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  • Christina Drummond

Second Lieutenant John Kipling, 2nd Battalion, the Irish Guards

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1915, Second Lieutenant John Kipling, 2nd Battalion, the Irish Guards, was killed in action at the Battle of Loos.

The youngest child of the author Rudyard Kipling, he had wanted to join the Royal Navy, but he failed the medical examination due to poor eyesight. Two attempts to join the army also failed for the same reason. His father was insistent that his son see active service, so he used his influence with Lord Roberts, the former Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and his John Kipling was commissioned into the Irish Guards two days before his seventeenth birthday, on the 15 of August, 1914.

During the Battle of Loos in September of 1915, Second Lieutenant Kipling was reported as wounded and missing in action. He was said to have a head injury, and had been seen attacking a German position while wounded; another report refers to him stumbling blindly through the mud in search of his glasses. His parents went to field hospitals and talked to his comrades, in a vain effort to find him, or at least find out what had happened to him. Later his father wrote in a poem: “If any question why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied” – students of poetry have pondered if guilt inspired the words, after a father so enthusiastically ensures his son’s place in the fighting, but others believe it relates to criticism of the British not having been ready for the Great War. In 2007, the film “My Boy Jack” was made, based on the play of the same name written by actor David Haig (who played Rudyard Kipling), with Daniel Radcliffe portraying John Kipling.

In September of 1919, a British army burial party discovered the remains of an unidentified Irish Guards Lieutenant. They reburied him with fifty-six others in what is now known as the St Mary's A.D.S. Cemetery, Haisnes, in France. In 1992 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission replaced the headstone with one bearing the name “Lieutenant John Kipling”, which generated some discussion as at the time of his death he would have been wearing the rank of second lieutenant, his promotion not having even been announced until after his death. Also, he had lost his identity disc and had written to his father several days before his death asking for a replacement marked as “second lieutenant.” In 2015, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirmed they were satisfied that due to “clear and compelling” evidence, the body in the grave is indeed that of John Kipling.

John, from Rottingdean in Sussex, had just turned 18 years old.

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