7th October 2015
Jemma Harding is an entertaining woman, with striking red hair and the enviable ability to spin an interesting tale out of the most mundane of events. She is a journalist, and twenty years ago she worked as the European correspondent for a major British broadsheet.
Several weeks ago a colleague of mine asked her to get in touch with me, to share an incident that occurred to her in 1996, in the South-West region of France.
We meet in a riverside wine bar in Stratford-upon-Avon, away from the seemingly endless throng of tourists.
It takes some coaxing and a glass or two of red wine to prise the following account from her.
“I was travelling down to Bayonne, to meet my family. My brother’s birthday was coming up and they have a little châteaux down there. I decided to drive down rather than fly. I thought as I would be spending a lot of time with my siblings and their kids over the next few days, it might not be the best idea to travel with them. You know what families are like. I mean, I love them, but a whole week in each other’s pockets? No thanks.
“I stopped over in Bordeaux to visit a friend before setting out on the final leg of my journey. I’d done this trip before, but I’d never travelled to Bayonne on this route, so most of it was new to me.
“Eventually I found myself on this forest road, about two lanes wide, and I hadn’t seen another car for miles. There were trees everywhere, as far as I could see on either side, all these different greens. It looked quite stunning.
“Then I came across something very odd.
“There was a little car stopped in front, longways and kind of half off the road. It’s doors were open and luggage scattered across the dirt.
“But that wasn’t the strangest thing.
“I slowed down a little as I got closer, and I saw a couple, a man and a woman, laying in the road. They were both still and facing away from me.”
I ask what she did next.
“I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew that I should stop and see if they were okay, but there was something off about the whole thing. It just didn’t look right. Every fibre in my body told me to just get out of there.
“I saw that if I went off the road a little I could get around them without hitting them.
“I manoeuvred past them as best I could, with all these alarm bells ringing in my head, then they were behind me, and I picked up speed to get some distance between us.
“I took a look in the rear-view mirror and the couple were standing up, and about a dozen or so of these scruffy looking kids were emerging from the trees nearby. They were all glaring at me.
“But in the middle of them, towering over them, stood this massive cloaked figure. It must have been about eight foot tall, and it wore this weird round mask, with what looked like deer antlers on its head.
“That was it. I slammed my foot down on the accelerator and sped out of there.
“When I got to Bayonne I stopped at the local police station and told two officers what I’d witnessed.
“They took notes and smirked, muttering something about ‘l’homme qui possède des bois de cerf’.
“My family didn’t like the idea of me driving all that way on my own anyway, so I didn’t tell them what I’d seen. In fact, I’ve never mentioned it to anyone except you, and the other woman.”
I asked Ms Harding if she could draw a picture of the cloaked figure, which I have attached to this file.
‘L’homme qui possède les bois de cerf’ roughly translates to ‘the man who has the deer’s antlers’.
Ms Harding’s story does sound remarkably like a similar tale that did the rounds on the internet recently*, except that particular story takes place on a dirt road in the United States.
There is no mention of the masked man in the cloak.
Considering Ms Harding is a journalist, a respected one at that, along with the obvious distress she displayed whilst recounting her story and the reaction of the local constabulary to her plight, I believe her account has more than a whiff of credibility.
And yet, the fact one tale resembles the other so closely proved to be enough to sow seeds of doubt in my mind.
I elected not to pursue this case further, and, I must admit, I let it slip from my thoughts.
12th July 2016
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine forwarded a letter from one Mrs Edith Robinson on to me. In this letter, written in a cramped scrawl, the frail octogenarian details her family’s flight from Paris in 1940, under the shadow of the Nazi invasion.
I will quote the pertinent part below:
‘I had been ill with pneumonia and sent to a centre just outside Bordeaux to recover. Eventually, my mother and father came to collect me, so we could catch a boat back to England. The little Citroen we owned was absolutely crammed full of our belongings from the flat in Paris. I was amazed how much stuff they’d managed to fit in there.
‘My father had gained a laissez pass that allowed us to travel about unhindered, but the Germans were closing in. When we got to Bordeaux we found we’d missed the boat, but we were informed there would be another leaving from Bayonne the next day.
‘On the way there, a storm struck, setting fire to the forest we were heading through. A burning tree fell in front of us. My father managed to swerve around it, but as he did I saw some children come out of the woods and head towards us. They were dirty from soot and smoke. My father just carried on going. I went to shout at him to stop but I saw his eyes in the rear view mirror.
‘He looked terrified.
‘I turned around in the seat and managed to get a glimpse out of the back window, through the stacks of boxes.
‘There was a man in the road behind us, flanked by children and lit up by the fire. A tall man, in a cloak, with an oval mask and antlers on his head, like a stag.
‘That’s why my father didn’t stop.
‘We never spoke of that night.’
Is it possible that the figure Mrs Robinson witnessed that night was the same person that Ms Harding saw some fifty years later? I dug out the journalist’s sketch and included it with a letter, thanking Mrs Robinson for her correspondence and asking her if if the subject of the sketch was the same individual she saw that harrowing evening in Bayonne.
A few days later I received a reply. It contained the sketch and a simple note in Mrs Robinson’s cramped handwriting.
‘That’s the chap.’
Maybe there is more to this ‘man who has the deer’s antlers’ after all.
Dr Thomas Gotobed
* I also recognised this story. I found it on here and Dr Gotobed is correct, apart from the location and the antlered figure, there are many similarities. To be honest, I don’t know quite what to make of this one – C.R.