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The Air Marshal and the Unexplained

This article was written by Herb Kugel
posted under

A group photograph clearly showing the face of a dead man, a terrible airplane flight through a storm into another reality, and a frightening, death-predicting dream were for British Royal Air Force (RAF) officer Victor Goddard glimpses into the mysterious world of the unexplained.

The Smirking Airman
Goddard’s first venture into the world of the unexplained involved a photograph. In 1975, the seventy-eight year old retired Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard published the story of a photograph that he had kept for many years. It was a group photograph of his squadron. It was taken in early 1919 at the end of World War I and portrayed some 200 men and women who survived the fighting. It was an official RAF photograph. Nobody could have tampered with either the photograph or its negative at any time. When the photo was developed, it was placed on the squadron bulletin board so that those who wanted copies could sign up for them. There was one thing wrong, though. There was an extra face in the photograph, a face belonging to the late Airman Freddy Jackson. Jackson was a mechanic, who died by heedlessly walking into a spinning propeller two days before the squadron, which was to be disbanded, posed for the photo. In fact, his funeral took place on the day the squadron gathered for the photo. In the photo (above), everyone is wearing a hat but Jackson. Everyone is looking grim except Jackson, who is smiling enigmatically. The others had reason to look grim-they had just returned from Jackson’s funeral.

Is the face in the photo really that of Jackson’s spirit? Goddard and others of the squadron were convinced that it was. Goddard, in his book Flight Towards Reality, suggests that Jackson’s expression seemed to say: “My goodness me-I nearly failed to make it-They didn’t wait, or leave a place for me, the blighters!”

A Flight Through Time
Goddard’s second trip into the unexplained involved an airplane flight. This was a much more personally harrowing experience. In 1935, while a Wing Commander, Goddard flew a Hawker Hart biplane to Edinburgh, Scotland, from his home base in Andover, England, for a weekend visit. On the Sunday before flying back, Goddard visited an abandoned airfield in Drem, near Edinburgh, this location being closer to his final destination than the airport at which he landed. The Drem airfield, constructed during the first World War, was a shambles. The tarmac and four hangars were in disrepair, barbed wire divided the field into numerous pastures, and cattle grazed everywhere. It was now a farm, and completely useless as an airfield.

On Monday, Goddard began the flight back to his home base. The weather was dark and ominous, with low clouds and heavy rain. Goddard was flying in an open cockpit over mountainous terrain without radio navigational aides or cloud flying instruments. Rain beating down on his forehead and onto his flying goggles badly obscured his vision. He thought he could climb above the clouds, but he was wrong. He made it to 8,000 feet, looking for a break in the clouds. There was none.

Suddenly Goddard lost control of his plane. It began to spiral downward. He struggled with the controls. He could speed up or slow down, but he could not stop the spin. He was unsure of his location, but knew he was falling rapidly and might smash into the mountains before coming out of the clouds. The sky became darker, the clouds turning a strange yellowish-brown. The rain came down even more heavily. Goddard’s altimeter showed he was only a thousand feet above the ground and dropping rapidly. At two hundred feet and still spiraling downward, he began to see a bit of daylight through the murky gloom, but his spiral toward seemingly inevitable death was far from over.

Goddard was now flying at 150 miles per hour. He emerged from the clouds over “rotating water” that he recognized as the Firth of Forth. He was still falling. Suddenly, he saw directly before him a stone sea wall with a path, a road, and railings on top of it. The road seemed to be slowly rotating from left to right. The cloud cover was down to forty feet. Goddard was now flying below twenty feet and was within an instant of tragedy. A young girl with a baby carriage ran through the pouring rain. She ducked her head just in time to avoid Hart’s wingtip. Goddard succeeded in leveling out his plane after that. He barely missed striking the water after clearing the sea wall by a few feet.

He was now flying only several feet above a stony beach. Fog and rain obscured all distant visibility, but Goddard somehow located his position. He identified the road to Edinburgh and soon was able to discern, through the gloom, the black silhouettes of the Drem Airfield hangars ahead of him, the same airfield he had visited the day before. The rain became a deluge, the sky grew even darker, and Goddard’s plane was shaken violently by the turbulent weather as it sped toward the Drem hangars-and into a different world.

Suddenly, the sky turned bright with golden sunlight. The rain and the farm had vanished. The hangars and the tarmac appeared to have somehow been rebuilt in a brand-new condition. There were four planes lined at the end of the tarmac. Three were standard Avro 504N trainer biplanes; the fourth was a monoplane of an unknown type-the RAF had no monoplanes in 1935. All four airplanes were bright yellow. No RAF airplanes were painted yellow in 1935. The airplane mechanics were wearing blue overalls. RAF mechanics never wore anything but brown overalls when working in hangars in 1935.

It took Goddard only an instant to fly over the airfield. He was only a few feet above the ground-just high enough to clear the hangars-but apparently none of the mechanics saw him or even heard his plane. As he sped away from the airfield, he was again engulfed by the storm. He forced his plane upward, flying at 17,000 feet and then, for a time, at 21,000 feet. He managed to return to his home base safely.

Goddard felt elated when he landed. He then made the mistake of telling fellow officers about his eerie experience. They looked at him as if he were drunk or crazy. Goddard decided to keep silent about what had happened to him. He did not want a discharge from the RAF on mental grounds.

In 1939, Goddard watched as RAF trainers began to be painted yellow and the mechanics switched to blue coveralls. The RAF introduced a new training monoplane exactly like the one he had seen in his flight over Drem. It was called the Magister. He learned that the airfield at Drem had been refurbished.

Another twenty-seven years went by, but Goddard never forgot what had happened. He played it through over and over in his mind. It was not until 1966 that he wrote of this experience. Over the years he had become convinced that there was no way he could have known that the RAF would change the colors of their trainers and their mechanics’ overalls four years before these changes took place. Goddard finally concluded that he must have glimpsed the future-or even traveled into it-for a brief moment in time.

Was this conclusion so unreasonable? Our senses determine our reality. Goddard was under extreme stress, and thought he might die. Perhaps the bonds controlling Goddard’s senses cracked for an instant, in the face of mortal danger, freeing him to glimpse another reality.

The Skipper’s Dream
Victor Goddard’s third encounter with the mysterious, this time involving a frightening dream, took place in the Far East, just after the end of World War II.

It began at a cocktail party given in his honor. It was a party he would never forget. How would you feel if you were at a cocktail party given in your honor and overheard someone talking sadly but in vivid detail about your death in an airplane crash, and you knew you were going to fly the next day? What would you feel if you had learned at the party that your death had been described in a powerful dream, and the dream accurately predicted events that soon started to take place?

The afternoon cocktail party for Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard took place in Shanghai in January 1946. The war against Japan had ended five months earlier, and Goddard was transferring to a new assignment. The man who was grimly talking about his death was Captain Gerald Gladstone, commander of the Royal Navy cruiser H.M.S. Black Prince. Gladstone’s tone of sad certainty instantly collapsed into confusion when he saw the Air Marshal standing a few feet from him.

Goddard smiled at the flustered officer. “I’m not quite dead yet,” he said. “What made you think I was?”

Gladstone hesitated before replying but when he did, it was with grim conviction. He told Goddard of a vivid and horrifying dream he had experienced the previous night. Goddard, now quite interested, pressed Gladstone for details, which the naval officer nervously supplied. In the dream, Goddard and three British civilians-two men and a woman-were flying over a rocky shore, off the coast of either China or Japan. It was evening, and they were flying through a ghastly storm. They had just flown over the mountains when their plane crashed.

“I watched it all happen,” Gladstone emphatically confirmed. “You were killed.” Gladstone further stated that the crashed aircraft was “an ordinary sort of transport passenger plane. Might have been a Dakota.”

Later that evening, at a dinner the British Consul General gave in honor of Goddard, the Air Marshal learned to his surprise and shock that his military flight would also be taking civilian passengers, something not usually done. Goddard had understood that it would be impossible that the plane which had been assigned to take him to Tokyo could also ferry civilians, but this now proved to be the case. There were three civilian passengers: the Consul General, a journalist, and a young female stenographer-two men and a woman, all British, exactly as reported in the dream-who would accompany him. Given the dream, it is easy to understand why Goddard was especially reluctant to allow the young woman to travel with him and face what he began to feel was certain death in a plane crash.

Their plane was a Dakota transport-also as indicated in the dream. It left Shanghai for Tokyo early the next morning. There was a terrible flight through clouds, exactly as in the dream, some of it over the mountains of Japan, again exactly as in the dream. The Dakota captain was forced to crash-land his plane in the early evening during a snowstorm. He crashed on the rocky, shingle shore on an island off the coast of Japan, again as in the dream, but this time with one vital difference. Everyone survived.

As time went on, as with the flight over Drem Airfield, Goddard could not get the event out of his mind. On January 2, 1947, about a year after the crash, he wrote Gladstone and asked for more particulars regarding the harrowing dream. In his letter he told the naval officer, “For the next 48 hours I was quite convinced that I was going to die and wondered how many unfortunate passengers would share the experience with me.”

Gladstone’s reply, dated January 30, 1947, stated in part: “I am sorry to say that I am unable to fill in any details of the dream…I clearly remember now what I remembered of my dream at the time: and that was a conviction that YOU WERE DEAD…I have never made a point…of recalling every detail of my dreams the instant I awake.” Gladstone thus claimed to have remembered absolutely none of the details Goddard attributed to him.

Both officers were of unimpeachable character and both agreed that this was a precognitive experience. Why is there a vital difference in their two accounts? There is the possibility that Gladstone related the specific details of his dream to Goddard at the cocktail party and then later forgot both the details and that he had told them to the Air Marshal.

In 1950, four years after the party, Goddard, still disturbed by the event, wrote an article about the incident for the Saturday Evening Post. The article, printed on May 26, 1951, was the first time the story became public. Goddard did not use Gladstone’s real name or that of his cruiser, but he did send a copy of the manuscript to the naval officer for suggestion and comment before it was printed. Gladstone again stressed that he had not remembered any of the specific details of his dream. Does that matter? What matters are the awful power and certainty of the dream to the dreamer. Gladstone awoke absolutely convinced that Goddard was dead. All day before the cocktail party the naval officer expected to be informed of the Air Marshal’s death. He only went to the party when no such news was received, but was still positive of Goddard’s death and kept vehemently saying so at the party where the Air Marshal overheard him. Gladstone also maintained that he had never experienced anything like this dream and remained at a complete loss to explain it. If we also cannot explain it, we still might further wonder why Gladstone experienced it in the first place. If it was meant to be a warning, why was it not sent to someone closer to Goddard, or to Goddard himself?

Is there a bottom line here? Did Gladstone glimpse a future? Was there an alternate or probable future in which a Sir Victor Goddard did indeed perish in an air crash? Gladstone reported that in his dream he “watched it all happen.” Just where was he while he was watching?

In 1954, Goddard’s experience with Gladstone’s dream was made into a British motion picture, The Night My Number Came Up, starring Michael Redgrave as Air Marshal “Hardie.” Although this is an entertaining film, the scriptwriter made significant changes in regard to the actual events that weakened the power and significance of the true story.

Goddard had two other earlier encounters with the unexplained. In August 1911, while he was an eleven-year-old naval cadet, he learned that his mother was fearful that the “Agadir (Morocco) Crisis” would explode into a world war. German naval units were sent to Morocco to block French expansion in that country and many feared that the crisis would erupt into a war between France and Germany with England then being dragged into it. The young Goddard instantly assured his mother that war would not come until August 1914, which indeed was the case, that being the start of World War I. On August 4, 1914, Goddard, now fourteen, was watching a sunset from the quarterdeck of a British battleship. He states in the preface to his book, Flight Towards Reality, that he was given a “clear presentation by the cloud movements and their colors in the sky” of how long the war, which was to begin that night, would take and how it would end. He had no idea why these particular events happened to him, but he never forgot them.

Father of Ufology?
Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard had a long and successful career. He joined the Royal Navy in 1910 when he was 13 years old, later transferring to the RAF in 1918. He is thus considered one of the founders of the RAF. As Deputy Head of the RAF Delegation to the United States, he was stationed in Washington, D.C., from 1946 until 1948. He represented the RAF on the combined Chiefs of Staff Advisory Committee and coined the word ufology in 1946 when there was an outbreak of UFO sightings. During this period, he was convinced that UFOs were a hoax. He was instrumental in convincing President Harry Truman (through USAF Chief of Staff Carl A. Spaatz) to halt the US Air Force search for UFOs, a search Truman had ordered to help investigate the rumors of prowlers in American air space. Goddard later regretted this decision and changed his mind about UFOs after his retirement from the RAF in 1951. In his 1975 book, Flight Towards Reality, he wrote of his belief in the existence of UFOs and speculated that they might come from a psychic or spiritual world parallel to ours.

After his retirement from the RAF, Sir Victor spent twenty years in research in psychology, psychical research, and healing. He died in 1987 at the age of 90.


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