Sunday, 27 August 2017

Ghost Hunters: Battlefield of the Somme

There isn't really much meat in this episode. Peter Bowers wanders around the battlefield and makes suitable remarks and looks suitably upset. Anyone would. He is put up in a house that was used as a hospital in the war. He comes up with a tale about a doctor. Firstly, I'd like to say that it would take  him five seconds to ask the owners 'What's the history of this place then?' and for them to dish the dirt unwittingly. Secondly, I would point out that his doctor actually went home alive. So how Peter's talking to him really makes no sense, even by his standards of Communicating With The Dead. As for the alleged "astonishing" coincidence of names - they weren't even the same names. It's not hugely impressive. And for my final remark - so yes the war was disgusting and terrible, it would have been a shattering experience to be there. But why would these Spirits be willing to stay there for 80 years reliving being shot by a machine gun? It doesn't add up to me. None of it adds up. I think it's all bunk.

Tom Morgan: And as the Newfoundlanders reached the British trenches and had to pass through the gaps cut in the wire, that’s where the killing grounds were and they literally fell in heaps, those behind had to climb over the bodies of their comrades who’d already fallen. And nobody got more than a few dozen yards from the trench.

Ralph Bennett: You have the horror of explosions everywhere, confusion, your officers are dead, your pals are being killed off to the left and right. You’re under orders not to stop for the wounded. You’re perspiring, you’re hot, it’s July, the goggles in your gas mask are fogging out. You lose your sense of direction. There’s fire and light from explosions everywhere. You’re leaderless and you’re about 20 years old.

Narrator: This innocent looking stretch of green rolling countryside is steeped in blood. It is the site of perhaps the bloodiest battle ever fought in all human history. In just over 4 months over a million young men were killed here. Many tens of thousands of them remain unfound, scattered together with the remnants of the battle, the spent bullets and the belt buckles, the helmets and the shell cases, along the gently winding banks of the River Somme in Northern France. The battle started in the high summer of 1916. The two armies, the allies on one side and the Germans on the other, had become locked in stalemate, facing each other in deep trenches that ran for miles across the countryside just a few hundred miles apart. The British decided on a frontal assault, to slice through the enemy lines and roll them back in a matter of weeks all the way to the Rhine. That was the objective. It began with the most massive artillery bombardment in military history –  for six days, night and day, the guns roared, and one and a half million shells rained down on the enemy lines. Then at 7.30am on the 1st of July 1916, the whistles blew and the bagpipes shrilled, and tens of thousands of young men rose out of the trenches and moved towards the German lines. Most never made it but were cut down in a wasteland of mud and shell holes. Sixty thousand British and Commonwealth men were killed or wounded on the very first day. The attack ground to a halt. Four months later when the battle had ended, all that had been won for all the hundreds of thousands of men that had been lost was a few square miles of this shattered landscape.  Eighty years later the countryside has scarcely changed – apart from, that is, the cemeteries, nearly 200 of them with their neat rows of white headstones where the British have located their mass graves. We travelled across this battlefield with two people – one, an internationally known psychic medium, Peter Bowers, to see if anything remained of the fear and the grief and terror of this place all these years ago. The other a historian, Tom Morgan, an authority on every detail of the battle – to see if any of the psychic perceptions matched any of the historical record. Peter of course couldn’t be isolated from the history of the battle, but he claims he’s never studied it in detail, never visited the Somme. He certainly had no foreknowledge of which parts of this difficult and confusing battlefield we were to visit. We ourselves only made the decision at the very last minute. But almost immediately, he began to make contact, not only with a generalised sense of fear, but with individuals, even names and places.
Peter Bowers: Rogers. Rogers. What’s the first name. Daniel. No no sorry, Thomas, Thomas Daniel Rogers... His name is T E Wilkinson and he feels like a Lieutenant in the army and he’s coming down here with a small platoon, and the name Wilkinson, Sharpie Wilkinson it keeps coming again and again. And there’s a conflict taking place now, as though part of him’s saying ‘you’ve got to go that way’ but there’s the realisation as if if you go that way, that way’s going to be no good, and let’s go this way. So he’s setting off down here. And his orders are to go straight ahead, but he’s adapting them. That’s the best way he can put it. And he’s got to go down here. But… this is getting no better than going down there. A horrible feeling now, as though the bubble has completely closed around me, and I’m trapped in this – it’s as though the rest of the lads are right behind me and I’ve got separated in some way, perhaps I pushed too hard, and it’s like a bubble. It’s as though I’m going in and I’m being surrounded on all sides by feelings and the enemy and I’m trapped. And there’s a small contingent of us, perhaps 50,60,70 of us, something like that. And we’ve broken through but nobody else has, and as I’m going there’s a terrible feeling in my stomach and my legs are quaking. And the whole lot is.. it’s just terror now.

Narrator: Tom the historian of course reserved judgement. But he was astonished at the accuracy of many of the descriptions that Peter came up with, about the location of particular groups of soldiers and lines of battle. Details he believed that would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to pick up from the official histories. This sense of entrapment, for example, in a particular place. There was just such an event in this very place, when a group of men were cut off from their comrades and completely surrounded.

Tom Morgan, World War 1 Historian: The attack failed in an extreme blizzard, and they all withdrew, but what they didn’t know was that a force of a hundred men were left there and they were cut off. And various rescue attempts were made, and they all failed, and the men stayed there for about a week, and slowly their numbers became less and less until they were obliged to surrender. And they certainly were cut off here, and they certainly did break into something that closed around them and they were, it was not possibly to rescue them and extract them from it. And that’s where the battle actually ended in November.

Narrator: But what about the names – did these people exist? Peter made it clear that he had no sense of when during the four months of the battle or even the war people had been killed. And official records don’t describe how or when soldiers died, only when and where they’re buried. But the extraordinary fact is some of these names do seem to check out. There was a Thomas Rogers in the Leicestershire Regiment as Peter described. Not a Thomas Daniel, but a Thomas Humphrey Rogers. There was a TE Wilkinson killed, not a lieutenant but a sergeant, in the regiment that was surrounded. And there were four or five others that Peter came up with that were the same, or very close to names that appear in the official records. It is conceivable of course that Peter learned of these names in some other way. But he can only say he denies any such suggestion.  Very close to where we stopped the cars and Peter marched off across the fields, there was a deep gully. In the few hours before dawn on the 1st July 1916 this ditch or lane was packed with young men – bayonets fixed, nervously waiting for the signal to attack. It was a very dangerous spot in the middle of no-man’s land between the lines, which they had prepared as a jumping off point. When the attack started, the first wave were cut down by machine guns as soon as they broke into the open. Many died in the field where they lay. But some made it back into the ditch. And as succeeding waves met the same fate, the chaos along the sunken road (as it’s called) steadily grew. We didn’t take Peter to this isolated spot. He didn’t have a compass or a map and it would have been very difficult if not impossible for him to navigate himself to it. He came across the lane as he marched across a field following impressions he’d picked up earlier. And immediately he felt a sense of panic and chaos.

Peter: There’s a sense of confusion as though I’m breaking through into something now, but as I’m getting in this here it’s as if I’ve been caught again. It’s not the same feeling as before as being trapped, but I’m setting off for something and there’s the sense of realisation as I’m getting through here that – hold on this is no better than the other things were. Um. The whole sensation of people packed in together here. Before when I was up there I was running across a wide open space but now I’m trapped in this small space, and I’m enclosed. But there’s not just a few of us, there’s a lot of us, there’s a whole phalanx of people, of men moving up this way, coming down from somewhere, and up this way and across up the top. Um. It’s raining bullets. I seem to be standing in a sea of bodies. As I’m going further down I’m getting more and more, I can see bodies.

Narrator: Peter’s sense of the events in this place were again very close to what actually happened.

Tom: The sunken road is only really sunken for about the last five hundred yards of its length. Where we’re standing now would have been a suicidal spot to stand. And on the morning of the 1st of July at 3:20, the first battalion Lancashire Fusiliers advanced into this sunken road, through tunnels, to give themselves a little headstart at the beginning of the battle. They climbed out of their trenches and immediately came under fire from three or four machine guns. And the ones that weren’t wounded immediately and left out in no-man’s land, managed to get back into the sunken lane. From the point of view of fatalities, and bad things happening, there were hundreds of people that died lonely sordid deaths in the lane behind us.

Narrator: This small French guest house stands about two hundred yards behind the former British battle lines. During the battle all those years ago it was used as a small field hospital. And this detail is by no means widely known, even by the historians of the battle. But in our researches we learned there had been a number of paranormal events here, and this is where without any information or prior warning we arranged for Peter to stay. He slept in the Blue Room, and he had, he said, two very disturbed nights. He claimed he made contact with a young doctor.

Peter: I’m in the cellar of the house where I’ve been staying for the past two nights. Two quite disturbed nights in fact, waking up at two o’clock in the morning on both occasions. Last evening I was woken up again at 2 o’clock and got the impression there was someone coming towards me, that there was someone in the house with me. And during the course of the next two hours a picture built up of a young doctor by the name of Steven, who was actually based in this house, which I understand was just back from the trenches while the fighting was carried on. And he operated and worked in this basement area as a temporary operating theatre or patch-you-up place. And the impression I get is that this end of the cellar was used as the preparatory section, and through the tunnel over there is another room which was used for operations, cleaning up. And this young man spent quite a lot of time in there dealing with people who obviously must have been coming off in great numbers from the battlefield, and during the course of that I saw amputations, which he wasn’t used to, he said he hadn’t previously done. And he worked from this house and one a little bit down the road. He had these two places, they were his hospital if you like, or his first stage hospital. And he suffered a great deal of shock and hurt psychologically down in this cellar and in the other, even though I feel that he did his operations here more than down the road. And as a result of this he got shell shock, and while he stuck it out for a couple of years here, at the end of that it actually affected the rest of his life.

Narrator: Peter’s story was remarkably accurate. The hotel owners, for example, told us of veterans that came back over the years – some had even had amputations here. They made their way down into the cellar to make their peace with this place. And that is typical of the whole story of this battle – it is far from being distant dusty history. What happened in this countryside still casts its shadow across the present. A whole generation of young men was lost here. And because of the way the men were recruited and kept together in fighting units as so called lads or pals, all the young men from a school or a village or even a street, could be wiped out in a single attack.

Ralph Bennett, World War 1 Historian: What’s tragic in British military history is that in the case of the Leeds pals, or the Bradford pals, or sections of Manchester: these batallions would enlist as friends, as colleagues. In the case of the church lads, 32 of them that assaulted Highwood worked at the same factory. And in an hour an area of a town could lose a generation of their young people.  And what would happen, the notice would arrive, and in those days there was a tradition of drawing down the blinds in grief, so the whole town would have lost their youth. After the Somme, the British changed their recruitment policy, so it never could quite happen again.

Narrator: But change came too late for the young men of Newfoundland. This particular line of trenches was the scene of one of the worst tragedies of the battle. The attack had fizzled out within an hour or so. But the generals wanted a breakthrough. They offered up the Newfoundland volunteers, a regiment that consisted of almost the entire male population of the then dominion of Newfoundland. And they went into attack.

Tom: The attack had actually fizzled out in this area at 7:30 or shortly afterwards. And an order was given to renew the attack with the Newfoundlanders with the Essex regiment accompanying them. The communication trenches which brought the Newfoundlanders this way were so choked with the dead and dying from the 7:30 attack just here that the officers decided to proceed over the top, so they climbed out of the trenches and walked over the top – which made them instantly visible to every German in the area. Nothing much had happened here, it was about 8:20am, nothing much had happened here for half an hour. And so the German defenders in their front line trenches, immediately behind me, about 500 yards away, were able to direct the fire of every spare available weapon onto the Newfoundlanders as they advanced. And as the Newfoundlanders reached the British trenches and had to pass through gaps cut in the wire, that’s where the killing grounds were. They literally fell in heaps; those behind had to climb over the bodies of their comrades who had already fallen, and nobody got more than a few dozen yards from the trench. And at the roll call later it was found that between 700 and 750, depending on which source you go to, were unaccounted for at the end of the battle.

Narrator: As if to heighten the drama of the scene, the sun began to go into partial eclipse just as we began to reach this line of trenches. Peter hadn’t been told this story and as far as we knew had no knowledge of it. He spent some time walking along the line of the old earthworks. Then, either from natural compassion, or perhaps from the sheer weight of the pain and the fear that he felt he was literally overcome [we see him fall to his knees]. He was only able to talk about it calmly later on.

Peter: Around this vicinity there seem to be a lot of people, a lot of spirits who are stuck, who haven’t moved over since the first world war. Their main problem seems to be a loss of direction, a loss of control. And there’s a lot of anxiety and fear about them as well. So if you mix all this lot together, they’re finding it very hard to move from the positions they were last in when they died. And there are pockets of energy which suggest there are spirits trapped all over the place, but they’re concentrated in certain areas. A lot of them don’t appear to have moved very far from where they fell on the battle fields. It’s almost as if they’re reliving the events which brought them to the end of their lives. And  they’re trapped in a cycle of reliving these events and the terror involved in them. Because terror is the underriding sensation through the whole of this episode.

Narrator: The Newfoundland battle took place in July. In August and September of this long hot summer and through October the battle raged on. And groups of men gave their lives to capture a mere patch of trees or a small wood. The names of these places have gone down in history – Devil’s wood and Highwood, for instance. Today they have become the haunt of amateur historians who spend days, even weeks, prowling across a battlefield where every ditch and hollow has its grim story to tell.

Ralph Bennett: The church lads marched 16 miles to get to a little wood outside of Bazentin le petit and they spent the night under shell fire and gas. And in the morning they got up and attacked Highwood, and they crossed the land between Bazentin le Petit and Highwood, under heavy shellfire and gas and under heavy machine gun fire, company A of that particular battalion was just about wiped out. They lost all their officers, all their non-commissioned officers. And they were penned down just inside the wood, where you can see a slight trench system now. The terror of that day is recorded in a lot of their writings. One in particular, Jack [?] talked about being in a shell hole, having watched his CEO Colonel go into shell shock, and then not only watching his pals being killed by shell fire, but then as the shells continued to hit, watching their bodies catapault into the air and turn over and over and come down again until they were literally broken apart, these bodies.

Narrator: When Peter came to Highwood it was clearly a very painful experience. For him it was almost as if the battle was still raging around him.

Peter: The pain of this place is intense as anywhere on this field. If ever Christ was crucified, it was here. I’m picking up pictures of the war of attrition that wouldn’t  go away, of men wandering around clutching onto each other, they couldn’t see a thing – there’s mist of pain. It’s utter carnage, it’s utter desolation. The feeling of abandonment is so great in this place that if ever a bird sang in these trees it’d need a lot of courage. The feeling is that just in front of us, only a few yards away, are trenches where hundreds of men, hundreds upon hundreds seemed to fall. And I’m seeing swirling gas, I’m seeing bayonets, I’m seeing all the paraphernalia of war, at its most cruel, at its most destructive. Poor souls that fell here. There’s so many that are hidden away, that we’ll never find. The lesson is never to forget.

Narrator: There is no doubt that the Somme was a tragedy on an epic scale. A massive European bloodbath, a whole generation of French and German and British and Commonwealth men lies buried beneath these fields. And there is no doubt that the battle lives on in the memories of the families who lost people here. And in the minds of soldiers who still walk the battlefield. They often talk of the shadow of a comrade at their shoulder. Or glimpsed out of the corner of an eye. But does it live on in any other sense, in Peter’s sense? With groups of men still wandering these fields in which they experienced such fear and met their death. It is of course impossible to say. There is no doubt that many of the details that Peter described were very close indeed to the actual events of the battle. As for the names, they are in a sense absolutely astonishing. But it has to be said that there can be no cast iron proof that Peter did not acquire his knowledge in some other way, however difficult that might seem. We can only leave it to you to make your own judgment.


Ghost Hunters: Echoes from Beyond the Grave

I don't know about all this. Chrissie makes ghosts sound like spiders (they're more afraid of you than you are of them). Her whole encounter could be in her imagination. Peter Bowers was pulled in for the Phantom Fisherman episode and I can't say as I was particularly impressed then. This time it wouldn't take much for Peter to assume the ghost was a biker, it's not like the pub wasn't famous for them and they do have a habit of dying young. Landlady Sue seems to me the most level-headed witness and she definitely experienced a phantom biker carrying his helmet, and I like her story a lot. She would have told the details to Chrissie though, one imagines. And thus Chrissie had something on which to pin her own tale. Also with Sue, I really liked the way she wanted to call out and ask poor Biker Ghost whether he truly wanted to be moved up the escalator during Peter's 'release process'. Quite right, why do all these psychics feel obliged to move everyone one? It seems quite egotistical. The process sounded very daft on the video, with Peter summoning the Biker Ghost over in a soppy little voice as though he were a dog. One wonders if the weird goings-on ceased.

(And as for Colin Wilson, philosopher my eye. 'Certainly Ancient Egyptian priests could see spirits wandering around'. And his stuff about people in Patagonia and the North Pole having similar beliefs... er no. They live in entirely different environments. It makes a difference you know. He's just Rent-A-Remark unfortunately.)

Chrissie: If you know anything about the other side, you have to imagine there’s like a glass wall. When they bump into you it’s just as scary for them to see somebody living as it is for us to see somebody from the other side. Or catch a glimpse of them.

Narrator: Cockington is a small village that lies between the southern slopes of Dartmoor and the sea in southern England. It’s surrounded by lush green pastures and it has an almost picture postcard beauty with its neat rows of whitewashed cottages with their clipped thatched roofs and its narrow winding streets. At its centre lies the village green and an ancient coaching inn. The Drum Inn has a long history but in more recent times had a reputation as a haunt for bikers. In the 60s and 70s motorcyclists gathered here from all over southern England.

Larry, Landlord: Going back about 15 years ago, the Drum Inn was well known in the area as being a bikers’ pub. It was a gradual thing that had occurred over a period of time. But in the mid 70s you couldn’t come anywhere near Cockington without seeing swarms of motorcycles. The problem then was a commercial thing, that it was putting off other types of visitors to the area and to the pub in particular. Families would drive up to the pub and see hoards of motorcycles parked outside.

Narrator: What is less well known,  in fact it’s known only to a small group of people, is that the inn also has a ghost. The ghost or apparition, it seems, of a motorcyclist dressed in full leather gear. He has been experienced at various times over the last 5 or 6 years, in particular by the three or four people who live and work here.

Chris, Barman: Er it was late one night. Normally I can run up and down to the cellar absolutely no problem whatsoever. We had just closed and I was doing all my normal cellar work that I had to do, and as I went down into the cellar, I carried on down, as I hit the actual cellar floor I came over with an immense sense of chill and cold. And I could hardly move. It was quite frightening at the time looking back on it, I mean it doesn’t affect me now. But it just happened this once where you know, this er, presence, made itself known.

Larry: Quite often when I’m working alone in the cellar I catch things out of the corner of my eye, I look round expecting people to be standing behind me, and er hearing things that I really can’t explain.

Sue, Landlady: Within the first year of us living here I noticed - there was always somebody behind me, or a movement out the corner of my eye. I could never quite understand what it was. And one winter’s evening I was working in the kitchens, and somebody came in through the door. And my dog, who’s a guard dog, would usually bark very loudly, or if it was a member of staff would wag her tail and be very excited. And this evening she just didn’t move, she didn’t stir. And this person walked down in leather biker gear, and with a helmet and everything like that, and I couldn’t work out who he was. And he was taking his gloves off and he turned to walk down where you hang your coats up. At this time of year all the back doors are locked, obviously, for security. And as I walked to meet him he totally vanished and disappeared. And I just couldn’t understand what it was. But I saw it so clearly. And even to this day I know exactly what I saw and how I saw it.

Narrator: Until a couple of years ago, that was as far as it went. Then a pop group from Plymouth was invited to play at the inn. The lead singer was a young woman called Chrissie. She had a rather unusual background – she’d been brought up as a gypsy and she would describe herself as a ‘sensitive’. At one point in the evening the entire group was invited down into the cellar.

Chrissie, Singer: I think we were just sitting around being sociable, and something was said to the landlady about the history behind the pub, and I think that initiated something along the lines of A Mysterious Happening , or something had been felt, a presence of some sort. I think she was quite interested to see whether I could actually bring, pick anything up. I think in the heat of the excitement everybody trundled down to the cellar, to sort of see if they could feel or see something. I don’t know what their expectations were, whether they were expected to see this floating sheet above them going ‘whooo!’ But um, they seemed – it very quickly calmed down. The minute they got down there they realised that something wasn’t going to materialise, it wasn’t something quite as clear cut as people imagine. And at that point I said ‘Would you mind leaving me on my own?’ – so they did.

Narrator: Within a few minutes of the others leaving Chrissie began an encounter with a spirit or n entity, call it what you will, which if you accept it at face value takes us into a different world. It seems to give a most extraordinary view of what is often called The Other Side.

Chrissie: Right in the corner of that cellar is a, like a, it looks like a huge cupboard. And the minute the air cleared, he just walked out and said hello. And we just immediately got into conversation with each other. I didn’t ask him the, the sort of questions that people would automatically think of asking, like how did you die, how long have you been dead. It was like, it’s like talking to somebody else who’s living, but acknowledging that there are some personal questions that you don’t ask. He was about five, about five nine or ten, medium build, quite long legs. And completely dressed in leather with large boots. And he held his helmet the whole time, his crash helmet under his arm. It never moved from his body, it was almost like it was attached to him. Obviously everything was black. I don’t actually remember much about his facial features because I couldn’t really see him that well in the light. He spoke with a sort of local accent. But again it’s hard to actually remember exactly what his dialect was.

Narrator: Chrissie claims that she had what amounts to a conversation with the young motorcyclist, in which described his ongoing life or existence or being - it’s difficult to know what word to use. Almost as if there had been no interruption, no discontinuity. She claims for example, that he described how he still spends hours polishing and cleaning his bike, even chatting to his mates.

Chrissie: It was his private place, he liked to be there. Er, he spent time with his friends. It was good happy times, peaceful times. Er, cleaning his bike, sitting talking. Just having time out I think, from the everyday burdens that all of us face whether it’s work or other commitments. And yet he wanted to make sure that I knew it was his private domain. He didn’t want that interrupted at all. And that he was quite shy, and very apologetic at the hint of upsetting anybody or causing any anxiety. I think what was so noticeable about him was that as a biker he was really quite shy and reserved. So it seems obvious to me that it was a great effort for him to come out and speak to me. I think he must have heard everybody trundle down to the cellar.

Narrator: In her quite extraordinary account Chrissie creates a picture that has echoes  of ancient civilisations in Egypt and China, for example, where people were buried with their possessions, and their musical instruments and so on, to continue their life on the other side. She claims for example, to have talked with the ghostly biker even about the music he still listened to.

Chrissie: The music he referred to was very much the music of the 70s – the Born To Be Wild stuff. And anything that was to do with the masculinity of riding a bike. Because he was a shy type he didn’t seem that keen on the really aggressive rock. I think he just enjoyed the 70s stuff really. I think with bikers their own language is through their clothes and the machine they ride, and the language of music, so that’s quite significant. I felt that the time he gave me was very precious anyway and I didn’t feel it was right to keep him.

Narrator: The extraordinary encounter in the basement of the village inn between the musician and the biker’s ghost contains such extraordinary detail that we decided to call in an internationally known psychic medium to see if he could make contact, and if so would the accounts match up. We gave him no information other than the fact there had been a number of sightings. When he arrived at the inn, Peter the medium spent some time exploring the house. Then he sat down in a particular corner – a corner as it happened where several strange experiences had taken place. Then almost immediately he began to hold what can only be described as a conversation with someone or something unseen. But the similarities to Chrissie’s description were quite remarkable.

Peter Bowers, Psychic Medium:  I’ve got a young man, he’s in his early 20s, perhaps heading up to 25 – 23, 25, something like that. He feels as though he’s slim quite slim, and a bit taller than me, so that makes him what – six foot one, something like that. He’s got a motorbike helmet which he’s taken off, and his hair, his hair comes down to about here on his neck, it’s darker hair much darker than mine, towards the black. He had an accident about three or four miles away from here. But the reason that he is in here is because this is the local place where he used to come to. This is where his friends were. He feels at home here. And he’s made me sit in his seat , because this is where he prefers to be. The message that I’m getting is that he in fact, just before he died there seems to have been some sort of emotional upset with a young lady, which caused him a great deal of grief and anxiety. And led to him, not directly but indirectly, to him actually having the accident that killed him. It was an accident that killed him, it wasn’t a deliberate thing. There’s a great deal of sorrow building up around him. A great deal of sadness inside him. And the feeling is he’s been wandering about here for a long long time. He’s trying to go over, but he’s just wanting to say he’s sorry. Now he’s talking about people because he’s frightened quite a few people. By his sudden appearances. And what he’s saying is that every so often the emotion, the feeling and the emotion around him gets so strong that he just materialises to other people. He’s not materialising to me in that sense at the moment, but no doubt other people will have seen him in a solid form. And this is when he’s either attracted to somebody because of the sympathy they would send out to him, or else the pain that he’s suffering at that precise point is too much. Now he doesn’t do this very often – he’s talking about six appearances he’s made to various people over the last 4 or 5 years especially, especially over the last four or five years. So he’s gradually been building up to a stage where he’s asking to be released. And to get away from it all.

Narrator: Peter felt compelled to take some action, to respond to the appeal he claimed to have received. We followed him down to the cellar, to a spot close in fact to where Chrissie claimed to have had her encounter. He began to go through what he described as a release process.

Peter: I would ask those who are with me just to be still for a moment and think of him as a person who’s been lost for many years between these worlds, and who’s now taking a big step in his life. Because he’s going to be free for the first time in a long time. So what we do is we create an energy into which he can move. [He swirls the air with his hand] Come on sunshine, where are you. Ok. It’s all right. Come on. Towards me. You’re ok. Ok come on, you’re all right. There’s nothing to bother about. You can do it. Just walk into the light. Ok. He’s moving forward now towards me. He’s actually standing in front of me now. Ok it’s all right. Just bring yourself forward. That’s it. Just step into the light. That’s it. Ok, you’re in. We ask the Divine Living Father, that this your servant be received into the light, Amen. Ok. Thank you.

Narrator: Peter took with him down to the cellar a number of people whom he said were needed to absorb some of the emotional energy of the parting. When we spoke to them immediately afterwards they clearly had experienced a powerful emotional connection.

Sue: Just before Peter was releasing him, I felt I wanted to shout to him, to call him, to make sure this is the right thing that we were doing, that this was really what he wanted. I had to really hold myself back from calling his name, not that I really know it, but I just felt I needed to shout, to yell at him, to say is this right, is this what you want? Then once Peter had said that was it, he had gone – and it all happened so very quickly – which surprised me, I thought it was something that would take a while – I felt I wanted him to say, to show us something that he was fine and he was safe. I still feel a little bit like that. I felt calmer. While it was going on I felt very tingly, my arms were aching, I felt very strange. I can’t explain. Like having a very mild electrical sensation up my arms. That’s still there slightly, but it’s gone. But I feel, it’s like a sad, - it’s not sad. I can’t explain, I just feel very strange.

Narrator: One has to ask, how much of this is pure theatre, pure hokum. Most scientists would say just about all of it. But is that the whole picture, if there’s nothing here of what science is best at – nothing to measure, nothing to weigh, nothing to run controlled tests on. We’re into a different world. A world that has a high emotional or spiritual dimension. Certainly a world where science has never been very comfortable. And the same is undoubtedly true of Peter’s explanation of what was going on.

Peter: Basically he’s some sort of energy form. He hasn’t got a body the same as you and I but he’s got an energy form. Now his energy form rightly shouldn’t be on the earth. And people ask me this question and I say well you’ve seen relatives die, and you can go and look at a body a few hours after death and you’ll say ‘there’s nothing there’ – whatever it is, that spark has gone. In the normal course of events people will move from one vibration, from one place to another. I mean religiously it might be called Heaven. But if you think of it in terms of energy instead of religion, the scientific method, they’ve moved one vibration to another and they’re away. Now if a person goes from this world unprepared, and not prepared to go, then they can, through no fault of their own really, find themselves in some sort of inbetween world of existence. The nearest that I could describe it is like walking through a foggy room. And that you are not where you feel you rightly belong, either here or on the earth, because you can’t communicate with anybody. Except occasionally in this case when this young man manifested to people on odd occasions. So he did have some form of communication with certain people. But neither was he with those who have also passed over, previously. So he’s in between the two. I mean the nearest is being stuck on an escalator between floors.

Narrator: That kind of an explanation is not unique. It’s one that’s been expressed by psychic mediums for over a hundred years, longer. And the fundamental problem of course is that we’re out at the very edge of the credible, well beyond the bounds of conventional scientific analysis. That’s very frustrating of course, particularly if you are of a scientific bent, and like nice neat equations. But, we have to ask, does that make it any less real?

Colin Wilson, Philosopher: Anthropologists were very much struck by the fact that the basic spiritual beliefs of people who could not have had any cultural contact, you know people living in Patagonia and people living at the north pole, did appear to have identical spiritual beliefs, and these spiritual beliefs always involved the notion that it is possible for spirits not to know that they’re dead, and for spirits to be able to get trapped into a kind of limbo from which they need to be released, if possible, by the actions of the living. So this seems to be a general belief of all people all over the world, and I would take it that it’s true.

Dr John Beloff, Psychologist: My own philosophy is rather dualistic, I think there are one set of laws for the mind and another set for matter, and er, and that what science knows to a very advanced degree are the laws that govern the behaviour of matter, and perhaps the laws that govern the behaviour even of the brain. But over and above all that I believe that mind is a power in the universe and that mind can achieve things that are simply not allowed for in the accepted scientific scheme, which is basically a physicalistic picture of reality.

Bernard Carr, Professor of Astrophysics: If you’re a physicist you tend to think of the real world as the three dimensions of space, one dimension of time. The four dimensional world of Einstein – that’s what we tend to think of as reality. So you say something is real because it exists in that four dimensional world. Four dimensional space-time. But my own view is that we cannot be completely sure that that’s what reality consists of exclusively. One has to bear in mind the possibility that there could be a higher level of reality, of which what we call the physical world is just a part. So that even if something isn’t real in that four dimensional spacetime of physics, conceivably there might be this higher world with respect to which it might have reality.

Colin Wilson: If we could get back to this state of mind that was probably absolutely taken for granted at the time in Ancient Egypt when they built the pyramids, say 2500bc, we would find this whole question of the paranormal self evidenced and obvious. There wouldn’t be any question about it. Because they didn’t see any distinction between this world and the next.  And I’m sure they were perfectly right, I’m sure they could actually see spirits wandering around. Certainly their priests could. Now we’ve deliberately supressed that faculty because it’s useless to us. It would distract us, and would certainly distract us from building the type of civilisation we’ve got. Therefore it’s extremely important that we don’t start getting it back!

Narrator: It has to be said that nothing about the events at the Drum Inn can be described as proven in the scientific sense. But then our minds are difficult to identify, yet we’re all quite sure we have one. There’s clearly much more to this world than is dreamt of in the purely scientific philosophy. The 64 thousand dollar question is clearly, how much more. It would seem that Chrissie’s encounter lies in that grey area. The conversation she claims to have had with a young man who died all those years ago would seem to raise the most profound questions about what happens after death.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Ghost Hunters: The Phantom Fisherman

This episode really doesn't strike me as being terribly convincing. So some people smell a strong fishy smell in a house. A so-called medium comes in and tells John all sorts of stuff about a dead man who's leaving the smell. He uses the name James Goldsworthy and tells him a date and that he's buried in a church. He goes to the records office to find that a James Goldsworthy is actually buried at the church down the road. So why should we not assume that the medium went to the office in advance too? And anyway, how common is 'Goldsworthy' in Plymouth? James can't be very rare. Perhaps if you check 50 years of parish records you'd turn one up. Peter hasn't specified the church other than it's old, on a hill, and over looks water (which could apply to a lot of places).

The first paragraph from the narrator is utter speculation (and doesn't even sound right - the map seems to show an orchard, not scrubland). 

I found it quite funny that James Goldsworthy's wife had left him (according to Peter) and there's poor John also estranged from his family, as though Peter had cynically echoed the two men's stories. 

The thing is, John hasn't given the afterlife much thought. He "believes in god, obviously, I mean most people do". And now he's being chucked in with a woman who invites 'spirits' to sit down on the sofa, and Peter the medium. It's no wonder he feels his life's been turned upside down. It's no wonder he leaps to paranormal conclusions when everyone else round him is happy to accept them.

The coincidence with one of his driving school pupils being called James Goldsworthy is quite good. But it's hard to see where that might fit in.

But ultimately I think he should check the drains and under the fridge. Maybe there is a ghostly fisherman pushing his barrow through the house every night at teatime. But I would check the obvious first.

Narrator: Close to the centre of the ancient fishing port of Plymouth lies the old church of Stoke Damerel. It stands on the crest of the hill overlooking a narrow valley. It dates back several hundred years. It lies at the centre of a remarkable story that links the distant past with the immediate present. The story we tell is of an old fisherman who was attacked and robbed close to this church, way back in the middle of the 18th century. And how that event has touched the lives of people here and now in the 1990s. The story revolves around two key figures. One of them is John, a driving instructor, in his mid-30s, divorced with three children, he now lives on his own. He had no experience of or interest in the paranormal, but he was swept up in a string of events that started last April. Peter is quite different. He is an extraordinary and mysterious figure. He claims not only to be able to communicate with the dead, but to obtain from them remarkable insights into the past and even into the future. The story that unfolded tested those claims to the very limit, and we have to say in no way disprove them. John lives in Molesworth [?] road, an ordinary street in Plymouth, a row of typical Victorian houses. Just down the road is Stoke Damerel  Church. Back in the 18th century this area was open scrubland, and Holmfirth road was just a stoney track. It seems that traders and carriers with their cartloads of fish from the harbour would take a shortcut across this scrubland. This is where John’s house now stands. In some way the 18th century events seem to have been reactivated within the walls of the house that now lies across the old fishermen’s track.

John, Driving Instructor: It started in about April last year. I – presumably I got up for a coffee or something. For some reason I got up and walked through the door into the kitchen. And I smelt this fishy smell. And of course I carried on, made the coffee, came back. Then the next night it happened again, but it always happened about the same time  - five to five, five past five. And erm, then the next night and the next night, it continued. But the smell of fish was not just smelt by myself – quite a few people had come into the flat. By my children, who come on a Sunday. And er, if let’s say Daniel sat in the front room, and he used to watch the wrestling which was on Sky 1, the other two didn’t like it very much so they used to go into the bedroom and watch a video or something on the other channels.

Daniel: My brother and sister was watching a video in Dad’s room. So then they said ‘Daniel, Daniel, come in here!’ So I went into the other room, and they said ‘We can smell fish’. And I could smell it to. And I said Dad, maybe it’s your washing powder, why don’t you change your washing powder?

John: And I changed to a really expensive powder, and of course the smell was still there! So I went back to my cheap powder again!

Peter, Neighbour: John asked me to look after his flat while he went away for the weekend. He gave me the keys and I went in and had a look around. But as I went in the door, there was a very strong, overpowering smell of fish. And it was really bad. And I looked around the flat and nothing appeared to be out of order, everything was ok. And I came out again and I wondered what the smell was, and when I got back I told Yvonne, that’s the wife, about the smell.

Narrator: Smells and odours might seem a totally unlikely hint of underlying paranormal activity. In fact there is a long and detailed record of their being linked both to some types of psychic hallucination as well as to paranormal events. In this case it seems unlikely to be hallucination as we have no fewer than six independent witnesses. Professor Archie Roy has no doubts that there can be a powerful link between smells and the paranormal.

Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy:  It’s not just that people see apparitions, and it’s not just that they sometimes hear voices. Every sense can register seemingly… phenomena. There have been many cases of people who must be taken to be honest, and have said that they have suddenly smelt a particular perfume, or a noxious smell, and subsequently it has disappeared. I myself have had a case where there was a very powerful perfume. So heavy, so old-fashioned, that I was sure my clothes would stink of it for hours afterwards.And then the entity (if it was an entity) said ‘I must go now, goodbye’ and the perfume was cancelled like that!

Bernard Carr, Professor of Astrophysics: As far as I’m concerned, smell is just one of the sense modalities, and just as some people see apparitions, other people hear sounds, if you like, and not physical but auditory hallucinations. Some people have tastes and some people have smells. And in a way the smells, the sense of smell is the most primitive, in the sense that if we go back to earlier lifeforms, the smell was one of the first ones to be developed. And indeed when people are falling into unconsciousness or dying, they say that smell is one of the last sense modes to go.

Narrator: But for John, the sense of something strange going on in his house had become too much. It constantly nagged away at his mind – this same event happening at the same time every evening. Eventually he summoned up the courage to confide in a friend who had some interest in paranormal events.

Mandy: John had worried, all anxious, about what had been going on. So the only thing that I could think of doing was contact Peter Bowers, who was some acquaintance of mine. Because he is more in tune with the spirit world, and I thought he would be the best person to pick up on what was going on.

John: He said, I’m actually coming to Plymouth tonight, to Plympton. But he said I will call round and help you, I’ll get rid of whatever it is. And he said, I will be there at seven o’clock. So fine, great. Mandy and I sat there having a coffee, having a chat, trying to discuss what we think it possibly could be. And at five to seven there’s a knock on te front door.

Mandy: John looked out the window, and there was nobody there. Also remembering at this point that this spirit wasn’t in the flat with us at that time. So anyway the knock came again. John thought it was Peter Bowers, but as I said when he looked out the window there was nobody there. And the knock came again and I said, well of course it could be that this spirit has been invited here by Peter Bowers, so we must let him in.

John: I said, ah, right, well you can answer the door then! So she brushed past me, opened the front door. And as she opened the door she said “Come in.” There was nobody there. It was spooky if you as me.

Mandy: As he walked past me, I could smell the fishy odour that had been associated with him. And he actually went right past me and right past John, who was like stood nearer to the flat door. Um, and er, we then, John and I went into the flat door, closed the door, and I said to this spirit, well have a seat, make yourself comfortable at home. Because my belief is that you treat them – they still think that they’re alive, so you have to talk to them as though they are alive.

John: By this time the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up like you wouldn’t believe, you know. And she said ‘sit down’ in this chair next to me. And the smell of fish was actually surrounding this chair.

Narrator: A few moments later Peter arrived. Remember he had had no warning, no previous connection to John and his story. All he knew about was the strange smell. He claims to have sensed the presence of some alien entity immediately. He went on to describe his contact in extraordinary detail. His age, physical appearance, the robbery, even most unlikely of all – a name.

Peter Bowers, Psychic Medium: Now the feeling was that it was a man about sixty, sixty five. A small man who would only come up to here on me, up to my shoulder. With rather thick set, greying hair. But with a very unhappy and miserable expression on his face. He gave me a date of 1759 and he gave me a name of John Goldsworthy. And he told me that he’d been if you like an itinerant fish merchant of some description, or pedlar, something like that. And he’d had a route of going from the back of the barbican where he lived, collecting fish and other commodities from various places where they’d been landed, and bringing them up round to the villages at the back of Plymouth. Then he’d go round the circuit and back home by the evening. And at some point in time he’d been robbed in the vicinity of this place and this house. And as a result of that it had caused a lot of hurt in his life. He’d been injured and his arm had been broken. His wife had left him at some stage. And all his misfortune if you like flowed from this one incident here. When a soul comes like this to be released, it’s necessary for them to make a connection through to the other side where they need to go. Because they’re trapped in a lower vibration down here on the earth, and they haven’t got the ability themselves to raise themselves into this new situation where they want to be. The reason they’re trapped is their sadness or fear or whatever of the condition they’ve got around them. So in this case what I did standing on the spot that I’m standing on now, I opened a vortex of energy into which he stepped, and it has the same effect as an elevator. And when the energy is right and he is in the right energy field, it’s literally just a case of him passing up and going. Now we always say a little prayer, the same as we would for anybody else that is hurt. And this is what happened on this occasion. And he was just lifted from this room where I’m standing now in the hall, and the whole thing would only take three or four minutes, it doesn’t take an enormous amount of time.

Narrator: This account, for all its graphic detail, leaves us with the eternal problem of what to believe. We have no way of sorting fact from fiction. Peter’s story could all be pure fabrication. But in this case the strange events at John’s house that evening were only the starting point. They opened up a remarkable trail and enabled James Goldsworthy of 1759 to make contact with James Goldsworthy 1996.

Narrator: immediately after Peter’s visit to the house in Moorsworth road, the strange events stopped. But for John it was an unexpected reaction. Instead of a sense of release he felt a deep sense of loss as though a member of the family had passed away.

John: The night after all this had happened I was sat in here by myself and it was about nine ten o’clock at night. I was watching something like the news at ten on the television. And I felt really, as though I‘d lost something or somebody. Like when you lose a member of the family and you get that horrible gut feeling. I had tears running down my face for some reason, and I was crying, I was sat here crying and I didn’t know the reason why. And obviously I knew it had something to do with what had happened. So  I rang up Peter and asked him what he thought it was. And he said, of course you’re going to feel like this for a couple of days afterwards. Because what he got rid of has been around for 2, 250 years. And at that point I decided I wanted to find out a little bit more about who he was, what he was. I started by asking Pete some questions, and he just started rattling it off. It was like he was talking to somebody up there.

Peter: The owner asked me if I could give him any more information to trace the man. Which I must admit was the furthest thing from my mind at that time. I told him that within the next few days something would happen which would make the whole situation much clearer. I wasn’t sure what that would be, only that something was going to happen which would tie in with the name of the man which we’d been given – James Goldsworthy.

Narrator: Only a few days later, the first part of Peter’s extraordinary prediction fell into place. John was giving a driving lesson to a complete stranger: a young man whose name was Jimmy, Jimmy Taylor.

John: We’d just finished the driving lesson and we sat down and I did a debrief with him. And he was talking about his stepfather who was taking driving lessons. And I said, send him to me, I’ll teach him how to drive, just jokingly. And I said, well if he’s your stepdad, where’s your real dad? And he said, oh he died. And what was he called? James Goldsworthy.

Jimmy: And that’s when John freaked out and started telling me about another person called James Goldsworthy that’s supposed to be haunting his house.

John: If your dad is James Goldsworthy then HE is james Goldsworthy, and I’m sat in this car next to James Goldsworthy. And I just couldn’t believe it.

Narrator: Both John and James were stunned by this event, and decided then and there to dig into the records of 18th century Plymouth and find out if there’d ever been a James Goldsworthy. And if so, where he’d lived and died and where he’d been buried. They started with three mysterious clues Peter had claimed to get from the old fisherman. They were looking for an ancient church on a hill overlooking water.

John: He was sixty-ish, around that age, and he died in the middle to late 1700s. He said actually he’s buried in a church in the fold of the hill near water. But, it’s not any church, it was built before the 1500s. So I decided to go to the library and get a book out on churches and historic houses and such like. I went right through the whole lot until I actually found three churches it could possibly be. One was Saint B., one was Stoke Damerel and the other one was on the river but it was quite a long way off so we counted that one out really.

Narrator: The most appropriate church seemed to be the one at Stoke Damerel. It was near where the attack had taken place, and near where as it happened John and James both lived. But there was one major omission, it certainly didn’t overlook water. When we began to dig into the records however, we uncovered an extraordinary and hitherto unknown fact. That back in 1759 it had overlooked water – a tidal creek that ran at the bottom of the hill and was only filled in about a hundred years ago.

Sally, Records Researcher: This is Molesworth Road. As you can see at the bottom it meets the water of Stonehouse Creek. It was perfectly possible for small fishing boats to make their way up to this area at the bottom of Molesworth road. There were small cottages there that may well have been used as fishing cottages. Nowadays Victoria Park takes the place of Stonehouse Creek, it has been infilled and obviously can no longer be used for fishing.

Narrator: In Victorian times when the creek was filled in to become Victoria Park, the road across the park was clearly built on the lines of an older bridge. The fishing cottages are still there, now overlooking the park. So, Stoke Damerel church fitted Peter’s description in every respect. But what would the burial records reveal? this was the key test of Peter’s claim. If he was right and it should prove the death of a man called James Goldsworthy, some time after the year of the robbery, 1759. They did.

I am Paul Bradford the senior archivist at West Devon Records Office. The County Council’s archives for Plymouth. And we’re responsible for the records of the parish of Stoke Damerel, which is the parish of Devonport. And amongst the burial records that we have, I have a register which includes an entry for the 7th of November 1774 which refers to a burial of one James Goldsworthy.

Narrator: Even with all this historical verification, at first hearing this story seems unbelievable, incredible – how is it possible? How does it fit into our view of reality. Can a man buried here in 1774 should be able to communicate with a living human being over 200 years later. It’s an idea that shatters our everyday frame of reference. But more and more scientists have come to believe that some psychic mediums are tuning in to a communiciations channel that science doesn’t yet understand.

Archie Roy: We have a real and important mystery here. There is no doubt that some mediums are seemingly acting as channels between people on this side and what one might call the communicating intelligence, whatever it may be. Information is got through these mediums that they simply could not have obtained in any normal way. What this also means is that the reductionist materialist model of a human being, as simply the animal that grew the big brain,a nd that you only get information through the five senses and that is all, is embarrassingly inadequate. There are faculties that the human being has that seem to be demonstrated most strongly by the phenomena of mediumship.

Peter: Mr Goldsworthy was trying to make some sort of contact with the James Goldsworhty who is alive now. The reason I’m not sure of. But no doubt the family will be. It’s an unusual occurrence in an instance like this, to get an entity that is actually able to identify itself and give so much information. It isn’t n ormal. But so many strange things happen, and people who I meet often tell me how strange things happen, how coincidences happen – that this is not really abnormal. There are lots of things happening like this all of the time. But it doesn’t sell newspapers and it’s only known by those people who happen to be aware of it at that time.

Narrator: We can only speculate. Can it be that the ancient James Goldsworthy’s purpose in making his presence felt when he did was to ensure the continuation of his name. He needed to contact James Taylor who had abandoned his father’s name. Either way the message from the past has had a profound effect on two people in the present.

Jimmy : I’ve now changed my name to James Goldsworthy to carry on my father’s name. with going through what has happened, the other James Goldsworthy could be a past relative, it’s encouraged me to change my name.

James: Before this experience happened to me I wasn’t very spiritual. I believed in god, obviously, I think most people do. I didn’t go to church. I wasn’t into talking to dead people! If you want to put it that way. Until after the event and now that this has all happened, things have actually been proven to me, where somebody can come into my house and say ‘There’s somebody in your house called James Goldsworthy and he’s buried in the church down the road’. From 250 years ago. Or as close as. I mean how does that guy know this James Goldsworthy? Where did he pick him up from. And the proof is it’s all in the records that this James Goldsworthy has been found. Now to me that is just fantastic. I mean I’m not here on television to try to prove to people that there is something on the other side. I’m just here to tell you that it’s been proven to me. And now my faith is being made so much stronger about the possibility that there is life after death.