Our Latent Forces

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Our Latent Forces is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 8 august 1914.

Our Latent Forces

The Times (8 august 1914)


Sir, — The future is dark and we do not know that we will not need our last ounce of strength before we are through. We can afford to neglect nothing.

Will you allow me to point out how a reserve force can be formed which will be numerically large and which if it does nothing else can relieve more mobile and trained troops for the fighting line? In a word, the suggestion is to form civilian companies of the National Reserve. There are tens and hundreds of thousands of men in this country from 35 to 55 who are often harder and fitter than their juniors, but for whom no place is found in our scheme of defence. Many of them are good shots, they are longing to help in any possible way, and they would fall into line instantly if they could only see how to do it. They would speedily become capable of guarding railways or buildings, helping to garrison fortresses or performing many other military duties.

If I may quote the example of this little town, we held our first meeting to discuss this on Tuesday, by Wednesday night we had enrolled 120 men, and to-day we start drill and practice at the butts. Many of the men are fine shots and all are exceedingly anxious to be serviceable. It is not possible for them to take on long engagements or to live out in permanent camps, but they could do much useful work and in case of a raid they would do anything. They would form our "Landsturm." But at present there is no organisation into which such men can be fitted. Local effort would rapidly form the various companies, but some method of common action has to be devised.

The obvious danger of such organisation is lest it should divert men from the Territorials or any other more useful branch of the Service. But to recognise the danger is to avoid it. The Reserve company would not go the length of refusing to enlist young men who cannot or will not become Territorials, but it has the constant end before it of encouraging them to go further and preparing them so that if they do join the more active Services they are already partly instructed. I am convinced that if they are property run these civilian National Reserve companies would be not only of value in themselves but would be a stepping-stone for the younger men to take them into the fighting line.

The official organisations have so much upon them for the moment that the work can only be done by independent local effort. But when the men are there, as in the case of the existing National Reserve, they will command attention and find some means of arming themselves. We have our own record of organisation, and I should be happy to send copies of our method to anyone who may desire to form other centres.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, Aug. 6.