World War I trenches
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research – volume xxv pg 126
The following case, which occurred during the 1914-18 War, was sent to Sir Oliver Lodge, and was copied by the narrator, Mr Norman F Ellison, from his War Diary.
‘We left Monchiet’ he says ‘ in the early afternoon and after a gruelling march along a paved road, slippery with mud and melted snow, reached Beaumetz at night. The briefest halt and then on to Wailly, immediately behind the line, some eight miles south of Arras. From there we waded through a winding communication trench a mile long but seemingly interminable. Liquid mud to the knees and a bitterly cold sleet benumbing us through. At last we reached the front line and took over from the French – A Territorial Reserve Battalion.
The worst trenches we had ever been in. No repairs had been done to them for months and months. At worst, they had collapsed inwards and did not give head shelter; at best they were a trough of liquid muck. H and I in the same traverse and straight away on sentry duty. We were both too utterly fed up to even curse. Bodily exhausted, sodden and chilled to the bone by the icy sleet, hungry and without rations or the means of lighting a fire to boil a dixey of water; not a dry square inch to sit upon, let alone a square foot of shelter beneath which to have the solace of a pipe, we agreed that this was the worst night of concentrated physical discomfort we had come across hitherto – and neither of us were strangers to discomfort.
Several hours of this misery passed and then an amazing change came over me. I became conscious, acutely conscious, that I was outside myself; that the real me – the ‘ego, spirit or what you like – was entirely separate and outside my fleshly body. I was looking, in a wholly detached and impersonal way, upon the discomforts of a khaki clad body, which, whilst I realised that it was my own, might easily have belonged to somebody else for all the direct connection I seemed to have with it. I knew that my body must be feeling acutely cold and miserable, but I, my spirit part, felt nothing.
At the time it seemed a very natural happening – as the impossibilities of a dream seem right and natural to a dreamer – and it was only afterwards that I came to the realisation that I had been through one of the most wonderful experiences of my life
In the morning H remarked to me upon my behaviour during the night. For a long time I had been grimly silent and then suddenly changed. My wit and humour under such trying circumstances had amazed him. I had chatted away as unconcernedly as if we had been warm and comfortable before a roaring fire – “as if there was no war on” were his exact words, I remember.
I never mentioned a word to H or to anybody else about my spiritual adventure that night. He would not have understood and would have laughed at it all, but nothing will shake my inward belief and knowledge that on this particular night my soul and body were entirely separate from one another
The source of the experienceOrdinary person
Concepts, symbols and science items
Activities and commonsteps
Overwhelming fear and terror
Sleep deprivation, insomnia and mental exhaustion