Body Shields (20 august 1916)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Body Shields is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Observer on 20 august 1916.

Body Shields

Sir Conan Doyle Replies to a Criticism

Sir, — Lord Sydenham has stated to your representative that he can see no military advantage in shielding the heart. The statement is so strange that surely it has arisen from some misunderstanding. Is not the preservation of the soldier's life a military advantage? Again and again in our recent fighting local victory has been changed into local defeat because our men, having reached their objective, were too weak to hold it on account of their losses in the advance. As to the possibility of the man going on fighting after receiving a blow on his heart shield (which is perhaps what Lord Sydenham had in his mind), let me quote the following experience as narrated by a sergeant:—

"As we turned the corner we saw a German lying round the end of a wall. He had got a machine gun. He turned this damned thing on me and got me on the foot. It didn't stop me, but as I was getting near him I felt two kicks over the heart. I didn't wait to see what had happened but bayoneted him. I sat down to see what was the damage. My foot was pretty bad, but when I looked at my left-hand breast pocket I saw two holes in it. I opened my pocket and found that the two bullets had gone through my metal shaving mirror, my pocket case, and had nosed their way into a book I was carrying."

In this case the sergeant was only incapacitated by his foot wound, and could have gone on with his platoon in spite of two bullets over his heart. Was this no military advantage? And is it not possible to give artificial protection which will be as effective as a mirror and a book? In this case the shots were at point blank range, and therefore very much more powerful than the average of those which sweep across No Man's Land with such fatal effect.

I am not, of course, arguing that only heart shields should be used. I am convinced that we can do better. But I am endeavouring to show that Lord Sydenham's reported objection to the heart shield is in opposition to the facts.

Yours faithfully,

Aug. 13.