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I am quoting from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Final Problem by Arthur Conan Doyle:

"Because you will find me a dangerous companion now. This man's occupation is gone. He is lost if he returns to London. If I read his character right he will devote his whole energies to revenging himself upon me. He said as much in our short interview, and I fancy that he meant it. I should certainly recommend you to return to your practice."

It was hardly an appeal to be successful with one who was an old campaigner as well as an old friend. We sat in the Strasburg salle-à-manger arguing the question for half an hour, but the same night we had resumed our journey and were well on our way to Geneva.

I found the word in every online dictionary. For example, Collins defines as:

A campaigner is a person who campaigns for social or political change.

which is basically "militant" but it feels like the author meant that he was an old soldier but I couldn't find this meaning anywhere.

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    There are several definitions with that sense here. It's sometimes used metaphorically, but Watson is actually a former army doctor. Aug 15, 2022 at 10:10
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    @KateBunting For me the late Victorian use of the phrase "old campaigner" is almost identical with the modern use of the term "veteran". "Veteran" still has other uses as did "campaigner" in Victorian times but used on its own it almost always means a veteran of one or more major and bloody conflicts.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 15, 2022 at 11:38

2 Answers 2

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Nothing wrong with the comment by user BoldBen & the related answer by user Greybeard , but I wanted to chip in with My Perspectives :

Meaning of campaigner :

A person who has served in a military campaign.
(by extension) A military veteran.

Etymology of campaign :

From French campagne, from Italian campagna (“field, military operation”),
from Late Latin campānia (“open country, battlefield”), from Latin campus (“field”)

I think old campaigner is taken to mean that Watson was accustomed to be on the battlefield in military operations & not averse to taking risks while saving lives of unknown soldiers. Even now, he is not averse to taking risks, more so when it involves staying with his old friend.

The Crux of this View Point:
Watson is not saying he was a soldier (because he was a Doctor) & thus, can fight Moriarty ;
Watson is saying he has been on the battlefield (& he is not scared) & thus, will stay with Holmes.

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Bold Ben has the correct answer.

Campaigner comes from Campaign which the OED gives as

3. Military. The continuance and operations of an army ‘in the field’ for a season or other definite portion of time, or while engaged in one continuous series of military operations constituting the whole, or a distinct part, of a war.

A campaigner is thus someone who took part in such a military operation.

"Old campaigner" = experienced campaigner -> a soldier (serving or retired) who has been on many campaigns.

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