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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Mr. Winston Churchill and Dr. Conan Doyle on the War

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Mr. Winston Churchill and Dr. Conan Doyle on the War is an article published in The Times on 26 october 1900.

Report of speech by Arthur Conan Doyle at the Club-house of the Pall Mall Club on 25 october 1900.

Mr. Winston Churchill and Dr. Conan Doyle on the War

The Times (26 october 1900, p. 4)

Mr. Winston Churchill, M.P., and Dr. Conan Doyle were the guests of the evening at the annual dinner of the Pall-Mall Club, which was held yesterday at the Club-house, St. James's-square.

The chair was occupied by Sir Herbert Maxwell, M.P., president of the club.

After the toast of "The Queen" had been duly honoured.

The CHAIRMAN proposed the toast of "Welcome Home" coupled with the name of Mr. Winston Churchill. He said that among the many rapid changes which had come over modern warfare, none were more striking than those by which the hospital service and the system of war correspondence had been revolutionized. There were war correspondents and war correspondents; and the club was proud of the representative whom they entertained that evening (cheers); but he would emphasize the difference between the men who wrote with military experience and a sense of responsibility and those headlong writers who thought that the importance of their communications depended upon the amount of reflection they cast on those in high command. (Hear, hear.) There had been letters from the seat of war which made him blush for the profession of literature. Mr. Winston Churchill, who had already distinguished himself in literature in no small degree, had now aspired to and had won a seat in Parliament. He hoped that his hon. friend would not be disappointed. (laughter.) He certainly would not be disappointed with the welcome which the House of Commons would give to his father's son (cheers) — magni nominis umbra. Since the name of Lord Randolph Churchill had disappeared from the lists of the House, it had never seemed quite the same place; and one of the brightest features of the late election was the restoration of the name of Churchill to the Parliamentary roll. (Cheers.)

The toast was drunk with musical honours.

Mr. WINSTON CHURCHILL, in responding, said that he hoped he should not be indiscreet in talking of more serious matters than wore usually discussed after dinner. A great deal had been said lately about the Press censorship in South Africa. There could be no doubt as to the necessity for a censorship, not only to prevent the divulgence of the Army's secrets, but to protect the people at home from being needlessly tortured by morbid and hysterical letters written for tho purpose of creating a sensation and a newspaper "boom." (Hear, hear.) A censorship was necessary also in justice to the officers engaged. Of many actions at which he has been present he had heard tales reflecting on the regimental officers, but generally they proved to be mere moonshine when investigated. On the field these extraordinary stories corrected themselves, because the person slandered was there to defend himself; but there was nothing except the censorship to protect the anxious public at home. As to the application of the principle of the censorship, his own experience was that it had been most considerately exercised. The majority of corespondents did not require censoring, but there were some who had tried to gain for themselves notoriety by the violence of their statements. He had been reading a book called "Twice Captured" — an extraordinary title, for it was perfectly easy to be captured. (Laughter.) A man might just as easily call his book "Twice Bankrupt." (Laughter.) There was a passage in Lord Rosslyn's book to which he felt it his duty to allude — a passage in which the behaviour of four distinguished cavalry regiments was attacked. Their "mad flight" at Sanna's Post was spoken of. Now he wished to say as one who had been in over the ground and heard the story from a dozen actors in the event that there was not a vestige of truth for these scandalous statements. (Cheers.) It was intolerable that a person who had fallen in the mud should endeavour to veil his ignominy by splashing mud over other persons. (Cheers.) He would not class a correspondent such as Mr. Hales with Lord Rosslyn, but he must strenuously and indignantly deny certain things which Mr. Hales had said. Mr. Hales had poured out the vials of his scorn on the "kid-gloved British officer," with, his "hee-haw manners." his "drawling speech," his "offensive arrogance," and his "worship of dress." These charges had since been repeated in a more serious way in an article in the Nineteenth Century. He had seen more of the war in South Africa than Hr. Hales, and he had seen the British officer in other wars, and he utterly denied the truth or justice of these charges. (Cheers.) A man had a right to be judged by his peers, and let the British officer be judged by the fighting races whom he trained and led. (Cheers.) Would Buller's Army, so often beaten, have fought its way into Ladysmith if the private soldiers believed their officers to be kid-gloved effigies and duffers or arrogant fools? (Hear, hear.) Our system of military education might be defective, but there was something that was worth preserving. Ask the troopers of the Imperial Light Horse or of the South African Light Horse what they thought of the Regular officers who fought with them. Ask the men of Brabant's Horse or Montmorency's Scouts, ask the officers of the Australian and Canadian contingents whether they were ashamed of their English brothers in arms. He knew what their answer would be. Whatever their impatience with our military system, they would say it was a foul and cruel slander to call the British officer either negligent or stupid (Cheers.) Ask the fighting races of India what they thought of the men who led them, or ask the black Sudanese and even the fellaheen their opinion of the "kid-gloved" officer. (Hear, hear.) Finally, let the casualty lists in the South African war be glanced at, and in that glorious disproportion of mortality between the officers and men would be found something to convince even the bitterest critic that the British officer had done much to preserve the honour of his country and the dignity of British manhood. (Cheers.) In conclusion, Mr. Winston Churchill proposed the toast of "Prosperity to the Pall Mall Club, and Health to the Committee," Mr. C. H. BINNEY responding.

LORD F. G. GODOLPHIN OSBORNE next proposed "The President and Vice-Presidents."

The CHAIRMAN, in responding, said that he was glad to hear what had fallen from Mr. Churchill, because it was time that the other side in these matters was heard. When sweeping changes at the War Office and the democratization of the Army were talked of he hoped that care would be taken that before we parted with what we had something better was certain.

Mr. HENNIKER HEATON then proposed "Our Guests," coupled with the name of Dr. Conan Doyle.

Dr. CONAN DOYLE, in responding, said that he had seen the British officer in hospital more than in action, and the thing that struck him was that when things were worst with the British officer, he looked at death open-eyed and unafraid. He was an absolutely brave man, whose nerve even disease could not shake. Nothing could exaggerate his esteem for the British officer. He remembered a typical example of his bearing when in the Sudan. There were four officers in one tent, all suffering from fever, but all sticking to duty. Every morning each of the four would throw half a crown into a hat, and they would then take their temperatures. The man with the highest temperature took the pool. (Laughter.) When he read reports of the misbehaviour of these officers it made his blood boil, for he knew that at best the correspondent was generalizing from one case. It was well at this time to say a word for our enemies as well as for our own men. The Boers had been the victims of a great deal of cheap slander in the Press. The men who had seen most of the Boer in the field were the most generous in estimating their white character. That the white flag was hoisted by the Boers as a cold-blooded device for luring our men into the open was an absolute calumny. (Cheers.) The Boers were to be our fellow-subjects. To discredit their valour was to discredit our victory; and these charges of irresponsible persons went back to South Africa and rankled there to make reconciliation difficult. The Boers had been capable of a noble and generous act in restoring without parole prisoners of war whom they could not properly provide for. He had never heard of that being done in any other campaign. (Cheers.) There was extreme bitterness among the men, and more among the women; but he thought it better that the war should be fought to an end than that a peace should be patched prematurely. The difficulties of the settlement had been exaggerated. With the control of arms and ammunition, and with the great influx of British into the Transvaal, there would be force enough to keep the Boers in hand without any assistance from the British Army.

The company shortly afterwards separated.