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Dedicated to the Memory of Patrick Neafsy of Achadh Mór, Private 6534, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, killed in action, 27 September 1915
Edward Neafcy, October 2008
After 93 years, my brother David has brought home to Mayo the story of Patrick Neafsy and his short life as a British soldier. He was in the 2nd Irish Guards. The Battle of Loos was fought from the 25 September to the 8 October, 1915. It was the biggest battle in British history up to then. Today if people know of it at all, it is generally because Rudyard Kipling’s son John was lost there. He was an officer in the Irish Guards. Patrick and John Kipling died in the same action.
Patrick and John were among 32 Irish Guards who died on 27 September 1915 on a flat Flanders field exposed to German artillery, machine gun and rifle fire. Such was the slaughter that the Germans called it the Leichenfeld (Corpses Field) von Loos.
Despite Remembrance Day having been so well observed in my lifetime, I had not been motivated to think too much about the Great War with its apparent senselessness. David’s and my trip to Loos made me wonder about the motivations of lads such as Patrick who responded to Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You’ recruitment campaign, and the motivation of such a man as
Rudyard Kipling to support the war. The thoughts of the private soldiers are Kipling delivers a recruiting speech - Southport, Lancashire, – particularly as personal diaries were discouraged as they seldom recorded England. June 1915
might fall into enemy hands - but Kipling set down in verse and prose so many of his thoughts and the world literally bought them. To look at what Kipling thought therefore, should show what the country thought. What wars had he looked to for material for his poems of battle? Why had he encouraged his son to take such risk? How did he cope with the grief of bereavement?
My wife and I live in Sussex not far from Burwash, where Kipling’s house, Bateman’s, is to be found. This is where John Kipling was raised. Bateman’s is a National Trust property now, and is open to the public. With AD 1634 over the door and standing on 33 acres, ‘... in reality the house is little ...’ wrote Kipling. At the high point of empire, he was also at the cutting edge of technology. His Rolls Royce could take him with ease from one historically fascinating place to another. He did not drive himself: cars could break down, flat tyres were frequent then, and telephones hard to find. Better to have someone to drive who could fix things that went wrong. He harnessed ‘what they call a river’ on his land to drive an electric generator rather than the flour mill it had driven before. An underground cable brought a direct current to batteries in an outbuilding. These powered carbon filament lamp bulbs, each emitting 15-20 watts - slightly better than a candle - for a few hours each evening. No doubt a must at that time for a man who had everything, electric lights would have been especially useful to a writer with myopia.
David had Kipling’s ‘2nd Irish Guards’. I bought the Wordsworth Library’s ‘The Works of Rudyard Kipling’, 1994, which has an introduction by George Orwell, written in 1942. I also bought a biography of Kipling, ‘The Unforgiving Minute’, by Harry Ricketts, 1999. I had often wondered where the name ‘Rudyard’ came from. It was a place name – a lake where Kipling’s parents had got engaged. His family name was Joseph. The family tradition was to alternate John and Joseph between the generations. Kipling’s first son would be John. Later I read his little autobiography, ‘Something of Myself’.
If the millions who flocked to the colours for the Great War had been taught one poem in English literature, it would have been Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ – ‘theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die’. If English,
Scottish, Irish, French, German, Austrian, Italian, Serbian, Russian, American and probably even Turk, who flocked to the colours in the Great War, knew just one line of French literature, it would have been the translation into their own language of Alexandre Dumas’ ‘Un pour Tous, Tous pour Un’. Dumas has D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers say this only once, but ‘One for All and All for One’ resounded around a world so eager for this sentiment. It had an echo in Ireland:
Now boys pull together in all sorts of weather Don’t show the white feather wherever you go Act each as a brother and help one another Like true hearted men from the County Mayo.
A white feather had long been held in the British army and evidently outside it, to be a sign of cowardice. Its origin was in cockfighting where it was supposed that a bird with a white feather was a cross-breed and an inferior fighter. Its use was encouraged from the beginning of the Great War - men who were slow to respond to the nation’s call to arms were at risk of being given a white feather by the young women they knew. It was a very effective recruiting device.
The millions of men – and the women behind them – who cheered for the Great War, had been brought up on loyalty, duty, blind obedience, and fear of being shamed. Kipling was born into this world and by his works he reinforced its values. He was rewarded by unusual success very early in life.
More can be found on Patrick Neafsy than the typical soldier of the Great War for two reasons. The individual service records of many British regiments were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, but we are fortunate that those of the Irish Guards survive. We are also fortunate that as John Kipling had been an Irish Guards officer, the regiment could ask his father to write their Great War history. The two volumes Kipling produced contain much detail that would be otherwise difficult to get at, if recorded at all.
The sources available for this piece are therefore Kipling’s own works; what others wrote about Kipling, what Kipling wrote about the Irish Guards, and, as it turned out, a work from which Kipling chose to quote.
Kipling was the author of what is almost certainly the best known poem in the English language – ‘If’. Then there are the perennials, ‘Jungle Book’, ‘Kim’ and the ‘Just So’ stories. These are all aimed at children, though perhaps particularly with ‘If’ the message is meant to go to them by way of their parents. But Kipling also wrote for adults and without looking at what he wrote, we all have the impression that he was an imperialist and a jingoist.
Apart from Jungle Book, which I knew from the film, the only Kipling work I knew was the poem, ‘Gunga Din’, and that was because when I turned eighteen and went in our local pub, a World War II veteran used to recite it. I was to find that, like many people, I know many lines of Kipling without knowing who the author was. I found that he was not just an average patriot; he was passionate for the British Empire. He was therefore a vociferous opponent of anything that challenged its integrity. Born December 30th 1865, in India but boarded out at six - unhappily - in England, then schooled there, he returned to work at 17 in British India. As a young travel correspondent for a British magazine in India, he saw no military challenge from Japan and made light of the efforts Japan was making to ‘Europeanise’ itself. On the other hand he feared China for its potential. The Japanese were neither ‘natives’ nor sahibs. At Kobe, Japan, ‘... as in Nagasaki, everyone smiled except the Chinaman. I do not like Chinamen. They stand high above the crowd and they swagger, unconsciously parting the crowd before them as an Englishman parts the crowd in a native city’. He goes on:‘The Chinaman’s an old man when he’s young ... but the Japanese is a child all his life’.
He makes a distinction between Chinese and Indians:
‘If we had control over as many Chinamen as we have of natives of India, and had given them one tithe of the cosseting, the painful pushing forward, and studious, even nervous, regard of their interests and aspirations as we have given to India, we should long ago have been expelled from, or have reaped the rewards of, the richest land on the face of the earth’.
In passing, the word ‘Chinaman’ has been discouraged in English long before the term ‘politically correct’ was coined. Presumably it was considered to be
pejorative. Yet one hears Chinese speaking amongst themselves today and they say ‘Chinaman’.
When at 24 Kipling arrived to work in London, already having made a name for himself, he found he disliked the city and was not impressed with the English, living as they did in black houses and ignorant of anything beyond the Channel. He was to become most forcefully anti-German quite early in his life. Prussian arrogance was intimidating to all neighbouring states. Germany therefore attracted his ire rather than the people of different colours and creeds the little British army had to fight on the fringes of their Empire. Internally, he was implacably opposed to the movement for Home Rule in Ireland.
He thought there should be national service to put the British Army on a more equal footing with Germany. Instead, the England of Kipling’s day was developing games and sports which would be the staples of leisure world-wide in the 20th century. It meant that rather than preparing themselves to defend their country, the English ‘ ... contented their souls With the flannelled fools at the wicket or the muddied oafs at the goals’ (1). Events were to prove that being muddy in goal was not incompatible with being a Great War soldier, and football featured in both advances and truces.
Orwell’s introduction to ‘The Works of Rudyard Kipling’ makes the point that what Kipling said was not true, but it was true occasionally. When it was true for you, you thought of Kipling or recalled his lines without necessarily knowing who had written them: ‘He travels the fastest who travels alone’ (2). The same could be said of the poem, ‘If’. Nobody can measure up to all the conditions in ‘If’, but we all make some of them some of the time. People could therefore enjoy Kipling whilst at the same time seeing what was wrong in his work. I can see that this is a ‘supply side’ quality. It occurs to me however that there was a new ‘demand’ side factor at work. A newly literate working class was emerging from school throughout the western world as a result of newly introduced compulsory universal education and there was a publishing capacity to match. Kipling was pre-eminent amongst authors tapping into this market. His work was to become a staple in schools. Celebrities in the industry of music would wait just a little longer for technology to provide a platform for performers such as Enrico Caruso and John McCormick.
Kipling never raised his voice, even if he had cause to, but his voice and conversation commanded the same interest and attention as his written work. He interviewed Mark Twain for the Indian magazine and impressed him. Before women had got the vote, he thought equality for women was a cause already won. It would not lead to less belligerence, because, so often, ‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male’ (3). His attitude to tobacco ‘And since roll, twist and leaf, Of all comforts is chief’ (4); and ‘A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke’ (5), finds an echo in the words of Great War song ‘While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, smile boys, that’s the style’.
Kipling wrote of and for the common man. He was said to be vulgar. It seems it was not so much that he could afford to be, as that it paid him to be. He had been born in India. His wife Caroline was a New England American and he lived in the USA for the first years of his marriage. Gettysburg was well known for the scale of slaughter industrialised warfare would bring and for President Lincoln’s address there. Kipling must have known that the volume of coffins in transit was on such a scale that the cargo had to be called ‘caskets’ so as not to alarm the public and so the American vocabulary came to be changed. And if that is not true, he would have known the story.
Kipling wrote a poem about the survivors of the Light Brigade whose famously futile charge is all we remember of the Crimean War of 1854-56. He drew attention to the shame of their poverty in their old age. A neighbour in Sussex who became a friend was a colonel who had been an aide de camp of the Confederate General Robert E Lee. Curiously, given that America must have been an important market for his works, and given that American Civil War veterans around him must have been far and away more numerous than the men of the Light Brigade, he wrote nothing about the biggest battle that could have been material – Gettysburg – or of veterans of that or any other Civil War battle. Perhaps small scale action was just easier to handle.
I knew about Kipling’s patriotism for England but had not realised that he hated the Germans. I wondered when it started. He would have been about 6 years old when the 1870/71 Franco-Prussian War was fought and the German Empire founded. Perhaps there was talk around him that affected him. The German
equivalent of ‘Un pour Tous’ had perhaps been ‘Deutschland über Alles’. This may have been innocuous when it was written, when it meant Germany above all the little independent states that comprised Germany. After the foundation of the Empire, neighbours felt it meant Germany above everybody else. (The Germans don’t sing that verse any more.) Also, the Kaiser’s title was perhaps menacing to neighbours. His grandmother, Queen Victoria, had taken the title of Empress of India, but when Germany was declared an empire, the imperial title was not Emperor of Germany, which would have shown on a map where the Kaiser’s rule ended, but German Emperor. Kipling’s patriotism and his antipathy to Germany seem to have developed at the same time. It became apparent in 1896 when Kaiser Wilhelm II sent a telegram of support to the Boers. Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee the following year brought forth an outpouring of British patriotism. The Kaiser was a grandson of Queen Victoria, but so what?
In 1898 he had spent two weeks with the Royal Navy in the Channel and said in a letter that ‘any other breed of white men, with such a weapon in their hand, would have been captivating the round Earth in their own interests long ago ...’ Even so, he famously pointed out the downside of overseas empire when the USA took the Philippines from Spain in 1898: ‘Take up the White Man’s Burden’.
In 1899 Kipling suffered a severe case of pneumonia in New York City. For the first time in history, the health of a celebrity grabbed the attention of the world’s media. Amongst the well-wisher letters and telegrams from around the world, was a telegram from the Kaiser congratulating Kipling on his recovery. Kipling’s daughter had had pneumonia as well, but for her it had proved fatal. This was kept from Kipling until his own recovery was assured. The Kaiser’s concern, or gaffe, does not seem to have improved Kipling’s opinion of Germany.
Kipling wrote of nineteenth century British India. It turns out he was the only one who did so but perhaps of small events in a big country. He was also the only one who wrote of the tiny nineteenth century British professional army – not much different in size from what it is today. He had sent his son into a different league. Before John and Patrick got into battle, the British army had
lost more men at Loos than it had lost in the entire three years of the Boer War. Kipling has a poem about the Boer War. He says:
‘Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should, We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good’. (6)
Small scale war had meant detailed and human scale attention. The poem ‘Piet’ recalls to mind that ‘boer’ is Dutch for ‘farmer’. I expect most of England’s opponents in the Boer War would have been small farmers. ‘Piet’, gets a lot of respect from Kipling:
‘The wonder wasn’t ‘ow ‘e fought, but ‘ow ‘e kep’ alive, With nothin’ in ‘is belly, on ‘is back, or to ‘is feet, I’ve known a lot of men be’ave a dam’ sight worse than Piet’. (7)
Kipling needed to have the human scale, and when he had it he could be overwhelmingly sentimental about the most unlikely people.
‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ in the ‘Soudan’ was
‘a pore benighted ‘eathen, but a first-class fightin’ man’. (8)
The water carrier in India, Gunga Din, is probably the most famous. He dies saving the wounded soldier who says:’
‘Though I’ve belted you and flayed you, By the living Gawd that made you, You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’. (9)
Still seeking to preserve a soldier’s dignity, Kipling could ring emotion out of the most unexpected predicament:
‘When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains, An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier’. (10)
Afghan knives feature in another verse as well. A soldier is fleeing from Afghan fighters:
‘I ‘eard the knives be’ind me, but I dursn’t face my man, Nor I don’t know where I went to, ‘cause I didn’t ‘alt to see, Till I ‘eard a beggar squealin’ out for quarter as ‘e ran, An’ I thought I knew the voice - an’ it was me!’ (11)
On the human scale, Kipling is so believable, but the characters he featured had options and it was the options that made the poetry. It was Gunga Din’s conduct under fire that made him ‘a better man than I am’. It was his commitment that made Fuzzy Wuzzy ‘a first class fighting man’. It was Piet’s humanity that he ‘didn’t give us hell’, when he could have. Even the soldier blowing out his brains rather than fall into the hands – or to the knives - of the Afghan women, was still in control.
When Germany proposed in 1902 that England should join her in a naval demonstration to collect debts from Venezuela, Kipling called her the ‘shameless Hun’. He began to use the word ‘Hun’ immediately war broke out in 1914. Both Rud and his wife, Carrie, were committed to war with Germany - ‘a crazed and driven foe’ (12) - and committed to their son taking part in it. But it was not just negativity to Germany: he was positive about Britain. He had done so much work in America and may well have settled there for good, but for the border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. The USA in the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine had assumed a right to arbitrate. Kipling’s patriotism for Britain had made life in the USA uncomfortable. His return to England was counter-current: every passenger ship from Europe was laden with immigrants wishing to live in America. Nevertheless, he retained an affection for America.
Despite his comments about what ‘any other breed of white men’ would do if they only had the British Navy, he begins to make an exception for France. The 1913 poem ‘France’ ends:
‘First to face the Truth and last to leave old Truths behind – France, beloved of every soul that loves or serves its kind’. (13)
Kipling had wanted his son in the Royal Navy since his birth. This was and is the senior service, but John’s myopia ruled him out. Competition for commissions would have been tough. In 1914 Britain had the mightiest navy in the world, but its army was tiny. Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You’ advertising campaign was to bring the army up to scratch. The thousands of volunteers would need officers. Rudyard had the connections to get his son a commission, even though his eyesight technically made him unfit for service.
Whilst condemning the absence of national service, Kipling campaigned to recruit volunteers for the army. By the time of his speech in Southport in 1915 (over the White Ensign of the Royal Navy! - photo, page 1), about 10% of the men of the United Kingdom had already joined up. These included his own son and Patrick Neafsy. Now was the time for the rest of the fit and eligible to do so. He only stopped recruiting when conscription was introduced in 1916.
I joined David on his second trip to the Western Front in September 2007. Before we set off for Loos we paid a visit to Bateman’s and walked around the house and grounds. This was to get the feel of the difference between the battlefields and trenches we were going to see and the home John Kipling had left behind. We had two nights in France. The first was in a Logis de France Le Manoir de Gavrelle, because its photos on the web made it look like the kind of place a chateau General would have chosen (– if it had been on our side of the Front!) The second was the Campanile motel for the town of Lens, which is on the Lens - La Bassée road, (now D947) and on the outskirts of Loos. It is as close as can be to what the Great War made known to the world as Hill 70 – located on the far side from where the assault had come. It was easy to drive
and walk around the battlefield from there, though there was no reference to the war in the motel.
In Loos museum I found a book of postcards, ‘Loos-en-Gohelle – 1870/1935’, by Louis Hermant. Under each was a commentary. Some of the postcards were photographs or prints of scenes in the Great War. So much of the village had been destroyed 1915 – 1917 that these photographs are particularly important to Loos. Instead of a line about copyright, I was touched to see ‘Cet ouvrage n’est protégé par aucun droit d’auteurs, il constitue un outil pour toute personne interessé.’ (This work has no protection by any authors’ rights, it is a tool for every interested person). An article was available in several languages:‘The Battle of Loos (A short, local history)’ by Peter Last of the Western Front Association and Isabelle Pilarowski, ‘Association Sur les Traces de la Grande Guerre’. It was from official British sources and evidently prepared for the 90th anniversary of the battle. I was taken also by a print on the wall of the museum and asked for a copy. It was from the weekly, ‘Illustrated London News’ and featured action on 25 September. Rather than chase battle references from all sources, for a local interest piece such as this for Glór, I decided to rely mainly on this and the two local works for Loos. I found also, on the internet, a quote from a survivor of Hill 70 which fitted well with the Last and Pilarowski article.
Known as ‘The Big Push’, the master plan of the Commander-in-Chief, French General Joffre, for the Second Battle of Artois on 25 September 1915, had been to break through the German lines on a 30 kilometre front and to press on to victory: the Germans had no back up, the whole army being at the Front. The French would attack south of Lens and 60,000 British would attack to the north.
Of the British, about 20,000 would cover the area we were interested in: the southern end of their sector facing Loos itself and beyond to the section of the north-south road to the east of Loos connecting Lens with La Bassée. They would include eight battalions of volunteers in the 15th (Highland) Division, including the 9th Black Watch. These Scots would capture Loos itself first to secure the flank against possible German counter-attack from Lens. Combining with the Territorials of the 47th (London) Division, they would then move on to take Hill 70. This would be the break-through. Then they would head east for
Annay, link up with the French and isolate the Germans in Lens. The Germans would not be able to catch up and form another defensive line.
In the ‘Illustrated London News’ the artist covers a panorama of the advance. There is a commentary with it which gives the official view of the assault. The article is dated 9 October 1915. Loos was the first action of the Kitchener volunteers and was the most heavily Scottish of all the Great War British battles. Despite the kilts, there is no mention of Scots in the commentary.
“THE ADVANCE IN THE WEST: BRITISH TROOPS CHARGE OVER GERMAN TRENCHES IN THE BATTLE OF LOOS”
“WITH BOMBERS LEADING THE WAY: BRITISH TROOPS SWARMING OVER THE GERMAN FIRST LINE AND DASHING TOWARDS LOOS, THE “TOWER BRIDGE” AND HILL 70
It was between 6 and 7 am on that memorable Saturday – September 25 – when the British guns “lifted” on to the German rear, and the long looked for signal to assault 12
was given. With a roar, the men rushed from the trenches in front of “Le Rutoir,” and, quickly covering the intervening ground, dashed upon the German first line. The bombers in front flung their deadly missiles, and soon men were over the trench and making for the enemy’s second line, bayoneting and bombing as they went. The enemy in the particular part of the field shown in this drawing, demoralised by the fearful carnage of the shells and the suddenness of the attack, did not stand, and a wave of flying Germans spread out before the bayonets of the onrushing British troops. Right over the second-line trenches and right through Loos they stampeded, occasionally making a stand in little groups. British reinforcements followed up the first advancing regiments, and the troops then assaulted the German third line at Hill 70. To quote Sir John French’s Special Order of the Day: “After the vicissitudes attendant upon every great fight, the enemy’s second line posts were taken, the commanding position known as Hill 70, in advance of Loos, was finally captured, and a strong line was established and consolidated in close proximity to the German third and last line ... Our captures amounted to over 3000 prisoners and some 25 guns, besides many machine guns and a quantity of war material.” In the background of the drawing is the now famous mining structure which our soldiers have nicknamed “Tower Bridge” (or Crystal Palace) of Loos. Further to the right is Hill 70. In the foreground, on the left, may be seen a British soldier carrying a bomb ready to throw; while other bombers are in action ahead. On the right are two Germans holding up their hands to surrender.” (18)
The men are carrying what appear to be goggles. They are primitive gas masks for protection against the possible blow-back of British gas. Neither British nor Germans are wearing steel helmets. This was too early in the War.
A postcard provides a detail of the taking of Loos village by the 9th Black Watch. Here, in Loos itself, they are not wearing gas masks. It was a wet day and the artist has captured that well. The Germans are not identified, but as other card commentaries indicate that the ‘110e Régiment badois’ had occupied Loos, I take it they are from the 110th Baden Grenadiers. The ‘110e badois’ had been in Loos for about eleven months – longer than the Scots volunteers had been in the army. They must have known the local terrain well.
“A l’aube du 25 septembre 1915, les alliés arrivent et se dirigent vers la fosse 15 ... “
“Dawn 25 September 1915, the allies arrive and head towards Fosse 15 ... ‘
The coal mine winding gear Fosse 15 was known to the British as ‘Tower Bridge’, after Tower Bridge in London).
The Loossois themselves, northern French whom their compatriots in the French army had begun to call the Ch’ti (pronounced Shtee – this being from their rendering of “c’est toi” – “it’s you”), had made for their cellars at the British bombardment which preceded the attack on the German positions. Through the ventilation slits and small glass panes of their shelters, they saw the arrival of ‘men in skirts’. Though the village was soon taken, isolated groups of Germans continued to resist all day. Casualties were heavy.
Of the 750 men of the 9th Black Watch, only 9% survived the day unscathed; 31% were killed and the rest wounded. (19). Too feeble to hold the village, Loos was taken over on the 26th by the London Irish Rifles, who were soon to make their own advance, famously kicking their football before them. Perhaps it was they who thought of Tower Bridge when they saw Fosse 15.
Hill 70 was taken, as Sir John French says. He does not say that it was by the Scots or that they had to abandon it later. Bringing in from the internet the recollections of a survivor, Richard Hilton, a Forward Observation Officer:
The real tragedy of that battle was its nearness to complete success. Most of us who reached the crest of Hill 70 and survived were firmly convinced that we had broken through ... There seemed to be nothing ahead of us but an unoccupied and incomplete trench system. ... All that we needed was more artillery ammunition to blast ... clearly located machine-guns, and some fresh infantry to take over from the weary and depleted 'Jocks.' But, alas, neither ammunition nor reinforcements were immediately available, and the great opportunity passed. (20)
Hilton talks of the chance to move into the suburbs of Lens. He had lost the plot and so had the ‘Jocks’. They had suffered thousands of casualties to get to Hill 70. Now down to just a few hundred men and hardly any officers, instead of carrying on eastwards, (or better still, it seems to me, staying put), they turned southwards to chase the fleeing foe towards Lens. Devastating as fire from it had been, the German front they had just broken had been lightly defended. The Germans had never expected to be charged over open fields. Lens had a German garrison. The Scots ran into intense machine gun and shell fire. Many were hit. The survivors were forced back to Hill 70. They were then too few to hold it when the Germans in Lens came out to close the breach in their defences.
Reinforcements of men and/or ammunition would have altered the course of the war, but could reinforcements have been found? Evidently not, it seems. Sir John French had thought it unnecessary to provide his HQ with a telephone. Even if he had had one, we know from John Kipling’s last letter to his parents, written 5.30pm, 25 September, that the 2nd Irish Guards were still footslogging and still nine miles away. ‘The guns have been going deafeningly all day, without a single stop’, he wrote, ‘They are staking a tremendous lot on this great advancing movement as if it succeeds, the war won’t go on for long ...’ Joffre had ordered that the men be told of the plan to break the German line: it would be good for morale. As they trudged on to the Front in the rain, no doubt it was. The Germans were subjected to preliminary shelling again, but when the 2nd Irish and the Scots Guards attacked late in the afternoon of the 27th, the enemy was reinstalled and reinforced with all his machine guns back in place.
Had Loos succeeded, the German Empire would have had to sue for peace. The Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) Empire and the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire would have followed suit, all without internal collapse. There would have been no need for British conscription. The horrors of gas and trench warfare that Wilfred Owen and the other Great War poets experienced over the ensuing three years and made known to the world would not have happened. War poetry would have continued to be Rudyard Kipling. There would have been no Sudetenland or Polish Corridor to fall out about later, and no British Palestine. Hitler could not have blamed the Jews for stabbing Germany in the back. There would have been no Russian Revolution. America would not have come in. A war of 19141915 would not have been a World War and may not have been called the ‘Great’ War. Patrick might have been home for a victory parade in Easter 1916 in an otherwise quiet Dublin, with a signed book of Kipling’s poems. Kipling must already have had some of his best war poetry verses taking shape in his mind. Loss of John Kipling’s life had been a risk both father and son had been prepared to take for the prospect of victory. ‘Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead’: Henry V’s success at Honfleur gave Shakespeare the opportunity to write those stirring words. What would there have been to say if the king’s assault had failed? Loos failed – no poem there then. How about heroic failure? Tennyson had redeemed the wasteful charge of the Light Brigade in the popular mind. This had been a cavalry unit of 673 men. It suffered 40% casualties in its ‘half a league’ (1½ miles = 2.4km) charge into the ‘Valley of Death’. All eight battalions of the 15th (Highland) Division suffered more than 50% casualties on the ‘Leichenfeld von Loos’. They had about two and a half miles, (four kilometres) to cover, and on foot. Then more men were thrown in, including the Guards, as David describes. The Loos failure must have left the world’s most famous poet at a complete loss for words. In these days of journalists being ‘embedded’ with troops in action and providing instant news, it is striking to see the two-week time delay between the 25 September action and the ‘Illustrated London News’ coverage. For all the promise of the day, by the time the paper came out, everyone still alive and fit was back in the trenches, next to nothing had been achieved and there would be minimal further infantry action. The attack by the Scots Guards and Irish Guards on 27 September added nothing to the paltry gains of the 25th. Loos village was all that had been taken, and without Hill 70 it had no strategic value. Sir John French was sacked. He later became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Richard Hilton went on to become a Major General.
The battlefield is flatter than portrayed in the Illustrated London News and Hill 70 is less pronounced. Though the daily rate of casualties at Loos would not exceed that at Gettysburg, the vulnerability of the men to even a small number of machine guns is obvious. I wanted this feature of this first advance because it showed how the Guards, including Patrick Neafsy and John Kipling, would have attacked two days later, give or take a smoke screen. Ignoring any mention of danger, the “boys’ comic” commentary would have been fine for a victory. Coming out on 9 October though, casualty lists would have already been published in the daily papers. Perhaps it would have been “boys’ comic” anyway, but perhaps it was thought that the public would take it better if they were left with the impression that their lads’ lives had not been lost in vain. On 8 October the Germans counter-attacked.
Loos, battlefield. October 1915.
(NL) = non localisée = not an exact location)
(N.L.) The advance by the Scots and Irish brought on a German response on a totally devastated field. Further, on 8 October, a violent counter attack was attempted and was spearheaded at the Loos positions. The assault was made in three very dense waves, one after the other, followed by task-forces in columns. All of themwere terribly mown down by our rifles, machine guns and artillery.
Note: battles in our region as they were represented at the time.
‘Tower Bridge’ is not in the background to this action. Neither are the ‘Double Crassiers’ – the landmark twin spoil heaps of Loos. Wherever this unidentified site was, it is obvious that the British were the defenders. If the action was in front of Loos itself, it may be that the smoke plume cuts out TowerBridge. There had been changes following the British losses. By 3 October the British positions east of Loos had been taken over by the French IX Corps. I take it therefore that the ‘our’ of the rifles, machine guns and artillery in the French commentary means ‘French’ and not ‘allied’. There is a lone Indian soldier. Indian troops as a battalion were a little further north along the front.
German records of the Loos offensive show their incredulity at the British advance over open fields. The Germans in the end had held the line. Their counter-attack must have been intended not simply to recover Loos, but to break the allied front and end the war on their own terms. Nobody had planned for a long war. The British feared their losses had fatally weakened them and that is why the French had relieved them. Why the Germans abandoned the counterattack is easy to understand – their own loss of life was too great.
Though the reality of the battle was the impersonal ‘mowing down’ of men in the mass, the artists of all three drawings show human contact: hand to hand combat in the taking of Loos village; Germans with their hands up in surrender at the advance on Hill 70; and Scots being bayoneted and an Indian throttled in the German counter attack. The human scale of these incidents was perhaps what the public and Kipling and the soldiers were expecting war to be like.
Yet despite the distance between the opposing forces, there was some compassion in the field. German gunners ceased firing on the ‘leichenfeld’ to allow the British to tend to their dead and wounded. Fraternisation by the British was strictly discouraged. Two of the officers of the Indian battalion, no doubt well bred young British officers like those in charge of the Irish, countenanced a German Christmas Day peace initiative. Senior officers saw and overruled, and the young officers had their leave stopped. How could artists represent reality anyway?
If you were wounded and left on the Leichenfeld von Loos, who would you like to see most – Fuzzy Wuzzy, Piet, Afghans – women or men, Gunga Din, or stretcher bearers of the Imperial German army? Gunga Din died helping a wounded soldier of his own side, but would he have risked his life for the enemy? German medics did at Loos, and some got killed doing so. Kipling records this in his ‘2nd Irish Guards in the Great War’. He records also that in 1918, after the Germans had abandoned the war and gone home that the Irish Guards encountered resentment in Belgium as they passed through on their way to Cologne. Local people had evidently got to know and like German soldiers they had met.
Kipling also records a conversation between the Irish Guards and a German prisoner, an officer of the Hanoverian Fusiliers. The man had ‘Gibraltar’ embroidered on his tunic. A former boss of mine had been a Royal Marines officer. He told me they have ‘Gibraltar’ on their belt buckles. King George I had told them that after the taking of Gibraltar in 1704, they need show no other battle honour. The same George had evidently, as Elector of Hanover, told his German soldiers the same thing. Kipling lets the opportunity to tell this story pass by. The officer spoke of the British ‘love-hour’. This puzzled the Irish Guards, until they realised that the man had learnt his English on tennis courts. I suspect the Irish would have got a smile out of this, but Kipling remarks that the man would find there was no love in a British zero-hour.
Leaving others to find consolation for the failure at Loos in the lionising of individual acts of bravery, Kipling’s next works in 1916 were a series of sketches and poems, ‘Fringes of the Fleet’. As usual, these were popular and a retired Admiral got Sir Edward Elgar to do something with some of this material. Elgar’s ‘Fringes of the Fleet’ concert tour featured four baritones and orchestra and opened in June 1917. He conducted himself. Kipling was unenthusiastic about this from the beginning and despite the success of Elgar’s programme, he withdrew permission and called it to a halt six months later.
Last and Pilarowski highlight two individual acts of heroism in Loos, both by what they describe as non-combattants. A young Loossoise, Emilienne Moreau, and her mother had volunteered to tend British wounded in the village, where
survivors of the 110th Badeners were still fighting back. Emilienne was awarded the Military Medal by Britain and the Croix de Guerre by France. She had killed two German soldiers with a borrowed pistol. They may well have deserved it and were certainly perceived to have deserved it at the time. The story is briefly covered in the postcards and in more detail on the internet. Today, however, when the soldiers at risk from deadly civilian women are those whom our Western governments have committed to fight ‘The savage wars of peace’ (14) in Afghanistan and Iraq, our default view of this kind of intervention is different. Kipling’s poem shows that often the female is ‘More deadly than the male’ for good reason.
Piper Daniel Laidlow of the 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers is the other hero featured. The young Kitchener volunteers of his battalion - and no doubt the rest of the 15th (Highland) Division - were reluctant to get their first experience of war by leaving their cover to face machine guns. Laidlaw walked along the parapet of the trenches playing his bagpipes until they were all out and making for the German lines. He followed them, still playing. Some 92% of the 750 men were hit and of those a third were killed. Only 8% got through the day unhurt. Laidlaw himself was hit in the leg twice but survived to be awarded the Victoria Cross after the war. In our days, when men ‘shot at dawn’ in the Great War for desertion or cowardice or whatever have been pardoned, what do we make of a medal given ‘For Valour’ of this kind? Why did not they all get it?
At the time, the Battle of Loos was the largest offensive ever made by the British Army. When the fighting stopped, 50,000 men had been hit of whom 15,800 had been killed. The bodies of the fallen now lie in the local cemeteries, some identified, many not. Some remain undiscovered on the leichenfeld.
Patrick’s body was found and buried on the battlefield, but as often happened, the identity of the grave was lost in subsequent action. Lack of non-perishable ‘dog-tags’ at this early stage in the war meant that when bodies were recovered after the war to be reburied, he went to a ‘Known Unto God’ grave in Dud Corner Cemetery. There had been a long tradition of soldiers wearing home20
made IDs, but the volunteers would have had only the makeshift army issue. John’s body was not found. Correspondence at Bateman’s shows that on 19 September, he had written home with a list of requirements. Ironically, one item requested was a replacement aluminium identity disk. He had lost his, and ‘It is a Routine Order that we have to have them’. I take it that by ‘we’, he meant officers. There is a drawing by John of the disk he wanted from the Store. It was about an inch in diameter. The words he wanted on it were: ‘2ndLt . J. Kipling C of E Irish Guards’. (C of E = Church of England). It must not have got to him in time.
After two years of fruitless effort trying to find his son as a prisoner of war or to find out how or where he had died, Kipling wrote a moving couplet that became the epitaph of all youngsters lost in the war: ‘If any question why we died, Tell them because our fathers lied’(15).
Kipling was for a long time in denial about the loss of his son, most probably in deference to his wife’s continuing hopes. He interviewed all the survivors he could find who might have seen what happened to John. Friends rallied round to try and help: the Prince of Wales, whose father would have been a cousin of the Kaiser, and the Ambassador in London of the then neutral USA. They would have known the Kaiser had been a Kipling fan and would have gone in at the top. Kipling himself as Germany’s highest profile critic, could not compromise himself by accepting any human kindness from the Germans directly, at any official level. Another friend checked out Roman Catholic channels. It had been intimated to Carrie during their engagement that Kipling was a covert Catholic and it broke the engagement. She was a Methodist. He made things right, obviously managing his beliefs so as not to upset her. At Loos, with his sensitivity to such matters, Kipling would have seen immediately with Scots and Irish fighting against Badeners in French countryside, that this was a predominantly Catholic environment.
He also had Royal Flying Corps aircraft drop leaflets over the German lines appealing for information. On the postcard showing the action on 8 October, a biplane flies over the battlefield. The definition is poor, but its markings seem to be more like a German cross than a British or French circle. No matter whether
friend or foe, at this early stage in the war, the plane seems to be harmless to the men below and it does not attract fire from them. It would therefore have been fairly risk-free for the RFC pilots to overfly the German lines at this time. Why should leafleting German soldiers be more acceptable than liaising with the Kaiser? Kipling was the poet of the common man. We have not found a copy of the leaflet. The cemeteries of what are now called the Commonwealth War Graves are kept in beautiful condition to this day. They were designed to be works of art in tribute to the fallen. The work on the monuments was done by the renowned architect, Sir Edward Lutyens. The renowned, but plain ‘Mr’ Rudyard Kipling, as ever, did the words. He accepted this war graves work in 1917. He had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, but he had refused a knighthood. Lloyd-George offered him any honour that he would accept, but he did not want any. He declined to be Poet Laureate three times. The war graves attract a lot of visitors. We found Tyne Cot cemetery in particular to be an immensely popular destination with a huge information building. When we arrived, the car and coach park was almost full, as were the bike stands.
In 1917, the Irish Guards asked Kipling if he would write their history. He agreed. It took several years. Logs and such diaries as were available were passed over to him. He produced a book ‘The Irish Guards in the Great War’ for each of the 1st and 2nd Irish Guards. At the back of the volume are pages listing the fallen and the medal winners. Kipling makes no reference to these lists, which would be unthinkable for a historian - or a journalist. The explanation must be that they were not available to him. They would have been compiled at the same time as he was writing his narratives. Perhaps something could be done with these names other than just ranking them in alphabetical order and recording date of death. Recalling the Christmas Day truces, if the days of the week were to be put to these dates it might tell a story. One of the Christmas Days was a Sunday. I have not looked through the whole war, but at first sight of these casualty lists, it seems to me that Sunday was much less likely to be a day of action than the other days. It would be good to think that the lads in the trenches had a quiet time to look forward to at the week-end. Dying on their first day, Patrick and John Kipling did not get even one Sunday in the trenches. They were spared the ‘trench foot’ and lice and other discomforts which their longer-lived colleagues would have had to face.
‘The Irish Guards in the Great War’ was published in 1923, at £1 per copy. Royalties went to the widows. This was a nice gesture, but the families of single men like Patrick would get nothing.
I remember reading many years ago a Victor Gollantz book published before World War II. I don’t remember the author, but he made the point that the conduct of the Great War had caused or had contributed to unrest in towns throughout the United Kingdom in the spring of 1916. The unrest was successfully suppressed everywhere except in Dublin, where, in someone else’s words, ‘a poet’s dream had sparked a flame’. I have not seen that point made anywhere else, but perhaps unsurprisingly. People were lobbying for America to come into the war - Kipling in a 1916 poem was trying to shame her into doing so. America would see trouble in Dublin as a move for Home Rule and would understand it. Trouble elsewhere in Britain would have been embarrassing and news of it would not have been allowed to get out. Probably at that time only Victor Gollantz would have touched the story anyway. In 1917 Kipling’s verse showed his delight that America had joined in. I have another anecdote, which, though it relates to the Battle of the Somme, ten months later, I would like to record here. I was amongst the guests at an Institute of Builders’ dinner about 25 years ago and found myself sitting next to a man who turned out to be Chairman of the Chesterfield branch of the Orange Order. I said that I thought this order only existed in Liverpool and Glasgow, apart from Northern Ireland. He told me there had been branches/lodges everywhere until the Somme in 1916. The date had coincided with 12th July on the Old Calendar. Many of the English lads therefore went ‘over the top’ wearing the family sash, which was really a family heirloom. The losses were too much to bear for Orange Order lodges throughout the country and they withered away.
Two other snippets from long ago now also come back. Professor C Northcote Parkinson of ‘Parkinson’s Law’ made the point that the British budget preWorld War One had secured for Britain a marginal superiority at sea at the expense of an immense inferiority on land. Thinking of that now, I think it shows the importance at the time of what was ‘proper’ – Britain ought to have the best navy. The second snippet is a memory of Professor John Kenneth
Galbraith. It suggests to me something that permeated UK society at that time. Galbraith commented that US soldiers of the Great War were paid a proper wage for their efforts and risk, in contrast to the British who got very little. Again, ‘While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag’. The British thought it somehow improper that a decent wage should be paid. The war had started with enthusiastic volunteers. It then moved to conscription. Neither called for a proper rate for the job.
After the war, Kipling remained angry with the Germans and blamed German propaganda for anti-French sentiment in both Britain and America. He was angry with the Americans because the Germans had not been beaten thoroughly enough and there would be another war. In the ensuing years, he came to see Bolsheviks and Jews as inimical to the British Empire and added them to his list of evils.
I find I clash with Kipling’s vehemence and I differ over America and the Great War. My own pet theory has for years been that it was a mistake for them to have joined in. President Wilson’s points for peace were so reasonable that the German army just left its guns out in the weather and went home. This left Germany defenceless and at the mercy of the Versailles peace-makers who reneged on the points Wilson had made. The USA did not ratify the Versailles Treaty. I have to acknowledge that the strength of feeling against Germany must have been pervasive, and not just after the war when there were lost lives to be angry about.
It seems to me that if America had stayed out, the Great War would have been a draw, with all parties exhausted. Having intervened, the USA committed itself to further interventions in the future. It also seems to me that America has not just taken up ‘The White Man’s Burden’: she has taken up Germany’s burden. In Britain today and in Western Europe, the media is knee-jerk anti-American. Stand-up comedians are the same. The presumption must be that the public they are catering for is anti-American. America is technologically and culturally dominant in the west and over much of the rest of the world, but the British public wants the President of the USA to be seen as ignorant and stupid and greedy - just like Kaiser Bill. Still, the US always gives us a next time.
The Western Front now has battlefield scenes, museums and of course cemeteries to offer to the visitor. The influence of Kipling and Lutyens on the British graves is distinctive. The contrast with the French cemeteries brings out the difference. British cemeteries have boundary walls and monumental masonry as well as headstones all in white. The gravestones are slabs, planted around with flowers and immaculately kept. There is a unity of style, and you have to look at individual graves to learn anything about who is buried there. French cemeteries are Spartan by comparison. At La Targette, the British and French cemeteries are side by side. The French is an open field with nothing but mown and strimmed grass around the graves. There is another difference: a British rule is that there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed. The French by contrast, do make a distinction by race and creed. The great majority of the French headstones are white Christian crosses. A few – relatively - without crosses, are intermingled amongst them. These are the graves of Jews and atheists. There are also Muslims, but they are not mixed in with the Christians, Jews and atheists – they have their own corner of the cemetery. I do not know why. Perhaps it is because they were Moroccans rather than French citizens.
The Great War had its effect on civilian burials. The York City Cemetery just outside the walls of York, England, opened in 1837. I went on a guided tour some years ago. There are some war graves there. The headstones are similar to those in France but smaller. They may be seen in churchyards all over the country. I expect they were of men who died of wounds after reaching home – I forget what the guide said. I do remember that many of the civilian headstones for the Great War period are bigger and much more ornate than before or after – big angels and such. The explanation was that people had become much more sentimental as death threatened almost all families. Candles reappeared in Protestant churches, as the scale of grief caused by the war suppressed the old puritanical attitude towards such ostentatious piety.
Coming back to my original theme of the motivation of the Kitchener volunteers and men such as Kipling, what Kipling was able to sell and what the world wanted to buy was all about sentiment, loyalty, duty and commitment. Pursuit of these qualities required carelessness for life which we no longer have today. Loyalties could clash of course. Irish veterans of the Great War could not be sure of a welcome at home, because they had been fighting for the country
whose rule their compatriots back home resented and had in the meantime thrown off.
Kipling was far too complex a character for anyone to put a label on him. The society of which he was part was too complex to be labelled as well. He started out as a journalist, editor, newspaper seller. Perhaps that is what he remained. It is as if he were in charge of a stable of virtual newspapers – from the quality journal to the sensationalist daily to the local weekly. Serious columnist; lobbyist for political causes, fundraiser for the families of Boer War veterans, advocate for fairer pensions for old soldiers, carer for the habitat for bees, assessor of breaking strain for bridges; obituary writer, weatherman, roving Asia reporter; applauder of all kinds of things including French road numbers; and not least, storyteller, he could have written every column inch in every paper – and made it rhyme. He could have been Rudyard, Lord Kipling had he wanted to be. The Establishment was desperate to please him. It seems clear to me that Kipling himself had much at stake at Loos. An early end to the war would have enhanced his own career still further, irrespective of the fate of his son. As things are, he gets only grudging admiration today.
From his early days of writing in India, he had always poked fun at peoples’ machinations to get political or hierarchical advancement. After Loos he was critical of both political and military leadership but it seems the fun had gone out of it. He let Elgar down, another patriot.
Perhaps Kipling was right about Germany all along, though as his popularity peaked in Britain between the Boer War and the Great War, he became immensely popular in Germany and he was even more of a success in France. It is a thought that he could have used his international celebrity status to urge all parties that the arms race be set aside. But if he had been such an advocate, he would never have become popular in the first place. Genius as he was, he was a man of his time and they all thought they should win. He lived until 18 January 1936, long enough to see the rise of the Nazi party – his nightmare taking shape again. It seems to me now that Winston Churchill emerged to pick up his baton. This time there was a personal adjustment to be made for German assertiveness. Up to this time, Kipling’s emblem on covers of his books had reflected his past in India. There was a circle containing a swastika – a Hindu good luck symbol –
and a side view of the head of an elephant, holding a lotus flower in its trunk. Kipling removed the swastika when Hitler adopted it
At the level he operated at, I think Kipling knew what was going on at Loos. He knew Joffre’s plan. He certainly knew that officers were particularly at risk. He knew the 15th (Highland) Division were going to suffer, but not to the degree that they were. He expected his son’s battalion to be marching through the breach the Scots had made on the 25th, where they would find the Germans broken. As it was, the 2nd Irish Guards lost 32 men on the 27 September - only a scratch compared to the losses of the 7th Cameron Highlanders, the 9th Black Watch, the 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the other five battalions of the 15th Division on the 25 September. After John’s death, Kipling was trapped in his own framework. He could not grieve. He had to go on with his campaigning. However, he became furious with military incompetence. He did not say too much about Loos, but in 1917 he wrote the verse:
‘They shall not return to us, the strong men coldly slain In sight of help denied from day to day: But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain, Are they too strong and wise to put away?’(16)
In all of this, I was looking for a last message that Kipling may have made to his lost son. The poem, ‘My Boy Jack’ is often taken to be a tribute to John, though it is about a sailor and though Kipling’s affectionate term for his son in correspondence was ‘Old Boy’ rather than ‘Jack’. There is also the couplet beginning, ‘My son died laughing at some jest’. John obviously did not die laughing so I wonder whether this might be an example of the post bereavement madness Ricketts talks about, or whether Kipling wrote for those who wanted to think of their lost lads that way. Ricketts says a collection ‘Debits and Credits’ concludes with the debits and credits of John’s life and becomes a private memorial to him.
Kipling wrote many epitaphs. The first one in the book of poems, ‘Epitaphs of the War 1914 – 1918’, “Equality of Sacrifice” might have been written for John and Patrick:
A. “I was a Have.” B. “I was a ‘have-not.’” (Together.) “What hast thou given which I gave not?”
Kipling’s war graves work famously associated him with the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres– the monument to 55,000 men whose bodies, like John’s, were not found. He composed the words on that memorial and provided an endowment for the Last Post to be sounded there every night. But I still had not found an epitaph specifically to John from his parents. Kipling had been overcome at the official dedication after the War of the Memorial Cemetery at Loos. He thought his son would be buried there, if his body had been recovered at all, but he did not know in which grave. John’s name is on the wall at Dud Corner along with Patrick Neafsy’s and the rest of the fallen Irish Guards whose graves are unknown.
Kipling had detailed knowledge of all the cemeteries and memorials. Visitors found him helpful and sympathetic. He would have known St Mary’s, where there was a grave marked AN UNKNOWN LIEUTENANT OF THE IRISH GUARDS. He must have paused there and wondered, but he would have been told that the coordinates indicating where the body had been found meant it could not be John. It was only in 1992 when there was only one Irish Guards lieutenant to be accounted for that it was noticed that if just one of the six characters of the coordinates were different, this unknown man would be John. It was then accepted that there must have been a clerical error and the headstone was replaced by that we see today.
John’s name appears again of course on the war memorial in his home village of Burwash in Sussex. Unusually, the Burwash memorial has an electric light on the top of it in the form of a beacon flame. It is lit on anniversary dates of the men named below. (It wrongly gives John’s date of death as 29 September 1915).
It was a chance visit to Burwash church that brought me to a fourth memorial to John Kipling. There is a memorial plaque on the wall. Of course there would be. And of course it has details you do not find on public monuments. I was surprised Ricketts, Kipling’s latest biographer, had not referred to it, with all his
many predecessors to read. I found his official biographer, Carrington, published 1955, had missed it as well, I then read Kipling’s autobiography, to find he had not referred to John’s death at all, or to his daughter’s death. He did not refer to Burwash by name either. When tourists were checking out what they might see of what he had written ‘On the Road to Mandalay’, he was hardly likely to help the curious find out where he lived. He famously liked to keep his private life private. Given his endowment for Menin Gate, I would guess he made a contribution for the lighting of the village war memorial, and would have paid for the plaque to John in the church. However, it seems he left no leads to Burwash for his biographers to find.
The Burwash church plaque is a complete contrast to the Loos memorials which are white engraved on white in the broad daylight. This is black embossed on black on a dark wall of the church. The headstones on the Loos graves are rectangular, flat and marble. This one is circular, convex and metallic. When I saw the Latin, I knew there would be a trail to follow. The words are under the regimental badge of the Irish Guards. In colour the badge stands out more than it does on the white marble of Loos, certainly when caught in the flash of the camera. I would say the colours are enamel.
TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN KIPLING LIEUTENANT SECOND BATTALION IRISH GUARDS THE ONLY SON OF RUDYARD AND CAROLINE KIPLING OF BATEMAN’S WHO FELL AT THE BATTLE OF LOOS THE 27TH OF SEPTEMBER 1915 AGED EIGHTEEN YEARS AND SIX WEEKS
QUI ANTE DIEM PERIIT
QUI ANTE DIEM PERIIT – ‘who died before his time’. I looked this up – so easy
on the internet. In full, the Latin begins, ‘Qui procul hinc’ - Who far from here’ and goes on: ‘sed miles sed pro patria’. ‘but a soldier, but for his country’. It is from a poem by Henry Newbolt called ‘Clifton Chapel’. Newbolt was almost an exact contemporary of Kipling. Kipling had used the full Latin sentence in an introduction to one of his own school stories, ‘Stalky and Co’, which featured an ‘old boy’ killed in the second British-Afghan War. ‘Who died before his time’ was equally true for Patrick – at the time, but not ‘for his country’ for much longer. Ireland was to be on its own way before many of the war memorials were dedicated. There was republican talk throughout the British Dominions after the war, but, like the unrest in 1916, it only succeeded in Ireland.
The poem sets out what all parents and families who lost sons must have been thinking, in their own ways, and often in the church where their sons had prayed. When I saw the first two lines I knew it had to be reproduced in full. It is an irony that Kipling’s last message to his son is the work of another poet, and that the only poem I quote in full in a work on Kipling should be one he had chosen, rather than one he had written, but there it is. It is apt, because like everybody else in grief, Kipling had to fall back on another’s words:
THIS is the Chapel: here, my son, Your father thought the thoughts of youth, And heard the words that one by one The touch of Life has turn'd to truth. Here in a day that is not far, You too may speak with noble ghosts Of manhood and the vows of war You made before the Lord of Hosts.
To set the cause above renown, To love the game beyond the prize, To honour, while you strike him down, The foe that comes with fearless eyes; To count the life of battle good, And dear the land that gave you birth, And dearer yet the brotherhood That binds the brave of all the earth.
My son, the oath is yours: the end Is His, Who built the world of strife, Who gave His children Pain for friend, And Death for surest hope of life. To-day and here the fight's begun, Of the great fellowship you're free; Henceforth the School and you are one, And what You are, the race shall be.
God send you fortune: yet be sure, Among the lights that gleam and pass, You'll live to follow none more pure Than that which glows on yonder brass: 'Qui procul hinc,' the legend's writ,-The frontier-grave is far away-'Qui ante diem periit: Sed miles, sed pro patria.'
In his autobiography, Kipling amusingly refers to discussions with his wife as ‘The Committee of Ways and Means’. Carrie was a powerful filter on the interflow between Bateman’s and the outside world. We may be sure that the
use of Newbolt’s words on John’s memorial in Burwash church was approved by the Committee of Ways and Means. It could even have been Carrie who proposed it. Newbolt himself must have known about it of course. Given that the majority of guests weekending at Bateman’s would be Church of England; I think many would have gone to Burwash church. Rud and Carrie had married in All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, a Church of England church. John had wanted C of E on his dog-tag. Kipling had used the Latin in ‘Stalky & Co’. One way or another I think the Kiplings’ guests would have known the context of ‘Qui ante diem periit’ which we need our search engines to find today.
The badge itself has the words: QUIS SEPARABIT – ‘who shall separate’. I had thought this to be an ‘Un pour tous, tous pour un’ sentiment, which it might well be, but now I am wondering. It turns out that the Irish Guards were created in 1901 by Lord Roberts, Kipling’s friend. Kipling must have known all about this badge from the beginning. The date on the badge, MDCCLXXXIII, stands for 1783, the date of the foundation of the Order of St. Patrick, from where the words come and whose full motto is: ‘quis nos separabit a caritate Christi’. I would say this means: ‘Who shall separate us from Christ’s loving care’. What better words for a band of comrades, a lost comrade, or a lost son? When we went to Loos hardly any of what I have written above was known to me, but I had already looked for something in Kipling’s poems that would serve for what had happened to Patrick and John. I had quite early on come across a verse which caught my eye, though it was not just for the two of them. Given what I did with it, it was something of a setback to discover later Kipling’s attitude – though he was not alone - to the Germans. I was therefore pleased to find that, doubtless on reflection, and in the privacy of a family memorial, he had quoted from a poem which likewise seeks to honour the foe. I had not planned to use the verse, but at Tyne Cot, the cemetery near Passchendaele, I found there are German graves as well as ours. It came back to me there. It was easy to remember, like a variant of ‘Hail Mary’. There are registers at all the cemeteries where visitors may sign and write comments. I wrote it out in the book:
‘Ah, Mary, pierced with sorrow, 32
Remember, reach and save The soul that comes tomorrow Before the God that gave. Since each was born of woman, For each at utter need True comrade and true foeman Madonna, intercede!’ (17)
Kipling Poems quoted:
1. The Islanders 2. The Winners 3. The Female of the Species 4. Poor Honest Man 5. The Betrothed 6. The Lesson 7. Piet 8. Fuzzy Wuzzy Greenwich Mean Time 18. The time quoted was GMT. Daylight Saving Time, as it was then called, was introduced on May 21st 1916, a few weeks after it was introduced in Germany. It was because of the war, though it had been mooted earlier. It later became British Summer Time. Battalion Strength 19. The Loos paper refers to a battalion as 750 men. Other sources say 1007 including 30 officers. It comprised a battalion HQ and four companies. A company comprised 227 men commanded by a major or captain. There were four platoons to a company, each commanded by a subaltern (lieutenant or 2nd lieutenant). Each platoon had four sections under a noncommissioned-officer. 9. Gunga Din 10. The Young British Soldier 11. That Day 12. For All We Have and Are 13. France 14. The White Man’s Burden 15. Common Form 16. Mesopotamia 17. Hymn before Battle
Hill 70 Survivor
20. (From Warner, Philip. The Battle of Loos. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1976: 1-2).
21 The families my grandfather and Patrick Neafsy left behind in Achadh Mór came to adopt the spelling ‘Kneafsey’, which is by far the most widely used spelling of our rare surname in Ireland today. The Irish is Ó Cnáimhsighe. The spelling in English was most inconsistent a hundred years ago, as my brother David shows. The name on our grandfather’s gravestone in England is Neafcy, which is the spelling he passed on to his children. He is Neafsey in the Knock baptismal book, and so I took that spelling for my book ‘Surnames of Ireland’. In later life, I checked his birth certificate from Co. Mayo, and his marriage and death certificates from England. Each has a different spelling. The death certificate was Neafsy and was entered by his brother-in-law. I have also used Kneafsey as the best transliteration of Ó Cnáimhsighe.