Museum examines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign to save British soldiers

Conan Doyle.

An exhibition, exploring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign to save the lives of British soldiers launches this week at the Green Howards Museum in Richmond.

Conan Doyle is famous as the creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. He’s less well-known for his passionate efforts to reduce casualties during the First World War.

The exhibition, ‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: the case of the steel-plated soldier’ runs from Monday 12 February until 23 March.

Conan Doyle used his fame as a writer to lead the campaign to save the lives of British soldiers who were “fighting for the freedom of the world”.

This exhibition, on tour from the Royal Armouries, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, tells the story of that campaign; drawing on the writer’s personal papers held at the Royal Armouries and elsewhere.

Appalled by the 65,000 British casualties at the second battle of Ypres, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proposed in a letter to The Times (27 July 1915) that helmets and armour would reduce the number of wounds caused by shrapnel, rifle and machine gun fire.

It was the start of a campaign which lasted throughout the war and attracted the attention of the government.

Conan Doyle’s letters led to a response, not just from individuals, but also from manufacturing firms making armour for private purchase by British officers.

They sent the author samples which he tested in his garden with his own service rifle.

Philip Abbott, archivist at the Royal Armouries said. “Conan Doyle’s concern over the heavy casualties being suffered on the Western Front was prompted by his humanitarian nature and his ideas on helmets, body armour and shields were a thoughtful response to the impact on soldiers brought about by trench warfare.

“It’s a cause he pursued with great energy and passion throughout the war through the newspapers, and lobbying directly with the government of the time.”

“We are delighted to host this excellent touring exhibition,” said Lynda Powell, the Green Howards museum’s director and curator.

“We’ve been able to complement the fabulous research carried out by the Royal Armouries with objects from our own extensive collection.

“On display are some surprising life-saving objects including a brandy flask and a metal match box which saved the lives of their owners. You can still see the bullets lodged inside.”

Philip Abbott will talk about his research into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign at the museum on Friday 16 March at 7pm.

Tickets cost £5 and are available from the museum on 01748 826561.