from 'the War Budget' June 21st, 1917
Superstitions of the Fighting Man


Fateful Omens That Bring Disaster in Their Train

left : from a German magazine : advertisement for an art-print - 'the Last March'
a variation of 'the Comarade in White' theme
right : a British illustration published in a Swiss news weekly 'Schweizer illustrierte Zeitung'


In days of peace hearty amusement tinged our reading of the chronicle of "The White Company," wherein it is recounted that the veterans English archer, Samkin Aylward, was discovered by his comrades one morning sharpening his sword and preparing his arrows and armour for battle. He had dreamed of a red bow, he announced.

"You may laugh," said he, "but I only know that on the night before Crecy, before Poitiers, and before the great battle at Winchester, I dreamed of a red cow. The dream has come to me again, and I am putting a very keen edge on my sword."

The Lighted Match

War has brought to the surface a multitude of superstitions. Soldiers do not seem to have changed in the last five hundred years, for Tommy Atkins and his brother the poilu have warnings and superstitions fully as strange as Samkin’s. Some of these superstitions are the little beliefs of peace given a new force by constant peril, such as the notion common, to the soldier that it is unlucky to light three cigarettes with one match; other presentiments appear to have grown, up since the war began.

There is the Comrade in White who appears after every severe battle to succour the wounded. Dozens have seen him, and would not take it kindly if you suggested they thought they saw him. They are sure of it. The idea of the "call" — the warning of impending death —- is firmly believed along the outskirts of No Man's Land.

When the "Call" Comes

"I could give you the names; of half a dozen men of my own company who have had the call," said a man who was transferred from the Foreign Legion to a line regiment just in time to go through the entire battle of Verdun. "I have never known it to fail. It always means death."

Two men were quartered in an old stable in shell-range of the front. As they went to their quarters one of them asked the other to select another place in which to sleep that night. It was. bitterly cold; and the stable had been riddled by previous fire and the army blanket under such conditions seems as light as it seems heavy when its owner is on a route march.

"Why not roll up together ?" said the other man. "That way we can both keep warm."

"No," said the first man." I shall be killed to-night."

The man who had received the warning went into the upper part of the stable, the other pointing out in utter unbelief of the validity of a call that the lower part was the warmer, and that if his friend were killed, it would make no difference whether his death-chamber were warm or cold. A shell came through the roof at midnight. It was a "dud" which is to say that it did not explode. The man who had been warned was killed by it. If it had exploded the other, would probably have been killed likewise. As it was he was not harmed.

A few days ago the chief of an aeroplane section at the front felt a premonition of death. He was known to all the army for his utterly reckless daring. He liked to boast of the number of men who had been killed out of his section. He was always the first to get away on a bombing expedition and the last to return.

"I have written my letters," he said to his lieutenant.

"When you hear of my death send them on."

The lieutenant laughed at him. That sector of the line was quiet, he pointed out. No German machine had been in the air for days. He might have been justified m his premonition, the lieutenant said, on any day of three months past. But now he was not in so much danger as he might be in Paris from the taxi-cabs. That day a general visited the headquarters and the chief went up in a new machine to demonstrate it. Something broke when he was three thousand feet high and the machine fell sidewise like a stone.

Belief in the Talisman

It is possible say the soldiers to keep bad fortune from following an omen by the use of the proper talisman. The rabbit's foot is unknown, but it is said that a gold coin has much the same effect — why no one seems to know. A rabbit's foot of course, must be from the left hind leg, otherwise it is good for nothing.

Gold coins are a mascot in. the front lines, a superstition not difficult to explain. It was at first believed that wounded men on whom some gold was found would be better looked after by those who found them, and by degrees the belief grew up, especially among artillery, that a gold coin was a talisman against being mutilated if they were taken prisoners, whether wounded or not.

"Every man has his own particular star," a Lyons farm-hand said to a seeker after information regarding superstitions, "but he must know it. A gold coin is the only means to put you in communication with your star, so that its protecting virtue can be exercised. I have a piece of gold and so am easy in my mind! I shall never be touched."

As a matter of fact he was seriously wounded later.

The Motor-Bus Dream

To dream of a motor-bus has become a token of death, attested by the experience of men in the front trenches. And yet a sergeant succeeded in saving the life of a man who had dreamed of a motor-bus by the use of a clever ruse. Here is the story:—

A corporal said he had dreamed, of a motor-bus. "How can that be ?" the sergeant asked, "When you have never been to Paris or seen a motor-bus ?" The corporal described the vision.

"That’s not a motor-bus,' declared the sergeant, although the description was perfect. "Why that's one of those new machines that the English are using. Don't let that worry you! " He didn't and lived!

An officer tells how he was invited to mess with a friend, Second Lieutenant Francois. V——, how this superstition was discussed and laughed at by Francois V——, and how Francois V—— happened to be the third to light his cigarette with the same match.

The morning after Francois V—— was killed five or six miles from the front lines by a German shell.


left : another 'Comrade in White' type illustration
right : the Virgin appears to soldiers in the trenches


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