My Boy Jack

From the Mail on Sunday:

The address was Red House, on the edge of Chalk PitWood; the date on the letter, September 25, 1915.

"This will be my last letter most likely for some time," wrote John Kipling, a second lieutenant with the Irish Guards on his first tour of duty to the front line.

"The trenches are nine miles from here so it won't be a very long march... funny to think one will be in the thick of it tomorrow."

There followed a few short lines about the impending advance that would become known as the Battle of Loos, before he signed off: "Well, so long old dears. Dear Love, John."

Two days later, stumbling blindly through the mud of north-eastern France, the young officer, just turned 18, was fatally wounded by an exploding mortar shell. They never found his body.

It was not, in all the horror of the First World War, such an unusual tale. But of all the thousands who lost their lives in the battlefields, John's story is one of the most poignant.

For his father was Rudyard Kipling, the world's youngest Nobel literary laureate and an ardent imperialist who had urged the country's sons to war. Despite his classics, The Jungle Book and If, Kipling became a deeply unfashionable figure because of his jingoistic views on Empire and manhood.

Now, 71 years after his death, Rudyard Kipling is about to get a more sympathetic hearing in the form of a £15million ITV film and an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

It focuses on the agony of the poet and author over the death of his only son and how, in his despair, he learned the true cost of conflict.

Looks like one to watch.


If I recall correctly, the young Kipling initially failed to get into the Army as he was chronically short sighted. As it was the spirit of the age to serve Kipling senior pulled some strings to get him in. He was Kipling's only son and as his body was never recovered Rudyard never seemingly really accepted his death. I am sure that I heard that Kipling was touring the battlefields after the war and interviewing witnesses to find clues as to what happened to him.

This is all from memory. I am sure others will be able to post more complete details.
The title 'My Boy Jack' comes from a rather powerful poem Kipling wrote about the death of his son:

“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 any one 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,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

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