The Devil’s Daughter – Bristol and London.

The Second World War was not just a period of bloody slaughter and death. It was accompanied by a massive spike in reports of supernatural events across Europe and the United Kingdom. Many experts of the paranormal believe that the violence of the disastrous European conflict caused the supernatural world to become disturbed and increasingly volatile. In the case of London, the blitz in particular precipitated a huge rise in paranormal activity. The trauma of Hitler’s campaign against Londoners was considerable. In psychical terms, the ancient streets and buildings of London were pounded and destroyed night after night. In psychological terms, the blitz was a bit like a sustained series of 9/11s.

Throughout the London Blitz a number of significant paranormal events were observed. One particularly celebrated ghost story involved dozens of witnesses, each of whom claimed to have seen the ghost of Elizabeth I riding through the streets of London near Westminster Abbey. Another tale related to the statue of  Isambard Kingdom Brunel near King’s College London. The large, looming bronze monument was rumoured to curse and swear at the skies as bombs fell on London. As well as ghost manifestations, the blitz period is heavily associated with the occult and witchcraft. The case of Helen Duncan, the Blitz Witch, is well documented. Less well known is the story of teenager Anne Lister, who acquired the undesirable nickname, “the devil’s daughter”.

Anne Lister was 16 years old when world war came to Europe for the second time. She was the daughter of a single mother, who worked in Covent Garden as a cleaner and tea lady. Throughout childhood Anne had suffered from sleep walking episodes, but these had never particularly worried her mother. However, when the war broke out, Anne’s sleep walking took on an entirely different dimension. On the night of 13th November 1940, Anne’s mother was awoken in the night by the sound of air raid sirens. She quickly went to fetch her daughter only to find her bed empty. Searching her small house, she was horrified to find Anne was no where to be seen. After several minutes deliberation, Anne’s mother left her home to take shelter in the relative safety of a near-by church cellar.

The following day, after returning to her home, Anne’s mother was shocked to answer her door to military personnel, who stated they had found Anne two miles away, wandering barefoot through bombed out, burning streets. She was unharmed, but in a state of shock. Her nightdress and hair were singed and she was covered in dust and smoke. Anne’s mother was startled to hear that her daughter had left their home whilst sleep walking. This had never happened before, but it was set to happen again repeatedly. Anne soon gained notoriety for her sleep walking episodes. Between 1940 and 1941 she is said to appeared at six different bombed-outed streets, always whilst the air raid was taking place and always in a sleep-state. In each case she had walked at least half a mile from her home in order to reach the bombing. In one instance in 1941, she was found over 5 miles away, on the other side of London.

Anne’s bizarre sleep walking episodes attracted much unwanted attention from her neighbours. Although the 1940s were a technological and scientific age, people continued to harbour superstitious beliefs, especially the older generation. Anne was soon labelled a witch or the “devil’s daughter” by other Londoners, who became terrified that her presence was an evil omen of pending tragedy. Hostility towards Anne reached such a level, that she and her mother were advised to leave their home and relocate away from London and the German bombs. Scraping together what little money they had, Anne and her mother moved to a rural corner of North Wales and took-up lodgings with an elderly widow.

The move to the countryside appeared to remedy whatever had been causing Anne’s strange sleepwalking behaviour. Soon after she had arrived at her new home, she had returned to a normal sleep pattern and appeared to be adjusting back to normality. However, the story was far from over.

Ten years after the end of the war, Anne was living in a small Bristol flat with her new husband, John Kipps, and their son Adam. The couple had married in 1952 and Adam had been born two years later. In 1955, Anne was struck down by a mysterious illness. Her sickness started with flu-like symptoms, but very soon she was totally incapacitated. Her condition confounded doctors, who could not diagnose what was causing Anne’s ailments. She was weak, often unconscious and losing weight quickly. Precisely 33 days after she first complained of feeling unwell, Anne fell into a deep coma and was admitted to the nearby Frenchay Hospital, where she remained for over a year, being fed by tubes and under the watchful eye of specialists.

During Anne’s stay at Frenchay Hospital, a number of very strange phenomena were reported to take place. Firstly, staff began noticing that furniture and property on Anne’s ward would go missing over night. This was an era before video cameras, when it was common for ward nurses to sleep during night shifts. Clothes, money, jewellery, books, chairs and bed sheets would all mysteriously vanish, leaving staff puzzled. This was followed by strange complaints from several elderly patients, who claimed to have been awoken in the night by someone standing next to their bed. The complaints took on a more sinister character when each and every one of the complainants passed away within days of reporting the strange incident.

Throughout this time, Anne had seemingly remained in an deep coma. However, one night a watchful staff nurse was shocked to see Anne suddenly sit up, then proceed to climb out of bed. She wandered around the ward, whilst the nurse attempted to talk to her, eventually ending-up alongside a sleeping 73-year-old woman. Despite the best efforts of the nurse, Anne would not respond to her questions. After 20 minutes or so stood alongside the elderly patient, Anne returned to her bed and lay back down. The following morning the patient she had visited was found to have died during the night.

Despite the fact that Frenchay Hospital was a scientific establishment, the medical staff remained deeply superstitious. The coincidence of events was too strange to ignore, so staff decided to confront John, Anne’s husband, in an attempt to discover the whole truth. John revealed what his wife had told him about her experiences during the blitz, which only confounded the staff’s concerns. It was decided that the hospital should break with precedent and ask a vicar to “bless” Anne. Miraculously, Anne recovered fully the next day and was discharged after a week.

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