on 17 August 2013
Written by one of our greatest authors, these volumes constitute the finest account of any regiment of the British army during the First World War and constitute one of the classic works on that war. They have an added poignancy in that his own son John, a lieutenant in the second brigade,had been killed at Loos in 1915. This was in part Kipling's tribute to his son, in part reparation for the fact that he had engineered his son's entry into the army when he had been medically disqualified. John was myopic, virtually blind when his glasses were off, not a good condition to have in battle. He walked blindly as did so many others not suffering from his deficiency.
For those interested in Kipling and the Great War, there is an excellent article by Harry Potter in the Kipling Journal, reproduced below
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
Your meetings secretary, Sharad, caught me off guard last November. I had preached the Remembrance Sunday sermon at his church when over coffee amidst the usual pleasantries he approached me and asked if I would consider addressing the Kipling Society. 'I know nothing about Kipling,' I blurted out. >That does not matter' he assured me, 'You will keep us awake.= So that was all I had to do, I thought, relieved. And he told me it would be sometime next spring - an age away in November. I thought it would do me good to read some more Kipling and so I breezily accepted and, being Remembrance Sunday, plumped for the wide title of >Rudyard Kipling and the First World War.=
Months quickly passed - as months tend to do - in idleness and complacency. Autumn turned to Winter and Winter turned to Spring. The day of big push loomed, and I discovered that my Spring Offensive was in danger of being mired in mud. The munitions dump of material on Rudyard Kipling and the First World War had been thoroughly pillaged by the time I got there. The letters to his children and his friends so recently published by Eliot Gilbert and Thomas Pinney had been extensively utilised in Andrew Lycett's recent biography. Kipling's own regimental history of the Irish Guards had been rescued from obscurity by its recent republication by Spellmount. And worst of all, every aspect of his relationship with his son and his bid to commemorate his son's fate had been comprehensively documented by Tonie and Valmai Holt. The battlefield much fought over in the last 80 years lay pitted and bare. Not a tree left for cover. The front was vast and well-defended. There seemed to be no obvious way to capture new ground. There were unexploded mines of expertise to blow up the unwary novice. And in the opposing dugouts battalions of Kiplingites were ready to repulse any amateurish advance. My troops were outgunned, outnumbered and inexperienced.
My only chance of a big push was to give a purely subjective commentary on the questions that this material raised in my mind. I had come to this project fresh. I had read in the distant past quite a lot of Kipling, for pleasure, but without system. I had read quite a lot about the First World War and in particular the War Poets, of whom Kipling was one. Now I have read a great deal by and about Kipling. As I did so various questions kept arising. Why was this major popular poet merely a minor war poet? Why has his impact on the way future generations viewed the conflict been so negligible when he perfectly reflected the public mood at the time? Why are poets and writers and artists - far less famous in their day than Kipling - the ones who have stamped their mark so indelibly on that conflict? How do other writers and artists of the Great War compare to Kipling. What legacy has he left from the war years, what monument of lasting value?
With these questions in mind I propose to examine three facets of Kipling and the First World War:
1. His attitude to the conflict which I entitle 'Old Men's Lies.'
2. His attitude to the Germans which I entitle 'The Hun is at the Gate.'
3. His attitude to the dead and the grieving: 'Known unto God.'
And in so doing to compare Kipling with some of his contemporaries.
I OLD MEN'S LIES
Kipling had never been a soldier. But the army life, which he chronicled so well, had an indelible attraction for him. Where he had failed to tread he destined his son, John, to follow. The pressure on the unexceptional boy from his domineering father must have been enormous. His health was often very poor, he got mumps and thyroid problems, almost certainly stress related. An anxious parent praised any signs of his 'Dear Warrior' getting tougher. But John's myopia and low academic achievement made Sandhurst out of the question. Only a war could improve his chances.
And a war there came. In August 1914 Armageddon began. The Hun was at the gate and the youth of England must answer the call. For Kipling, father and son, this was a righteous war against a vile foe. It was a sacrificial duty to serve your country, and the sacrifice on Rudyard's part would be his son.
John, of course, wanted to join up. This was not just parental pressure but the whole atmosphere of the time. Boys wanted to go; it was their parents who often had misgivings. Vera Brittan recorded that her father
'Vehemently forbade [her brother] Edward, who was still under military age, to join anything whatsoever. Edward's tentative efforts at defiance Ywere numerous, for his enforced subservience seemed to his synonymous with everlasting disgrace.=
John' eyesight should have precluded him from service, but even that was set aside after his father intervened with Lord Roberts on his behalf. John got his commission in the Irish Guards. Again this was not just Kipling's influence; others by their persistence could overcome this hurdle. Vera Brittan's fiancé, Roland, was absolutely determined to take part in this 'very ennobling and beautiful' war. Despite his poor eyesight by sheer persistence he eventually got a commission in the Norfolk Regiment. John, Edward , Roland - all boys who willingly went to war in an atmosphere of heroic chivalry and self-sacrificial nobility.
Like many an anxious parent the Kiplings were enormously proud of the valour of their young son. Kipling wrote to his daughter about a recent visit from his >warrior:=
>Saturday, came John in full canonicals by the 5.44. He very much becomes the uniform... It was a changed John in many respects but all delightful. A grave and serious John with an adorable smile and many stories of >his= men. I am immensely pleased with our boy.=
And to his son he wrote: >We are both more proud of you than words can say. Dear love and great pride from us all, my veteran.=
This was another standard response. Vera Brittain=s reaction to a visit by her recently gazetted and uniformed brother was similar: >With his tall figure, his long beautiful hands, and the dark arched eyebrows which almost met above his half-sad, half-amused eyes, he looked so handsome in his new second lieutenant's uniform.=
The Kiplings were under no delusions as to what their son's enlistment meant, but it never occurred to father, son or mother that there was any alternative to immediate service. When her mother wondered how one found courage to send a boy to almost certain death, Carrie replied resignedly that there was 'nothing else to do:'
>The world must be saved from the German who will worse than kill us if he is allowed a chance and one can=t let one=s friends and neighbours= sons be killed in order to save us and our son. There is no chance John will survive unless he is so maimed from a wound as to be unfit to fight. We know it and he does.'
Not only was Kipling fully aware that his son would die, he was brutally realistic about the sort of death he would likely endure. He too could envisage 'the millions of the mouthless dead and say not soft things as other men have said.'
And yet, at other times, and even after his son's death, he could talk jauntily of the deaths of millions in the game that was afoot.
>The game is not going too badly at the front. There are not many tactics or finesse on either side and so the game reduces itself to plain killing. Our losses are not light, but by the circumstances and training of the German armies the German losses are not less than three times ours - which is a reasonable proportion. They ought not to begin to weaken until they have lost a flat million of dead.=
John was still but a boy, and a pretty immature one at that. In his letters home he gives a boy's own account of his military frolics and asks for carpet slippers. His father replies in kind, treating the whole enterprise as a great game.
Dear Old Man, I hope you=ll never get nearer the Boche than I did. ... I don=t mind trenches half as much as going in a motor along ten or twelve miles of road which the Boches may or may not shell. ... It=s a grand life though and does not give you a dull minute.
The >Boys Own= tone of this letter was designed, he thought, to keep his son=s and his own spirits up as he entered into this great adventure. He recommends boric acid in the socks to make walking more comfortable and rabbit netting overhead against hand grenades. He told Carrie that he had sent John 'an account of my experience in the trenches for his instruction and guidance.' He had become an armchair expert in the way that only persistent non-combatants could.
And then, after a month in France John was killed on 27th September 1915 at the Battle of Loos, only two days into his first and last engagement. Kipling never got over the loss, but always thought it necessary. On the one hand he seems utterly resigned: Kipling was 'sorry that all the years= work ended in that one afternoon but it=s something to have bred a man.' On the other he was incensed by a flattering obituary of his son in The Morning Post which referred to JK as
>barely eighteen, a boy of delicate health but indomitable zeal and resolution. He was determined to take his share in the war. In assenting to his urgent pleas his father - and the mother also - offered the dearest of all possible sacrifices on the altar of their country- an only son whose youth and health might have given them a good reason for evading the ordeal.'
The remarks about John's youth and 'delicacy' B for Kipling read effeminacy - irked. John he asserted on several occasions, was 'hard as nails' and 'as fit as a fiddle.'
I=m rather sick about it for it=s specially rank when you remember he was in the brigade which doesn=t encourage unfitness. Also he was shaping excellently as an officer. I don=t regret anything except the uncertainty.=
For Kipling it was not war that killed Englishmen but incompetence and parsimony. Military incompetence and political ineptitude, if they had not caused the death of his son, had hastened it. In a bitterly ironic passage in his Irish Guards, dealing with the day John died he relates
>It was a fair average for the day of a debut, and taught them somewhat for their future guidance. Their commanding officer told them so at Adjutant=s Parade, but it does not seem to have occurred to any one to suggest that direct infantry attacks, after ninety minute bombardments, on works begotten out of a generation of thought and prevision, scientifically built up by immense labour and applied science, and developed against all contingencies through nine months, are not likely to find a fortunate issue. So, while the Press was explaining to a puzzled public what a far-reaching success had been achieved, the Agreatest battle in the history of the world@ simmered down to picking up the pieces on both sides of the line, and a return to autumnal trench-work, until more and heavier guns could be designed and manufactured in England. Meantime, men died.'
Irony turned to anger in 'The Children', the searing poem bearing most directly on John's fate.
They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the Judgment o=ercame us.
They believed us and perished for it. Our Statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning.
That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was givenY
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation.
But who shall return us the children?
And in the Epitaphs of War, he depicts a 'Dead Statesman' at the last Judgment:
I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?
It is often said that the nearest Kipling came to self-recrimination was another Epitaph, 'Common Form:'
If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
Compare the close resemblance between these lines and Ezra Pound's litany:
Died some, pro patria
Not >dulce= not 'et decor=...
Walked eye-deep in hell
Believing in old men=s lies, then unbelieving ....
The difference, of course, is Pound's soldiers' rejection of the notion of dying pro patria, a notion Kipling never forsook. This marks the latters distinction from the other war poets and war veterans. Their views changed with the war, his remained static. The home-leave episodes in Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That or Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front give us lively portraits of an irreconcilable clash. On the one hand, civilians and armchair soldiers, desperately clung to their belief in an orderly world where war was natural, where sacrifice was necessary and where death could still be glorious, and on the other hand, trench soldiers rejected those beliefs altogether. Vera Brittan's fiancé who also served at Loos wrote:
The dug-outs have been nearly blown in, the wire entanglements are a wreck, and in among the chaos of twisted iron and splintered timber and shapeless earth are the fleshless, blackened bones of simple men who poured out their red, sweet wine of youth unknowing, for nothing more tangible than Honour or their Country's Glory. Let him who thinks war a glorious, golden thingY let him but look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shin bone and what might have been Its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its die, resting half-crouching as it fell, perfect but that it is headless and with the tattered clothing still draped round it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a fetid heap of hideous putrescence! Who is there who had known and seen who can say that Victory is worth the death of even one of these?
Wilfred Owen wrote one of his angriest poems on reading Jessie Pope's War Poems (1915), published to instill English children with a Horatian sense of patriotism. Had Pope ever seen the chaos of the trenches, Owen scolded,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zestTo children ardent for some desperate glory,The old Lie: Dulce et decorum estPro patria mori.
This was precisely the lie that Kipling continued to peddle, denouncing shirkers, stirring up xenophobia and addressing schoolchildren on the virtues of the fight. The odd thing is what a caricature of Colonel Blimp he became. Rather than having the writer=s and artist=s ability to look beyond the horizon his eyes squinted through the ever narrowing lenses of his glasses. His later portraits bear an uncanny resemblance to Alf Garnet, whose views and expressions he largely shared. Those views are irreconcilable with the war poets who had actually fought on the western front.
Owen might have been thinking of Kipling. The pride and obduracy and callousness of the old led to the death of the young in their millions. In his retelling of the story of Abraham and his sacrifice of his son Isaac, significantly titled the 'Parable of the Old Man and the Young' Owen inverts the biblical ending.
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
For Sassoon Kipling was one of the perpetrators of old men's lies, of 'the discredited idea that war is purgatorial.' For Kipling the war had been a terrible necessity; for Owen, Sassoon and the rest, it had been a futile folly, and the deaths of a million sons had been in vain. Kipling would never acknowledge that. Unlike Pound's soldiers he never lost his faith in the rightness and worth of the cause.
Significantly and sadly for one who prided himself on his ability to relate to and narrate about soldiers, Kipling seemed to lose his touch with the post-war generation. A coarse insensitivity has come to the fore. Maurice Bowra records an embarrassing encounter between Kipling and the demobilised generation.
>When I met Kipling, his mind was still fixed on the war. He had lost his only son in it, and he may have had bitter regrets at using his influence with Lord Roberts to send a boy of seventeen, whose eyesight was as bad as his own, into the Irish Guards to be killed in the insane massacre at Loos. Most of the young people present had been in the war and had no desire to talk about it but Kipling brought up the subject and we had to respond. His language became cruder and cruder. He still hankered after some severe punishment for the Germans though he did not specify what it should be or how it should be exacted. He called the Jews >Yids.' He gave the impression that his views were formed less on reason than on rather hysterical emotions. Despite his courtesy, there was a note of violence in what he said, and I felt that fundamentally he was less sure of his opinions than he liked us to believe and that his over emphasis on certain matters was necessary to counter his chameleonic adaptability.=
Beverly Nicholls, the then President of the Oxford Union, attacked Kipling and others in the Morning Post as elderly poets who wrote about the happy warrior:
'If you wish to think of what young men think of war today you will not find it in the flamboyant insolence of Rudyard Kipling Y You will find it in the verse of Siegfried Sassoon.
Kipling's great friend and confidant, the popular novelist Ryder Haggard, commented in his diary:
'I am not fortunate enough to be acquainted with the works of SS, who, from his name, I presume to be a Jew of the advanced school. Since I wrote this I have read his verses. They are feeble and depressing rubbish.'
Kipling would have concurred. That is judgment enough.
II THE HUN IS AT THE GATE
In 1915 he urged the nation's manhood to
Band in a great crusade to kill Germans. To kill them not for the sake of killing, but to save the world; to kill the good as well as the bad; to kill the young men as well as the old, to kill those who have showed kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends who crucified the Canadian Sergeant, who superintended the Armenian massacres, who sank the Lusitania B and to kill them lest the civilisation of the world should itself be killed.
The 'he' is not Rudyard Kipling but A.F. Winnington-Ingram, the Bishop of London during the Great War. It is not Kipling, but it might have been, save only for the Bishop's concession that there was such a thing as a >good German.= Apart from that touch of sentimentality this was the sort of religion with which that Kipling could identify.
Kipling would concur with the precept that 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,' but demur from the Christian corollary of 'loving your enemies.' This was an 'effeminate hysteria which expresses itself in terms of indiscriminate love for mankind.' He linked this to >an outbreak of intellectual lawlessness= which brought calls for >toleration= and >humanity.' Pacifism was for Kipling a form of perversion.
Kipling cannot be accused of being a Christian. Allah was his preferred name for the Deity and the masculine camaraderie of Masonry was his preferred place of worship. In place of loving his enemies he called for Jihad, Holy War. He castigated the
Y. Lords of Looseness
That hamper faith and works
And Present-Comfort shirks.
The pope, the swithering Neutrals
The Kaiser and his Gott.
His sentiments, like the best tabloid journalism B he was a journalist after all, B reflected but did not challenge the public mood. At the beginning of the war his disdainful expression, 'the Hun,' captured the mind of the nation the way the Sun's headline 'Up your Junta' captured a later one. As the war progressed, his sentiments, ever increasing in their virulence, although they may have continued to reflect the feelings of many at home, became increasingly at variance with those of the war poets and artists.
Herbert Read could write ironically of the Happy Warrior:
Bloody salivadribbles down his shapeless jacket.I saw him staband stab againa well-killed Boche.This is the happy warrior,this is he ..
Kipling would have meant this seriously. By the end of the war Kipling's world was 'divided into two groups: human beings and Germans.' 'The Hun' has been completely dehumanised and become a 'typhoid, or plague, - Pesto Teutonicus.=
His most notorious short story, >Mary Postgate,= is often excused as the brilliant description of the hatred of the frustrated spleen of an old spinster, but in many respects it is the revelation of the stunted personality that Kipling was himself. In a letter to Andrew MacPhail he recounts another Mary Postgate type story with relish:
>The drama of the last [air] raid was very fine. The great city saw the blazing star fall from heaven and cheered as one voice. I heard of one woman whose house was a mile or two from where it fell. She and her husband slipped into the coats, started up their little car and raced to the scene...She reported that the smell of burnt Huns was extremely pungent and that she sniffed it with the deepest satisfaction.=
To such a man the notion of Christmas truces or fraternising with the enemy or even respecting him was anathema. It is hard to imagine Kipling being able to read, let alone comprehend, the sentiments expressed by Edward Brittan in a letter to his sister, Vera. He was stationed near Armentieres:
'there was a grave in the wood with a carefully made wooden cross inscribed with the words: 'Here lie two gallant German officers.' The men who put up the cross congratulated themselves on their British magnanimity but when, later, they pushed the enemy out of the trenches in front of the wood they found another grave as carefully tended ands inscribed: "Here lie five brave English officers."=
Vera wished that something of that generous dignity could be reflected at home. She recalled two elderly women trying to outdo one another in recounting storied of war horrors.
>They made me feel absolutely cold. I was till too young to realise how much vicarious excitement the War provided for frustrated women cut off from vision and opportunity in small provincial towns or to understand that the deliberate contemplation of horror and agony might strangely compensate a thwarted nature for the very real grief of having no one at the front for whim to grieve.=
This surely is a most perceptive commentary on >Mary Postgate.=
One cannot escape the feeling that Kipling in his own way is as emotionally crippled as his dysfunctional creation. He is at his most brutal, and disgusting in his jeering hatred of anything or anyone German. In September 1918 while on Holiday in Cornwall he looked on approvingly when a mob had tried to attack >a dog-Hun and three bitches= who had lived for over a year in a boarding house over-looking the sea. They were long naturalised British citizens. Another >Hun and his >bitch= were expelled from a local hotel. The >Hun= was Sir Max Waechter, a merchant, and philanthropist who had lived in England since 1859 when he was only twenty-two. He had been naturalized in 1865. He was a magistrate and had been High Sheriff of Surrey. Edward Brittan had similarly been much amused to see a German waiter thrown over the wall of the Palace Hotel. But he was 18 - not middle-aged B at the time and the date was 1914 not 1918. As we have already seen his vitriol soon turned to fellow-feeling. He had grown up while Kipling had grown cold.
Kipling firmly believed that the dehumanised Hun ought to suffer and exulted when they did.
The Hun is having a very sickly time of it... he won't know what real pain means for a
long time. I almost begin to hope that when we have done with him there will be very
little Hun left. ... There is a legend that a man can get as much as eight days field
punishment if his officer sees him killing Huns. On the other hand the officer doesn=t
look too hard or too long.
Contrast this with the experience of a nursing volunteer who had lost both fiancé and brother in the conflagration. Vera Brittain was put to nurse seriously wounded Germans,
'pitched into the midst of thirty representatives of the nation which, as I had repeatedly been told, had crucified Canadians, cut off the hands of babies, and subjected pure and stainless females to unmentionable 'atrocities.'
The sister in charge displayed >determination and efficiency= on behalf of her patients >but never compassion: to her they were all Huns, though she dressed their wounds with gentleness and skill:
Nurse!@ she would call me in her high disdainful voice, pointing to an unfortunate patient whose wound unduly advertised itself. "For heaven's sake get the iodoform powder and scatter it over that filthy Hun!@
A young Prussian lieutenant who was being transferred held out an emaciated hand to Vera and murmured thanks.
'After barely a second's hesitation I took the pale fingers in mine, thinking how ridiculous it was that I should be holding this man's hand in friendship when perhaps, only a week or two earlier, Edward up at Ypres had being doing his best to kill him. The world was mad and we were all victimsY These shattered, dying boys and I were paying alike for a situation that none of us had desired or done anything to bring about.=
Vera recalled a line by Charles Sorely killed in 1915: 'the blind fight the blind.' After the war she visited Germany:
>For me the AHuns@ were then, and always, the patient, stoical Germans whom I had nursed in France and I did not like to read of them being deprived of their Navy, and colonies and coal-fields while their children starved and froze for lack of food and coalY I was beginning to suspect that my generation had been deceived, its young courage cynically exploited, its idealism betrayed. This, this! B ruin, cruelty, injustice, destruction B is what they fought and died for. All that expenditure of noble emotion, that laying down of life and youth, of hope and achievement and paternity, ion order that German men and women might suffer indignity and loss, that German children might die of starvation, that the conquerors might stride triumphant over the stoical, enduring conquered.=
The possibility of reconciliation was not in Kipling=s vocabulary. He would have been incapable of writing >I am the enemy you killed my friend,' let alone >I was a German and your friend.= Not for Kipling the wider view of the French poet René Arcos that saw that the dead were beyond nation and class:
Leaning one against another
The dead, without hatred and without a flag
Hair matted with dried blood,
The dead are all on the same side.
He would have viewed with uncomprehending disgust the expression of Roland, the erstwhile militarist, when he first witnessed the death of one of his men:
I do not quite know how I felt at that moment. It was not anger B even now I have no feeling of animosity against the man who shot him B only a great pity, and a sudden feeling of impotence.
The end of the war was not to bring peace and reconciliation but just retribution and the crushing forever of the German louse: >Our main preoccupation is that the Hun shall be made to suffer and after justice he is exposed to the hate of the whole world. ...Everyone is hoping that the terms of the Peace will be complete enough to finish the Hun.= Versailles, he was soon to complain, did not go nearly far enough.
We shan=t know for many years why the Hun was let off his Sedan on the West Front where we had him at our mercy. I suppose it was the Jews. But humanly speaking the Hun is down and out. Our folly may recreate him. So I expect we shall try. The moral surrender has filled our boys with most curious puzzled disgust.
Kipling could lapse into the most disgusting parody of Colonel Blimp, boasting in being an ignorant little Englander. In 1919 he wrote to one correspondent
I praise Allah day and night that he preserved me from any knowledge whatever of the Boche tongue or literature or >thought=, and that I have never numbered among my friends or even my acquaintances one member of those accursed tribes. Do you notice how their insane psychology attempts to infect the Universe? There is one Einstein, nominally a Swiss, certainly a Hebrew, who comes forward scientifically to show that under certain conditions Space itself is warped and the instruments that measure it are warped also. ... When you come to reflect on a race that made the world Hell, you see how just and right it is that they should decide that space is warped, and should make their own souls the measure of infinity. The more I see of the Boche=s mental workings the more sure I am that he is Evil Incarnate, and like all evil, a pathetic Beast. Einstein=s pronouncement is only another little contribution to assisting the world towards flux and disintegration.
Like Haggard's comment on the significance of >the Hebrew,= Siegfried Sassoon, Kipling's dismissal of >the Hun Hebrew,= Albert Einstein, condemns him out of his own mouth.
III KNOWN UNTO GOD
From a purely literary point of view Kipling had a great weakness for a war writer: no first hand experience of the war:
The Garden called Gethsemane
In Picardy it was,
And there the people came to see
The English Soldiers pass...
I prayed my cup might pass.
It didn=t pass - it didn=t pass -
It didn=t pass from me.
I drank it when we met the gas
Although in many respects his 1918 poem >Gethsemane= is a sympathetic work, it fails in empathy. Its imagery is trite, and its impact is not only old-fashioned but negligible when compared with the startling immediacy of Lieutenant Owens= >Gas Attack:=
Gas! Gas!@ Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
A floundering like a man in fire or lime
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
But is one respect he did have direct experience of the war: bereavement. Here his poetry takes on a genuine poignancy and power:
>Have you news of my boy Jack?=
Not this tide.
>When d=you think that he=ll come back?=
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide
>Has anyone else had word of him?=
Not this tide
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing and this tide.
>Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?=
None this tide,
Nor any tide
Except he did not shame his kind -
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!
This genuinely affecting war poem stands comparison with the words of the fighters themselves.
Ironically for a writer of his stature, the most lasting and profound impact Kipling made on the way we view the Great War is in the work for which he is largely unrecognised: his service as a Commissioner of the Imperial War Graves Commission. In that service we find the perfect expression of his undying grief and and equally undying determination to make a monument that will befit the suffering of those who died. As a commissioner seconded for his literary skills h