Mrs. Kipling’s diary for 28 April reads: “Rud busy with his speech at the opening this evening of the Etchingham memorial. Rain, sleet and bitter wind at the time of the ceremony” (Rees extracts). Etchingham lies a few miles east of Burwash, on the rail line to London; from a population of four hundred there were one hundred volunteers, of whom twenty died in the war (Daily Graphic, 30 April 1920). I transcribe the title of the speech as it stands in the typescript at Sussex.
We all know grief cannot be cheated. It must run its natural course. But after the first pain of our sorrow has been abated there is consolation in the thought that all the world lies under the same grief as ours—as all the world does. Etchingham is but one of the thousand English parishes who claims with pride and with reverence, its share in the three-quarters of a million of our English dead who lie scattered over the face of the earth and under all its waters.
We here in the valley heard the guns yonder in France, shaking windows and making our doors creak, day and night for more than four years. We did not know then, and we do not for the most part know now what these guns did, nor what sort of life our men led who had to face those guns. I have just come back from the invaded areas of France where I have seen a little of the horrors from which our men’s work and our men’s lives have protected us. For thousands of square miles there is nothing left of man’s handiwork. The woods and forests that were as fine as ours, have been burned and gassed and shelled into fringes of a few withered sticks like twisted hop-poles. There is no trace of cultivation, hedges, boundaries, ditches, barns or markets. There is not one brick, or stone left standing on another to show where the houses or the churches once stood. There is nothing but a contin¬uous waste of hillocks and holes and rubbish-heaps covered with rank grass and now and then a notice-board by the side of the road saying “This was the village of etc. etc.” But for the infinite mercy of God, and the work that these dead men whose memory we strive to honour took part in, that would have been our fate to-day—a wilderness beside a swamp; peopled by a few survivors living in huts and holes under a signboard that said “Etehingham has once stood here.”
But the men who saved us paid a heavy price. No words can give any idea of the life they lived during the war—the horrors of dirt, darkness, discomfort, the strain on body and soul, the weariness and the despair of it all repeated and repeated summer after summer, winter after winter in the stale front line. Our men have been verv tender of our feelings throughout, perhaps too much so. They kept from us at the time, or they hid with a joke what they were called upon to face in the ordinary course of things. Even now, I think, we are not fully conscious how bitterly and how continuously they were tried. This was natural during the war and perhaps for a while after the war, but there is a danger that in the many present concerns of peace we may neglect to learn and understand the f ull stretch of their heroism and the unequalled endurance that was the background to their heroism.
There never was a war in history in which such multitudes of our people took part. There never was a war in which such devices of terror and slaughter were employed; and there never was a war in which the mass of our people stood so triumphantly and so unbrokenly against all those unforeseen terrors, by land, sea and air. That tale is not told. It has hardly begun to be told. It has not yet sunk into men’s hearts or coloured their lives as it will later.
If I may say so, Etchingham has done wisely in making speed to erect her memorial now while the tales are fresh and undimmed that it may serve as a witness to the dread reality of them. It seems to me wise, too, that the memorial should have been placed in the spot where it stands, for surely it is specially right that this generation and its successors on going in and out of the house of God should step a little out of the smooth path to pay reverence and homage to those who offered themselves as a sacrifice for their own land. As the generations pass and the land that has been saved continues, it will be as it was when Joshua took the stones out of Jordan and set them up in Gilgal as a memorial of his peoples deliverance. When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come what mean these stones, they will surely let their children know how the mercy of God and the bravery of their own dead saved England.
—Typescript, Kipling Papers, University of Sussex (KP 28/9).