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  • Sentries and Ghosts August 28, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    While recently writing on the Tower of London ghosts Beach learnt something. Sentries see ghosts: there was the case from 1817 and the second case from the 1850s. The following list is limited to the British newspapers from 1875-1900 and represent a very quick survey:

    1877 Aldershot: a ghost was repeatedly seen by sentries at Aldershot, on one occasion he came and slapped a young soldier repeatedly and then bounded away across the fields! Part of the Spring Heeled Jack scare? Ed Ev News, 30 Apri 1877, 4.

    1889 Glencourse Barracks: A series of sentries were frightened from their post by a ghost. Possibly a local hoax. Dun Cour, 30 Nov 1899, 3

    1898 Forton:  ‘a black man with heavy black whiskers and a black coat’ attacked a young sentry who lost part of his finger. A ghost was blamed and the man was left a nervous wreck. West Gaz 28 Jan 1898.

    1899 Forton: a young man inexplicably shot on his relief. There was the suggestion that he believed them to be ghosts, though this may have just been party of a pity-me defence. Lee Tim, 1 Jul 1899.

    Are sentries particularly vulnerable to ghost sightings? It would make sense. They are often on duty at night and alone. Their job is one that demands a paranoid attitude: what is that noise behind that bush; what is that shadow across the lawn. They are given a task which might be described as meditative (with a small part of their attention on a manual task – walking up and down or standing to attention, the rest allowed to wander): the same kind of task which means that blackberry pickers and drivers are particularly likely to see ‘things’. They are in an environment where practical jokes are common: young men bunking together in barracks. Their job is taken extremely seriously and if something happens they might need to invent a story in a hurry to avoid a long spell in prison or a bullet in the brain. It would be difficult to think of a job where someone is more likely to have encounters with the other side, save perhaps those working in the funerary business: or are they inoculated?

    Are there are any other examples known to readers of sentries seeing the other side? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Beach has, as his wont, concentrated shamelessly on Britain and Ireland here and his favourite twenty five years. There are probably also reflexes in fiction: a Kipling short story is flapping its pages somewhere at the back of Beach’s mind. Any help gratefully received.

    28 Aug 2015: First up, Chris from Haunted Ohio Books

    Perhaps this article suggests a reason why so many sentries see ghosts. The discipline of standing at attention, eyes front, might lead to “hallucinations.”

    The propensity of sentries to see things was apparently a well-known problem:

    Why Sentries Go Mad.

    Peering into darkness or semi-darkness while on sentry duty has a tendency to produce a distortion of vision which makes of every bush an enemy, and this has in many cases, even so recently as the Soudan campaigns, so affected the nerves of men that they have had a resulting monomania as to eternally seeing various creeping objects. One man in the Soudan saw every object of a vivid crimson for some months after being on outpost duty during an alarm, and he was only cured with great difficulty. General Hamley tells of sentries who, on being relieved, yet stood stock still, immovable, speechless, and staring fixedly into vacancy. In some cases, after the man had been removed, this sort of fixity would remain for hours. Even in peace time, there was a case lately where a young sentry wounded the guard by firing at it under the belief that he saw a ghost; and Lord Roberts, in one of his magazine articles relates that even the most reliable and truthful of soldiers on sentry often have the most fantastic stories to tell, due to shattered nerves, Great numbers of soldiers in war time have committed suicide or accidentally shot themselves, the cause often being that they imagined they had let someone creep past them, and had thus betrayed their trust.

    The Courier-Journal [Louisville, KY] 27 May 1900: p. 26

    It wasn’t just military sentries who went mad and imagined ghosts; other watchmen were similarly afflicted, particularly cemetery guards.

    Then there is this anecdote of a sentry who had compelling evidence that he was seeing a daylight ghost:


    The likeness between the Duke of York and his cousin the Czar of Russia has been often remarked upon, and is quite extraordinary. Some years ago they were both paying a visit to the King of Denmark, and it happened that the Duke of York went out of the palace for a morning stroll. The sentry at the gate saluted him, as in duty bound. A few moments afterwards Prince Nicholas as he was then, happened to walk out of the same gate. The sentry was so astonished at the sudden apparition of the Royal personage, whom he imagined was already a hundred yards down the road, that he dropped his rifle, and absolutely shivered in fear and trembling at what he imagined was a daylightghost. He immediately rushed into the guardroom and reported the occurrence to his officer, saying that he was quite sure he had seen a ghost. The matter was only settled when the two princes, on hearing the sentry’s alarm, came to see him together, and laughingly convinced him of his mistake. The Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 15 July 1900: p. 10

    Chris S. meanwhile writes: Texas’s Alamo is haunted by a ghostly sentry who crosses the landmark’s roof, east to west, in the early morning hours. Of note, this specter is never heard on rainy nights. Accoding to Frank Thompson’s The Alamo: A Cultural History, many security guards have observed the ghost throughout the years. This link has quite a few paranormal encounters by military police and those who dwell on the other side.

    22 Apr 2017: Southern Man with the Aldershot story from above.