First published in A Diversity of Creatures (1917) for which ORG (page 5451) believes it was specially written; collected with slight differences in the Sussex Edition Volume 9, page 131, Volume 34, page 316; the Burwash Edition, Volumes 9 and 27, Collected Verse; Definitive Verse and The Works of Rudyard Kipling, (Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994)
See “Epitaphs of the War”. In particular
If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
David Gilmour (page 252) draws our attention to these lines, observing that if Britain, as Theodore Roosevelt had told Kipling…
… had built up its Army to something approaching Continental levels there might have been no (1914) war. Yet an increase in the size of the Army, however desirable it might have been, was a political impossibility during the Edwardian years – for the Unionists as well as for the Liberals. A more coherent policy, however, a more definite political attitude in the summer of 1914, might have averted the conflict.
[The same might, of course, also be said of the 1930s Ed.)
See also the verses in The Years Between.
J M S Tompkins (page 108) draws our attention to the fact thaT…
“The Honours of War” and “The Edge of the Evening” (A Diversity of Creatures) both written in the years before the 1914-1918 war, have poems that were written after it had broken out. The misgivings that Stalky had felt about the new generation of subalterns, ‘brought up on lemon-squash and mobilisation text-books’ had been refuted more completely and tragically than by Wontner’s ‘common or bear – garden rag’ and the poem begins with sudden anguish.
Notes on the Text
[Verse 3] The Pit usually taken to mean Hell.
delivered them bound See Matthew 22.13:[D.H.]
Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
[Verse 5] the wires many bodies were left on the barbed-wire in front of the trenches.
blanched or gay-painted by fumes the various poison-gases used discoloured the corpses.
crater to crater the exploding shells left holes in the ground.
who shall return us the children ? John Kipling was killed at the battle of Loos in the Irish Guards in 1915 – see Charles Carrington page 436 passim. What was believed to be his body was recovered in 1992, but turned out to be that of another.
See KJ 228/08 263/09 264/49, 285/53. Also, Holt, Tonie and Valmai My Boy Jack – The Search for Kipling’s Only Son, and by Kipling himself The Irish Guards in the Great War, France at War, “On the Gate”, “A Madonna of the Trenches”, and other stories in Debits and Credits.
©John McGivering 2020 All rights reserved