Hector Hugh Munro was born on December 18, 1870, in Burma; his father, Charles, was an imperial police officer. Munro, little more than a year old, had returned to England with his siblings when their pregnant mother, Mary, was charged by, run over, and killed by a cow in the Devonshire countryside in the winter of 1872. Munro was raised, along with his sister and brother, by his grandmother and her daughters at Broadgate Villa in Pilton (just north of Barnstaple). Both aunts could be quite strict with the children.
After he went to a boarding-school in south Devon for two years and then to Bedford Grammar School for four terms, Munro travelled and wintered in Europe with his father, by then retired, and his sister. In 1893, he moved to Burma to work as a military police officer in a post that his father procured for him, but he was forced to resign and return to England a year later after catching many fevers and contracting malaria.
In 1896, Munro moved to London. He did research for three years in the British Museum’s Reading Room for The Rise of the Russian Empire (1900). In February 1899, though, the story “Dogged,” by “H. H. M.,” had appeared in St. Paul’s. And on July 25, 1900, Saki’s political satire “Alice in Downing Street” (with illustrations by Francis Carruthers Gould), was published in The Westminster Gazette. (Saki’s name would not appear, though, until the next Alice instalment, in November.) Saki and Gould’s series was collected as The Westminster Alice (1902), by which time Saki’s Reginald sketches, featuring a cheeky young dandy’s witty dialogues, were popping up in the paper’s pages.
From 1902 to 1907, Munro worked as a correspondent for the Morning Post, reporting from the Balkans, Warsaw, Russia, and Paris. In 1908, he returned to London and became a full-time writer, living at 97 Mortimer Street in Fitzrovia. Saki’s often mordant, sometimes eerie, and memorably macabre stories frequently appeared first in The Westminster Gazette, the Morning Post, and The Bystander. Most of his pieces were collected and published in Reginald (1906), Reginald in Russia (1910), The Chronicles of Clovis (1911), Beasts and Super-Beasts (1914), and The Toys of Peace (1919); The Square Egg (1924) included his play The Watched Pot, co-written with Charles Maude. Saki’s two novels were The Unbearable Bassington (1912), the story of a doomed dandy, and When William Came (1913), set in an England occupied by the Germans.
Saki’s final weekly column of parliamentary reportage for The Outlook, “The Potted Parliament,” appeared on August 8, 1914. Three days earlier, Munro had written to the Morning Post, requesting that he and others like him be put “in touch with some organising authority” in order to enlist. He was soon accepted into a regiment; he was 43, but refused a commission. In November 1915, he left for the trenches in France, where he wrote three more pieces, including “For the Duration of the War.” After taking a short leave in June, he returned to the front and, in the early hours of November 14, 1916, Lance-Sergeant Munro was killed near Beaumont-Hamel by a sniper who spotted a glow in the distance. Munro’s last words were, reportedly, “Put that damn cigarette out!”