Quotes War

March 10th to 16th


A man knelt behind a line of headstones—evidently a gardener, for he was firming a young plant in the soft earth. She went towards him, her paper in her hand. He rose at her approach and without prelude or salutation asked: ‘Who are you looking for?’

‘Lieutenant Michael Turrell—my nephew,’ said Helen slowly and word for word, as she had many thousands of times in her life.

The man lifted his eyes and looked at her with infinite compassion before he turned from the fresh-sown grass toward the naked black crosses. ‘Come with me,’ he said, ‘and I will show you where your son lies.’



This is from “The Gardener” (1926)  collected in Debits and Credits, inspired by Kipling’s visit to the Rouen war cemetery in 1925.

Helen Turrell, a well-off single woman, is living in the country village where she grew up.  She goes to the south of France for her health, and later returns with baby Michael.  She explains that he is the son of her recently dead scapegrace brother and a sergeant’s daughter.

She brings him up, as her nephew, and when war comes he joins up and is killed in an early battle.  After the Armistice she goes over to France to see his grave in one of the vast  war cemeteries, a sea of crosses.

Here she is finding it with the help of a man she takes to be a gardener.

There could be no mistake. She closed her eyes and drank it in, once it ceased abruptly.

‘Go on,’ she murmured, half aloud. ‘That isn’t the end.’

Then the end came very distinctly in a lull between two rain-gusts. Mary Postgate drew her breath short between her teeth and shivered from head to foot. ‘That’s all right,’ said she contentedly …



This is from one of the most savage and implacable scenes in Kipling’s writings, in “Mary Postgate” (September 1915)

An unmarried, middle-aged woman has become devoted to the young nephew of her compnanion. He joins the Flying Corps and is killed in a crash. The two women decide to burn all his private possessions on a bonfire.

As she stirs the ashes she comes on a dying enemy airman, who has dropped a bomb that killed a child.  He looks to her desperately for help.  She feels nothing but anger and detestation.  She watches him die, with pleasure.

‘I was surprised at myself—’give you my word. But I was perfectly polite. I said to him: “Try to be reasonable, sir. If you had got rid of your oil where it was wanted, you’d have condemned lots of people to death just as surely as if you’d drowned ’em.”’

“Ah, but I didn’t,” he said. “That ought to count in my favour.” “That was no thanks to you,” I said.


This is from “Sea Constables” (September 1915) collected in Debits and Credits.

In the early months of the war, four captains, three of them wealthy volunteers from civilian life, are talking over dinner.

One tells of shadowing a ‘neutral’ vessel, presumably from America, carrying oil in the Irish sea, to prevent him from landing it on Germany.

The neutral commander, becomes seriously ill and asks as from one gentleman to another, to be taken to hospital.  The Englishman declines the request, and leaves him to die.  War is a serious business.