A strange horror story from the battlefields of World War I, when a terrible devil-dog was said to haunt the allied trenches.

By Theo Paijmans 

January 2009

Accounts of anomalous occurrences, tall tales and yarns, superstitions and rumours – all are born in the confusion and upheaval of every great conflict, and World War I was no exception. French linguist Albert Dauzat treats several fascinating legends that emerged from military conflicts, and lists a number of tales from WWI in his Légendes, Prophéties et Superstitions de la Guerre. In his book, published two years after the war, Dauzat recounts how he experienced a number of these legends firsthand, such as the rumoured arrival of large contingents of Russian troops: “At Pont-Audemer, a friend told me, during the whole of the Winter of 1914–1915, people believed in the disembarking of the Russians who had come from Arkhangelsk to Honfleur (situated less than 30km [or 19 miles] away), saying ‘I saw them as I saw you.’” Or the bombardment of Paris by the German railway guns, that spawned rumours of curious aerial phenomena: “The first day of the bombardment of Paris by the long distance guns, many persons… declared that they saw parachutes or red ball­oons descending from the air: a hallucination in certain cases that I have observed myself…” [1]

The best-known legend of WWI is undoubtedly that of the Angels of Mons. In connection with this, Dauzat writes of various aerial phenomena witnessed during time of war and tells of another near the end of the war: “In the first days of November 1918, at the moment when President Wilson and the German government were holding preliminary discussions concerning a cease-fire, the tale ran across the American front that a ‘white dove of peace’ had, on a clear day, circled the lines for more than an hour. It was an aeroplane, according to the testimony of a colonel and two majors: they even recalled certain less truthful details, which proved that they too were the victims of a mild form of suggestion. It was, they said, a completely white aeroplane, of a type unknown on the western front, not carrying an insignia of any kind, and, flying very high, it passed over the American trenches, then circled the German lines.” It did so for over an hour, then turned north and disappeared. [2]

This account and many others were quickly forgotten in the turmoil following the end of the bloody conflict. The legend of the Angels of Mons fared better; as late as 1934, various news­papers were publishing all kinds of explanations for the miracle, and it has been the subject of a recent scholarly study. [3] But apparently another, darker rumour hid in the shadows of Mons. The curious tale was published in 1919, but this time bears witness not to miraculous apparitions of angelic beings, but to the evil doings of an enorm­ous hound of hell during those terrible days at the front:

That weird legend of No Man’s Land, the gruesome epic of the ‘hound of Mons’, has, according to FJ Newhouse, a returned Canad­ian veteran, been vindicated throughout Europe as fact and not fiction. For four years civilian sceptics laughed at the soldiers’ tale of a giant, skulking hound, which stalked among the corpses and shell holes of No Man’s Land and dragged down British soldiers to their death. An apparition of fear-crazed minds, they said. But to the soldiers it was a reality and one of the most fearful things of the world war.

“The death of Dr Gottlieb Hochmuller in the recent Spartacan riots in Berlin”, said Capt. Newhouse, “has brought to light facts concerning the fiendish application of this German scientist’s skill that have astounded Europe. For the hound of Mons was not an accident, a phantom, or an halluc­ination – it was the deliberate result of one of the strangest and most repulsive scientific experiments the world has ever known.

Teeth Marks in Throats.
What was the hound of Mons? According to the soldiers, the legend started in the terrible days of the defence of Mons. On the night of November 14, 1914, Capt. Yeskes and four men of the London Fusiliers entered No Man’s Land on a patrol. The last living trace of them was when they started into the darkness between the lines. Several days afterwards their dead bodies were found – just as they had been dragged down – with teeth marks at the throats.

Several nights later a weird, blood-curdling howl was heard from the darkness toward which the British trenches faced. It was the howl of the hound of Mons. From then on this phantom hound became the terror of the men who faced death by bullets with a smile. It was the old fear of the unknown.

Howl is Heard.
Patrol after patrol, during two years of warfare, ventured out only to be found days later with the telltale marks at their throats. The ghastly howl continued to echo through No Man’s Land. Several times sentries declared that they saw a lean, grey wraith flit past the barbed wire – the form of a gigantic hound running silently. But civilian Europe always doubted the story.

Then after two years, while many brave men lost their lives with only those teeth marks at the throat to show, the hound of Mons disappeared. From then on the Germans never had another important success.
“And now”, says Captain Newhouse, “secret papers have been taken from the residence of the late Dr Hochmuller which prove that the hound of Mons was a terrible living reality, a giant hound with the brain of a human madman”.

Monstrous HoundHound Had Human Brain.

Captain Newhouse says that the papers show that this hound was the only successful issue of a series of experiments by which Dr Hochmuller hoped to end the war in Germany’s favour. The scientist had gone about the wards of the German hospitals until he found a man gone mad as the result of his insane hatred of England. Hochmuller, with the sanction of the German government, operated upon him and removed his brain, taking in particular the parts which dominated hatred and frenzy.

At the same time a like operat­ion was performed on a giant Siberian wolfhound. Its brain was taken out and the brain of the madman inserted. By careful nursing the dog lived. The man was permitted to die.
The dog rapidly grew stronger and, after careful training in fiendishness, was taken to the firing line and released in No Man’s Land. There for two years it became the terror of outposts and patrols. [4]

Could there possibly be any truth in this outrageous tale? There are a number of ways of interpreting it; leaving aside the fact that the surgical procedure described above is quite impossible, the story does resemble plenty of other spurious tales of alleged atrocit­ies committed by the German troops. While legends concerning the Allied forces usually show them as being saved by angelic beings or the Christ-like ‘Comrade in White’, those concerning the German army tend to concern completely unproven atrocities committed by ‘the Hun’. Most of these tales have since been proven to be nothing more than crude propaganda (even if the same can’t be said of the German army’s conduct in WWII).

Then there is the element of that fiendish doctor Gottlieb Hochmuller – of whose existence I have found no evidence – and his bizarre medical procedures, which echo the dark experiments of his fictional fellow countryman of some centuries before, Baron von Frankenstein.

The story of the Hound of Mons remains one of the strangest to come from the front, although there are plenty more weird rumours to be found, such as those concerning free-roaming bands of derelicts and deserters from both sides who turned cannibal and stalked the labyrinthine trenches of no-man’s land.

The sudden disappearance of the Hound of Mons in Newhouse’s account has elements of the fairy tale and the various legends of demon dogs and hell hounds. But perhaps a huge dog really did stalk the trenches; perhaps, abandoned by its master as Mons turned into a battlefield, it turned feral and, in its hunger, prowled the battlefield, giving rise to this strange story. I have never heard of the tale before; but scattered accounts and sightings of a huge dog at Mons might have given rise to this tale that was all but forgotten after the much more dramatic – and much more favourable – one of the Angels of Mons.

Newhouse’s tale can also be seen as the clever concoction of an enterprising journalist, or of the Canadian veteran himself, forming a variant of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of The Baskervilles; this story, published in 1902, is reportedly inspired by legends of a black hound on Dartmoor – or elsewhere in Britain. In this regard we also note that famous thriller writer Agatha Christie placed one of her supernatural short stories, The Hound of Death (1933), in Belgium during World War I. [5] It is a strange tale with decidedly Lovecraftian undertones (his story The Hound dates from 1922), and one in which Christie makes use of another legend of the Great War, that of German soldiers attempting to take over a convent during the invasion of Belgium. In her story, as soon as the soldiers enter the building it explodes, killing them all. Dauzat remarks in his book that French author Leon Bloy, who died in 1917, tells of an event allegedly having occurred in 1914, where German soldiers tried to enter a church in which was housed a miraculous statue. Its doors would not open, so the German officer commanded them to be blasted away by the cannons. All of a sudden, the doors opened by themselves, as if magically; but the German troops who prepare to enter the church all fall dead at the spot. Writes Dauzat: “Similar legends have been formed or created in Bavaria, in Austria and all through the Orient.” [6]

1  Albert Dauzat: Légendes, Prophéties et Superstitions de la Guerre, la Renaissance Du Livre, 1920, pp30–31.

2  Ibid, pp231–232.

3  David Clarke: The Angel Of Mons, Wiley, 2004.

4  “American Wolf Hound With Brain of a Man Was Terror to No Man’s Land”, Evening News, Ada, Oklahoma, 11 Aug 1919.

5  Agatha Christie: The Hound of Death and Other Stories, Odhams Press, 1933.

READ  1916: Never Again!

6  op.cit., Dauzat, p118. 

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