On a rainy morning in June 1922, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, dressed in full military regalia complete with a ceremonial sword, returned to his home at 36 Eaton Place, Belgravia after dedicating a war memorial. He was about to enter his house when two armed gunmen approached him from behind and shot him nine times. Sir Henry died on his doorstep.
Sir Henry Wilson had a long, distinguished military career, serving in South Africa, Ireland, Burma and the War Office in London. He had close ties with the French military before the outbreak of WWI and was knighted on July 1, 1919. He is buried in the crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Now, some 86 years later, Sir Henry’s large home in Belgravia has been turned into flats, as were most of the big houses in the area.
On a recent stay in London I resided in the cozy basement flat, in what used to be the kitchens in Sir Henry’s former home. One can sometimes still hear the clatter of horses’ hooves when the Queen’s Guard trot by on early morning exercises, but mostly the sounds have given way to modern times: cars, taxis and the chatter of passing pedestrians looking for one of the many embassies or consulates in the area.
England is purported to be the most haunted place on earth. I have read and been told many stories of encounters with the supernatural, taken the Ghost walking tours, even went alone into a building supposed to be haunted. I do believe in ghosts, having been visited by the one that haunted a family vacation home in Mexico, but he wasn’t very exciting. Just sort of smiled at me and vanished. No headless horsemen, or medieval courtiers, or tonsured monks.
One evening, after finishing a satisfying meal from the local Indian take away, I put on my flannel jammies and crawled into bed. Snug under the down duvet, I had almost relinquished consciousness and was in that twilight moment just before being enclosed in the arms of Morpheus when a strange clattering sound came from the direction of the kitchen. I roused and listened but soon drifted back to sleep. Then I was wakened again. This time it sounded distinctly like the ghostly rattling of chains or perhaps a ceremonial sword. I awoke in terror. Was it Sir Henry come back to haunt the place where he had died so violently? My mind reeled as I lay as still as possible and breathed shallowly cowering in the darkness. Eyes wide, I scanned the room, but I couldn’t see anything moving. I breathed a bit and waited. Then, the rattling started again.
I had encountered the supernatural before and knew it was silly just to lay here. So I got up to investigate. I moved as silently as possible as I peeled back the duvet. I’d never noticed before how much noise duck feathers make. I fumbled for my slippers but couldn’t find them so I tip- toed in my bare feet across the chilly floor to the doorway of the bedroom. The rattling started again.
The cold air licked my skin, turning it to gooseflesh. Do ghosts make you feel cold? I crept ahead, navigating the stygian blackness of the hall. Heart pounding, my bare feet inched along, hands outstretched before me in case of invisible energy fields.
At the doorway to the living area, I peeked around to look down the long narrow space that was the living room and kitchen. The only light came from the VCR and the digital clock on the oven. I made my way across the room almost falling as I tripped over something on the carpet. A shock of cold ran up my body as my toes came into contact with the frigid linoleum of the kitchen. A few stray beams of dim light peeked around the edges of the tapestry curtain that covered the glass door to the outside area. Were they ghostly emanations bending their way around the fabric? Ever so tentatively I reached forward and moved the curtain.
My ghost was revealed. Outside, on the graveled patio, in the eerie yellow light of the street lamp, water poured from a drain pipe making a rattling sound as it hit the pebbles. There was no ghostly apparition. It wasn’t Sir Henry clattering his sword as he came back to haunt the place as I’d thought. It was just my own overactive imagination.
As Ebenezer Scrooge said to Jacob Marley’s ghost, “There’s more of gravy than of grave in thee.” Serves me right for eating vindaloo at midnight!
About Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson:
All photos by Kitty Doyle.
Kitty Doyle was born and grew up in Chicago dreaming of knights and medieval castles. She is now lucky enough to have realized her dreams of world travel and splits her time between Europe and North America happily being an urban nomad.