Kipling advertises War Bonds

I spent a pleasant day in the British Library at Boston Spa yesterday, looking at copies of the Star evening newspaper for 1918. Among the things that caught my eye was this advertisement for War Bonds, featuring Kipling at his most rhetorically fierce.

I’ve read quite a bit of war propaganda over the years, but rarely anything as fevered as this.

Kipling had been warning of the horrors of invasion since before the war (for example in the speech used as epigraph to W. Douglas Newton’s War). His language was always dramatic and his imagery forceful, but in this piece his imagination is surely overpowering him. By 1918 he must have known that there was no chance of the Germans attempting an invasion of Britain (always very unlikely, but even less so now than in the early days of the war). Yet he writes as though this is an immediate prospect.

My bet is that this was written during the grimmest days of the German Spring Offensive, when it looked as though Allied resistance was crumbling and Haig’s order was ‘Backs to the wall.’ He is reaching for extreme language to match an extreme situation. If that German offensive had been successful, France would have had to sue for peace on humiliating terms, and both France and Belgium could have permanently become vassal states of Germany

Or perhaps he had just decided that since he was writing an advertisement, he would use the techniques of the advertising man and ‘Hit ’em hard.’ During the war Kipling felt it his duty to do what he could for the propaganda effort. When Arnold Bennett took over the French department at the Ministry of Information, he asked Kipling and Conan Doyle to send him something, because theirs were names that the French knew. Doyle dithered and protested, but Kipling sent the goods straight away.

So – utterly sincere expression of fear and loathing? Or Kipling hyping up the situation to make a strong emotive statement in a good cause? Or a bit of both?

One Comment

  1. Posted March 21, 2019 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    John Walker has identified these words as extracted from a speech made by Kipling at Folkestone in February 1918. The peech is on the Kipling Society website, with this introductory comment:
    ‘Afterwards Kipling wrote that he hoped it would “be quoted here and go to America” (Letters, IV, 483), and he tried unsuccessfully to get Lord Beaverbrook to circulate it through the Ministry ot Information that Beaverbrook had just taken over (Letters, IV, 485).

    The speech was published in two separate pamphlet editions as “Kipling’s Message”; one bv W. H. Smith and Son, London, the other by the American YMCA in Paris.
    The full text of the speech can be found here:
    http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_speeches_32.htm

    I’m interested to learn that Beaverbrook turned it down. British official propaganda almost always shied away from the fiercely rhetorical, towards the calmly argued. Violent propaganda is almost always distributed by private enterprise, not by the state.


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