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In the autumn of 1957, three young British Royal Navy cadets – William Laing, Michael Crowley and Ray Baker – were performing a routine map-reading exercise. The idea of the exercise was simple: they were supposed to walk across a few miles of countryside and then report what they had seen to their superiors.
As they traversed across rural Suffolk in England, they saw the picturesque village of Kersey in the distance, its church’s bells ringing out for a religious service. Yet, as the three descend into the village, a miasma of stillness and quiet engulfed them. There were no church bells ringing. In fact, there were hardly any signs of life at all. The cadets reported that there were no people, only some ducks splashing noiselessly in a nearby stream. Not only that, they claimed that trees in the village were all a verdant green, as though it were spring or summer, despite it being autumn.
They afterwards described the village as being “almost medieval in appearance”.
There were no wires overhanging the streets, and not a car in sight. As this was 1957, there should have been some. They claimed that the houses all looked to be handbuilt timber-framed, with the most modern thing about them being their glass windows.
Strangest of all, however, was that the cadets could no longer see the church’s tower – which they had definitely seen from a distance and is a hallmark of the village of Kersey to this day.
Whilst wandering the eerily quiet streets of Kersey, the cadets supposedly peered in through the windows of what they assumed to be a butcher’s shop. They could see two to three skinned oxen carcasses hanging inside. They were green and rotting. This led the cadets to assume that the proprietors must have vacated the building some time before.
The cadets felt uneasy – the unnatural stillness of the village was smothering, and so they hurried to leave.
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Once they were outside the village it was as though everything returned to normal. William Laing later explained how, “suddenly we could hear the bells once more and saw the smoke rising from chimneys, none of the chimneys was smoking when we were in the village.”
Gripped by what he described as a “weird feeling”, the three of them “ran for a few hundred yards” in an attempt to shake it off. 1
Research reveals similarities between the cadets’ visions and historical record
This experience in Kersey left such a profound effect that, decades later, in 1990, Laing flew to England from his home in Australia, to meet with Andrew Mackenzie, a psychical researcher, so as to investigate the matter further. Mackenzie was extremely interested in Laing’s testimony, and together they returned to the village of Kersey to retrace the events.
Mackenzie’s research revealed that the building that the three cadets had seen as a butcher’s shop had not been involved in that trade in 1957. However, records exist to show that the building was registered as a butcher’s shop from 1790 until 1905, at which point it became a general store. And, whilst the documentation is lacking, Mackenzie has stated that there is evidence to suggest that the building was associated with the butcher’s trade for a much longer time, perhaps even to the time of its initial construction in 1350.
How could the cadets have possibly known this information? It could be argued that this revelation helps support the possibility that Laing, Crowley and Baker experienced a time slip and stepped back in time that day in Kersey.
In the years since the peculiar incident, many have criticised the three for having had an overactive imagination. Others have scoffed that the boys simply misinterpreted the genuinely old appearance of the village for something otherworldly. After all, as it was a Sunday morning when they came across the village, local residents may have still been at home or at church, rather than outside on the street. Yet, how they saw a butcher’s shop in a building that had not been a butcher’s in over 50 years remains a mystery.
The enigma of the missing church tower
Another puzzle, unable to be resolved by simple dismissal of the case, is why the cadets could not see the tower of the church from within the village. The oldest parts of St. Mary’s church in Kersey date to the twelfth century, with the tower having been finished in 1481. 2Now a protected historical building, the church would have most certainly been visible – from both outside and inside the village – in 1957.
Mackenzie believes that the enigma of the church’s tower is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the cadets having either visited or had an intense vision of a past time.
As the construction of the tower of the church was halted around the middle of the fourteenth century, after half the population was obliterated by the Black Death, Mackenzie has stated that this provides a clue as to when in time the young men may have visited. Furthermore, he has speculated that the glass windows they reported seeing in the houses would have been indicative of a degree of opulence in the town. He has claimed that it was around the 1420s that Kersey had become wealthy from the wool trade, and – since the church’s tower was not complete then – has assigned this decade as one of the most likely time periods that the cadets visited.
For all of this, many have criticised both the original event and Mackenzie’s explanations.
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Sceptics have argued that it would be improbable for a village of Kersey’s size to have had a butcher’s shop in the 15th century, as meat was a luxury product that was primarily dealt with in towns, or at visiting weekly markets. This rebuke, however, can be said to be just as speculative as Mackenzie’s original remarks, and does nothing to address the cadets’ reported sense of unease at being in a place which seemed far removed from expected reality.
Ultimately, the Kersey case is a mystery which endures, with no explanation yet able to answer definitively what happened that day in 1957. 3
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