War’s Brighter Side

During the South African War, the British Army under Field Marshal Lord Roberts occupied Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State on 13 March 1899.

Roberts then commandeered the presses of the pro-English newspaper ‘The Friend of the Free State’, to produce “a daily newpaper for the entertainment and information” of the troops for the duration of the occupation.


The Army’s chief censor Lord Stanley requested four correspondents – Perceval Landon of the Times, H.A. Gwynne of Reuter’s Agency, F.W. Buxton of the Johannesburg Star, and the American reporter Julian Ralph of the Daily Mail – to manage the paper, retitled ‘The Friend’.

The March 22nd issue carried the announcement that Kipling had become an associate editor. He continued to work in this role for a week, until he left Bloemfontein for Cape Town.


Items by Kipling are to be found in fifteen numbers of the twenty-seven issues of The Friend, and nine of these numbers – with fourteen poems, fables and sets of maxims by Kipling – are collected in Ralph’s memoirs War’s Brighter Side  

The book is currently (2021) available in paperback.Publication commenced March 16 and continued daily except Sundays until April 30, when the paper was discontinued. Kipling, vacationing in Cape Town, was invited to contribute (he telegraphed the text of ‘St. Patrick’s Day’, which appeared on March 17).

 The badge of the ‘Order of the Friendlies’ reproduced on the cover of War’s Brighter Side was designed by Kipling and executed by Tiffany & Co. in London in gold and enamel of the size ‘of a two-guinea coin’.

On the obverse are the colors of the old Free State and Transvaal, upon which is imposed the red cross of St. George; at the cross’s ends are the initials of the four letters in Greek capitals. On the reverse the four crossed pens are surrounded by the monkish Latin motto, ‘Inter Praelia Prelum’, ‘In the Midst of War the Printing Press’ (although prelum is literally a wine-press).


The organization’s sole members were Lord Roberts, Lord Stanley, the four editors and “associate editor” Kipling.

 The English edition’s frontispiece (left) photograph shows ‘The Editors at Work’, including Kipling.

Ralph apparently proposed his idea for the book to Kipling in the fall of 1900, including requesting the right to reprint his contributions. The author responded on November 8 with advice, much of which was duly employed: “[Y]ou could embody all you want to say about the status of correspondents, and you could fill it up with photos.”

Included in the book, in addition to ‘St. Patrick’s Day’, were several ‘Fables for the Staff’, ‘Kopje-Book Maxims’, ‘General Joubert’, and ‘A Song of the White Men’.




 The English edition, published in June 1890, was actually preceded by the American edition, appearing in May 1890.

The English edition gives no particular prominence to A. Conan Doyle, who although briefly present in Bloemfontein declined the invitation to join the staff of The Friend and contributed only one piece to the newspaper (an article entitled ‘A First Impression’. However, this American edition of Ralph’s book by Doyle’s American publisher gives pride of place to Doyle over Kipling on the front cover and title page, and replaces the frontispiece of the English edition with a portrait of Lord Roberts.




 Both editions, however, contain a facsimile entitled ‘A Corrected “Proof” by Rudyard Kipling’ of ‘Fables for the Staff: The Elephant and the Lark’s Nest.’ (It appears that Kipling had as many frustrations with the Afrikaans compositors as he had as a youthful editor in India with his Indian typesetters at the Civil & Military Gazette.)

The telegraph blank used for the telegraph sent to Bloemfontein from Cape Town by Kipling for ‘St Patrick’s Day’ and a fair copy of ‘The Elephant and the Lark’s Nest’ are both in the Carpenter Collection in the Library of Congress, together with the corrected galley proof for the Fable ‘The Persuasive Pom-Pom’ in the Colt Collection, also in the Library of Congress.