by Michael Smith

The April 1939 issue of The Kipling Journal carried a note of great interest to members. On January 19th HMS Kipling had been launched from the yard of Messrs. Yarrow & Co., Scotstoun on Clyde.

The ceremony had been performed by Kipling's daughter Mrs Elsie Bambridge who said that nothing would have given her father such immense pride and pleasure than that a ship of the Royal Navy would one day bear his name. For nearly forty years RK had had a special feeling for the Royal Navy, and for destroyers, as witnessed in his poem of 1898 The Destroyers.

Mrs Bambridge was presented with a silver tray engraved with an image of the 'K' Class destroyer, which is now displayed in the dining room at Bateman's.

Earlier, in the December 1938 issue, the Honorary Secretary, Sir Christopher Robinson, Bart. noted that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty had accepted the offer of the Society to present a bas-relief plaque of the writer to the ship, and invited subscriptions from members to help bear the cost. This enterprise came to fruition, for the July 1940 issue recorded that the founder of the Society, Mr J H C Brooking had unveiled the plaque aboard H.M.S.Kipling. He and other members of Council were delighted to receive a bronze of the ship's boat badge in return.

The first, and only, captain, was Sir Aubrey St Clair-Ford and he and the ship's company were always appreciative of the practical support provided by the Society. It was a happy coincidence that one of her officers Lieut.Niall Robinson was the son of the Society's secretary. So the mutual high regard with which Rudyard Kipling and the Royal Navy afforded each other during his lifetime was continued between the ship bearing his name and the Society.

H.M.S.Kipling was a 'K' Class Destroyer mounting six 4.7" guns and two quintuple torpedo-tubes, and served with great distinction, winning seven battle honours. One of the torpedo-tube fixtures was later replaced with anti-aircraft capacity.

Early duty was in the Atlantic, then in the Norwegian campaign, and in April 1941 she sailed to the Mediterranean with the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla commanded by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten in Kelly. On May 22nd, having bombarded an airfield in northern Crete, Kashmir and Kelly survived two air attacks, but early next morning both were sunk. Kipling, some way away, under repair, closed to pick up survivors, manoeuvring to avoid bombers whilst completing the rescue.

She saved almost 300 of the two ships' companies, including Mountbatten. She eventually reached Alexandria, although under repeated attack and her Captain was awarded the DSO. Later, on escort duty off Egypt, Kipling sank U75 which had torpedoed one of the convoy. Later she was involved in the Second Battle of Sirte, a gallant action against a much more powerful Italian force with heavy cruisers and a battleship. In May, with Jervis, Jackal and Lively, en-route to intercept an enemy convoy bound for Benghazi, they were attacked by Ju-88's and only Jervis survived. Of H.M.S.Kipling's company of 250, 221 survived, and many continue to meet annually. Happily the link between ship and society is maintained, and in 1998 a replica of the original plaque was presented to the Survivors Association.

Throughout her service, The Kipling Journal managed to report on her welfare, although constrained by wartime censorship. When in a home post she was visited by Society members, bearing a variety of 'comforts'. Sir Christopher wrote amusingly in the April 1940 issue, "Hearing that Kipling had put into a certain port after her trials I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to call upon her Captain and officers, to see my son and to deliver to her crew a hundredweight and a half of dart-boards, darts and "flights" (whatever they may be), the delivery of which was beginning to worry me.' 'The only thing 1 can mention about my journey is that it is no joke to escort a dozen dart-boards anywhere in time of war. Done up in parcels, they look (and feel) just like depth charges, 1 spent most of the journey trying to persuade suspicious officials that they could be safely examined without being first plunged into tanks of water". In July 1940 a facsimile of "Daily Orders" was published in the Journal, location, date and names of personnel having been 'blacked out'. It was inspiring to see that a quotation from Kipling was included daily. It was with a profound sense of shock and loss that members learned of her sinking.

H.M.S.Kipling's ships badge motif was of the Ganesha symbol superimposed on a blue and white wavy background. A half-scale replica of this can be seen in an H.M.S.Kipling, exhibit in the Kipling Room at The Grange, in Rottingdean, alongside a copy of the plaque sculpted by A.Lowenthal which was presented to the ship.

Also on display at The Grange is a fine photo taken of H.M.S.Kipling in Southampton Water, a facsimile of 'Daily Orders', the obituary notice of Capt Sir Aubrey St Clair-Ford DSO and bar, who died at the age of 87 in 1991, and a model of a Junkers Ju-88. But the pride of the display is a beautiful, 4', scale model of Kipling (below) made and loaned by Derrick Hubbard, the son of one of the survivors.

At the kind invitation of Norman Roake. Secretary of the Survivors Association, the Secretary and the Membership Secretary and their wives attended the 1999 Reunion Lunch, chaired by Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Ashmore KCB, KCVO, DSC, who had been the navigator on the destroyer. Lady St Clair-Ford was also there and she brought to show us the one tankard, of a set, rescued from the bridge and returned to the Captain when the survivors reached Alexandria. The tankard was inscribed "To H.M.S. Kipling from The Kipling Society". The occasion was a most moving experience.

On 16th October 1946, Lieut. N. B. Robinson, DSC, Croix de Guerre, gave a lecture to the Society entitled The Story of H.M.S. Kipling which was reproduced as an off-print. Even then it had to bear the inscription "No Admiralty objection as amended". It is a memorable account of dedicated service, bravery and determination.

Michael Smith, June 1999