Saturday, October 1, 2011

The spectral hound that ate the brains of soldiers!

A few years back, Peter Cook, in writing his The Way We Were column for the Medway Messenger, dredged up a sinister tale from the files of bygone ghost-hunter Frederick Sanders. Under the heading 'Midnight trip to 'island of ghosts' at river mouth', Cook wrote, 'Dead Man's Island lies at the point where the Swale meets the Medway. It is well named. About 200 years ago dozens of French soldiers taken prisoner by the British were buried there. These men of Napoleon's army had been cooped up in the fetid atmosphere of prison hulks anchored on the Medway. They had died of the bubonic plague. In June 1950, two intrepid journalists - Duncan Rand and Frederick Sanders, made a midnight trip to examine this "island of ghosts".

'At that time, many of the coffins were exposed with the lids gone. Mr Sanders was particularly intrigued by the fact that none of the skeletons revealed was in possession of its skull. Neither had any skull ever been found on the island. Mr Sanders recalled a legend of a huge spectral hound which ranged across the Medway marshes, digging up the coffins and flipping open the lids to consume the dead men's brains. The two explorers were ferried out to a part of the island known as Coffin Bay, where they were marooned for the night. "We found may broken coffins and hundreds of bones but no skulls," they later reported.

'The natural phosphorescence given off by the river's micro-organisms added to the atmosphere, and what appeared as warriors "black and gaunt in the moonlight" turned out to be piles driven into the mud to define the Smugglers Gut channel. As the tide returned, the men ran the risk of being cut off and joining the "spectral army". But three flashes from a torch brought a dinghy sploshing towards them.'

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