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Doyle and fellow spiritualist Oliver Lodge
at their knighthood ceremony in 1902. *

Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted not for his literary achievements, but for his pamphlet defending British actions in South Africa during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902.

When fighting broke out in South Africa between the governing British colonists and the Dutch-descended settlers known as the Boers, Conan Doyle was too old (at age 41) to enlist as a soldier. So, instead he served for three months in 1900 as a doctor in a private military hospital in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

On his return to England he wrote The Great Boer War, an accurate and impartial history of the conflict up to that time. The book remains highly respected; but its final chapter advocating the modernization of the British army -- an argument he had earlier presented in the Cornhill -- predictably earned him the scorn of the military establishment (Interestingly, all the reforms he proposed were subsequently adopted).

Composite image of Conan Doyle's book,
him in uniform, and map of a Boer War battle.

Later, angered by charges that the British committed atrocities during the Boer War, Conan Doyle wrote in one week a sixty-thousand-word pamphlet in rebuttal. Published in January, 1902, The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct sold for six pence per copy in Britain; thousands of translations were given away in France, Russia, Germany, and other countries. All profits from the sale of the book were donated to charity. For the book's successful production and recieption, ACD was knighted on August 9, 1902. Interestingly he had considered not accepting the honour, because he said he wrote the work out of conviction, not to gain at title. However, friends and relatives convinced him that he should accept it and it was a suitable way to honour his patriotism.

During World War I he organized a volunteer rifle company -- the forerunner of the modern Home Guard -- and toured the front lines to gather material for his history of the conflict.

Text source: extract from "Sidelights" Contemporary Author's Online
Thomson Gale, 2004

Military / Political related related work by Conan Doyle includes:

The Great Boer War (1900)
The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct (1902)
The Crime of the Congo (1909)
The "Arch Adept" of the "First Degree" (1910)
The Passing of the Legions (1911)
To Arms! (1914)
The German War (1914)
The Story of British Prisoners (1915)
A Visit to Three Fronts: Glimpses of the British, Italian, and French Lines (1916)
The Origin and Outbreak of the War (1916)
The British Campaign in France and Flanders, vols. 1-6 (1916-20)
The Mystery of Joan of Arc (1924)

Reference copies of these are available under category 819.3 in the Sherlock Holmes Collection. Or you may search for lending copies in the Westminster Libraries: Search Catalogue

* Original image based on illustration from Doyle's "Memories & Adventures" in Strand Magazine, 1923-24.

Introduction | His Life | Fiction | Military | Sport | Spiritualism | True Crime | ACD Quiz