Kipling and the Imperial War Graves Commission

(by Alastair Wilson)



Much of the material which follows is based on the diaries of Kipling’s wife, Carrie. She kept a diary for all their married life – there are some gaps – as when she was ill in hospital in Bermuda in 1930 – but in essence her diaries are a record of their life together, from start to finish. However, there is a snag: the diaries we have today are incomplete.

When Kipling died in January `36, the idea of an authorised biography was bandied about, but Carrie couldn’t come to an agreement with anyone before she died in `39, and it was left to their sole remaining child, Elsie, Mrs. George Bambridge, to try to get one under way. In the event, after a chance meeting with her husband towards the end of the war, Lord Birkenhead was selected to write the authorised biography, and he was given access to all the Kipling papers, including Carrie’s diaries BUT he was not allowed to copy the diaries, he could only make ‘extracts’ – as it were, no more than notes, or a précis of what Carrie had written. In due course, Birkenhead completed his biography, and submitted it to Elsie for approval (she had editorial control) – and she turned it down flat – but FLAT. No amount of suggested amendments would satisfy her, and the whole project was laid aside.

In due course, another, more persuasive, author was found, Professor Charles Carrington, who was given the same access to the Kipling papers, with the same stipulation regarding the diaries. He completed his biography, and satisfied Elsie’s editorial blue pencil. The book was published in 1955, and is widely regarded as the authorised biography of Kipling. Elsie died in 1976, but before her death, she destroyed the originals of her mother’s diaries. Birkenhead’s (not quite) authorised version was published in 1978. My own view is that Elsie had turned it down because it was an uncompromising ‘warts and all’ biography, and she wanted something more like a hagiography – Carrington had managed to be more tactful [A.J.W].
Anyway, all we have left today as primary sources of information are the ‘extracts’ of Carrie’s diaries, and the Kipling Society has, 2013-2018, published them in this Guide so that anyone can read them.


At the outbreak of war in 1914, Kipling’s son John had just turned 17, and had just spent his first term at a ‘crammer’, with a view to Sandhurst entry. This was John’s own choice, his mother, Carrie Kipling, had recorded in her diary, 2 May 1913:
‘To Wellington to see Mr. Pearson. John now wants to go into the Army.’

Mr. Pearson was John’s housemaster, so presumably the purpose of the visit was to discuss John’s future – he would be 16 later that summer. Carrie’s reference to John’s desire for an army career is significant when set against the views of critics who have suggested that, sixteen months later at the outbreak of the war, Kipling pushed John into the army, and, after John’s death, was haunted by feelings of guilt.
Wellington was known as an ‘Army’ school. Since John had no other career in mind, and was not academically inclined, and many of his contemporaries would have been intended for the army, it is not surprising that he had decided to be a soldier.
Kipling’s visit would have been to enquire of Pearson what John’s chances were of passing the exams for Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy. John only spent two more terms at Wellington, leaving earlier than might have been expected, to go to a ‘crammer’, where he would have been intensively coached for the exam the following autumn.

[Annotation for the entry in Carrie Kipling’s diary, quoted above.]



At John’s birth, in 1897, Kipling had had ideas of him going to Dartmouth, and becoming a Naval officer in due course. Kipling was having a fit of enthusiasm for the Royal Navy at that time, after having been invited by an old Naval acquaintance to go to sea with him in the small cruiser, HMS Pelorus, which the old acquaintance commanded. Kipling spent two weeks on board, had the time of his life, and wrote a number of naval tales in consequence.

However, by the time John was 11 or so, it became apparent that his eyes would never be good enough to get him to Dartmouth, and so he was sent to Wellington for his public school education, and Kipling suggested to him that he might do worse than think about going to university in due course. However, as I wrote above, John “was not academically inclined” – he wasn’t as thick as the proverbial two short planks, but he would have had difficulty in getting into any reputable college at Oxford or Cambridge – he was usually bobbing about the middle of his class. At all events, pretty much out of the blue, he announced in the spring of 1913 that he wanted to go into the Army – which meant, of course, Sandhurst. So his parents drove up to Wellington to consult his housemaster.
As a result, on 19 May, Kipling took him out of school for the day to go to Aldershot for a preliminary medical exam – and, not surprisingly, he was failed on his eyes, as recorded in Carrie’s diary.
May 19 John’s preliminary medical exam.
John’s eyesight found below standard.

PINNEY, Letters, Vol. 4, pp. 183-4 has two letters from Kipling to John about this medical exam, the one dated 16 May telling him about the arrangements. (Kipling evidently expected – rather optimistically – to get from the College to Aldershot in 15 minutes, about eleven miles.) In the second letter Kipling says nothing about the results, and since John continued to study for the Sandhurst exam, it appears that the Kiplings intended not to discourage his ambitions – at least not yet.

As stated in our annotation to Carrie’s earlier diary entry, John went to a crammer in Bournemouth, in May 1914.
May 5 We all take John to Bournemouth where he starts life with his Crammers – one Lee Evans.

Right, that’s enough about John for the time being. Switch to Kipling’s connection with Fabian Ware (the man who, more than any other, was the initiator of the idea of the Imperial War Graves Commission). He first appears in Carrie’s diaries, in 1907, in Vancouver, when the Kipling’s were on a visit to Canada.
Oct. 10 Leave Vancouver at 5 p.m. The Fabian Wares see us off.

Fabian Ware was, at this time, the Editor of the
Morning Post. We are not sure what took him to Vancouver at this time. This is the first time he appears in the diaries, though they may have met previously in South Africa – he was a member of the governing council of the Transvaal 1901-1905 under Milner (Kipling and his family spent every winter, at this time, at the Cape.) Possibly his presence in Canada was the cause of the Letters to the Family (part of Letters of Travel 1892-1913) being printed in the Morning Post.

Later on, in 1909, the Kiplings became acquainted with Lady Bathurst, the proprietor of the Morning Post, and visited her at her home at Cirencester from time to time. (Kipling was getting involved in politics, and the Morning Post, thoroughly right-wing and Imperial, suited his politics down to the ground.) So, the connection with the Wares was cemented, and the Ware family even went on holiday with the Kipling family to Engelberg in January 1910.

However, in 1911, Ware was replaced as the Editor of the Morning Post, and Kipling took up with the new Editor, one Howell Gwynne, whom he had known since they had served together on The Friend at Bloemfontein in 1900, during the South African War. Thereafter, until Kipling’s death, he and Gwynne were in continuous contact.

At the outbreak of war in August 1914, John Kipling, like many thousand other young men, rushed off to enlist, regardless of the fact that he was supposedly aiming for Sandhurst. But even if he had succeeded, he would not have come out of Sandhurst until autumn 1915 at the earliest, and he would have missed all the ‘fun’. After all, it was ‘all going to be over by Christmas’, wasn’t it? However, he was rejected on eyesight grounds at all three recruiting offices that he tried.

So Kipling and John hatched a plot to pull strings, and Kipling used his long-standing friendship with ‘Bobs’ (Field Marshal Earl Roberts), who was the Colonel of the Irish Guards, to get John a Commission in the Irish Guards.

The ploy worked and John was duly commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards, which was being formed and trained at Warley, near Brentwood, in Essex. In the short term this probably gave John a better chance of survival than if he had been able to enlist as mere ‘cannon-fodder’ on Day One. At least he would go to war properly trained when he did go.

In the event, he was sent to France as soon as he was 18, in August 1915, and was killed on what was, effectively, his first day in the line, at the battle of Loos, on 25 September 1915.

Like so many bereaved parents of the time, the Kiplings were devastated by their loss, though he later agreed to write the official history of The Irish Guards in the Great War. He spent five years writing it, and it was published in April 1923.

In the meantime, Fabian Ware had been getting on with his own career – there is no recorded diary contact with Kipling during the early war years. He had initially had some difficulty in getting into the army because of his age – 45 in 1914 – but ended the war as a Major-General, and was mentioned in despatches. He was involved in recording the deaths of British and Commonwealth soldiers in France and Flanders since the beginning of the war, and one result of his labours on the home political front as well as in France was the creation, by Royal Charter in May 1917 of the Imperial War Graves Commission, with the Prince of Wales as its President, the Secretary of State for War (then Lord Derby) as Chairman, and Fabian Ware as Vice-Chairman, the man who actually ran the show.

In August 1917, Carrie’s diaries record for first time, a contact between Kipling and the newly constituted Commission; on 14 August, he met Sir Herbert Baker who had been appointed as one of the architects of the Commission and they ‘discuss plans for war graves’.

The Kiplings had known Herbert Baker since the start of the century, when the latter was Cecil Rhodes’ architect for the building of ‘The Woolsack’, the house on Rhodes’ estate at the Cape, which Rhodes had had built for the Kiplings and which they stayed in for 3-4 months each year, 1901-1908.

Ware actually invited Kipling to join the Commission by a letter received on 6 September. Carrie’s diary records


Brig. General Fabian Ware sends from Lord Derby an invitation to Rud to join a Royal Commission to deal with the graves of our dead in this war.

Kipling accepted next day. Apart from the entries in Carrie’s diary, there is one letter which he wrote to Lord Derby dated 1 November (the original is in the CWGC archives), which concerned the appointment of Sir Frederic Kenyon as the Architectural Advisor to the Commission. He was the Director of the British Museum, and his job was to arbitrate among the architects (there were four distinguished architects, who were co-opted to the Commission in the early months, but – of course – they had four different views, and Kenyon’s job was to arbitrate).

Kipling also agreed that Fabian Ware should be the permanent Vice-Chairman of the Commission, and recommended that headstones should have, if appropriate, the regimental badge of the dead soldier’s regiment. He wrote:

What knowledge I have of the feeling among officers and men, dead and alive, convinces me that their chief desire would be for distinctive regimental headstones which could be identified in every quarter of the world where a soldier of their regiment may be buried.

After his death in 1936, the Commission recorded that ‘all of the inscriptions on all the memorials erected by the Commission throughout the world were written, approved or selected’ by Rudyard Kipling. It was noted that, in particular, the inscriptions on the memorials at Baghdad, Dar-es-Salaam, Delville Wood, Lagos, Tower Hill (in London), Menin Gate, Notre Dame (in Paris) and Thiepval (to name but a few) were Kipling’s work alone.

But Kipling didn’t just sit at his desk, composing inscriptions for memorials – he seems to have appointed himself as ‘Inspector-General of IWGC cemeteries in France and Flanders’ (and he later added Egypt and Palestine to his field of action).

He was an early motoring enthusiast, acquiring his first car in 1899. He never actually learned to drive, but always employed a chauffeur (he could well afford to). (In a 1997 TV play, “My Boy Jack”, he was shown driving around the Sussex lanes near his home by himself – wrong, wrong, wrong! A.J.W.) From 1911 onwards he owned nothing but Rolls-Royces, and he made nearly all his long journeys by car.

During the 1920s, he and Carrie usually spent three or four winter months in Algeria or the south of France; they usually went out by sea, and were met at Marseilles by their car which has either been shipped out there, or else had been driven down by their chauffeur.
After their stay in the sun, they would meander back to Boulogne, and when they reached the area of the western front, he would make a point of calling at any IWGC cemetery which lay anywhere near their route, and make notes about its condition, and what needed doing.

At the outset, we explained about Carrie’s diaries: it should be added that, except as follows, Kipling was not at that time in the habit of keeping a diary of his own. But when he and Carrie went on one of their motor tours, he kept a diary, which recorded mileages covered, and times, and the goodness, or awfulness, of the hotels at which they stayed, with sometimes descriptions of the countryside they went through; and recorded his report on the state of IWGC cemeteries visited. (We are not aware if any of them remain in the CWGC archives.)

The first ‘inspection’ of which we have any record is in March 1920, when he made what seems to have been an official visit to St. Omer with Colonel Goodland (then Deputy-Controller of the IWGC). The Kiplings were on their way (in their own car) to Biarritz: after ten days they returned to Paris and so home via Dieppe, but made no mention of any more cemetery visits.

In May 1921, they returned from the Riviera, via, among other places, Strasbourg and Verdun. From Strasbourg, he was able to make a detour into Germany for a flying visit – he was offended to find the German countryside in smooth good order, in contrast to the destruction which he had seen in France and Flanders. At Verdun, they visited various Forts and cemeteries, which latter he thought were very poor. And he visited the sites at Villers-Cotterets, on the Marne, where the Grenadier Guards had fought in September 1914, and where there were two ‘unregulated’ burial grounds – including one personal memorial to the son of Lady Edward Cecil, their neighbour in East Sussex, and a long-time friend from their days in S. Africa.

In 1922, the Kiplings went to northern France in May, for a tour of the battlefields and IWGC cemeteries, and to be present at the unveiling, by the King, of a memorial at Étaples. These are the entries in Carrie’s diaries:


Kipling himself kept one of his motoring diaries for the period, describing his ‘six days in Flanders at the time of the King’s ‘pilgrimage’ to the battlefields of the Salient and the British and Empire memorials to the fallen. He notes that he had been involved in the planning, as a member of the Imperial War Graves Commission, now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and still performing the same tasks but with the addition of all the war graves from World War II, and the myriad other lesser wars and campaigns of the inter-war years and since 1945.

His diary records:

May 10th. 1922

Left Bateman’s 8.50, arr. Dover 10.40. Embarked car on steamer without trouble. Took Cabin No. 9 (woman who had drunk spirits was sick outside door). Grey cold with E wind and smears of sunshine: slight lop.

The transcription says “slight top” which doesn’t make sense. “slight lop”, to describe the sea state, does.

Arr. CALAIS 2.10 (Left Dover nominally 12.50). Lunched at Hotel Terminus – very decent sole and chicken. Sent kit up to Room 3 (with bath) and at 3.15 went out to Crédit du Nord bank to cash remaining £75 of Spanish letter of credit. Cold wind: sent extortionate fiacre back from bank and did usual prowl up Blvd. (Boulevard) Jacquart buying ham and butter for tomorrow but did not find small aluminium box for butter. Bought also for 3 francs the usual butter-spreading knife. Back to hotel at 5.5 after long and interesting loaf. Saw 4-masted barque Onde in dock being chipped. Telephoned to Bellevue Hotel, Lille, for tomorrow’s accommodation. C unpacked – not without curses at the arrangements of Ada who put all my things atop of hers.

Rather surprisingly, the Kiplings do not seem to have had a fully equipped picnic basket with all the necessary equipment for their roadside lunches which were a regular feature of their motor tours.

The four-masted barque Onde (Wave) would have been in dry-dock having her steel hull chipped by dockyard workers with ‘chipping hammers’ to remove the old paint prior to being re-painted (a perennial task – this editor has done it: and mind-numbingly boring it is, too).

Ada was presumably a Bateman’s maid – and if Kipling’s ‘things’ included a pair of shoes, we don’t blame Carrie for being vexed.

May 11th

Went out after P. Déj. to buy bread. Also small aluminium bucketing for butter. Larkin arrived punc. at 12 by boat and we were away at 12.40 after lunch at hotel – Coolish day with NE wind but sunshine through it. St. Omer, Cassel to Steenworde and Azeele. L(arkin). a man over 70, with white hair and waxed end to moustache, wholly uninterested in Cemeteries which, he said, made him sad. No sense of fun either – a most earnest liberal. Got out to have a look at Lyssenhoek cemetery just outside Pop(eringhe). Tremendously improved and turfed for the King’s inspection with a few flags and a mayor or two with sash and young bemedalled gardeners hanging about.

So through Pop. along Ypres road into Vlamertinghe. Amazed by house and field developments in past two years – specially the houses. The back-landscapes do not yet seem tackled. Vlamertinghe is practically rebuilt in every detail. Found E. at cemetery at 3.30. Small crowd in road, mainly children, herded by two Belgian soldiers in tin hats with fixed bayonets. Also Mayors, again in sashes and some gardeners from nearby cemeteries. Then came Binney and an officer who showed me my name down with L(arkin)’s for this end of show. Did a lightning change into blacks and a white shirt in bedroom of cottage lent by old lady (not a mirror or a chamber (pot) visible: simply two wooden boxes for beds and shutters outside in lieu of curtains.) C got Taylor to extract trunk (T. never turned a hair) and she extracted kit requisite.

K(ing) arrived 4.10 and seemed really moved by the graves themselves. Also discoursed with Larkin. Very well primed by staff. Spoke to me about Sat’s speech, too. Noted that the hired R(olls) R(oyce)s were nothing very splendid. The Mayor of V(lamertinghe) could not be restrained from breaking into French speech of two or three minutes. His daughter brought a purple wreath which he laid on a grave – the nearest – and not on the Cross. Had to be corrected. K. walked up and down for at least seven minutes. Went off in state after half an hour from first to last. We to Ypres where Taylor lost himself (in the re-built city) by the Cloth Tower. Rebuilt Ypres is absolutely ghastly. Along Menin Road to Menin – stopped at Birr cemetery and crater. Very little really done to ‘em after all.

Held up at Menin Douane for the most searching, insolent and designedly uncomfy douane search I’ve ever dreamed of. Lasted at least an hour in the street under the auspices of one solemnly slightly drunk soldier and a grey-bearded parrot-like individual who seemed to be the head devil. It was all wholly inexplicable and annoyed Larkin as well as us. Lille was reached at 6.45 in consequence. Went by mistake to Royal and not Bellevue – just as good. Dined at 7.30 in rest. And Larkin talked about Can(adian) cattle embargo till 9.30 when we went for a walk and to bed.

Larkin was the Hon. Peter C. Larkin (1855-1930) and was the newly-appointed Canadian High Commissioner in London. Steenworde is today spelt Steenwoorde and Azeele is almost certainly Herzeele, all these place names are of towns and communes in France, close to the Belgian border, between Calais and Ypres.

We are not sure of the identity of E. It is probable that it was Elsie (Kipling), although she had not accompanied them across the Channel. But it would seem, from a letter from Kipling to Andrew Macphail dated 30 April ‘We have left Elsie on a visit to Paris . . .’ (PINNEY, Letters, Vol.5, pp 118-20) that Elsie was on the continent and they had probably arranged to meet up with her. Notes 1 and 2 to this letter, by Professor Pinney, give an excellent account of the formalities on this tour.

A tricouleur sash was the badge of office of a mayor, worn on formal occasions. ‘Binney’ was William B. Binney (1886-1963), then the Assistant Architect for the Imperial War Graves Commission, working in France and Belgium who designed many fine memorials in various IWGC cemeteries.

The speech for Saturday, which the King was to deliver, was the one which Kipling had been working on while they were at Algeciras, six weeks earlier – see Carrie’s diary for 4 April and April 4.
They had crossed into Belgium to go to Ypres and Vlamertinghe, and had to cross the border back into France to reach their hotel in Lille. It was, presumably, the French Customs which were being ‘sticky’,

The Canadian Cattle Embargo was a political ‘hot potato’ at this time. Britain had embargoed the import of live Canadian cattle for many years, to prevent the import of disease, and the Canadians were pressing for the embargo to be lifted (which it was, later this year).

May 12th

Left Lille at 9 for La Bassée in grey cold weather with East wind like February. Showed Larkin brick-stacks at Givenchy now being rapidly demolished by Polish labour. All the landscape mushrooming with new red-tiled houses. L. much interested in the reclamation of land and the coils of wire – an old brush-handle grenade and a Mauser cartridge which I found for him which last he took away as souvenir. But he does not realize things at all.

Turned back from La Bassée and took him 6 km or so to see the Neuve Chapelle plain and Richebourg l’Avoué. Houses here too, at every corner and the land being reduced to use by stark hand work. Then back again through La B. to Lens – a most awful stretch of road and the countryside so altered that we passed where John had disappeared. Red House, Chalk Pit wood and all smoothed out. Showed L. Hill 70 which he, knowing naught, told us was where the Canadians meant to put their memorial (wind all this time like razors).

Then through Lens – altogether changed and full of the fecund dust of reconstruction – same as La Bassée – for Vimy. Showed him Vimy, Petit Vimy and Thélus cemeteries. Upon sight of Ridge he changed his Liberal mind, and said that the Ridge should be the only place for the Canadian memorial (where, indeed, it was built, and remains). Shot up ridge – saw Memorials to the 2nd Div. Canadians and some others and got into ARRAS (Hotel du Commerce) 11.45 none too early for déj. French population only. Note: had seen, en route, Canadian cemetery at Vimy and learned that the King was with the French at Notre Dame de Lorette. Nothing much had been done to the Hotel du Commerce. Seemed to be kept as war souvenir for tourists.

Weather began to cloud up more and spit with rain as we pulled out of Arras and to the D.I.G. area office enquiring road to Ayette, a rather fine setting for the desolation of the Edge of the Somme which I specially desired L. to see. Ran the line by Achiet le Petit, through Puisieux, beginning at Boiry Ste Rictrude (dead), Bucquoy (dead), Serre: between Hébuterne and B(eaumont)-Hamel through Beaufort, Mailly-Maillet, into Doullens road at Forceville, Hédauville below Forceville. There a good plump of rain and to our horror the King’s party evidently inspecting Cem.

We tucked up our heels and ran – saw crowd waiting in the rain at Louvencourt also and so held on straight through Doullens to Freven: Hesdin where we broke bread by the car a few km up the road to Abbeville, instead of Montreuil. Turned back after meal, ran to Montreuil, St. Omer and Boulogne. Found all the Commissioners almost at Hotel Folkestone just come in by boat. We very tired after 150 mile car and trying to make L. see that the Germans really had done some evil (I think he is almost beginning to see this). He insisted on champagne at dinner (Me – wise me! – Whiskey) but Mum out of politeness took a very small glass which, being tired, became to her a violent poison and she had a bad go of indigestion and heartburn. To bed early where these things diversified the night.

The Hotel du Commerce would have been the hotel in Arras where all the commercial travellers would have stayed, and where they would have had a single long table for lunch in the middle of the day, with an excellent table d’hôte menu. Evidently the Kiplings were showing Mr. Larkin Life in continental Europe. (One found such hotels in the UK where they were often specifically called ‘commercial hotels’ – Dorothy L. Sayers’ ‘other’ detective, Montague Egg, could be found in such, and she described them well.)

The morning was spent ranging over the northern section of the line, in particular the now unrecognisable section of the battlefield of Loos, where John had lost his life, while after lunch they moved south to the northern part of the Somme battlefield passing through many small communes which had been battered to bits during the war, but which were resurrected afterwards. The names would have been familiar to anyone who fought there, 1916-18, but this editor has to admit that many (indeed, most) were unknown to him, other than the big towns.

The Commissioners found at Boulogne, were the Commissioners of the Imperial War Graves Commission.

May 13th.

Slept till 8.30: my car conveying L. and Sir S. Bowring and Gosling (N.F.L), who had a nephew buried in that cemetery, to Étaples where, praise Allah, I was not wanted. F. Ware warned me to attend at Meerut Cem. 1130. (Hotel bristling with all Commissioners save Walton who was at Geneva, so to make sure I fled out with Atkinson (A.T.O.) in his car and found it and came back.. Wrote my name in his cigarette case. He wanted to have it engraved. On return my car took along pale General Cobbe, who has had pneumonia, to Meerut. Arthur Brown hounding us up there long before the time. Met also ex-Colonel or major of 47 Sikhs.

Was introduced to Mayor of Boulogne with whom talked a lot in cem. while waiting for King – 20 mins late – Cemetery austere and dignified – in spite of bakehouse-like crematorium where Hindus had been burned. All sorts buried here inside stone wall, spaced with what should be dignified evergreens (like Cypresses) in years to come. Got out of wind, in sun under shelter of wall. King with party arrived 11.50. Went round graves, spoke to gardeners, etc, etc. I saw grave of Gunga Din, dooly bearer. Thence with Cobbe to quick special lunch and at 12.50 with J.F and Larkin to big show at Terlincthun – under shadow of Napoleon’s column. Fine day, brilliant light but good air. All were lined up and presented to K. & Q. Then K. and Q. to Cross of Sacrifice where he made his speech, with splendid delivery, and dignified bearing – Castelnau replied, resplendent in red breeches (soyez pacifistes comme nous – mais, etc, etc.) (May you be pacifists, like us – but, etc, etc,)

Then Q. up central aisle to Stone of Remembrance where she laid wreath. Last Post played. K. spoke to Mum at the railings under Goodland’s care and about John. Mum’s curtseys nice to behold. Then they moved off. Was sent for and K. said to me what was seemly. He spoke about politicians (Note: the look in his eye of a decent man who suspects he is being carted. Rather like a frightened horse.) L. and Bowring flee to Calais to catch earlier boat. We take back Macdonogh, A.G. and Sir James Allen, N.Z. to hotel. Ceremony went without any hitch. All Commissioners – specially Ware – much bucked.

We went for walk together up Rue Faidherbe where we had brioche and chocolate. Bought an aluminium box – or rather, two – for butter and Mum. A red comb for E. Then to hotel where Commission were getting ready to go for steamer. They drifted off. We talking to ‘em all – Goodlands, Branch and his French wife – Herbert Baker, Admiral Singer and the rest. Then along quay to see Paris boat train come in and to see them off. Then home in time for 7.20 dinner and talk after to Rutherford (Larkin’s secretary) who had lost boy at Villers-au-Bois whither he goes tomorrow in an IWGC car. Then to our room, very tired, but well content, with the success of the little game at 9.15 p.m.

Kipling’s comments on the King’s appearance are revealing. King George’s words about politicians were probably induced by the shenanigans which had been going on about Lloyd-George’s dissolution Honours list of four months earlier which caused a major political scandal at this time.
The names mentioned were virtually all Commissioners of the IWGC or High Commissioners. Macdonogh, A.G. was Lieutenant-General Sir George Macdonogh (1865-1942), then the Adjutant General (who is the Army Council’s member who deals with all personnel matters). Herbert Baker was their long-standing architect friend, while Admiral Singer was the Admiralty representative on the IWGC, Vice-Admiral, (later Admiral) Sir Morgan Singer (1864-1938). He remained the Admiralty’s representative on the IWGC and a member of its finance committee after his retirement from the Active List until his final illness in 1937.

We have not been able to identify Sir S. Bowring: but Gosling was Harry Gosling 1861-1930, a trade unionist and member of the IWGC. He had been made one of the first Companions of Honour when King George instituted the award. Nor have we been able to identify Atkinson, nor do we know what A.T.O. signified.

General Cobbe was Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Cobbe, VC, (1870-1931) at this time Military Secretary in the India Office, who had served in France with the Indian Division, 1914-16. He was clearly not a well man, and this account of this morning’s ceremony at the Meerut cemetery is matched by the account which Kipling puts into the mouth of the former soldier, now a convict, in ‘The Debt’ (Limits and Renewals). (see Carrington, p. 457)

‘47 Sikhs’ means the 47th (Sikh) Regiment of the Indian Army’s infantry. Because of his friend Colonel (‘Stalky’) Dunsterville’s command of a battalion of Sikhs, Kipling took a particular interest in the Sikhs.

Étaples, close to Boulogne, had been the site of a huge British base during the war, and also of many Base Hospitals: consequently, and sadly, there were a large number of cemeteries in the vicinity. The Meerut Cemetery is named after the Meerut Hospital, established for casualties from the Indian Corps which served in France, 1914-5, although the majority of the graves are not of Indian personnel (there are a substantial number of Egyptian labourers who had been killed in an air raid on Boulogne in 1917).

The ‘Napoleon Column’ was erected near Boulogne by the Emperor to commemorate the Grande Armée which he assembled there to invade England, but which, having been persuaded that such an invasion would not be feasible, he marched eastwards to defeat the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz.

Castelnau, who replied on behalf of the French Government, was General Castelnau (1851-1944), one of the more successful French generals of World War 1.

Villers-au-Bois is about seven miles NW of Arras, and Google Earth shows the IWGC cemetery about one km NW of the village.

May 14th

Fine and with less wind. Took the day to ourselves and set out, in brilliant sun, to Zeebrugge at 10.30 via Calais. First time we had done this stretch to our great pleasure. Big bold hills and the spring visibly more forward than a fortnight ago. Got through Calais on a straight outside road but held up on far side by a triple funeral at local Cemetery. They save their dead for Sundays – road very worn and needing repairs: dotted with Sunday foot and bike traffic. Pitched down into the dead flat below the Boulogne-Calais hills.

Came to the bewitched town of Gravelines which is worse to get through than Arles – as all signs cease and the road spills itself among old fortifications and canals. Then Loos and the long stretch of pavé – very good – into Dunkirk where lie all the barges in France on the canal that parallels road from D. smack into Nieuport. All dead flat with dunes to right and all rebuilt houses after German destruction. Passed Adinkerke douane (Le Drapeau Belge) where we were warned that it would be shut at 6.30. Then Furnes, slightly bewitched, on account of canal, and so to Nieuport which was as smashed up as any French town in the devastated area; but ferociously rebuilding itself in bricks and dust and holed streets. All the coast apparently one chain of seaside residences and hotels and small farms in the hinterland. Noticed a regular crop of small foals beside their mothers. German gun-emplacements to the left among the sands. Road getting better.

Ostende at 1l.15 for lunch at the Hotel de l’Océan – Carlton Restaurant – which was just restored. Manager and concierge immensely attentive; a few couples lunching. Pale sands and almost Biarritz-like sea-front but no blue in the sea which was dotted with fishing craft. Fat monks and soldiers walking in sunshine outside big restaurants windows – the season evidently just beginning. Away at 2.15 and found superb tarred road through the dunes by side of the tram to Zeebrugge. Took liberties with it and worked to 40-47. Heard car thump badly once or twice and then she seemed to list to the right. Took no notice. Zeebrugge at 3: drove car out to end of Mole – saw wrecks of the ships in the fairway and was invited to local historic “Museum”. German guns on wall of Mole, exploded and opened like flowers as to muzzle. Returned at 3.30.

Car still listing, with occasional thump. Found no one at Adinkerke Douane to complete definite discharge of car: he had “gone away”. They went to seek him on bicycle. This was 4.40. Delay of 20 min. which I am to report to A.A. Only fair seeing what penalties result from non-compliance with Belgian discharge-of-car formalities. Then on, behind a bicycle race on the road. All Belgium and France bicycle on Sundays. Gravelines bewitched us again. It ought to be posted properly. Just outside Calais proper, an idiot leaped out from a tram under our nose and was saved by the skin of his teeth. Were cursed for this by disinterested stranger when we, too, stopped to see if we had hurt our wheel in taking the kerb. The nearest thing I ever knew. Stand-easy between Calais in God’s own evening light. We went and walked up a rise and she overtook us. Boulogne at 7.20 as near as might be, wholly content after 193 miles of perfect going.

Then Taylor to speak to me at dinner. Our right rear spring had smashed all five leaves, somewhere or other in course of day. Miracle how we had managed to hold on. (We thought of the bumps at Blankenbergh en route to Zeebrugge.) He sure it must have happened last thing coming into Boulogne. So she is crippled. Wired Cricklewood to send mechanic to meet her at Dover with new spring, etc. Changed all our arrangements and we go to London direct in boat train and we spend tomorrow night there. Infernal nuisance but we took it with calm. Mum had a good night. Mem. Even R.Rs not perfect.

This was a day’s jaunt for their own pleasure. They had been in France 20-27 April, travelling back by train after their short stay in Spain in March/April, hence the comment on spring being now more forward. The “bewitched” town of Gravelines was the place off which the Spanish Armada had anchored in 1588, to embark Parma’s troops for the invasion of England and, effectively, where the defeat of the Armada was encompassed by the English fleet.

Nieuport, some 10km inside Belgium, was the last Belgian town on that coast to remain in Belgian hands throughout the war – the trench line which stretched from the Swiss border in the south east reached the Channel coast a few kilometres north east of Nieuport, leaving about 600 of Belgium unoccupied by the Germans. Being more-or-less on the front line, Nieuport clearly got bashed about a bit.

The tram between Ostende and Zeebrugge was really an inter-urban railway, with sizable trains. This editor rode on it from Zeebrugge to Ostende in 1949, travelling in the last, four-wheeled, car of a five-car train. In the open country, it moved at a very fast pace, and it was like being on the end of the tail of a very large and friendly dog!

Zeebrugge had been the scene of a daring naval raid by the British on 23 April 1918, at the height of the German spring offensive. The main aim had been to block the entrance to the canal up to Bruges, some 15 miles inland, up which the Germans had a U-Boat base, from which their submarines would operate against British shipping in the Channel and south-west approaches. The Mole which Kipling mentions curved out from the shore to protect the entrance to the canal. The operation was extremely dangerous, the Mole being very heavily defended, and many deeds of great gallantry were performed. The wrecks which the Kiplings saw were the remains of the three blockships which had been scuttled in the mouth of the canal. However, the overall operation was, at best, no more than partially successful, though it had given a lift to National morale at a time otherwise full of despondency (Haig’s “Backs-to-the Wall” message had been issued on 11 April, and things looked black on the Western Front).

May 16th

Went to London direct by train while car was repairing temp’ry at Dover and it did not reach London till about midnight. After which it went to Cricklewood.

This diary ends there. There is a discrepancy between this diary and both Carrington and Rees extracts of Carrie’s, which say that they travelled home, presumably to London, not Burwash, on 15 May. The date discrepancy may well be a mis-reading by the original transcriber of this motoring diary; while the “Went to London” is probably correct, since Carrie’s diaries for the succeeding days list a series of meetings and events, many of which can only have occurred in London, until May 30. In the meantime, Taylor and the Rolls-Royce mechanic would have effected running repairs to the Duchess, and then taken her to the Rolls-Royce facility at Cricklewood in north-west London for a full repair to be made.

Although much of the above is irrelevant to the IWGC, quite a lot is relevant, and we have included it all, to show how much Kipling was involved in the history of the war. The next year, 1923, the Kiplings went to the south of France at the very end of March, travelling out to Toulon by P & O. Kipling was recovering from an operation he’d had the previous November – they’d opened him up to try to find the cause of his stomach disorder (which he suffered from 1915 to the end of his life – the doctors never did find out what the cause was until 1933, and even then couldn’t do much about it. All they could say is that it wasn’t cancer.) His

History of the Irish Guards in the Great War

was published in mid-April, and got good reviews. The Rolls (‘the Duchess’) arrived and they were able to drive around the Riviera, and started for home at the beginning of May.

On the way home they stopped at Aix-les-Bains for four days, where he wrote to Fabian Ware about the wording of a plaque which was to be placed in Notre Dame and in 27 other churches and cathedrals in France (and a 28th in Westminster Abbey) which records the sacrifice of the million men of the Empire ‘of whom the greater part rest in France’.

From Aix they went on to the area off the Marne, to visit again Villers-Cotterêts, and to see once again where the Irish Guards had fought in 1914, and to consult the local mayor about a memorial for them and the Grenadiers who were buried together in the Villers-Cotterêts cemetery (this seems to have been, at best, a semi-official memorial).

In 1924, Carrie’s diaries record that in February he was working on the inscription(s) to go on the Newfoundland memorial at Beaumont-Hamel, on the Somme (it was opened by Field Marshal Haig in 1925) and she also recorded that he attended a “War Graves Commission meeting” in March, just before they went south by sea to Gibraltar and the south of Spain. (There are no diaries which record their journey home.) They spent two weeks in France in August/September, very largely on IWGC business (he visited no fewer than 33 IWGC cemeteries, and went to Notre Dame to see the plaque for which he had composed the inscription in 1923). And later in the year, although not strictly IWGC business, Carrie’s diary records that he was asked by Sir Gerald du Maurier, the celebrated actor, to provide an inscription for the Actors memorial, to be provided at Stratford-on-Avon.

The notes he provided on each of the cemeteries he visited were fairly comprehensive, and included such things as the name of the gardener responsible; whether or not the headstones had been provided, and whether or not they had been erected, or whether they were still just stacked; the presence of otherwise of the Book of Remembrance, etc, etc.

In 1925, in mid-March, they went south by car to Biarritz, stopping off at Rouen first, to have a look at the huge cemetery there. He recorded that 3,400 headstones had been erected out of 11,000 and that he had seen the gardener and contractor. Later that day, he inspected a smaller cemetery nearby, recording that it was “jammed next to the Communal Cem. and there is a deposit of ordures nearby”. (As an aside, we wonder why there were so many graves in Rouen – it was nowhere near the front at any time. We assume there must have been a major base hospital or hospitals in the vicinity.)
They spent a fortnight in Biarritz and came back via Paris and Boulogne. They took a swing over to the Compiègne area to inspect two cemeteries at Ham and Eppeville.

In 1926 they went south again to a villa in the hills above Monte Carlo, but came back up the west side of France, via Tours, Chartres and so to Paris. They recorded no cemetery visits that year.
And that is where the Motoring Diaries end. But Carrie’s diaries record three meetings with Fabian Ware. In March `31, while the Kiplings were in Cairo (having been up the Nile to Assouan) he called ‘on War Graves business’. And in mid-May `31 ‘Rud at a mixed French and English War Graves meeting. Gen. Castelnau. Rud makes a speech in French’. The second individual meeting was at Bateman’s in February 1932 ‘Sir Fabian Ware comes to talk War Graves matters and Rud does the Thiepval Memorial Inscription.’ And the final one was in October 1935, shortly before Kipling’s death, when he called on Ware in London.

In between these meetings Kipling had other connections with the IWGC and its business – in June 1928, he was in correspondence with Sir Harry Robinson, a member of the staff of The Times, who was preparing a special issue (10 November 1928) of that paper on the war graves of the empire. According to the footnotes to one of the letters to Robinson, part of The Times issue was written by Kipling anonymously (the main part was written by Ware).

In March 1929, the Kiplings went to Egypt and Palestine. Carrie’s diaries cover the period in outline fairly well, but the best source is Kipling’s letters to his daughter Elsie, now married to a former Irish Guards officer, who was in the diplomatic service. From them we learn that he started as soon as he landed at Port Said, going straight to the IWGC cemetery there; quite what Carrie thought about being carted off to inspect a cemetery before she’d even taken her first sniff of Port Said is not recorded. (This editor wishes she had left an impression of that first smell of the East – he did it in February 1956, just before his first transit of the Suez Canal, and believe me, it is memorable). He noted that the IWGC cemetery in Cairo had 2000 graves. And he also visited cemeteries at Tel-el-Kebir, Kantara and Ismailia, being driven 250 miles in the day to do so.

When they went up river to the Assouan dam (today usually written as plain ‘Asuan’) they visited a cemetery there which contained just one IWGC grave. On their return from Assouan, he went up to Palestine, as it was, where he had as his ‘nurse’, Colonel C.E. Hughes, an Australian of the Graves Commission:

… and there was not a single thing that he didn’t do or foresee for us, even to changing our hotel from one in the smelly heart of the most smelly city to a decent clean one in the “new Jerusalem – in the booming suburbs where we are most comfy! There has been a fair amount to do in the way of cemeteries. The big one at Jerusalem – near the Mt. of Olives – is most impressive and, like all the others, perfectly kept. The gardener is an ex Prince of Georgia now plain Michael …

Kipling and Hughes also went to Haifa, where there was a ‘big cemetery’ and two days later to Beersheba and Gaza ‘two big Cemeteries, in the last is Charley Law’. (Charley Law was the son of the former Conservative Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, who was a friend of the Kiplings.)

The last mention of Ware in Kipling’s published correspondence is on December 1932, when Kipling attended an IWGC and got an ear-bashing from Ware afterwards to the effect that he (Ware) was the man to save the Empire commercially ‘somehow’, wrote Kipling, ‘I had never looked on him in that light.’

That is all that is recorded, as far as this editor knows. It would be interesting to know how much remains in the IWGC (CWGC) archives.


©Alastair Wilson 2019 All rights reserved