The September Kipling Journal arrived here yesterday. It is a special edition devoted to the theme of Kipling and the Great War, marking the centenary of the death of John Kipling, at Loos.
It contains a very useful piece by Tonie and Valmai Holt (authors of those first-rate battlefield guides) on Kipling’s own commemoration of John, through his work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and through his History of the Irish Guards in the Great War. The essay does justice to the huge amount of work that he put into this, and gives an idea of the emotional impact the battlefields had on him. From Rouen cemetery (11,000 graves) he wrote to Rider Haggard of ‘this Dead Sea of arrested lives’. This is followed by the extract from the History of the Irish Guards in which Kipling describes the Battle of Loos. The fate of 2nd Lieutenant Kipling (‘wounded and missing’) is mentioned in parenthesis, and the description concludes:
Their show had failed with all the others along the line, and ‘the greatest battle in the history of the world’ was frankly stuck.
An interesting piece by Mike Kipling traces the history of the other five officers pictured in the photo at the top of this post. Disparate lives, showing the vagaries of fate. An article by Brian Harris takes a very brief meeting between Kipling and Bruce Bairnsfather as a peg to consider what these two old boys of the United Services College in Devon (some twenty years apart) had in common.
An essay by Mark Paffard looks at the first three of Kipling’s Masonic Stories. I have written about these myself, and it is interesting to see Dr Paffard taking a different line on them. Maybe I’ll write more about his essay here when I’ve properly digested it.
Then there is my own contribution, which reads ‘The Church that was at Antioch’ (one of Kipling’s stories about St Paul) in the light of Kipling’s experience of and reaction to the Great War. I link Kipling’s ambivalence about Christianity (he had a great respect for the religion, but could not honestly commit to it) with his ambivalence about the War that he thought should have been avoided – he was strongly committed to fighting it fiercely, yet was out of sympathy with the politicians in charge of it.
In the story, Valens, a young Roman officer, dies needlessly while sorting out a squabble between Christians. His death seems pointless, but will contribute to the triumph of Christianity, in which he, as a Mithraist, did not believe. He has died a soldier, though, and would deserve the same epitaph that Kipling chose for John Kipling:
‘Qui ante diem periit, sed miles sed pro patria’
(‘Who died before his time, yet a soldier and for his country’)
Through the various reactions of St Peter and St Paul, of Valens’s uncle, and of his devoted concubine, Kipling shows us a variety of ways in which this apparently useless death can be understood.
This is one of the Kipling stories that have obsessed me for a long time, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to write at length about it.
Jan Montefiore has recently taken over as editor of the Kipling Journal, and she has definitely energised the publication. She is also a very good editor to write for. Her comments and suggestions helped me to improve my essay considerably.