Fawcett, Lt Colonel Percival Harrison - His dreaded mother spoke to him during a seance
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The Lost City of Z – David Grann
Periodically, Fawcett would hear a gong-like sound, which meant the gases were coming. Shells unleashed phosgene, chlorine, or mustard gas. A nurse described patients "burnt up and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suppurating blisters, with blind eyes . . . all sticky and stuck together, end always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke."
In March 1917, Nina sent a letter to the RGS saying her husband had been "gassed" after Christmas. For once, Fawcett had been injured. "He was troubled for some time by the effects of the poison," Nina told Keltie. Certain days were worse than others: "He feels better but not quite right."
All around Fawcett, people he knew or had been associated with were dying. The war had claimed the lives of more than a hundred and thirty RGS members. Conan Doyle's oldest son, Kingsley, died of wounds and influenza. A surveyor with whom Fawcett had worked on the South American boundary commission was killed. ("He was a good fellow-we all thought so," Fawcett informed Keltie. "I am sorry.”)
A friend in his brigade was blown up when he rushed to help someone-an act, Fawcett wrote in his official report, "of purely unselfish self-sacrifice."
Toward the end of the war, Fawcett described some of the carnage that he had witnessed in a missive published in an English newspaper under the headline "British Colonel in Letter Here Tells of Enormous Slaughter."
"If you can imagine 60 miles of front, to a depth of 1 to 30 miles, literally carpeted with dead, often in little hills," Fawcett wrote. "It is a measure of the price paid. Masses of men moved to the slaughter in endless waves, bridged the wires and filled the trenches with dead and dying. It was the irresistible force of an army of ants, where the pressure of the succeeding waves forced the legions in front, willingly or unwillingly, into the shambles. No thin line could withstand the human tidal wave, or go on killing forever. It is, I think, the most terrible testimony to the relentless effect of an unbridled militarism." He concluded, "'Civilization!' Ye gods! To see what one has seen the word is an absurdity. It has been an insane explosion of the lowest human emotions."
Amid this onslaught, Fawcett continued to be heralded in dispatches for his bravery, and, as the London Gazette announced on January 4, 1917, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order medal. But if his body remained intact, his mind appeared, at times, to be wavering. When he visited home on leave, he often sat for hours without speaking, holding his head in his hands. He sought solace in spiritualism and occult rituals that offered a way to communicate with missing loved ones-a refuge that many Europeans turned to in their grief. Conan Doyle described attending a seance where he heard a voice:
I said, "Is that you, boy?"
He said in a very intense whisper and a tone all his own,
"Father!" and then after a Pause, "Forgive me!"
I said, "There was never anything to forgive. You were the best son a man ever had." A strong hand descended on my head which was slowly pressed forward, and I felt a kiss just above my brow.
"Are you happy?" I cried.
There was a pause and then very gently, "I am so happy."
Fawcett wrote to Conan Doyle about his own experiences with mediums. He recounted how his dreaded mother had spoken to him during a seance. The medium, who channeled her spirit, said, "She loved you so as a little boy and she has remorse for treating you badly." And, "She would like to send her love but fears it might not be accepted."