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A Flying Dream in War-Time

Dreamed November 1914 by Mary Arnold-Forster

I was waiting in a high office-like room which I knew to be closely connected with the War Office. Its walls were painted a light green colour, and whilst I waited I noticed that the prints which hung round it were arranged very irregularly and very high up on the walls. I was expecting a dispatch that I had volunteered to carry to the Army Headquarters in Belgium, flying in the manner in which I fly in my dreams.

There was some delay in its coming, and I flew up round the room partly to test my power of flight, but also to see if the window would make a good starting-place. Whilst I circled round I examined the pictures--one, a small engraving of the second Earl Grey, was framed in a narrow "early Victorian" gold frame, and as it hung crookedly, it caught my attention, and I tried to straighten it, but the nail on which it hung was loose and the picture came off into my hand. At that moment the door opened and an official came in. I descended and began to apologise and explain, but he smiled and said it did not signify.

"In fact," he said, "it is rather a lucky coincidence--we were wondering what we could possibly send with you to serve as an introduction or passport. Lord Grey's relationship to Sir Edward Grey, our Secretary of State, is well known abroad. His picture will introduce you at once and be a guarantee of your good faith; you must take it with you!" "How tiresome of the War Office!" I thought; "fancy having to carry this framed picture on my flight!" However, I could not well refuse, and I fastened it as well as I could by means of its cord to my waist.

I asked for a map of the country as being absolutely necessary to guide my flight. The official said that they had hunted all over the War Office for a map of Belgium but could only find a very old one; but he added: "This will matter less because all the towns and villages of Belgium are so old that you will find them all marked upon this old map." The map produced was indeed very ancient; it was on yellowish paper or parchment, beautifully written, with the names of Flemish towns and villages in old-fashioned characters, but with no railways marked on it and but very few roads. I protested, but it was all I could get. "You will fly over Naville... and ... and Dischemoote," I was told. I wondered anxiously how I should recognise all these places as I flew over them, but I need not have troubled about this. I found afterwards that it was not so difficult as I had imagined, for the country itself, as seen from above, looked singularly like the map.

It was getting dark now, and I was to start when it was dark enough for me to be practically unseen. I flew up to the window, and holding my awkward map before me, I stood on the ledge and flew out over the roofs of a foreign-looking town. I saw below me first of all houses and streets, then a road which passed through various scattered houses and villages. "There is Naville," I thought...

I flew on and on, and presently began to get tired. I was flying rather low by now, and this made me anxious, for it was beginning to get lighter, and I could see groups of men standing about in the dim lightthey were dressed in odd, dark-brown clothes (like Dutchmen, I thought). I was not afraid of them, but I knew that I must get away if I were to take my dispatch safely to its destination. Once I nearly descended amongst them, but I got away in time, and unseen, and entered a house. I ran up its staircase and found my way to an upper window, from which I flew off at a good height from the ground and with a strong steady flight. The sky was getting lighter, and I saw against the dawn a row of ragged wind-swept trees.

There were many other incidents by the way which I forget; but at last I arrived at my destination--the Army Headquarters. The place was a strange castle... I entered with the War Office dispatch and found in supreme command there Mr. Winston Churchill, to whom I gave the paper and from whom I had to receive my instructions. I was escorted through the castle passages to where, underground, beneath the castle itself, in strange vaulted halls, a royal court was installed. A stately procession, a king, a queen and attendants, were passing down a high arched corridor of this underground palace into which I looked. Although it was broad daylight above, the halls were lighted artificially and the atmosphere of the whole place seemed curious and unnatural, and a longing came over me to leave the castle as I had come to it, by flight.

No one stopped me, and I followed a boy in Scout's uniform up to the open air into the courtyard, where a party of Belgian Boy Scouts were practising experiments in flying and were achieving short, spasmodic flights under the direction of Mr. Winston Churchill. Their funny attitudes amused me, and I stood laughing and watching--"They look like frogs trying to fly," I thought.

I passed on, and made my way up to the great outer walls of the castle, and I then saw how shattered and ruined its ramparts were. The narrow walk leading round the top of the walls was broken away in places and was very dangerous, but the gaps in the path did not trouble me, for where walking is dangerous flying is safe, and from these walls I started afresh and flew away.

--Mary Arnold-Forster


Mary Arnold-Forster published this in her 1921 book Studies in Dreams, as an entertaining example of dream-flying technique. I was startled to see Winston Churchill in supreme command twenty-five years ahead of time; but that just shows my ignorance. Churchill was already First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914; his harsh opposition to the Germans lost Britain so many men that he resigned the next year. In light of this, the lack of good Belgian maps has political overtones, for the British command was indeed "without a modern map" of the war. The last comic scene where Winston tries to teach boys to fly in a ruined castle, isn't so funny in daylight. The boys he sent out to die might as well have been "frogs trying to fly."

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: flying - war - politics - Winston Churchill - more Mary Arnold-Forster

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