At the Opening of the Rifle Range, Sydenham


The Boer War had convinced Kipling that the British were sadly unprepared for war, and he campaigned thereafter for national military training. Establishing rifle ranges was one of the favorite means to encourage training, and Kipling had paid for one at Rottingdean in 1900 (see the headnote to 20 October 1900). The Sydenham speech was given at the opening of a rifle range on the recreation grounds owned by Dr. Jaegers Sanitary Woolen System Company, Ltd., where the company’s employees already had facilities for cricket, tennis, croquet and other sports. The managing director of the company, who presided, told the assembled crowd that he had been inspired to add the rifle range to the recreation grounds by reading Kipling’s “The Islanders.”

The new range is described thus in The Times account: “The building, which has a total length of 90ft. and a width of 12ft., is of corrugated iron, covered with wood on the interior, and the actual length of the shooting range is 25 yards, which, with the use of Morris tubes in the ordinary service rifle, is equivalent to an open-air range of 200 yards without those tubes.” Morris tubes are adapters for converting a service rifle to short-range practice. One of the people present at the speech described it long afterwards:

Haring consented to inaugurate a rifle range which a well-known firm had set up alongside a railway track on the skirts of South London, Kipling stood on the grassy slope with his back to the line and delivered himself of a stirring address in his briskest and blithest conversational vein. What was more, he punctuated it with side-remarks of increasing fervour every time that a train came past and broke up his periods.
(The Kipling Journal, March 1938. p. 19).


MR. KIPLING, in declaring the range open, said he had been much interested in a range ol a similar kind which had been in existence at Rottingdean about three years, so that he could say, as the Yeoman did when he fell into the thorn-bush, that though he had not much knowledge he had a skinful of experience. (Laughter.) And in regard to experience the events of the last three years had shown that all was not, perhaps, well with our country, inasmuch as the overwhelming bulk of the population were being brought up in absolute ignorance of the use of firearms. That was a little weakness which we must do our best to remedy.

It was said that ranges not connected with Volunteering were useless, because England would never need to be defended by swarms of civilian riflemen sitting behind hedges and sniping at the enemy; but he did not agree with this view. Rifle-shooting must he taught to the individual on the same basis as we taught ABC. We did not wait till a hoy was 18 or 19 and thought he would like to be a Lord Chancellor before teaching him his letters, and similarly we must not wait until he was 18 or 19 and thought he wanted to die for his country before putting a rifle in his hands. He thought it possible that some day it would be made imperative that a boy at school would have to get his squad drill and rifle shooting certificates according to his standard; but in the meantime it was the duty of each one to do all he could to help that day arrive. They should buckle down to the study of the rifle and to the rudiments of drill.

There was no danger of producing a race of inflammable barbarians. The man who learned to read and write did not immediately go ahead and persecute his neighbours by writing a book (laughter), and in the same way a man who could drill and shoot did not fall into military formation every time he entered an omnibus. (Laughter.) He would acquire knowledge, hut he would keep it until it was wanted. (Hear, hear.) If, later on, he wanted to go into the Army, or to join the Volunteers, he would do so the more readily because he would know there was nothing to be afraid of. There were, also, physical and moral advantages to be derived from such training. The use of covered rifle ranges had been criticized, but experiences at Rottingdean were in their favour, for they showed that the men got more individual instruction in less distracting circumstances and readilv took, afterwards, to the full-sized rifle at open ranges.

If they took up drill and rifle shooting, they would enter into a new and most interesting world, full of interests and good fellowship. (Hear, hear.) They would find it necessary to discover themselves all over again, and, above all, they would have to keep themselves always fit. Quite apart from the patriotic side, the Jaeger Company seemed to him to be doing a good stroke of business for themselves, because the worst investment a company, an employer, a municipality, or a nation could have was an unfit man; and they would find that drill and shooting, properly followed, would make one fit in mind, body, and estate. The little target, too, taught the proud man humility. It taught the inaccurate man the need of accuracy, and if a man had—to use an expression he had heard—been “out on the tiles,” that little target would check him as automatically as a doctor. (Laughter.)

The one thing they had to do was to get their shots off quickly. Everything must be subordinated to that. That was the first and last use of the game as they, as civilians, had to consider it. Their club, he hoped and believed, would be the forerunner of many others. In a little time there would be 30 or 40 more, all interested in long ranges; and then they would get their longer ranges because small as their beginnings were, they were standing at the beginning of a very large movement, the end of which no man could foresee, and the force of which no man could limit. It was their game, as it was that of every other rifle club, so to use the privileges granted to them in the form of small ranges that when, in response to public opinion, greater facilities were granted to them in the form of long ranges they would be able to play tbe game, the little game of shooting, on a larger scale, more often, and better, year by year. Thus they would hope that, the next time the nations of the earth saw fit to love us with that love which had found such perfect expression of late, we on our side might not be found wholly ignorant of one or two of those less spiritual accomplishments which, if they did not inspire affection, would at least inspire respect. (Cheers.)

He declared the range open, and wished it “all the luck in the w’orld.”
—The Times, 4 August 1902