John Buchan, the son of a Free Church minister, was born in Perth on 26th August, 1875. Educated at Glasgow University and Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1898 Buchan won the Newdigate Prize for poetry.
Although trained as a lawyer, Buchan became private secretary to Lord Alfred Milner, high commissioner for South Africa. In 1903 he returned to England where he became a director of the publishing company, Thomas Nelson & Sons. In 1910 Buchan had his first novel, Prester John, published.
In July 1914, Blackwood's Magazine, began serializing Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps. The hero, Richard Hannay, was based on the real-life military spy, William Ironside. With Britain on the verge of war, the nation was obsessed with German spy fever and its subject matter made it an immediate success. When it was published in book form, it sold over 25,000 copies in three months.
After the outbreak of the First World War the Liberal MP and successful journalist, Charles Masterman, was appointed head of the government's War Propaganda Bureau. Masterman recruited Buchan who was asked to organise the publication of a history of the war in the form of a monthly magazine. Buchan approached both Arthur Conan Doyle and Hilaire Belloc to help him with the project but both claimed they were too busy.
Buchan eventually decided to write the book on his own. Published by his own company, Thomas Nelson, the first installment of the Nelson's History of the War, appeared in February, 1915. A further twenty-three appeared at regular intervals throughout the war. The profits, including Buchan's own royalties, were donated to war charities.
In the spring of 1915, Buchan agreed to become one of the five journalists attached to the British Army. He was given responsibility for providing articles for The Times and the Daily News.Over the next few months Buchan covered both the second Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Loos.
In June 1916, Buchan was recruited by the British Army to draft communiqués for Sir Douglas Haig and other members of the General Headquarters Staff (GHQ). Given the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps, Buchan was also provided with the documents needed to write the Nelson's History of the War. GHQ saw this as good for propaganda as Buchan's close relationship with Britain's military leaders made it extremely difficult for him to include any critical comments about the way the war was being fought.
Buchan's History of the War provided the public with a completely false impression of what was going on the Western Front. In 1915 told his readers that the Germans were on the verge of defeat. He estimated that over 1,300,000 German soldiers had been killed, whereas the British losses was only 100,000.
Buchan continued to work closely with Charles Masterman and the War Propaganda Bureau. A series of propaganda pamphlets were written by Buchan. Published by the Oxford University Press, the titles included Britain's Land War (1915), The Achievements of France (1915) and The Battle of Jutland (1916).
In his pamphlet, The Battle of the Somme (1916) Buchan described the offensive as so successful that it marked "the end of trench fighting and the beginning of the campaign in the open." He added that the "Germans may write on their badges that God is with them, but our lads - they know." Buchan did not tell his readers that on the first day of the fighting of the 110,000 British soldiers who made the assault, 57,540 were casualties, 20,000 of them killed. It was what one historian has described as "the blackest day in the history of the British Army."
Buchan claimed that the Battle of the Somme was an Allied victory and that it would enable Britain to now use its superior cavalry. However, Buchan did not provide details of what had been gained, nor did he tell his readers that in the 140 days that the battle lasted, the British Army had lost 400,000 men and had advanced six miles.
In February, 1917, the government established a Department of Information. Given the rank Lieutenant Colonel, Buchan was put in charge on the department on an annual salary of £1,000 a year. Charles Masterman retained responsibility for books, pamphlets, photographs and war paintings and T. L. Gilmour dealt with cables, wireless, newspapers, magazines and the cinema.
After the war Buchan continued to write successful adventures stories such as Huntingtower (1922), The Three Hostages (1924) and Witch Wood (1927). He also became involved in politics and in 1927 was elected Conservative MP for the Scottish Universities. Buchan held the seat until granted the title, Baron Tweedsmuir in 1935.
President of the Scottish History Society (1929-32), Buchan wrote biographies of Montrose (1928) and Sir Walter Scott (1932). Buchan also served as governor-general of Canada (1935-37) and chancellor of Edinburgh University (1937-40). John Buchan died on 12th February, 1940.