavy fire, raking the advancing cavalry with a dense hail of lead. But they came quietly forward, though the shells were bursting amongst them with intensified fury, and not a single man or horse fell.
“Steadily they advanced, clear in the shining sunlight, and a few paces in front of them rose their Leader – a fine figure of a man, whose hair, like spun gold, shone in an aura round his bare head. By his side was a great sword, but his hands lay quietly holding his horse’s reins, as his huge white charger bore him proudly forward. In spite of heavy shell, and concentrated machine gun fire, the White Cavalry advanced, remorseless as fate, like the incoming tide over a sandy beach. Then a great fear fell on me, and I turned to flee; yes, I, an Officer of the Prussian Guard, fled, panic-stricken, and around me were hundreds of terrified men, whimpering like children, throwing away their arms and accoutrements in order not to have their movements impeded – – all running. Their intense desire was to get away from that advancing White Cavalry; but most of all from their awe-inspiring Leader. That is all I have to tell you. We are beaten. The German Army is broken. There may be fighting, but we have lost the war. We arebeaten – by the White Cavalry – – I cannot understand.”
During the following few days I examined many prisoners, and in substance, their accounts tallied with the one given here. This in spite of the fact that at least two of us could swear that we saw no cavalry in action, here or elsewhere, at that particular time. Neither did any of us see so much as a single white horse either with or without a rider. But it was not necessary for us to do so, the evidence of their presence had to come from the enemy.
Shortly after this the American forces came into action on the whole front, and about the second week in July there was a general advance which resulted in the capture of over 4,000 enemy and 100 guns on the sector between Bethune and Ypres during the ensuing weeks.
It is interesting to note that official reports give July 11th as the date of the Allied advance, for by November 11th 1918 at 11 a.m. the war had ended and an Armistice was declared. Between those dates the British and Allied forces captured 385,000 prisoners, and over 5,000 guns.
The above testimony has been taken from “This England”, winter 1982 edition. In the same edition, a number of letters were printed. The following one was fromMrs.M.C.Williams, Cape Town, South Africa.
Sir: Years after the 1914-1918 war a great friend of mine married a German Officer who had seen the Vision of the “White Cavalry”, and he told her the story just as you can read it in a booklet entitled “We Have a Guardian”, compiled by W.B.Grant. In that booklet you will see how down the ages Britain has been guarded by Almighty God and always after days of National Prayer, miracles or something special have happened.
We shall have occasion to return to war-time miracles in a later chapter, entitled MIST AND RAINBOWS, there to refer to the testimony of W.B.Grant, whom Mrs.Williams quoted in her letter.
In recording the incidents of this chapter, some may obtain the feeling that we are setting the British nation up to be a “righteous” nation, whereas Germany represents the Devil’s army. This is not correct. The Scriptures declare with emphasis, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Only from this point of view can the incidents in the first world war be evaluated. Our nation, and later Britainand America, gave themselves to prayer, beseeching God on behalf of the “defenders” rather than the “aggressors”, and He heard from heaven and answered in dramatic fashion. It is doubtful whether the same Holy God would stand by Britain in her present godless state UNLESS – – UNLESS – – first of all He sees a mighty repentance. Those of us who still care about the fate of our own country might like to ponder the need, in prayer, of a God-given miracle of intervention, which will jerk our people into the suddenrealisation that God exists, and that He calls for the attention of all those whom He has created. Then, and only then, shall we begin to see once again miracles of deliverance in our land.