33 The Square, Caerleon: Birthplace of Arthur Machen - creator of one of the greatest WW1 Myths
The first ever Urban Myth, The Angel of Mons, was invented during WW1 by Arthur Machen from The Square, Caerleon
Welsh writer, Arthur Machen, invented the first ever urban myth, set in 1914, called 'Angel of Mons'
The Welsh father of the mystery, imagination and modern horror genre was born 3 March 1863 at 33 The Square in the tiny but historically important town of Caerleon in South Wales. Today his former home carries a blue plaque to commemorate the great writer.
Stories surrounding WW1 still remain a fascinating testimony to how myths can easily spread when man is placed in a position of fear and uncertainty, particularly during conflict. The Angel of Mons was one of the greatest World War One legends and a perfect example, about a group of angels who supposedly protected members of the British Army in the Battle of Mons at the outset of World War I.
As history tells us, on the 22–23 August 1914, the first major engagement of the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War occurred at the Battle of Mons. Advancing German forces were thrown back by heavily outnumbered British troops, who suffered heavy casualties and, being outflanked, were forced into rapid retreat the next day. The retreat and the battle were rapidly perceived by the British public as being a key moment in the war. Despite the censorship going on in Britain at the time, this battle was the first indication the British public had that defeating Germany would not be as easy as some had thought.
On 29 September 1914, Machen published a short story entitled "The Bowmen" in the London newspaper The Evening News, inspired by accounts that he had read of the fighting at Mons and an idea he had had soon after the battle. In a story called 'The Bowmen' Machen, wrote of ranks of ghostly English archers - who come to the aid of the retreating British forces at the Battle of Mons.
Machen, who had already written a number of factual articles on the conflict for the paper, set his story at the time of the retreat from the Battle of Mons in August 1914. The story described phantom bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt summoned by a soldier calling on St. George, destroying a German host. Machen's story was not, however, labelled as fiction and the same edition of the Evening News ran a story by a different author under the heading "Our Short Story". Additionally, Machen's story was written from a first-hand perspective and was a kind of false document, a technique Machen knew well. The unintended result was that Machen had a number of requests to provide evidence for his sources for the story soon after its publication, from readers who thought it was true, to which he responded that it was completely imaginary, as he had no desire to create a hoax.
But why do we need these myths in the first place? Arthur Machen said: "How is it that a nation plunged in materialism of the grossest kind, has accepted idle rumours and gossip of the supernatural as certain truth? The answer is contained in the question. It is precisely because our whole atmosphere is materialist that we are ready to credit anything save the truth. Separate a man from good drink and he will follow methalated spirit with joy".
A century ago his stories of the supernatural by turns shocked and fascinated readers. His novella, 'The Great God Pan' is widely acnowledged as a great horror classic and he has inspired generations of horror writers and film-makers, from Stephen King to Guillermo del Toro.
Location: 33 High Street, The Square, Caerleon, Newport, NP18 1QD
Contributors: Rita Tate - Arthur Machen Society