John Buchan's Richard Hannay

Stranger than Fiction - the undercover spying mission of a British officer disguised as a Boer in German South-West Africa provided John Buchan with inspiration for his most famous character.

Memory Hold The Door, the autobiography of John Buchan, later the first Baron Tweedsmuir and Governor-General of Canada, tells how he came to write what he called his 'shockers' so as to raise much- needed cash. In the first of these profitable books, The Thirty-Nine Steps, published in 1914, he invented, as he put it, 'a young South African called Richard Hannay, who had traits copied from my friends, and I amused myself in considering what he would do in certain circumstances'. Amongst these friends was a young regular subaltern of the gunners, Edmund Ironside, whom Buchan had first met whilst working as a member of Lord Milner's famous 'kindergarten' of talent, engaged on reconstructing South Africa at the end of the Boer War. That a British officer could have accompanied a German military expedition in their South-West African colony – now Namibia – disguised as a Boer transport driver, and in this role deceive not only his German employers but his Boer companions as well, against whom he had been fighting the year before, seems incredible. But this the future field-marshal Ironside succeeding in doing.

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