Dr. Conan Doyle on the War
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Dr. Conan Doyle on the War is an article published in The Times on 13 november 1900.
Report of speech by Arthur Conan Doyle at the Authors' Club on 12 november 1900.
Dr. Conan Doyle on the War
Dr. Conan Doyle, who is chairman of the Authors' Club, was entertained at dinner last evening by his fellow-members at the club rooms, Whitehall-court. Mr. Frankfort Moore presided, and there was a large company present. The toast of "The Queen" having been honoured,
The CHAIRMAN proposed the health of "Our Guest."
Dr. CONAN DOYLE, who was received with cordiality, said a great gap seemed to separate him from that dinner when, at the beginning of the war in South Africa, they united to try and do honour to Lord Wolseley. On that night they were congratulating themselves on the fact that 50,000 men had gone out to put right a situation which they felt at that time was distressingly wrong. At that time who could have thought that five times that number of men would be needed to complete the war? (Hear, hear.) The war still went on, and they still thought, as they had thought many a time before, that it was just at the end. In his heart he believed it was, but they had gone so hopelessly wrong in the past that they might conceivably be wrong again, and that was why they should talk with great modesty. (Hear, hear.) He noticed that Mr. Burdett-Coutts had been writing and talking a great deal about the field hospitals in South Africa. Mr. Burdett-Coutts had said, what he had no doubt was perfectly true, that, at the beginning, there were 350 cases in a field hospital which was only meant for 50 men. But the public should know how that was. It was because there was no other hospital there. Geographically there could be no other there, for the simple reason that they could not get there, and the question for the man in command of that hospital was whether he was to turn these wounded and sick men from the gates of his hospital or take them in and do the best he could for them in difficult and trying circumstances. (Cheers.) In the examples he took Mr. Burdett-Coutts was probably correct, though it must always be remembered that hard things must occur in war. But there was one weak point in his case on which he had never been able to get any explanation. Their principal medical officer, to whom they always went with any complaint, was Dr., or General, Wilson. He was over-burdened with work, and it was very difficult for him to find out what was going on over the whole field of operations. But, when he had to call his attention to what he thought was a gross outrage on the soldiers, Dr. Wilson immediately promised that he would have it set right and, as a matter of fact, it was at once put right. Surely, if Mr. Burdett-Coutts had taken the same course he would probably have secured the same result (Cheers.) Mr. Burdett-Coutts did nothing of the kind, and, when Dr. Wilson came back to England he found himself accused by a man on the spot of a number of things to which his attention was never drawn at the time by that man. He did not think that was fair. (Cheers.) He did not wish to go into the general question of the Army Medical Department, though he thought it was perhaps, a little too much army and too little medical. The moment they began to give military titles to doctors they took a step backwards and not forwards. Much had been said recently about the drastic measures adopted against the Boers. Quieter methods had been tried, and be found that the Army, both officers and men, were getting very restive and very bitter about their failure. There had been, complaint, too, about outrages by the British Army. He knew nothing, had heard nothing, about British outrages while he was in South Africa, and, as to the allegations which had been made about outrages on women, he believed it was absolutely impossible. The tone of the Army in this respect was noble and splendid. (Cheers.)