There is very little background information about the Scamander brothers or the war service of any other wizards in canon (WFT). Therefore, we must depend on the books written about the making of the films and trust that the information in them was, at least, approved by JKR. We don’t consider the film tie-in books to be canon so the references to those below are speculation based on those non-canon sources. Other historical references can be considered accurate though Wizarding involvement in them is often speculative and not confirmed by any Ministries of Magic.
Unlike the Western Front during the First World War, which quickly bogged down into static trench warfare, the Eastern Front remained considerably more fluid. With Allied and Central Powers forces constantly on the move throughout the areas, it was essential that the Wizarding World take steps to ensure the safety of the dragon population in the region. It was necessary both to keep the dragons undetected and unharmed but also to prevent them from running amok if they perceived that they were threatened by armed muggles. It can be assumed that wizards from the Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary as well as volunteers from other nations, all participated in the project.
Amongst the volunteers was a young Englishman named Newt Scamander. After leaving Hogwarts, Newt took a job in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures’ Office of House-Elf Relocation. He found it extremely boring. Two years later, he was transferred to the Beast Division (FB). By this time The Great War was well underway with Great Britain and her colonies and dominions, allied with France, Russia and Italy against the Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
During the war, the Minister for Magic, Archer Evermonde, passed legislation forbidding the Wizarding community from getting involved. However, many witches and wizards defied that law and helped their Muggle countrymen in the war (Pm). Henry Potter stood up to Evermonde and called for the magical community to fight alongside British Muggles in World War I (Pm). In addition, the British Ministry of Magic ran a covert operation to wrangle Ukrainian Ironbellies and other dragons on the Eastern Front. Newt Scamander was involved in this programme. (1)
Newt Scamander: “What, you fought in the war?”
Jacob Kowalski: “Of course I fought in the war, everyone fought in the war – you didn’t fight in the war?”
Newt Scamander: “I worked mostly with dragons, Ukrainian Ironbellies – Eastern Front.” (WFT)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of the First World War which, at its greatest extent, stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, and included much of Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe. At the time the name, Ukraine, referred to a geographic area and not a country. The area known today as Ukraine was then a part of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. The area would see heavy fighting between the Russian Army and that of the Central Powers with the Russians overrunning much of the region in 1914. Fortunes changed during the spring and summer of 1915 as the land was taken by the combined German and Austro-Hungarian forces. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 fighting escalated in the Ukrainian provinces as the Polish, Ukrainian, Red, and White armies battled for control.
The Kingdom of Romania was neutral for the first two years of World War I, entering on the side of the Allied powers in August 1916. Fighting took place from August 1916 to December 1917 across most of present-day Romania, including Transylvania, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. Initially successful, the Romanian forces (aided by Russia) later suffered massive setbacks, and by the end of 1916 only Moldavia remained. With Russia’s withdrawal from the war following the October Revolution, Romania, almost surrounded by the Central Powers, was also forced to drop out of the war.
The troops raised in the Kingdom of Hungary spent little time defending the actual territory of Hungary, with the exceptions of the Brusilov Offensive in June 1916, and a few months later, when the Romanian army invaded Transylvania, both of which were repelled.
In the middle of this chaos were the wizards trying to save the dragons. Of the ten breeds of dragons, three resided on the Eastern front. They were known as Hungarian Horntail, Romanian Longhorn and Ukrainian Ironbelly (FB). The Romanian Dragon Sanctuary is the largest preservation area set aside for the protection and study of dragons. Located in Romania, it was established by Harvey Ridgebit with the basis for the sanctuary possibly beginning during this time (WoM).
Newt’s occupation during the time was primarily involved with Ukrainian Ironbellies. The beast was bipedal, metallic grey in colour, with an immense wingspan, long talons and rough scales said to be as hard as steel. It was the largest breed of dragon reaching up to six tonnes, with deep red eyes. More rotund and slower in flight than other dragons, the Ironbelly was nevertheless extremely dangerous, capable of crushing the dwellings on which it lands (FB). However, the program that Newt was involved in was ultimately cancelled, as the dragons only responded to Newt, and tried to eat everyone else. (2)
It is unlikely that Newt took part in combat during the war. It is probable that he and his fellow volunteers were more concerned with keeping the dragons calm and out of sight. The unaccustomed sounds of artillery, aircraft and small arms fire would no doubt have made the beasts nervous and belligerent. The wizards would have been more concerned with brewing potions for Calming Draughts and casting Concealment Charms to keep the dragons from curious muggle eyes, or Memory Charms to make any muggles who did see them, forget they had.
With the end of the war in 1918 Newt returned to Britain and was commissioned by Augustus Worme of Obscurus Books to write a book dealing with fantastic beasts. “I was then but a lowly Ministry of Magic employee and leapt at the chance both to augment my pitiful salary of 2 Sickles a week and to spend my holidays travelling the globe in search of new magical species” (FB).
Meanwhile, another wizard who joined the war effort was Theseus Scamander, older brother of Newt Scamander. Theseus was known as a war hero (WFT).
Theseus Scamander? The war hero?
— Momolu Wotorson (WFT)
Eight years Newt’s senior, Theseus was born in 1889 and was about 25 years old when war broke out. (3) Despite the Minister for Magic’s emergency legislation forbidding witches and wizards from becoming involved, lest they risk mass infractions of the International Statute of Secrecy, Theseus defied him, aiding Muggles where he could. Throughout the war, Theseus’ participation in the wizarding effort of the war was, while not decisive, nevertheless a distinguished one, during which he presumably fought and defeated numerous magical enemies and won many victories in preventing additional loss of life, he would return home a tried and tested veteran of war and would be deemed by many as a war hero. (4)
Exactly what Theseus did to earn his ‘war hero’ status is unknown though it has been suspected that he may have been involved in some of these curious incidents reported to have occurred on the Western Front.
On September 29, 1914, the Evening News, a London newspaper, carried a story by Arthur Machen titled “The Bowmen”. The article dealt with the Battle of Mons, 22–23 August 1914, the first major engagement of the British Expeditionary Force against the advancing German Army. Though the Germans were pushed back, the British suffered heavy casualties. The newspaper had already published several articles by Machen regarding the progress of the war so when his latest article was read by the public it was accepted as fact. The story told of a soldier calling upon St. George to summon phantom bowmen from Agincourt to attack the German host. At the time the story was not labelled as fiction and Machen received requests to provide evidence that his story was true. Machen responded that the story was fiction but when it was reprinted by parish magazines the priests decided the fiction label must be erroneous and the facts of the story must be true.
Around that time other stories began to appear, told as authentic histories, including an account that told how the corpses of German soldiers had been found on the battlefield with arrow wounds. In “The Bowmen” Machen’s soldier saw “a long line of shapes, with a shining about them.” A Mr. A. P. Sinnett, writing in the “Occult Review”, stated that “those who could see said they saw ‘a row of shining beings’ between the two armies.” The surreal, ghostly entities were variously described as angels, bowmen, or even St. George himself or St. Michael holding a great glowing sword, and in one case even Joan of Arc, and they were all said to descend between the retreating British and their enemies to allow them a safe escape.
In April 1915 the “British Spiritualist” published an account of a supernatural force intervening to assist British forces which resulted in a flurry of similar accounts. By May a full-blown controversy was erupting, with the supernatural forces becoming known as The Angels of Mons and touted as proof of the action of divine providence on the side of the Allies in sermons across Britain, and then spreading into newspaper reports published widely across the world. (5)
In other reports lost soldiers told of glowing angels both male and female and dressed in white appearing to them to guide the way, and in still others there was talk of strange amorphous clouds of flickering light that spread out to block the retreat of the enemy or spook the horses of their cavalry to send them running away in fear. In most cases light bathed beings would fan out and chase off the German enemies in some fashion. Many captured Germans would later allegedly concur that something strange had been going on, reporting seeing the entities themselves roaming about, and claiming that they were unable to be shot and killed with their conventional weapons. (9)
Another story of ghostly forces fighting can be found within the pages of James Wentworth Day’s 1954 book “Here are Ghosts and Witches”. In the account, Day describes a very peculiar experience in November of 1918 at Bailleul, Flanders. He reports that he and another witness, a Corporal Jock Barr, witnessed spectral French and German soldiers atop a hilltop who seemed to be re-enacting a World War I cavalry battle from 1914. Throughout the whole violent, eerie encounter there was no noise and the ghosts did not seem to harm each other. When locals were asked about the incident, they simply said that around that time of year the spectral forces would always come out, do battle, and then vanish. (9)
It appears that the facts behind the story of supernatural happenings during the Battle of Mons and subsequent fights can be attributed to the wizarding forces involved in the battle. Whether or not Theseus Scamander was there or not is unknown but obviously some witchcraft was used to assist the BEF in their victory. As happened during the Wizarding War in 1996, the Minister of Magic must have approached the British Prime Minister with details on what was happening (HBP1) and asked that in order to keep the existence of the Wizarding World quiet, the facts of the incident should be denied by the original authors as fiction.
Machen tried to set the record straight by proclaiming his story as fiction, but any attempt to lessen the impact of such an inspiring story was bordering on treason by some. The stories published later often attribute their sources to anonymous British officers. The latest and most detailed examination of the Mons story by David Clarke suggests these men may have been part of a covert attempt by military intelligence to spread morale-boosting propaganda and disinformation. Some of the stories conveniently claimed that sources could not be revealed for security reasons. (5)
Other Wizards At War
The wizarding war effort in Europe included an “owl airforce,” although whether it was used for deploying attacks, sending messages, surveillance, or some combination of the three is unknown. The book “The Owl Airforce: True Life Tales of War in Europe” by Simon Dentata covered the history of the airforce in detail. (6)
There is also an account of the disappearance of an entire regiment at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. In August of that year, the British 5th Norfolk Regiment, marched into the Dardanelles campaign of the war. Made up of mostly soldiers employed by the estate of King Edward VII and led by the land agent Frank Beck, the regiment proceeded to march into battle and vanish without a trace. In later decades, some veterans would claim that between six and eight “loaf shaped clouds” had descended over the soldiers during the battle, which hovered over the troops before producing a fog which the battalion marched right into and never emerged from, with the strange objects then rising up into the sky to apparently take the whole contingent of over a hundred men with them. Turkish authorities would later claim that they had had nothing to do with the disappearance or the fate of the men. 9 The Turkish Ministry of Magic was not forthcoming with an explanation though many suspected they had a hand in it.
It has been stated that Rolanda Hooch‘s Silver Arrow broomstick was singed by an “overzealous” anti-aircraft device sometime during the First World War. She recounted this experience to Harry Potter many decades later in 1991. (7)
Other incidents that could be attributed to wizards are the so-called “Flaming Onions” which were typically described as glowing green balls that would zip around, do flips, and very often chase aircraft, easily outpacing and outmaneuvering them but not actually attacking in any way. This strange phenomenon was purportedly seen throughout the war by both sides of the engagement, and it always terrified those who experienced it. (9) Again, various Ministries of Magic in the areas had no comment.
One of the most sensational accounts was given in the book “The Squadron”, and describes a whole platoon of soldiers walking across No Man’s Land only to be grabbed from below by unseen forces and pulled down one by one as if sucked into the earth itself amidst screams of pain and terror until there was no one left and no sign that anyone had been there at all. It has also been variously reported that the Allied forces took this threat seriously, going so far as to gas the whole area in a bid to kill off the freakish marauding thugs. (8) The German Ministry of Magic denied all knowledge of the event.
The wizards of America also did their part in the war effort, although they prudently ensured that most No-Maj compatriots remained ignorant of their contribution. As there were magical factions on both sides, their efforts were not decisive, but they won many victories in preventing additional loss of life, and in defeating their magical enemies. This common endeavor did not, however, lead to a softening on MACUSA’s stance on No-Maj/wizard relations, and Rappaport’s Law remained firmly in place (Pm).
Finally, it’s clear that Muggle and wizard conflicts mirrored each other. It was also a tumultuous time in the wizarding community during World War I. When an interviewer asked JKR: “Do they feed each other, the Muggle and wizarding wars?” she replied “Yeah, I think so.” When talking about Grindelwald’s defeat in 1945 she said, “It amuses me to make allusions to things that were happening in the Muggle world, so my feeling would be that while there’s a global Muggle war going on, there’s also a global wizarding war going on” (TLC).
1 – Newt Scamander: A Movie Scrapbook – Rick Barba – Candlewick – 2016
2 – The Beasts: Cinematic Guide (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) – Felicity Baker – Scholastic – 2016 and Newt Scamander: A Movie Scrapbook – Rick Barba – Candlewick – 2016
3 – Lights, Camera, Magic: The Making of Fantastic Beats: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Ian Nathan – Harper Collins – 2018
4 – https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Theseus_Scamander (No source cited.)
5 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_of_Mons
6 – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Character Guide – Michael Kogge – Scholastic – 2016
7 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (video game) – GBA version
8 – https://mysteriousuniverse.org/2017/11/bizarre-paranormal-mysteries-of-world-war-i/