War brings with it horror. The battlefields of World War I were no exception and the trenches here may as well have been meat grinders as they swallowed countless souls in an orgy of blood and death. However, the ever present threat of death from the enemy was not always the only horror that lied in wait within the labyrinthine trenches of the war. From the fog of blood, brutality and violence of the Word War I trenches comes the bizarre story of a mysterious and deadly creature that was said to prowl the danger-ridden no man's land during fierce fighting during the Battle of Mons.
The Battle of Mons was so named for the small Belgian village of Mons, which was to become the scene of vicious fighting between British and German forces. In 1914, German troops had occupied Mons and the British, in what was their first foray into battle during World War I, valiantly marched in to try and liberate it. The British were heavily outnumbered and quickly sustained large amounts of fatalities against the punishing German onslaught. The battle devolved into perilous trench warfare as the tenacious British forces dug in and continued the fight, with both sides ravaging the other with artillery fire, machine gun batteries, and constant, tedious shooting as well as even barbarous hand to hand combat in the bloodsoaked mud of the trenches.
Between the trenches of the two enemy sides was what is referred to as the no man's land. This term was used mostly in World War I and refers to the disputed area that lies between the trenches of two enemy sides that both lay claim to but are afraid to move into openly out of fear and uncertainty about what will happen if they do. No man's lands were typically heavily defended and fortified on both sides and any movement into them typically resulted in a pulverizing rain of weapon fire, thus ensuring that these zones become barren wastelands where no one dared to tread. The only time anyone ventured into the no man's land was during efforts to gain ground on the enemy, when retreating, or for the purpose of collecting wounded after an attack. These were horrific pathways through Hell itself that were often crisscrossed with snarled webs of barbed wire and dotted with rudimentary land mines and the mangled bodies of those not lucky enough to make it across. Michael Morpurgo described a typical no man's land scene in his book War Horse thus:
‘I stood in a wide corridor of mud, a wasted, shattered landscape, between two vast unending rolls of barbed wire that stretched away into the distance behind me and in front of me. I remembered I had been in such a place once before, that day when I had charged across it with Topthorn beside me. This was what the soldiers called “no-man’s land”.’
It was the no man's land at the Battle of Mons that spawned the story of a mysterious beast that stalked the edges of barbed wire and did not hesitate to slaughter both British and German soldiers alike; an enormous hound that came to be known as the The Hound of Mons.
The tale of The Hound of Mons was originally brought to public attention in 1919 by a Canadian war veteran by the name of F.J. Newhouse, who brought back the gruesome tale from the battlefield. The story was originally published in a 1919 edition of the Ada Evening News from Oklahoma, but was soon picked up by other publications of the time. According to the account, the incident started when a Capt. Yeskes and four men of the London Fusiliers braved the perils of no man's land in order to carry out a patrol of the area. The patrol never returned. This was not strange in and of itself, remember this was a bloody battle during World War I. But when the bodies of the men were found several days later, it was discovered that something had ripped their throats out and left gaping teeth marks upon the corpses. One night a few days after this, it was reported that soldiers from both sides heard an ear piercing, monstrous howl emanating from the darkness of no man's land. The bloodcurdling shriek was allegedly so terrifying that some soldiers who had braved battle day after day considered retreating at once.
During the ensuing days more patrols would set out into no man's land only to be found later in a similar mauled state, throats ravaged by some huge beast. The occasional anguished cries of terror from German soldiers seemed to indicate that they were suffering similar attacks. The eerie nighttime roars also increased in frequency and it was around this time that some of the soldiers on sentry duty along the edges of no man's land reported seeing an enormous, gray hound skulking about out in the shadows of the war torn chasm between the two enemies. For two years the hound prowled the battlefield of Mons, gaining an ever growing list of victims and instilling horror in the troops. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared the hound was gone and the attacks ceased.
As bizarre as the story is already, it gets even weirder. Newhouse also claimed that not only was The Hound of Mons very real, but that it had been the result of twisted German military experiments trying to make biological weapons. According to Newhouse, a German scientist by the name of Dr. Gottlieb Hochmuller had undertaken a ghastly experiment with the aim of inserting the mind of a deranged maniac into a hound. Newhouse said in an article from the August, 1919 edition of the Oklahoman:
The death of Dr. Gottlieb Hochmuller in the recent Spartacan riots in Berlin 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.”
Newhouse's account alleges that Hochmuller had searched mental asylums far and wide for a suitable subject who had gone insane from his hatred of England. The report claims that upon finding the perfect candidate, the German doctor then had his brain removed and surgically implanted into the body of a large Siberian wolfhound. The giant beast with the brain of a madman was trained and then taken to the battlefield and released into no man's land to do its violent work. Accounts have variously claimed that the hound had been altered to be larger than before, that its capacity for hatred had been chemically enhanced, or that its hide had been made to be impervious to bullets. Newhouse claimed that papers had been found upon Dr. Hochmuller's death that fully outlined the whole experiment as well as the doctor's wishes to unleash the beast on allied troops, and fully proved that the experiments were real. It is not explained whether the doctor had anticipated the maniacal hound turning against its own side or why the walking weapon might have suddenly stopped its rampage.
The whole story certainly has its rather fantastical elements to it, and a fair amount of doubt has been cast on the whole incident. It is hard to believe that Germany or anyone else for that matter would have had the technology to successfully implant a human brain into a dog. This is an impossible feat for us even with our medical technology now let alone in the early 1900s. In addition, there seems to be no available records to demonstrate that Dr. Hochmuler ever even existed. Indeed there is no record to show that there was ever a Captain by the name of Yeskes either, which certainly brings the veracity of the report into question. These facts are reason enough to give one pause. Even at the time there were many civilians who wrote off the story as the ravings and hallucinations of war addled minds. It is even quite possible that Newhouse completely fabricated the whole spooky story from scratch from his traumatized imagination, perhaps in some effort to spread propaganda against Germany.
So what was going on here? Was there really some surgically or even genetically enhanced hellhound stalking the no man's land? Was it pure fancy? If there is any grain of truth to it, then it seems perhaps more likely that wild or feral dogs had perhaps been drawn to the war and had congregated there feed on the dead fallen in battle, upon which their gruesome activities would be spotted by frightened, battle weary soldiers and interpreted as supernatural hounds from hell. This theory would also account for the ghostly howling that was heard from the front lines.I do wonder if dogs would be willing to stick around through all of the riotous cacophony of gunfire blazing around them, but it does offer a rational explanation if indeed the events were even real.
Or perhaps the story derives from some combination of the rational and the imagination. War is an uproar of noise, confusion, and terror punctuated by death. It is a waking nightmare. It is perhaps no wonder that the bedraggled survivors of these horrors on occasion bring back stories of carnage wrought not only by their human enemies, but from the world of nightmares as well. Perhaps the Hound of Mons was one such entity; a menacing apparition prowling through that twilight land between reality and the nightmare world that lies embedded deep within the human psyche. It is quite possible we will never know for sure.