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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.”

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Daniel Radcliffe and David Haig, John and Rudyard in My Boy JackOpening this month at Imperial War Museum, London, is the first exhibition to tell the full story of Rudyard Kipling’s only son, John, who was reported missing in action at the age of 18 in the Battle of Loos in 1915.  Rarely seen items from the Imperial War Museum’s archives will be on display, including John’s last letter to his family. The exhibition coincides with a new ITV1 drama, My Boy Jack, which stars Daniel Radcliffe as John.

John Kipling, a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards, is named on Wellington College Roll of Honour.  John’s body was never recovered in Rudyard’s lifetime, but in 1992 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reported that it had located John’s burial place (see CWGC record).  However, there remains controversy over whether this identification is correct and if the officer buried there is, in fact, Jack.

Several verses written by John’s father, Rudyard, were used as inscriptions on war memorials.  This includes the well-known phrase, ‘Lest we forget’, popularised by Kipling in his poem, Recessional.  Written originally for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897, it came to be used on a great many memorials after the First World War.  We current list 649 memorials on our database that include it.