Kipling for men and women
on active service


[November 11th 2011]


100 Poems from the New Generation
of War Poets

This collection of poems by serving soldiers is edited by John Jeffcock, a poet and former soldier in the Coldstream Guards. Carol Ann Duffy writes that this is "... a humbling project, allowing the voices of those soldiers whose lives have been changed by war to speak to us with the raw directness of feeling and experience."

It is published by Ebury Publishing, price £10, and available from Amazon and elsewhere.

Kipling and the Service Man

For the Service Men and Women of today

Rudyard Kipling went out to India in 1882, before his seventeenth birthday, to work as a journalist In Lahore and later in Allahabad. At that time Britain governed India and what is now Pakistan, and maintained a big army of British and Indian soldiers to defend the frontiers and keep law and order.

The British were particularly concerned about the intentions of the Russian Empire to the north, and were suspicious of its interest in Afghanistan, a turbulent buffer state, ruled by an Amir. In the frontier region, then - as now - the tribes took little heed of borders unless it suited them, and the British fought a number of small wars and local campaigns to keep order and protect their interests.

Young Kipling, deeply curious about the strange new land he found himself in, with a great capacity for getting to know all sorts and conditions of people, made friends with many soldiers, officers in their messes, sergeants and privates wherever he found them, and wrote about their stories, their lives and their concerns, in tales that were first read in newspapers and magazines, and then collected into highly popular books.

We thought it would be good to gather together some of his stories and poems about service life, war and the North-West Frontier for men and women on active service today. These are listed on this page, with links to the text, and notes that we have made on them for present-day readers.

Some of Kipling's stories

This is a list of tales mainly set in India in the 1880s and 90s, in the South African War of 1899-1902, and in the Great War of 1914-1918.

In his story-telling, Kipling frequently makes use of a Ďframeí for a story, so you may find that character in a story set in a barracks will tell a tale of action, or that one in a setting on the North West Frontier will relate a story about life at home in England.

The contrasts made between boredom and action, between barrack life overseas and soldiering in Britain, gave civilian readers a completely new view of ĎTommy Atkinsí.

Those that deal with action on the North West Frontier include:

and with barrack life in India:

and Burma:

Stories of the South African War of 1899-1900 include:

and of 'The Great War', World War I of 1914-1918:

Others to do with military life, imagined, historic or real, are:

Some pictures of old times

Soldiers of the Royal West Kent regiment on active service on the North West Frontier in 1898. Dress looks a bit casual and some appear to be wearing rolled up balaclavas, and to have acquired trophy weapons, but the soldier on the right still has to have his hair cut.

In this section we plan to gather together as many good pictures of soldiering in late-Victorian times as we can.

Many of Rudyard Kipling's early stories about British soldiers were about three privates in an infantry battalion stationed in India - Terence Mulvaney, an Irishman with many years service; John or Jock Learoyd, a Yorkshireman, and Stanley Ortheris, a Londoner.

The first collection of stories about them was an Indian paperback edition with this picture of them on the cover - Ortheris on the left, Learoyd on the right. The artist was Kipling's father, John Lockwood Kipling, who was principal of an art college in Lahore, now in Pakistan.

More pictures

Technical test

Contact us

With British forces involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, comparisons, not always favourable, have been made by politicians, the media and members of the forces between the public perception and treatment of the forces of today and those of the end of the 19th century, when Kipling was at the height of his fame. Examples are given in our notes on one of his best known poems on this theme, "Tommy" and it is clear that they have recently had an effect.

If you have any comments on Kipling's writings about soldiers, or about the North West Frontier, or about this site, or if you have any contributions of your own in prose or verse, please send them to us and we will publish them if suitable. Email to:

Click here for the New Readers' Guide on Kipling's works.

"Help for Heroes"

Help for Heroes gives practical, direct support for our wounded in recent wars. "Itís about the blokes, our men and women of the Armed Forces. Itís about Derek, a rugby player who has lost both his legs, itís about Carl whose jaw is wired up so he has been drinking through a straw. Itís about Richard who was handed a mobile phone as he lay on the stretcher so he could say goodbye to his wife ..."

Last year former Army Captain James Milton walked barefoot along the 130 mile pilgrims' route from Winchester to Canterbury, to raise more than £4,000 for "Help for Heroes".

He said: "My feet are in tatters. I have walked continuously for the last 24 hours because I didn't think I would make it." He added: "I used to be a soldier and I have built a good life since but there is a bunch of men and women who have not been so fortunate."

James Milton served as an Army officer between 1998 and 2007, including three tours in Iraq, as an intelligence officer and then an Arabic interpreter. He has written a series of soldier poems, which we are glad to be able to publish on this site. They echo his wide reading of Kipling, the ballad tradition, the belief that poems should be read aloud, and the black humour. You can contact James by email at

Some of Kipling's verse

On Soldiers and War

We have so far published
the text of over 300 of Kipling's poems on this site.

Click above for the full list. The selection below is of some which deal with life in barracks and on active service in India, Afghanistan, Burma and Africa in the 1880s and 1890s, as well as the Great War of 1914-18. Click on a title to see the poem, with explanatory notes if these have been written.

Poems about soldiers in general About service in India, Afghanistan and Burma. They refer to campaigns in the second half of the 19 th century but mainly in the period 1878 to 1890 Egypt and the Sudan, 1882-1889

The Boer War, or the South African War of 1899-1902

The Great War of 1914-1918

And two that are always true A useful link to the texts of Kiplingís poems of all types can be found here

Guidance on the verse

Providing guidance on the verse is a massive task because of the sheer volume of Kipling's work, over 550 published poems, and at least as many again which remain unpublished.

John Walker, as Verse Editor, has prepared a
list of the principal collections in which Kipling's verse has appeared over the years, with the abbreviations we will be using in the indexing system.

We index the notes alphabetically by title, or by first line.

Using the New Readers' Guide

This page is part of the New Readers' Guide to Kipling's works, which the Kipling Society has been developing over the past seven years. There is a section of the Guide for each story, poem, and other work. To find the stories you can click on The stories listed in the red sidebar on the left (or from the links below), which is an alphabetical list of all the stories.

Those stories for which we have an entry are in red, and if you click on them this will take you to the entry. In most cases there is an introductory page, from which you can jump to detailed notes on the text. You can also find stories via The stories in their collections in the sidebar - or from the links below.

Wherever you are in the Guide, a click on the grey and red Readers' Guide logo in the top left hand corner will take you back to this page. A click on the Elephant's head (Ganesha) logo at the top of the sidebar will take you back to the Home-page for the site.

Kipling Journal back-numbers

We have made the 12,000 or so pages of Kipling Journal back-numbers available on line as plain text-files (apart from the eight most recent issues) to users of this Guide.

Click here
to see one or more of the available back-numbers and use the search system to find a word or phrase.

Click here if you wish to join the Society.

Themes in Kipling's works

We have developed a system through which you can search for themes and people in Kipling's works. Click here to use it.

Some useful links

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