1939-1945 (WWII): Spontaneous Sheep Combustion

In 1992, Jenny Randles and Peter Hough published their book Spontaneous Human Combustion, which is an intriguing -- and often inaccurate -- collection of reported cases. In this volume there are just a few reports of supposed SHC that are new, largely the results of a series of requests published in magazines for original accounts.

        According to Randles and Hough, they received a personal communication from a Mr. Raymond Reed, who related a strange occurrence he encountered while serving in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, stationed in Weymouth, a seaside town in Dorset, England, during World War II.

        We're told that Reed's unit would send an officer and two men to do a coastline patrol each night to keep in touch with the coastguards. Reed was on one of these patrols one pitch black night, crossing an open field with a lot of sheep grazing, when a fire suddenly erupted about a hundren yards away from the men. Naturally, they investigated... and found a sheep on fire.

        The sheep was lying on its side, with blue flames projecting from its stomach area; the flame turned yellow when the animal's fleece started to burn also. It was a large sheep, and "in no way decomposed;" in fact, Reed wasn't entirely sure that the animal was actually dead. The men threw dirt on the fire to put it out. Reed gave no more details about what happened with the sheep... presumably, the men just continued their patrol from there.

        Randles and Hough finish out their note on this odd matter by mentioning that Reed went on to be selected for a secret military organization tasked with getting communications from the front lines back to Army command... which is interesting, but doesn't really add to the account other than to imply Reed is a person who should not be doubted.

An Intriguing Account... But.

        There are two major problems with this account that make it hard to take it at face value. The first, of course, is the fact that Reed waited around fifty years to tell someone about the incident... so the circumstances are now most likely completely unverifiable.

        The second problem is the rest of Randle and Hogue's book. The 1992 volume is mostly a collection of accounts taken from previous books and articles on spontaneous human combustion, with absolutely no attempt to double-check the information... and a deliberate attempt to hide where they got their information from by attributing most of their sources to "Historical archives traced and researched," when it's obvious they are copying from previous books on SHC due to their repeating of incorrect details.

        So, while other things written by Jenny Randles and Peter Hogue might be trustworthy, there has to be suspicion that anything in their 1992 Spontaneous Human Combustion may be false or mis-reported. So consider yourself warned.

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