Soldiers in London (10 february 1917)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Soldiers in London is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 10 february 1917.

See also his first and third letter on the same topic.

Soldiers in London

The Times (10 february 1917)


Sir, — The letters which pour in upon me testify to the fact that the conscience of England is aroused over the shocking state of affairs that has arisen. The conscience of England may well be aroused. Presently she may stand at the bar before the sister nations, who will ask her, "How have you cared for the boys who were sent to help you ?" It will not be easy to find a reply. If we answer, as the Bishop of London have done, that some of them were themselves "looking for trouble," that will not, I think, condone the fact that all of them were placed under conditions of provocation which no men should be asked to endure. "The pavement outside is blocked by the women lying in wait ; they push open the window in broad daylight and try to call the men out — they even force their way inside. The police seem powerless though there are plenty of them about." What can we say to the Colonies when we are reproached for such a state of things as that ? We can only make the miserable reply that roar our own youth has been sacrificed as freely and as needlessly as theirs

With all possible respect to the Bishop of London, I am of opinion that his suggestion of making venereal disease a military offence would be most dangerous in practice. The man could naturally conceal his condition ; he would get worse from want of treatment, and would end by total disablement. In the case of the man I can only suggest that the exhibition to him during his training of a few medical pictures depicting the exact effects of advanced venereal disease would have a distinctly chastening effect. I am clear also that the act of a man who, knowing that he has such a disease upon him, risks the spread of the infection should be made criminal and heavily punished.

The case of the women is different. I cannot clearly follow the Bishop when he uses the word "Christian" in order to support one form of coercion as against another. It does not appear to me to be relevant, and it complicates what is already sufficiently complex. strictly speaking, one might say that it was not Christian to turn the women out of the warm, well-lit halls into the winter streets. Many of us have our doubts how far moving the women from one point to another can have any effect save that of contaminating new areas. As to the alleged total failure of concentration it is remarkable that nearly all Continental countries (Christian nations, by the way) continue to use the system. I think that it would be fairer to say that it has partially failed, and that this failure is due to venal police and lax administration. I can never believe that a disease, moral or physical, which is quarantined, or even partially quarantined, is not more wisely treated than at disease which is allowed to spread without a check.

But the present condition need a more speedy and drastic remedy. These women are the enemies of the country. They should be treated as such. A short Bill should be passed empowering the police to intern all notorious prostitutes in the whole country, together with brothel keepers, until six months after the end of the war. All women found to be dangerous should be sent to join them. They should be given useful national work to do, well paid, kindly treated, but subjected to firm discipline at the hands of a female staff. So a curse might be changed, for a time at least, to a blessing, the streets of London would be purified, and our conscience would he clear in that we had done our utmost. "I was ready to give his body for the King, but I am giving his soul as well," cried an agonized mother. We cannot let such words be said in vain.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, Feb. 8.