Kipling, the Irish Guards and the First World War

Wesley Boyd with a fascinating Irishman’s Diary in today’s Irish Times (subs needed)on Kipling and his personal connection to the Irish Guards: “…a fervent unionist, Kipling was incensed by the insurgency in Ireland but he developed a great admiration for the gallantry of the men of the Irish Guards, most of whom were Catholic and from the southern provinces”.He continues:

When the war started in 1914 Kipling’s only son, John, still at school and not yet 17, applied for a commission in the army. He was turned down because of his age and poor sight. His father was a friend – from their days in India together – of Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, colonel-in-chief of the Irish Guards. The friendship was enough to secure a commission for John in the regiment. He sailed to France with the newly formed 2nd Battalion in 1915 and was one of the first casualties at the battle of Loos. When last seen he was wounded but still leading his men across open ground; he was listed as missing, believed killed.

After the war, Kipling was asked by the Guards to record it’s fortunes in the First World War:

Kipling’s detailed account of battles and meticulous records of changes in the commissioned ranks as new officers arrived at the front to replace the dead and wounded may appeal more to military historians than to general readers. But the lists give a fascinating view of the class structure of the Brigade of Guards, particularly in the early years of the conflict. When the 1st Battalion embarked for Le Havre on August 12th, 1914, scarcely one of its 30 officers lacked a title.

The commanding officer was Lieut-Col Hon GH Morris and the others included Lord Desmond Fitzgerald, Lord John Hamilton, Lord Guernsey, Viscount Castlerosse, Lord Arthur Hay, Sir Gerald Burke, Sir Delves Broughton and Lieut Hon HR Alexander. But rank was no shield against the thunderous guns. One of the few survivors, despite being wounded twice, of that first aristocratic wave was Lieut Alexander from Caledon in Co Tyrone; he was to become Field-Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis in the second World War.

By the end of the war in 1918 the two battalions had lost 2,349 men dead, including 115 officers; the total of wounded was 5,739. In the index of the dead there is a multitude of Irish names from Ahern to Walsh, Boland to Toomey, Lynch to Sullivan.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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