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John Kipling
My Boy Jack John Kipling.jpg
John Kipling in the uniform of the Irish Guards, 1915
Born(1897-08-17)17 August 1897
Rottingdean, Sussex, England
Died27 September 1915(1915-09-27) (aged 18)
Loos-en-Gohelle, France
St Mary's ADS Cemetery, Haisnes
Allegiance United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1914–1915
RankSecond lieutenant
UnitIrish Guards
Battles/warsFirst World War
RelationsRudyard Kipling (father)
Caroline Starr Balestier (mother)
Elsie Bambridge (sister)
John Kipling's grave.
John Kipling's grave.

John Kipling (17 August 1897 – 27 September 1915) was the only son of British author Rudyard Kipling. In the First World War, his father used his influence to get him a commission in the British Army despite being decisively rejected for poor eyesight. His death at the Battle of Loos caused his family immense grief.

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Early life

Born in 1897, Kipling was the youngest of three children of the author Rudyard Kipling and his American wife Caroline Starr Balestier. He was born at "The Elms" at Rottingdean in Sussex, which was the Kiplings' home between 1897 and 1902. He was educated at St. Aubyn's, Rottingdean, and Wellington College, Berkshire.

First World War

Kipling was 16 when the First World War broke out in August 1914. His father, a keen imperialist and patriot, was soon writing propaganda on behalf of the British government.[1] Rudyard sought to get his son a commission, but John was rejected by the Royal Navy due to severe short-sightedness. He was also initially rejected by the army for the same reason.[2]

However, Rudyard Kipling was friends with Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, a former Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and Colonel of the Irish Guards, and through this influence, John Kipling was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards on 15 August 1914, two days before his seventeenth birthday.[3] After reports of the Rape of Belgium and the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, Rudyard Kipling came to see the war as a crusade for civilisation against barbarism,[4] and was even more keen that his son should see active service.

After completing his training John Kipling was sent to France in August along with the rest of the battalion, which was part of the 2nd Guards Brigade of the Guards Division.[5][6] His father was already there on a visit, serving as a war correspondent.[7]


Kipling was reported injured and missing in action in September 1915 during the Battle of Loos. There remains no definite evidence relating to the cause of his death, but credible reporting indicates he was last seen attacking a German position, possibly with a head injury. With fighting continuing, his body was not identified. However, in 1992, a mistake was discovered in the paperwork and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission identified his grave changing an inscription on the gravestone of an unknown soldier to read John Kipling.[8]

His parents searched vainly for him in field hospitals and interviewed comrades to try to identify what had happened. A notice was published in The Times on 7 October 1915 confirming the known facts that he was "wounded and missing".[citation needed]

The death of John inspired Rudyard Kipling to become involved with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and write a wartime history of the Irish Guards.[citation needed] He also wrote as an epitaph “If any question why we died, / Tell them, because our fathers lied.”[9] However, contrary to popular belief, the poem My Boy Jack does not allude to the wartime loss of his son, rather it was written about the death of Jack Cornwell, the youngest sailor killed at the Battle of Jutland.[citation needed] He also wrote the short verse: "'My son died laughing at some jest, I would I knew / What it were, and it might serve me at a time when jests are few."[This quote needs a citation]


The grave of John Kipling was identified by Military Historian, Norm Christie, then Records Officer of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1992, and Kipling was officially listed as buried in St Mary's ADS Cemetery in Haisnes.[10] In 2002, research by military historians Tonie and Valmai Holt suggested that this grave was not that of Kipling but of another officer, Arthur Jacob of the London Irish Rifles.[11][12] In January 2016, however, further research by Graham Parker and Joanna Legg demonstrated that the grave attribution to John Kipling is correct. A spokesman for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission stated that it "welcomed the latest research which supports the identification of the grave of John Kipling".[13]

My Boy Jack

The play My Boy Jack was written in 1997 by David Haig. In 2007, it was adapted into a film of the same name, with Daniel Radcliffe as John Kipling.

See also


  1. ^ Bilsing, Tracey (Summer 2000). "The Process of Manufacture of Rudyard Kipling's Private Propaganda" (PDF). War Literature and the Arts. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 November 2006. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  2. ^ "Viewing Page 1565 of Issue 29070". Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  3. ^ "No. 29070". The London Gazette. 16 February 1915. p. 1565.
  4. ^ Gilmour, David The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 page 250.
  5. ^ "No. 29363". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 November 1915. p. 11161.
  6. ^ The Long, Long Trail |
  7. ^ Lawrence, W (6 June 2011). "Rudyard Kipling – author, poet and quintessential Englishman". GWL Magazine. Archived from the original on 10 May 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  8. ^ BBC News 2016.
  9. ^ Daniel Karlin, "'Our fathers lied': Rudyard Kipling as a war poet", OUPBlog, Oxford University Press, 2015.12.29; accesses 2022.04.07.
  10. ^ "Kipling, John". CWGC. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  11. ^ "'Wrong man' in Kipling son's grave". The Guardian. London. 4 November 2007. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  12. ^ Harrison, David (20 January 2002). "Kipling memorial 'on wrong grave'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  13. ^ Furness, Hannah (19 January 2016). "Laid to rest, the mystery of a dear son's grave that haunted Kipling". The Daily Telegraph. No. 11.

External links

This page was last edited on 17 June 2023, at 19:17
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