A Book of Words – XXXVII


Selections from speeches and addresses delivered between 1906 and 1927. This is one of the six later speeches not included in that collection which were added for the Sussex Edition

“An Undefended Island”

The Royal Society of St George, Connaught Rooms, 6 May 1935

Notes edited by Leonee Ormond


Published in The Times, 7 May 1935, p. 9, reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day, I, no 17, 20 May 1935; Nineteenth Century, June 1935; The English Race, August 1935 and National Review, September 1936. It was collected in the Sussex Edition vol. XXV, pp. 321-28, together with the earlier speeches collected in A Book of Words, and in the Burwash Edition vol. XXIV.


Hitler and the Nazis had come to power in Germany in 1933, and had made it clear that they planned to re-arm and restore the greatness of the German Empire after the defeat of 1918.

This was a continuing source of concern to Kipling, who recalled the horrors of the Great War, in which he had lost his only son. There had been some 3.2 million British casualties, including over 900,000 dead. He had little faith in collective security through the League of Nations, or in the appeasement of Hitler, and believed that it was essential for Britain to look to her defences.

See also “The Bonfires” (1933), and “The Pleasure Cruise”, of the same year.

This speech, given on the day of George V’s Silver Jubilee (marking twenty-five years on the throne), was published in the newspapers, broadcast and recorded. Lord Queenborough (1861-1949) was in the Chair, and Kipling, as principal speaker, proposed a toast to ‘England and the English’. Caroline Kipling reported that ‘Rud does his speech. He speaks firmly and in good form’. [Letters (Ed. Thomas Pinney) vol 6. p. 351]

Kipling explained to his daughter that:

All sorts of letters, wires and cables coming in still – One from a Methodist clergyman much grieved and shocked and pained and demanding of me and the world generally, whether a little “self-sacrifice” couldn’t appease the Boche!
[13 May Letters (Ed. Thomas Pinney) vol 6. p. 351]

Writing to Sir Percy Bates, the Chairman of the Morning Post and of Cunard, Kipling reported that he had received ‘literally, hundreds of letters and lots of wires, and, oddly enough, cables from rather important people in the Dominions’. [14 May, Letters (Ed. Thomas Pinney) vol 6. p. 353]

Kipling had already told Sir Percy on 9 May that many ‘want the thing distributed as a leaflet – or tract. What d’you think?’ [14 May, Letters (Ed. Thomas Pinney) vol 6. p. 354] Now he assured him:

No. I wasn’t thinking of the M.P. [Morning Post] as a distributor of my speech. That ‘ud be only dealing with the converted: and I don’t think, for a minute, that the League of Nations Union ‘ud touch it with a barge-pole.
[Letters (Ed. Thomas Pinney) vol 6. p. 353]

In his speech Kipling argued that England had lost many men in the Great War, some in battle, some dying later as a result of war. Others had suffered from post-war traumas. He believed that the loss of these men and of their potential children had altered the population, and that those who had been pacifists or opponents of the war were in part responsible for a growing national belief that the war had been fought for no good reason. This attitude excused those who had not taken part and implicitly criticised those who had.

This effect, and the granting of the vote to women over twenty-one, had increased the demand for a comfortable life. It also encouraged the nation to neglect external safety and its defences. Germany and Russia had meanwhile been strengthening their power of aggression. In the last year, work had begun to strengthen Britain’s defences but this might not have been in time. The English spirit, however, still survived under the nation’s monarch.

Notes on the Text

(the page and line numbers below refer to Volume XXV of the Sussex Edition of Kipling’s works, Macmillan, London 1938).

[Page 323 line 7] Solomon says Ecclesiastes 9,6:

This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

[Page 325 lines 10-11] Saint Augustine of Canterbury (d 604) first Archbishop of Canterbury. Sent to England as a missionary by St Gregory, he converted Ethelbert, King of Kent, to Christianity.

[Page 325 line 13] Rachel mourning for her children Jeremiah 31,15. and Matthew 2.18: ‘Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not’.

[Page 325 lines 14-15] enfranchisement of all Englishwomen over twenty-one the franchise was granted to women of thirty and over in 1918 and to all women of twenty-one and over in 1928.

[Page 326 lines 2-3] three well-planned wars all victorious campaigns fought by Prussia under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck (1815-98): in Schleswig-Holstein against Denmark in 1864, against Austria in the Seven Weeks War of 1866 and in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

[Page 326 line 4] his fourth war the Great War, 1914-18.

[Page 327 line 2] States Germany and Russia.

Joseph Stalin had been in power in Soviet Russia since 1924, and had embarked on a highly centralised policy of industrialisation and rearmament. designed to make Russia strong and invulnerable.

[Page 327 lines 11-12] the road which is paved with good intentions Proverb: ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’. The precise source is uncertain, but St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) wrote ‘Hell is full of good intentions and desires’.

[Page 327 line 20] Moloch god of the Ammonites, to whom children were sacrificed by fire. For references in the Old Testament see 1 Kings 11,7 and Amos, 5,26-27.

[Page 327 line 32] Mother, Son, and Grandson Queen Victoria (1819-1901), her son Edward VII (1841-1910) and her grandson George V (1865-1936).



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