GI's having a lucky talisman or a "rabbit's foot" is common throughout history. When I first got to Germany I found a "Magazine Clip Guide" or follower laying around and I clipped it to my helmet and kept it there throughout my Military career.
Superstitions have been around since the early days of humanity, so
it is not surprising that military men have often conjured up
superstitious beliefs themselves. Men who are facing such high risk of
death or injury often would like to tie their good luck to a talisman,
and military mascots have been incredibly common in the past, with lions
being used in WW2, for example.
This article takes a look at some of the military superstitions that have built up throughout the years.
the most famous of them all, this superstition seemed to develop during
the Crimean War (October 1853 – March 1856) and has been referenced in
books, films and songs in Western culture for most of the 20th
century. The saying goes that it is bad luck for three soldiers to
light their cigarettes from the same match and that one of the three
would be killed, or the man who was third to light the cigarette on that
match would be shot. An editorial in the Grand Rapid Leader in December
1919 references the superstition.
It has been alleged that the superstition was invented by a Swedish
match magnate called Ivan Krueger to try and ruse people into buying
more matches. However, the theory now goes that he was just taking
advantage of the already prevalent belief.
The superstition was
referenced in films as early as 1928 and continues to be alluded to in
TV shows in the last decade such as Mad Men and Archer.
nearest town to the Somme frontlines for the British troops was a
little town called Albert. It was badly damaged during the war and
rebuilt afterwards, and because of this there are few World War One
sights to see in Albert above ground, but one feature of Albert was
heavily associated with the war and became an icon at the time. The
Golden Virgin on top of the Basilica is a golden statue of the Madonna
holding her child up into the sky. It was visible from miles away and
because of this was also the perfect target for enemy artillery.
was damaged in January 1951, the statue was knocked but stayed leaning
forward at an angle before the French secured it in that position. Due
to its precarious tilt a superstition grew among the ranks that the war
would end and Germany would win, when the statue fell.
Madonna spent most of the war leaning forward almost at a right angle to
the ground and the belief only grew that when the statue finally fell
to the ground the war would end. In 1918, when the Germans recaptured
Albert during their Spring Offensive, the British realised the tower
would make a great observation point for them and so deliberately bombed
it, finally causing the statue to fall. Four months later, Albert was
retaken by the British, and the Armistice happened a further three
months after that.
The Basilica was rebuilt after the war and
the Golden Madonna was replaced, where it continues to dominate the
town and can be seen glinting for miles. It also serves as a tourist
attraction now, allowing visitors to climb up the hundreds of stairs to
stand on a small viewing deck beneath it and view the battlefields.
more recent superstition rising from the American Marines comes from
their food packages. The ‘Meal, Ready to Eat’, known colloquially as the
MRE, will often contain Charms candy, so the soldiers can have a sweet
treat after their meal. Superstition tells that if a member munches on
these during patrol the weather will turn on you, especially if you eat a
green one, apparently. There have even been reports of Marines throwing
the candies at enemies to cast the bad luck over to them. We Army guys believed that the Army slipped saltpeter in our food to check our libido, don't know if that was true
Edwin Parsons had a colorful military career, both in the US military
and in the French Foreign Legion. He was known to have wired a stuffed
black cat to the struts of his fighter aircraft as a talisman. He
refused to fly without it. He even claimed after one fight that the cat
took a bullet for him.
His plane was destroyed in a bombing raid
and it took the lucky stuffed cat down with it. Some would wonder, at
this point, whether or not the cat was actually lucky, but Parsons
refused to fly until he could go back to Paris and find another one.
Other aircrews often painted black cats on their planes for good luck.
Manfred von Richthofen became the Red Baron after January 1917 when he
received the Pour le Mérite (informally called ‘The Blue Max’), the
highest military honor in Germany at the time. He took command of
squadron Jasta 11 which contained some of the more elite German pilots,
some of whom he had trained and who would go on to lead squadrons
themselves. He decided to have his plane painted red and from then on
flew in red-painted aircraft, primarily to scare his enemies. The red
was not always a bright scarlet, but the aircraft had to be painted some
shade of red. He also refused to fly without his lucky scarf and
Soon other members of the squadron would paint parts of
their planes red too, in order to make the Red Baron seem less
conspicuous and so he wouldn’t be singled out in battle, but the red
became their unit identification and Richthofen became Der Rote Kampfflieger (the Red Fighter Pilot).
He was killed during combat in 1918 and buried with full military honors by the Allies.