Last month we wrote about the new exhibition, ‘My Boy Jack’, which deals with John Kipling (son of the famous writer Rudyard) who was killed in the First World War, and how disagreement exists over whether his grave, identified in 1992, is actually his.
Mark Quinlan, who was involved in a review of the the decision in 2002 has written the following for us about the decision.
“When the war started in 1914 Kipling’s only son, John, still at school and not yet 17, applied for a commission in the army. He was turned down because of his age and poor sight. His father was a friend of Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, Colonel-in-Chief of the Irish Guards and by this connection he secured a commission for his son. John sailed to France with the newly formed 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards in 1915.
On 27 Sep 1915 the battalion attacked Chalk Pit Wood during the Battle of Loos and John was reported as missing, believed wounded. His body was never found and he was recorded as ‘missing, believed killed’. In 1919 a Graves Registration Unit had recorded a burial in St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery at Haisnes as being an ‘Unknown Lieutenant of the Irish Guards’ and only three Irish Guards officers who were killed in the Great War had in fact been buried as ‘Unknown’.
In 1992, by a process of elimination, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission positively identified the grave at St Mary’s as being that of John and arranged for the headstone inscription to be changed. While Rudyard Kipling certainly saw the grave at St Mary’s ADS Cemetery, he did not know it was John’s. In 1917 he became literary adviser to the Imperial War Graves Commission, a post he held until his death in 1936 and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his devotion to the Commission was in some way to atone for the death of his son.
The Commission’s conclusion was subsequently challenged by Western Front battlefield experts Major Tonie and Valmai Holt in their book, My Boy Jack? The Search for Kipling’s Only Son. In June 2002, after carefully examining all the evidence, what was then titled Army Casualty Branch confirmed the Commission’s identification and given that the conclusion was likely to be contentious, forwarded the paperwork to the Defence Service Secretary’s Secretariat at the MoD, where Tri-Service graves policy at that time resided.
I was then the desk officer responsible for War and non-World War graves, saw all the relevant paperwork, carefully considered the Army’s conclusions and confirmed the identification.”