Then came the war; and I went with the rest,
To learn my lessons, with death as a guest,
The days and nights that I spent overseas,
The bombing of cities, of people, of trees ...
... that hell
Of hating and killing, of shot and shell…
~ Gertrude Tooley Buckingham
DEATH ON THE BATTLEFIELD
By 1940 World War II was raging, and one of the most prominent men in Great Britain was Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, more widely known as Lord Dowding. Dowding was the commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and played a crucial role in thwarting Hitler’s plan to defeat Great Britain. In the 1969 film, Battle of Britain, Dowding was played by one of Britain’s much loved actors, Laurence Olivier.
What is less well known is, after the Battle of Britain Dowding devoted the rest of his life to exploring life after death and what we now refer to as psychical research. He authored four books on the subject, Many Mansions (1943), Lychgate (1945), The Dark Star (1951), and God’s Magic (1960).
After the war ended, Dowding was often contacted by mothers and loved ones of airmen who had died on his watch, and when he asked his local vicar how he should respond to their grieving, allegedly, the vicar replied nonchalantly, “Tell them they’re with God.” Not being content with the vicar’s answer, Dowding continued his own investigation, in an attempt to find the truth to the age-old question, “What happens after we die?”
He read everything he could on life after death, reincarnation and spiritualism. He sat regularly with mediums and for many years in a home circle, and naturally he came to his own conclusions on the subject.
In Lychgate, he gives an indication as to his thinking;
To you I would say, “Read a little about Theosophy.” Now I want to make it quite clear that I am not a Theosophist, I am a Dowding-ist if I am any kind of an -ist at all. But I do believe that the Theosophists are nearer to the truth than any other Western creed or sect of which I have heard. I say this not so much because I trust my own power of judgment, but because the little doles of information from the other side, which we get in our circle from time to time, so often fit into the Theosophical picture, and into no other frame.
Dowding met many psychics and mediums during his investigations and claimed he was followed by a band of deceased airman who were drawn to him. In his books, the communication with the airmen are fascinating. Often funny, sometimes sad, but never dull, Dowding’s writings are a must for anyone pondering the nature of existence and whether we survive physical death.
Here he documents examples of deceased soldiers coming to terms with their experiences after physical death.
* * * * *
As a contrast to the somewhat sterile attempt to prove the facts of survival and communication by argument, I should like you to read the following messages, which have all come from men killed in action during the present war. They came to Mrs. Gascoigne and her daughter through the agency of the late Colonel Gascoigne who is organizing the first spiritual contacts with those who die in battle. Colonel Gascoigne was with the force that was attempting to relieve Khartoum when it fell, and he was also associated with Cecil Rhodes in the early days of Rhodesia.
Only two or three of the men had known the Gascoignes in life, but they were, so to speak, “introduced” by the Colonel. Most of the messages are contained in the last chapter of The Triumph of Life Eternal, but a few are now published [here] for the first time.
From a sailor, the son of an old friend.
I was in an oil tanker and we were all drowned when she was hit. It was very quick and I did not suffer any pain but tremendous surprise at finding myself possessed of the most wonderful strength and able to heave away all kinds of wreckage. I was making my way through the debris when I realized that we were moving through deep water. It was so still that it was just like a dream. I remember feeling it was quite easy to move and there was no difficulty in breathing (if we were breathing), but now I come to think of it, it was a different sort of breath. Anyhow I got free and so did some of my friends and we moved away without quite knowing what we were doing. We found a stranger had joined us; his clothes were quite dry and he walked through the water without it seeming to touch him. I noticed this and, after a time, I said something to him about it.
It all seemed so queer, and as we walked and walked I saw that we were going towards what looked like a sunrise, the best I’ve ever seen, and I turned to look back over the way we had come, and the stranger put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Not yet, you must go on out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death and then you can return if you want to.” I said, “Oh, I don’t care,” and I went on in a dazed sort of way until we came to a kind of garden, but it wasn’t enclosed, it was on the hillside with lots and lots of flowers; oh, they were lovely. By this time I had realized that we were not walking in the water any more and I felt so tired and sleepy, and my feet refused to go any further, and the stranger suggested that we should rest. I sat down on the grass and was soon asleep.
You cannot imagine my astonishment on waking to find myself in a strange place, and I couldn’t at first remember how I got there; but it came back after a time, and I found some of the others, and they let me piece it together with their help. But all the time the stranger stayed with us, and he listened but said nothing. So at last I asked him where he came from, and why he’d brought us here, and he said: “Oh, I’m just a seaman like you, but I’ve been ashore for some time now, so I thought I might be able to help you.” Then, very slowly, we all knew that we were what we used to call “dead,” but it was so different that I couldn’t believe it.
It’s grand, just GRAND. I wish my mother could know about it.
We are in a far better land than the one we left, and it’s all okay. I’d love her to see it. Dad came to me soon after I realized this and we had a great time together. It seems queer to call him dad: he’s younger than I am now; at least he looks it. We are to have a job together soon, but I am not to be in a hurry.
From a New Zealander.
Can I try? I do not find it difficult, but what is the use of trying? You do not know my people; they are far away and would never understand. I am one of the Colonial troops and my name is Simson. I came from New Zealand. I guess some of the lads have had their fill of fighting, but that was what we came for, and I am glad I came. I know it wasn’t much use in the ordinary way, but we showed our loyalty to Britain, and that’s the spirit that will prevail in the end. I was one of the casualties in Greece. I feel I should go home now, but I can’t leave my mates. I could go as swiftly as a thought, and return equally quickly, but time doesn’t matter now, and if I let go the contact with our lads I may find it difficult to pick it up again. I feel we can do something here now, and if that’s so, let’s go on doing it.
I am rather vague as to who is “alive” and who is “dead;” they all look much alike, but the “dead” are far more active and don’t get tired. It seems strange, but I sort of expected this when I came over. I knew I should never go back alive. But my parents would never understand how much more alive I am now, so it’s no use my trying to tell them.
I am going straight on with my job, under my own officer, and with many of my pals; we work for the rest, especially when they are asleep; sometimes we raid the enemy’s “dead” battalion, fighting with our thought weapons! It’s a grand game. There are so few things we can’t do now. One of the strangest things is that we all feel happy. I wasn’t one of the naturally happy ones on Earth. I worried and fidgeted and found time lagged more than most people. But here there is a sort of carefree feeling, and no time to lag, so I can’t work up any regret over leaving my body. I stay right here. Our boys are happy, too, all of them, and the others are having such a rough time that it’s up to us to stay by them.
Q. Can we help you? Do you need our help?
Well, yes, we do. It’s ever such a help to do this; it kind of gives me more pep to get into closer touch with my pals. It would be much better if you could have a talk with more of us. You give us confidence. So often we cannot see the result of our work, but now I can feel and see your reactions, and it makes real work, like I expect it does for you. Something to show for it. Thank you ever so much. I think that’s all for now. Goodnight.
~ Gunner Simson.
From a Norwegian.
Thank you. I feel rather strange doing this, but it goes quite easily. I am not English, nor even British: I am a Norwegian. I have lived in England for many years and I find your language as easy as mine own.
I was shot by the Germans in Trondheim. I was a little shopkeeper—they shoot. I do not love the Germans. I never shall, but I am held up here by my hatred. I find that I cannot throw it off. I still feel so angry for their acts of unprovoked cruelty, and I am consumed with my passionate anger and cannot get free. I beg of you to help me—your father, [Colonel Gascoigne] he brings me to you to make a closer link with him. He tell me that we must forgive the Nazis, that they do not know what they do, that they are like sleep-walkers, and until I forgive them I cannot get free, to pass from this plane so near the Earth on to other planes.
Here all that happens with you is known and felt in a greater form, and we go on feeling more and more animosity against the German race, and when they join us in the astral body we feel far more antagonism than we felt during our Earth life. It is awful, this anger that we cannot shake it off. Give me serenity and let me sleep. I want to sleep and forget them. I might be fairer in my judgment and come to forgive. I see why Christ quickly forgave everyone before he left his earth body. I see the reason and the need, and with the help of your father and this contact that you have given me, I shall escape.
~ J. Ammussen.
A Highlander taken prisoner in Crete.
Yes, I was in Crete. I’m a Highlander. I was in the Marines and I stayed on in Crete among those who couldn’t be taken off. It was one of the worst moments when I saw the ships and knew it was hopeless for us to hope for any escape. I got hit in the shoulder, and there was nothing for it but to give in and let them take me prisoner. I was put on to a stretcher and taken to hospital, but they did nothing for me except to give me a bed to lie on, and my wound got septic and very painful. I got delirious I suppose, and they came and questioned me, but I don’t think they did anything for me. Perhaps they couldn’t; I don’t know. Anyway, after ages and ages of suffering I seemed to pass into a timeless sleep, and when I woke up there was no pain, and I was out of doors, so I thought I had escaped and I wandered about glad to be free, but I couldn’t make sense of it all. I seemed unable to walk properly, I couldn’t keep on the ground, and though I didn’t fall it was extremely difficult to move along, and then the whole place would grow misty; I would see places and people one moment and the next I saw something quite different. I thought I was delirious again. Now I know that I was seeing two planes at once, and I hadn’t learnt to manage my spirit body. It all worried me a lot and I got quite hopeless. People would come up to help me, and just as we were beginning to understand each other I would see the outline of Crete, and be overcome by the desire to hide away from the Germans, it was a sort of torture, and then at last they got through to me and I was able to sleep—the real sleep of death—the putting off of our life and the taking on of another. I don’t know much about it, but this life seems so natural that I was anxious to try and write through you so as to test my power on the physical plane before going back to help those who have suffered like I did. I know we can and I don’t want to waste time. It’s grand finding that nothing was wasted.
I have all the faculties now that I longed to have on earth. Oh, it’s simply grand. Goodnight.
From a Polish pilot who spent his last leave with us.
Yes, I am shot down and out. I have survived many fights, but not this one. I am wounded. I cannot control the aircraft; it was my leg, you feel the pain. I could not move the controls and I fall. I cannot leave the aircraft. I fall quite consciously. I get up without any pain. I see my observer and gunner: he is hurt, too, but not so much. The Germans come to find us. They do not see me. I run and hide, but they not look for me; my friend they take away. I wander about. I feel well and cannot think how I came to crash aircraft. My leg is healed. I wander about. I go to the French peasants and ask for help, but they do not see me, and I begin to wonder. I am neither hungry nor thirsty nor particularly tired.
I begin to see things changing—I see first colors everywhere; it is sunset, or sunrise, and it looks as if the colors were reflected in the earth as well as in the sky. I lay and watched the color take form; it was like a cinema when one picture fades out and another takes its place. I was astounded. I do not know where I am. I ask; I pray; I forget that I have no faith in religion. I pray for help and it comes to me. Someone looking very strange and yet quite like ourselves comes to me: he tells me not to mind the change—it is best for all and that I shall be happy in this land.
I am very confused. I think I am taken prisoner, then he explains that there are no prisons or prisoners and I feel free again. He took me away and he told me to sleep; he touched my eyes and I sleep at once. When I wake he is still there and I am on earth again in the occupied territory with Germans all round. I have come back to my body. I find it difficult to leave it.
I see no colors, but my new friend is there too, and he talks to me, but I can’t see him well. They are doing something to my body. I am miserable, so my friend tells me to think very hard of some place outside the war, so I think very hard of the last time I see family life with you at H—. I see you all quite easily, and I wake you and you feel me near and you talk to me. I ask you to let me stay and just sit quietly in your house far from the battle until I can go on, and you say, “Yes,” so I stay, and now I begin to feel sleepy again. I am between the worlds—help me to throw off this one and to go on. I want to go on … I want to go on. I think I can; please help me.
~ S. Z.
Several days later.
Thank you, yes I am well. I do not yet feel ready to leave your home for very long at a time, but I go for a short time, but it is good to come back to you all. I have strange feelings when you sit in the same chair in which I sit. I am close and yet not close at all.
I am going now sometimes to Poland, but I dare not stay. I have no strength yet to help them, and they need this power so badly. I see my old friends, some dying and some dead, but I can do nothing. I am tired and feel too ill to reach them. We must help soon, but at present we are too weak.
Your father, or someone like, he comes with me and we try to help but I am nearly useless. I want to help but I am like a child, I cannot.
Also, I never had any faith, nothing to expect on dying, and I am lost; I know nothing. All the things I made fun of come back to me. I was a bad man. I neglected many things, my prayers and my church, but I do not know if that mattered. I had no creed, and now I find that extinction being impossible I have to suffer a sort of conscious extinction, knowing and feeling, and yet being empty of strength.
What you expect here, that you find—you build your awakening, it is just as you imagined, at least that is what they told me. I expected nothing, so nothing came. But now I am pulling out of the difficult doldrums, and am beginning to feel my strength. Thank you for helping.
~ S. Z.
From a Tank Officer.
Thank you. I am alive after all. I thought extinction was the only thing that could follow such an inferno. We seemed to go down on all sides British and German alike, tanks, guns and planes. I had the feeling that we were being exterminated by the machines of our own creation—they seemed so much stronger and more vindictive than the humans inside them. I believe it’s the battle of the machines; they are in charge and we are the slaves of some evil genius through whom they have been created. I feel the influence of evil so strongly—I longed to get away and lie in the clean sand and forget the horrors of man’s inferno of which we did not seem to be in charge.
I prayed for help when we were stuck in the sand and fire broke out, and I prayed with all my soul and I knew we couldn’t escape, but prayer seemed to strengthen me and I felt that nothing really mattered so desperately, excepting the feeling of evil, and that had receded. I could not name it or explain it in words. It seemed to meet us from the sand and hang all around the tank battle. I felt sick and miserable, and then it passed off and I found myself standing outside the tank talking to my Colonel. He seemed unconscious of the bullets that were raining down upon us. I ran for shelter but he called me and told me not to bother. He was looking as young as a subaltern and as though he was enjoying the battle.
He took me by the shoulder and said: “Don’t you see, Kit, we are dead, and yet far more alive than they are, and we can go on fighting, hampering the enemy, throwing dust in his eyes, putting ideas into our leaders and playing an invisible hand.” I saw that he was serious but I thought he was mad, I said: “Yes, Sir, but I’m so tired I don’t think I can move any further.” He left me and I don’t know what happened, but I woke up here with only one idea—to go back to the battle and find him. He wasn’t mad, but I was stupid.
Your father has let me write through you so as to give me the strength from the physical plane to grapple with the unseen world. I’m off now. Thanks a lot.
February 4th, 1942.
Here are two people who would like to write:
Yes, I am very glad to have this chance. I always thought it might be so, but until I was picked off by a Jap sniper, I was never certain. I fell face downwards in the swampy mud of the jungle, and lay unconscious for a time in a sort of nightmare: my body was trying to reassert itself and my spirit to get free. Never think that when people are unconscious that they are really so, at least I wasn’t. It was a time of conscious paralysis. I hated it, and, when something snapped and I was free, I was awfully relieved.
I got back to our fellows and I soon realized what had happened when they didn’t see me; but I was so interested in finding myself unchanged that I hadn’t time to think of anything else. I wanted to tell them not to fear death and all that but I couldn’t. After a time I began to see the Jap dead. They were helping their own fellows, and the living Japs could sometimes see and hear them, and they used all the information given, and this made me feel that we should be able to do the same. I tried awfully hard, but I couldn’t warn or suggest anything which could be accepted by the brains of our fellows, so I wandered off wondering what to do next.
I didn’t exactly want to leave them to it, but there didn’t seem to be any alternative, so I did. I wandered off into the forest, and for a time forgot all about the war, and all that my friends were going through because I became so fascinated by the life that I saw all around me. I know the jungle well. I have lived in it, alone, for months on end, and I came back to it seeking rest and peace after the turmoil of war, and I found all I sought and more, much more. I suddenly found that I was seeing things that had been hidden from me during the whole of my physical life. I cannot describe the beauty of the life around me. The jungle is always rich in color, sound and beauty of trees and flowers, but now behind each thing that I knew so well lurked a hidden meaning, and some beautiful ray or sound seemed to permeate the very texture of the jungle life.
I can’t explain. I was superbly happy and entirely myself, but that self had grown in comprehension, and in power to experience contentment and bliss.
Then a voice came to my ears, and gradually I sensed a beautiful shining figure that said to me: “Here you see the land of pure content, but you have left behind a land of passionate unrest. Do you not wish to help others to find the key to this place of joy?” I was so overcome at never having thought of anyone else for ages, that I must have blushed like a schoolboy, but the Shining One didn’t seem to notice. So I stammered that I hadn’t really grasped my whereabouts yet, and could he help me? He said: “No, you found the way, and the rest you must discover for yourself, but others may not be so fortunate and need helping.” I didn’t want to turn my back on this glorious place, but the Shining One promised to come with me and not leave me. He explained that I could always return just by recalling this place vividly and wishing myself here, and now, equally, you and I must see ourselves in the battle zone.
I did most regretfully, and away we seemed to pass, or rather there was no passing, one surrounding faded out and another took shape. The jungle moved or dissolved and its place was taken by another sort of jungle full of men shouting orders and screaming in pain. I felt unable to bear it at first, but the Shining One said: “Come and stand by this man, he is about to pass over to us.” A second later and a bullet had ripped through his stomach and he lay groaning at our feet. The Shining One bent down, and touched his head and eyes, and instantly the groaning ceased, and I saw his spirit leave his tortured body, and, looking dazed and pale, joined us both in the deep foliage of the jungle. Before I knew what had happened we were back in the wonderful jungle; it was a delicious experience. The man who had joined us was one of our own men. A dull, quiet looking fellow. I hardly knew him; he took no interest in games and was always reading. Now he brightened up suddenly upon catching sight of me, and said: “Hello, Sir, I didn’t think you’d be here. I thought I’d seen you killed some days ago.” I said: “Yes, and I saw you killed some minutes ago.” The Shining One looked at me and I knew I shouldn’t have broken the news so swiftly. But Burrows didn’t seem to mind, “Oh, well, I’ve copped it have I? Well, I don’t care, it’s awful fighting here and not much chance of getting out,” was all he said. “But what’s it like here?” he continued.
I told him it was splendid, and that he had nothing to fear, and we walked about through the jungle clearing while the Shining One explained things to us. Soon we had both recovered from the shock and he took us back to the firing line to fetch more of our people and introduce them to this life. That is where we are now, and I wanted to get further and learn how to impress my thoughts upon the men in charge.
I’m grateful to you for my first lesson—it doesn’t seem to have gone too badly, but I’m tired now and I’ll wish myself back in my jungle home of refreshment. I see there are no separate places and all are moods within ourselves, just like what we were taught as children. “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Goodnight.
A message from Libya:
O. K., I am glad. I’ve wanted to thank you for some time but I couldn’t make you hear.
We came abroad in the spring. I was one of the Snodsbury lot. I’ll give you my name soon but you likely don’t remember me. We was all split up and I got sent to Egypt. It was a show … I never thought as how I could have lived through it. You know what I mean. I didn’t know that dying was like this. I thought it was all over and finished and sometimes we seemed to go through such a grueling, I didn’t see as how we could stand any more, and then, all of a sudden, it ceased and I was feeling as upright as a trivet. A moment before I’d been dead beat and hot; oh, hot and thirsty with the most awful headache. The noise of battle fairly shattered me to bits, but then, all of a sudden, I was cool and fit and fresh as a daisy, and perky as could be, just looking on and hearing the noise, but not feeling shattered by it. I couldn’t believe I was a “gonner.” I saw my body just holed all over, and yet I couldn’t believe it. I think I tried to pull it away from the gun, but there were others on top and beside me all in a heap. We’d got a direct hit all right.
The rest weren’t there; that seemed queer to me, none of them, until I saw the officer. He came up to me, I pointed to where his body lay, and he gave a kind of gasp and said, “Oh, well, I suppose that’s that; it’s a queer world, Johnson, and I suppose we’d best carry on.” I says, “Yes, Sir, but wot does we do now?”
“Load the gun of course, you blighter,” ses he, just as he used to. I went to obey, but strong as I felt I could not move the shells. They weren’t so heavy as all that, but I could not get a hold of them: they was slippery; it seemed as though there was a sort of fish scale between my fingers and the shells. I couldn’t hold it. I tell the officer and he comes to help, cursing proper he was by this time, and the two of us had a go, but would she budge? Not an inch. It seemed silly like; there was us two great hefty fellows trying all we knew to lift one small ack-ack shell and we just couldn’t do it. At last I sat down and laughed. “Well,” I ses, “did you ever hear of two dead blokes firing a gun?”
“Yes, I did,” ses he, all angry now and red in the face, “and, wot’s more, we are going to do it. We are fit enough, aren’t we? Come on.” So I heaved to again, thinking he’d gone crazy but that it was better to humor him. So we tried again, and now I begun to see things—not the efforts we was making with our hands, if you follow me, but the Captain; he seemed to be sending out power some way, he was that determined, and I saw him as you might imagine a call-up station on the wireless (if you could see one) and the answer came not through his fingers but through himself.
Lots of shadowy people came round us and worked with us, and the gun wasn’t exactly in action, but something was being fired from her.
Plane after plane came over, and suddenly lost speed, turned for home or crashed. I was mystified. I couldn’t recollect anything like this: there seemed to be no noise, the discharge was silent, but the repercussion was distinctly felt by us all, and that seemed to give us fresh impetus for the next. It was the queerest experience. Just then I saw Jock coming towards us: he’d stopped a packet, too, but he hadn’t been with us before.
He recognized me and the Captain, and saluted and stood ready for duty; the Captain was too busy to notice him and Jock was always one for arguing, so I shut him up with “Just you wait and see, Son, we’re learning new operational tactics, us three gonners from the old batch, so come along and learn and don’t interrupt, whatever you do.” So I stayed close to Jock and made him watch the Captain.
The Captain was a grand fellow, not a doubt. He seemed to drive his way through with all his determination against it all, and, when I made to move, he looked up that sharp, and said: “You sit quiet and think, for God’s sake think with all the guts you’ve got in you, that’s what you must do now. We’ve got our brains and our determination and if we three hold together we’ll pull it off and keep the air protection for our chaps. Don’t you see the men who are helping us?” and then I looked and there was Sandy, who got sniped on Thursday, standing waist high in water, making strange movements with his arms. I looked at his eyes, and they were Sandy’s, but different, so clear like stars, he seemed inspired, if one could say, so I don’t think I can finish the story today. May I stop now, and come again? I’ve loved telling it to you. You see it’s my first real adventure. Thank you.
Continuation from O. K.
O. K., I’m all right. I’d like ever so much to finish what I was saying.
Well, as I said, Sandy looked inspired. I can’t think of another word, and all at once he seemed to be leading us, and not so much the officer who was following his orders most carefully, and, as the shadowy people became clearer, I seemed to lose touch with the live people, and the dead ones seemed more real. Then the Jerries attacked and took the gun and we weren’t touched. He came through us without seeing or hearing us, though we could see and hear him and feel the perspiry sense of his nearness. I loathed the smell all of a sudden; though it was familiar enough, it almost made me sick, and I saw Sandy and the officer had moved away. So I pulled Jock up and said: “Don’t let’s lose sight of those two or we’re lost.” Jock agreed, but when I got to my feet I found I couldn’t stay on the ground; it was most comical and so difficult to move on. I was kind of floating and so was Jock. I said: “Let’s hold hands and keep each other down,” but instead we seemed to buoy each other up. Oh, we did have a time catching up with Sandy and the Captain, but they didn’t notice us; someone else had joined them. He wasn’t in uniform and I wondered, for a minute, how a civilian could have got there; he looked like an Arab, and then, when he turned and looked at me, I felt—I felt as though he was re-making me all over again. I knelt down and murmured “Christ” with all the reverence of a child.
“No, not Christ, but a messenger from Him,” said the man I was kneeling before, and “He wants you,” that was what he said. He wanted me.
“Whatever for?” I gasped out, and I looked up to see where the others were, but I could see nothing but a blinding glorious light. It seemed to fill my head and burn through something that was keeping me there, and then the voice spoke again, something like this: “By your sacrifice you have attained to the Crown of Fortitude”—and then I remember no more.
That was the last I saw of earth. I’d like some of the chaps to know how we pass on: it’s a most wonderful thing.
I’m tired now and can’t finish.
“DEATH ON THE BATTLEFIELD” is taken from In Times of War: Messages of Wisdom from Soldiers in the Afterlife edited by Jonathan Beecher, published by White Crow Books.