Arthur Conan Doyle in World War I (part 3)

sherlock holmes parodies

Click on the cover to learn more about the book!

This is the second post reprinting biographical essays about Arthur Conan Doyle and World War I from “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1915-1919.”

Each year begins with a summary of Arthur Conan Doyle’s life during that year. They’re a little more detailed than a Wikipedia entry, but shorter than a book-length biography. I tried to strike a balance between getting in the highlights, and also the anecdotes that help to shape our understanding of the man.

We covered the years 1915 and 1916 and 1917 and 1918. We’ll conclude this time with 1919 and his public conversion to Spiritualism that will define the rest of his life.

Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919” is available at all fine online book and ebook sellers, plus New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop (and soon at Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg).

Want to read more parodies and pastiches? The complete list can be found here.


The war was over, but the dying went on.

The influenza epidemic that took Kingsley swept the world. It started in Spain and spread into France and Germany. Soldiers on leave brought it into Britain, and it spread from there. In its most virulent form, it could kill within a day, and young adults between 20 and 30 were particularly vulnerable.

One of the victims was Conan Doyle’s brother, Innes, who died February in Belgium. They had been close throughout their lives. When Conan Doyle hung out his shingle in Southsea, nine-year-old Innes was sent there to act as his servant, much like Billy did for Holmes in the later stories. Conan Doyle supported his army career, sending him blank checks for his use. He brought him along on his American lecture tour. Now Innes was gone. Again, he found solace in Spiritualism: “All fine-drawn theories of the subconscious go to pieces before the plain statement of the intelligence, ‘I am a spirit. I am Innes. I am your brother.”

Meanwhile, he finished two more volumes of his war history and spent much of 1919 on the road lecturing on “Death and the Hereafter.” The list of places he visited represents a staggering show of fortitude for a 60-year-old man: Hastings, Birmingham, Walsall, Cheltenham, south Wales, Manchester, Leicester, Portsmouth, Glasgow, London, and Aberdeen. When church leaders attacked him, he altered his lecture and delivered a reply in Wolverhampton urging an alliance. Both sides believed in life after physical death; Spiritualism just proved it. If the clergy would open their eyes, he argued, they will see the truth. In fact, he believed that many clergymen were “amongst the strongest mediums which we possess at this time.”

conan doyle biography harry houdini

Harry Houdini shakes hands with Conan Doyle

In Brighton, the seed of a short-lived friendship was planted when he was introduced to an American magician touring Britain who shared his interest in the hereafter. For the next few years, Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini would engage in a struggle over Spiritualism that would play out in the press.

Publications: “The British Campaign in France and Flanders, Vol. 4” (March); “The British Campaign in France and Flanders, Vol. 5” (Sept.); “The Vital Message” (Nov.); “The Guards Came Through and Other Poems” (Dec.).