Combat du lumecon doudou ducasse; This past April a new museum celebrating and recording the history of the ceremony opened in Mons. Sometime in 2016 I will go to Mons to give a lecture at the Mons Memorial Museum on The Angel of Mons. I plan to visit the new Doudou museum when I return to Mons. There is also a home that Van Gogh lived in just outside of Mons that has been restored and is now also a museum. I will visit there also. As is the case with a city we become familiar with, there is always more to see, more people to visit. Ah, the world.
Sometimes I run across items that are only tangentially related to my writing. This article is one such. The main feature, in addition to the facts the story reveals, is that I had a wonderful visit to Swindon on my most recent research trip to England. It so happens that a major private collection of Vickers Machine Guns and related materials are owned and curated by Richard Fisher of Swindon. I spent a long afternoon with him and his collection last April. Before that we had communicated through e-mail. I had many questions about the operation of the gun, training of the soldiers who used it, the specific jobs of the six soldiers assigned to each gun. His information made what I wrote about the gun accurate and authentic.
There are many fascinating items in his collection. Among them is a simple device to measure whether an airplane was close enough to the gun to warrant shooting at it. It consisted of a strip of steel about three inches long and an inch wide with three holes bored in it, each of a different diameter, and a cord about 18 inches long. The soldier would hold the end of the string at his ear lobe, stretch it to its full length and look through the holes. Only when the plane filled the largest hole would it be close enough to be worth firing at.
In addition to a myriad of Vickers artifacts, Richard has collected three hundred Vickers training manuals. The most interesting one to me is a manual in Urdu translated into that language and transliterated, so a trainer who did not speak the language could read the material to soldiers he was training in their language without needing to know Urdu. This means that someone needed to be able to translate from English to Urdu and someone (maybe the same person) needed to be able to transliterate it into English.
This was one example of the lengths to which armies went to fight the war.
If you have not yet read The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend you are missing out on a fascinating story.
I am also at work on the sequel to the novel, this one about a battle in which Americans, and South Carolinians, North Carolinians, and Tennesseans played a central role.
In an article in the Newcastle (England) Chronicle about Victor Noble Rainbird, a British artist who fought in the First World War and returned to England to continue his artist’s career is a picture of him in front of a painting of an angel. Could this be another representation of the Angel of Mons? What do you think?
Each Trinity Sunday in Mons, Belgium two important ceremonies are performed. In the morning the sacred relics of St. Waudru, abbess of a collegiate convent she founded in the Seventh Century, are paraded through the streets, carried on the carte d’or, a cart covered in gold leaf. Later in the day, the city celebrates the battle between St. George and the dragon. There are records from 1440 the ceremony was already ancient. The Ducasse de Mons, the Doudou, and the Lucomon are names for the same ceremony.
In April, 2015 Mons opened five new museums. One is dedicated to the history of the Doudou.
The Ducasse de Mons celebrations are recognized as one of the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Read about the ceremonies and their connection to the Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend in Chapter Four, “The Priest’s Sermon: St. George and Mons.”
There are several YouTube presentations of the ceremony worth seeing. I am not sure I would like to be part of the throng myself. Too many people for me.
By David Wetzel on June 27, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Jerred Metz’s The Angel of Mons is certainly a work of magical realism, but that term fails to describe the shimmering interplay (and interplayfulness) of the real and supernatural in this rich, dense, mythically powerful novel. Based on a legend—or was it?—that grew out of the first battle in World War I between the British and Germans on August 23, 1914, at Mons, Belgium, the story begins with the factual death of Maurice Dease, commander of a Vickers machine gun crew at the Nimy Bridge, and describes a meteorological phenomenon—or was it?—that enveloped and stymied the advancing German army in what many observers described as the image of St. George, allowing the vastly outnumbered British forces to begin an orderly retreat. From there Metz elaborates on that sighting, blending the story of the British retreat through the Forest of Mormal in northern France with visions of Joan d’Arc who guides them to safety along a whispering road cut through the forest, though never discovered in history books. They eventually make it to the British Front by way of other visions and miracles descending on characters both historical and fictional.
If this were the extent of The Angel of Mons, it would be good magical realism. But returning the British forces to safety only begins Metz’s fictional celebration-study of legend and myth. Using the deaths of three key participants—Dease, Malcom Leckie, and Tommy Atkins—Metz takes us into what could be considered the shared Twilight Zone of the Coleridge-Wordsworth dynamic: Coleridge making the ethereal real and Wordsworth making the real ethereal. A secondary cast of characters (who happen to be icons of modern history transmuted into entirely believable fictional counterparts) draw out the mystery of Mons through a superb device: twentieth-century spiritualism and psychic phenomena. We find connections between W. B. Yeats, Arthur Conan Doyle (and his “living” counterpart Sherlock Holmes), and even Winston Churchill—all connected, in some way, with the question of proving communication with the dead. It appears that such proof does exist—if only within Metz’s London of early September 1914.
This is the Coleridge side of the dynamic. But the book ends on the Wordsworth side, with the death, in the very last hour of the war—and again at Nimy Bridge—of Private Atkins. In his exalted afterlife, he speaks directly to the reader as the Angel of Grief and Memory, calling forth an image both apocalyptical and transcendent. The vision seems to come out of the Book of Revelation, the theosophical idea of the Brotherhood, and—well—Moby Dick. Truly, the spiritual and philosophical density of Metz’s The Angel of Mons is much like Melville’s, and it’s filled with character, dialogue, and drama worthy of what we might see and overhear on the decks of the Pequod. In short, it is a fascinating book on many levels.
On June 25 I had the pleasure of giving a talk and reading from The Angel of Mons: AWorld War I Legend sponsored by the National Winston Churchill Museum at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri. I explained why I picked Churchill as a character and then how I discovered connections betweenhim and the legend of the angel. . Naturally, I am deeply interested in Churchill. This is the reason he is a character in the book.
My beloved Sarah Barker and I read Chapter 16, “The Angel of Mons, Winston Churchill, And his Aunt, Lady Janey Campbell” and Chapter 1, “The Sun Gaily Passed”. In The Angle of Mons Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, in command of theBritish Navy. He will also be a character in my novel about the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. At that time he served the War Council as Minister of Munitions.
I am happy that the college president, the museum director and staff, and community folks attended the reading. Plus, friends from Columbia and Kansas City came, too. We all had a good time.
This was my third visit to the Churchill Museum. It is especially well done. The story of the museum, Churchill’s connection to Westminster College— His “Sinews of Peace” speech in 1946 (“an ‘Iron Curtain‘ has descended across the continent”)—and the Wren-designed Church of Saint Mary, Aldermanbury are well worth a side trip.
Fulton is sixteen miles east of Columbia, Missouri. You don’t have to worry about crowds and long waits in line.
I was in Mons, Belgium in the end of March for the third time. This time I spent time with friends Sarah and I made on our last two visits. If you have been reading any of the past fifty blogs I have written, the name Mons should be familiar. And if you have read my book, The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend, the name Dr. Malcolm Leckie would also be familiar. He is a major character in the novel. He was a real person, a medical officer for the Northumberland Fusiliers. For the novel I changed his affiliation to the Royal Fusiliers, who are the soldiers I featured. Leckie was the brother in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The doctor was wounded at the Battle of Mons and died five days later, a prisoner of war. On Saturday, April 4 I went with my friend, Nick Nichols, to the cemetery in Framieres to visit Leckie’s grave.one holds only a few graves of soldiers. They are kept up by the War Graves Commission.
It was a moving experience for me. I had much to say to him in my private thoughts. He took up an entire book in the novel and an addition chapter. Beyond this, Leckie’s death held an important place in Conan Doyle’s life and belief. For on the night of Leckie’s death, he communicated with Doyle and Doyle’s wife, Jean, Leckie’s sister, through automatic writing that, though dead in body, he was still alive in spirit. This event convinced Doyle of the soul’s eternal life. If you read Chapter Thirteen, entitled “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Captain Leckie’s Letter from beyond the Grave” you will find a slightly fictionalize account of what happened on thenight of August 28, 1914 at the Doyle home. Factual accounts appear in almost every Conan Doyle biography.
Most of the military cemeteries in Belgium and France contain only the remains of soldiers. This by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in the distinctive fashion of the military graves. However, the graveyard contains a vast number of graves of the citizens of Framieres.
The weekend of April 4 – 5 is important for the Belgian city of Mons. Having been designated a City of Culture for the year 2015, the city is opening five new museums. Among them is the Mons Memorial Museum. Like many cities in Europe, Mons has been occupied by many nations throughout its history. The museum will tell the story of the wars in which Mons has been fought for and occupied. What makes this museum unique is that it will look at these invasions and conquests from the point of view of the citizens of Mons. They suffered privations, humiliation, deprivation. They were captives of the oppressors. Many were enslaved, tortured, killed, even made to fight for the enemy who took over their city. I have been invited to the opening ceremonies on April 3 to be followed by a reception and cocktails at the Marie. A professional guide who Sarah and I met in August is taking me to a new Van Gogh museum. He spent two years just outside of Mons, going to preach the gospel and leaving as an artist. His pictures of peasants in the fields date from this time and place. I will also be taken by a person we met last time to the small military cemetery in nearby Framieres to visit the grave of Malcolm Leckie, the brother in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a major character in my novel “The Angel of Mons.”
Since I wrote the novel, “The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend”, I keep looking on the magic internet for new old material making its way to our attention. I was delighted to find a song written about the Angel in 1916. The appearance of Angels took place on August 23, 1914. There are two instrumental pieces, the covers only of which have I seen. But to hear the music and lyrics of a song that would have been heard on gramophones in England, played on pianos, and sung in family parlors added a dimension to my appreciation of the impact of the legend on the English. Now you can listen, too. (The picture you will see is not the cover of the sheet music, but the poster for a musical, “Oh, What a Lovely War” performed in 1963. Hit this link and you will be there.
This illustration was made later in the war. The metal helmets the soldiers wear were first issued in the summer of 1916. Notice that the angels have become women. There was a connection in the soldiers’ minds between nurses, nursing nuns, and angels, but not in the literal sense. Instead, these women were angels of mercy, of comfort, of help, hope, and healing.