Conan Doyle in Luck
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Conan Doyle "in Luck"
SURGEONS TO THE FRONT.
HEROISM OF TOMMY ATKINS.
(BY DR. CONAN DOYLE).
CAPETOWN, S.S. Oriental.
We of the Langman's Hospital are in great luck, for we are to go straight up to Bloemfontein and, as we hope, keep up with the advance, while many surgeons have been kept down here from the beginning of the war. We hope to be in East London in two days, and Bloemfontein in three more. We will be among the very first to pass over the reconstructed bridges, so if you hear that we are all in the Orange River you will understand why.
We had a pleasant voyage, with the Royal Scots Militia for companions, an excellent lot of chaps. I am rather full up of the war, as I am writing a small account of it, so I gave the men a lecture on the subject. I thought they would go in with a better heart if they clearly understood what we were trying to do. It was a curious experience, the tropical night, the surge and heave of the ship, and the masses of grey shirting and khaki with the faces glimmering up through the darkness. I don't know if any audience enjoyed it, but I certainly did. Such a keen lot they were, roaring back at me whenever their patriotism was at all stirred.
Tommy is a great man. I went to Wynberg yesterday and saw him in various stages of mutilation and torture, and I take my hat off to him. Heroic he is, in his unostentatious patience and persistent sense of humour. One poor fellow shot through both optic nerves — some hope of saving the left eye —placid and quiet. "The bullet that went through me, sir, hit General Knox afterwards," says another proudly. "Yes, sir, my corps did very well at Paardeberg," says a broken Canadian. Another man has a bullet through the brain, and they shave off the brain as it protrudes. He will recover all right. He can only move one side of his face, but he laughed gleefully with that side when I mentioned Hector MacDonald — he being a Highlander. Another Highlander was wounded at Magersfontein, healed up, and had just come back wounded again at Paardeberg. The coincidence seemed to amuse him. "Yes, sir, the bullets is all over you. If once you begin to mind them in action you might as well not be there at all." "The bone is healing, sir. I can hardly hold myself, I feel so pleased about it." One poor fellow was crying — his sciatic nerve had been ploughed up by a bullet, and he had neuralgia day and night. Nature will in time accommodate itself. "Lancashire Fusiliers, sir,'" says another. "We lost 470 men out of 900 — only five officers out of 20 left, and a captain in command. Yes, the Inniskillings lost more than us." A band outside strikes up "Soldiers of the Queen," and those who can move hobble out of the tents, and the others brighten and sit up in bed — poor soldiers of the Queen.
The Kaffirs here are surprisingly loyal, flags on their houses and ribbons on their hats. They evidently know history, even if they can't read it, and they appreciate what Boer and Briton mean to them.