Correspondence (january 1919)
Dear Madam, — On the morning of April 4th, 1917, I woke up with a strong feeling that information of importance had been conveyed to me in my sleep. I had a feeling also that it was of a consoling nature. I could only remember one word, however, Piave. It rang in my head. Piave! Piave! It was as though it were some keyword, and if I could retain that, I should have the essence of the message.
No doubt in my reading I must have seen the word, and on my visit to the Italian front I had actually passed over the river, but I had retained the names of none of the many streams, save only the Isonzo, upon which the war was at that time being waged. Thus Piave conveyed nothing to my mind. I was so impressed, however, that I went at once into my study and looked up the index of my Atlas. By this reference I discovered that the name was that of a river about fifty miles in the rear of the Italian front, which was at that time victoriously advancing. I could imagine few more unlikely things than that the war would be transferred to the Piave. None the less I was so impressed by my dream that I drew up a paper at once, under the date April 4, 1917, in which I stated that I knew some great event of the war would centre on the Piave. This was witnessed that morning by two witnesses. In view of my feeling of elation on waking I took it that this event would be favourable, tho' how a favourable event could occur fifty miles in the rear was more than I could understand.
It is a matter of history how six months later the Italian army was driven from its positions. Whilst it was in retreat I sent a sealed envelope to the S.P.R. with an account of my dream. The army crossed several points, such as the Tagliamento, where a stand seemed probable, and halted eventually upon the line of the Piave, which had been said to be untenable, since it was commanded from the left rear. They were still there in February, 1918, when I was writing my New Revelation. In describing the incident I said, "If nothing more should occur the reference to the name has been fully justified, presuming that some friend in the beyond was forecasting the coming events of the war. I have still a hope, however, that more was meant, and that some crowning victory of the Allies at this spot may justify still further the strange way in which the name was conveyed to my mind." This sentence appeared in print in April, 1918.
It will be recalled that it was on June 17th, 1918, that the first battle of the Piave was fought. It was not a great victory, but it was a victory, and it is noteworthy that this date marked the whole turning point of the war. Up to then the Allies had in this year sustained three severe defeats, that of the second Somme battle, the battle of the Lys, and the second Aisne battle. On June 17th their prospects were very black. From the day of the Piave battle they never looked back again, and on every front they had an uninterrupted record of victory, culminating, in the case of the Italians, in the second Piave battle, which was the most decisive in the war. Thus in conveying the name "Piave" my comforter had given me the keyname which would unlock the whole situation.
Now how could this be accounted for by coincidence? That is unthinkable. Even if my subconscious self had known there was a river called the Piave, that would not have shifted the Italian army back to it. Was it then telepathy? But no one in the world could have conjectured such a series of events. What then was it? I claim that the only possible explanation is that my friends on the other side, knowing how much I worried over the situation, were giving me comfort and knowledge. The ordinary spirit has, so far as my reading and experience teached me, only a very limited and uncertain gift of prophecy. Therefore I have some reason to hope that my information came from a high source. Why I should have been so privileged above others is the one point which is beyond my conjecture.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Sussex, November, 1918.
[The sealed letter to which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle refers above was received by the Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research on November 7, 1917, with a covering note asking that it should be opened only at the writer's request. This letter was opened and read on November 20, 1918. It ran as follows:
SUSSEX, November 4, 1917.
In the early summer of 1917 I woke from sleep with the word Piave in my head, as the culmination of some dream of which I could remember nothing. I had no remembrance of the word, but thought vaguely it was a place. The index of an atlas showed me that it was a river some distance behind the Italian front. I drew the attention of my wife and brother-in-law to it that morning, and said something would surely occur there. Afterwards the Italians advanced and Piave seemed far in the rear. Now the tide has turned, tho' I have not yet seen the line of the Piave mentioned. It is always the Tagliamento. Still it is worth chronicling and putting into neutral hands.
A. CONAN DOYLE