by Julian Moore
'proudest moment of my young life was riding up Simla Mall besides Lord Roberts who asked me what the men were thinking.'But Kipling was a journalist above all else, and had a nose for official frailities, even those of his hero. Kipling, as Carr points out, 'was no blind hero-worshipper[of Lord Roberts] and at Simla he had been known as a sharp critic of Bobs' administrative weaknesses.' [ Charles Carrington p. 304]
[R. Kipling, Something of Myself, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1936, p. 66]
Won a simple Viceroy's praise
Through the toil of other men.
Favouritism governed kissageAlthough Kipling wrapped his accusations in a thinly veiled parable about ancient Egypt, the comparison of the monolithic organisation of the Indian government to the building of the pyramids with all the shortcomings of both enterprises was easily made. The criticism is quite overt but, in the opinion of Parry, was 'seen by some as a joke, as light entertainment.' [A. Parry, The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling: Rousing the Nation, London, Open University Press 1992, p. 16] Kipling comments, in his autobiography, that:
Even as it does in this age
'my flippancy in handling what I was trusted with was not well-seen by the Government or the Departmental officialism'The indictment of the unhappy departmental officials was compounded in the next stanza:
[Something of Myself, op. cit., p. 76].
Who shall doubt "the secret hidIt should be borne in mind that Kipling was a young reporter aged twenty-one when he wrote "A General Summary". The lines bear all the hallmarks of a callow sense of humour in search of official targets as easy marks for his reporting skills, to be turned into facile but pointed verses to amuse the Anglo-Indian community. The target, in this case Lord Roberts, seemed unconcerned by the accusations, and continued to be Kipling's mentor and unofficial patron. It was Roberts to whom Rudyard Kipling turned for help when his son, John, was rejected for military service on medical grounds in 1914. Roberts arranged a commission in the Irish Guards for John Kipling who was killed early in 1915 at Loos.
Under Cheops' pyramid"
Was that the contractor did
Cheops out of several millions?
Or that Joseph's sudden rise
To Comptroller of Supplies
Was a fraud of monstrous size
On King Pharaoh's swart civilians.
'Now they've made a bloomin' LordHis following among the troops under his command was often noted. Kipling wrote of it to Roberts himself in 1897; 'never did living leader of men have so many passionate worshippers among his rank and file'. [Personal letter from Kipling to Roberts, cited Lord Birkenhead, op. cit., p. 176]. The Morning Post ascribed his soldiers' loyalty to 'his care for his men's welfare' along with 'his personal charm' and 'his brilliant military qualities' [Morning Post, 16.11.1914], while a modern commentator points to the fact that Roberts was also 'simple, sweet-natured' . [J. Morris, op. cit., p.237]. These attributes are augmented in the sentiments of Kipling's narrator:
Which was but 'is fair reward -
Weren't it, Bobs?
So 'e'll wear a coronet
Where 'is 'elmet used to set,
But we know you won't forget -
Will yer, Bobs?'
'E's the man that done us well,and:
An we'll follow 'im to 'ell'
'...you've 'elped the soldier's loadKipling also allows his narrator to illuminate further some of the myths that had grown up around Roberts. One of the popular stories, despite the lack of any supporting medical evidence, was that he had been frequently wounded in battle during his career:
An' for benefits bestowed
Bless yer, Bobs!'
'If you stood 'im on 'is 'eadThere is also reference to Roberts' diminutive stature - he was a very small man by modern standards:
You could spill a quart of lead
Outer Bobs. 'E's been at it thirty years
In the way of slugs an' spears -
Ain't yer, Bobs?'
'There's a little red-faced manand:
Which is Bobs'
'Oh, 'e's little but 'e's wise,but the point is made with affection and a certain amount of awe at Roberts ability in spite of his size, especially in view of the fact that he:
'E's a terror for 'is size'
'Rides the tallest 'orse 'e can',a reference to his huge chestnut Arab, Volonel, which he had ridden on the fateful march to Kandahar, and which had been awarded its own Afghan War medals by order of the Queen.
'... 'e - does - not - advertise - Do yer, Bobs?'Later, in one of the short stories from his Plain Tales from the Hills, Kipling has the narrator, Private Mulvaney, say derisively of Wolseley that:
'Wolseley...he's a ramblin', incoherint sort av a divil, wid wan oi on the Quane an' the other on 'is blessed silf - everlastin'ly playin' Saysar and Alexandrier rowled into a lump'.Kipling also uses the poem as a vehicle for a general warning to his readers about the dangers of ignoring the message that Roberts had borne for the ten years since his retirement from active duty in 1904:
["The Taking of Lungtungpen" in Plain Tales From the Hills] The rivalry was to last until Roberts succeeded Wolseley as the last Commander-in-Chief of the British Army on the latter's retirement in 1900.
The last of Kipling's verses concerning the hero of his youth is the elegiac "Lord Roberts", published soon after Roberts' death in November 1914. Roberts died on 14.11.1914 of pneumonia while visiting Indian troops from his old regiment stationed at the front line in France. Kipling notes that:
'before his eye grew dimIt was an occasion when:
He had seen the faces of the sons
Whose sires had served with him.
'He passed in the very battle-smoke',and:
Three hundred mile of cannon spokeApart from his view of Roberts' personal qualities:
When the Master-Gunner died.
Clean, simple, valiant, well-beloved,
Flawless in faith and fame,
Never again the war-wise face,In many ways, Roberts' impact after 1904 was greater than his previous fifty years of military service. He spent the ten years until his death campaigning in the House of Lords and on the public stage for a better awareness of the threatening military situation in Europe. His prescient concern about the looming conflict, 'the war that he had descried' [Roberts had presented the possibility of war against Germany as early as 1905 in Nineteenth Century, LVII, January 1905, p. 68], was sparked by a belief that the British armed forces were as insufficiently prepared for a German invasion as they had been for the rigours of the Boer War. Kipling shared with Roberts a fear that Britain would have no answer to an invasion, and both men were leading members of the National Service League, a popular organisation that agitated for compulsory military service. After the Committee of Imperial Defence rejected proposed legislation supporting conscription, Roberts took over the leadership of the National Service League which had been founded in 1902, and took it to a membership of 270,000 by 1914.
The weighed and urgent word
That pleaded in the market-place -
Pleaded and was not heard.
'to Lord Roberts, it was not that the acquisition and maintenance of colonies made Britain great; rather, they were the proof of her greatness'It was Britain's greatness to which Roberts devoted his retirement. Kipling notes this devotion:
[R. Adams, 'Field-Marshal Earl Roberts: Army and Empire', in J. Thompson and A. Meija, op. cit., p 42],
Whom neither ease nor honours movedRoberts himself summed up the basis of this aim in his maiden speech to the House of Lords:
A hairs-breadth from his aim,
'we are links in a living chain pledged to transmit intact to posterity the glorious heritage we have received from those who have gone before us in this place'.Both the reality and the image of Roberts were iconic. He was hated by the Liberals in government. The members of Asquith's Liberal government supported Wolseley for promotion because of rumours of Roberts' atrocities on civilians in the Afghan campaign. There does not appear to be any historical evidence to support these innuendoes. He was lionised by the ultra-conservative right wing of the opposition. Roberts included among his social circle such Radical Right luminaries as F.E.Smith, Lord Willoughby de Broke, Lord Halsbury, and, of course, Kipling himself. He symbolised a tradition of incorruptible service to his country that his supporters used as a shibboleth of national pride to divide the faithful from those whom Kipling was to call 'The Lords of Looseness'. [ "The Holy War" in The Years Between]
[Lords Parliamentary Debate, 4th series, vol CXVI, col 1695, 16.3.1905]
...from his life a new life springsEmulation of the constant striving for national greatness embodied in Roberts' life and work was essential if Britain was to be victorious in the physical and psychological confusion of the Western Front. Kipling is quite clear about this transference of national spirit, in that Roberts' death has imbued the embattled fighting forces with 'a new life', a reminder that:
Through all the hosts to come
Glory is the least of things That follow this man home.Kipling's documentation in verse of his relationship with Roberts over the thirty years of their acquaintance is as revealing of Kipling the poet as it is about his subject. For the young inexperienced journalist in Simla in the 1880s, Roberts represented a higher authority which, almost by definition, could be used as a target for derision through self-consciously subversive doggerel. Ten years later, the Indian Army's favourite bard could put into verse, deliberately colloquial to appeal to a specific readership, the idolisation of a military leader by the men who served under him. A further twenty years saw the measured tones of a funerary ode that was written more to support an ideology than to remember a man.