SUSSEX writer Rudyard Kipling’s remorse following the death of his son in the First World War makes for harrowing reading.
The literary giant had used his influence to send the teenager to The Front.
Patriotic fever gripped the country at the outbreak of war with young men rushing to enlist in their thousands. John Kipling, too, was eager to play his part - but he was profoundly short-sighted like his father and was rejected by both the Army and the Royal Navy as “a danger to himself and to his men”.
His father, known as the Poet of the Empire, counted the great and the good among his circle and was determined John should be allowed to serve his country.
He persuaded his friend Field Marshal Lord Roberts to arrange a commission for John in the Irish Guards in the summer of 1915.
The young officer returned to the family home at Bateman’s, Burwash, before leaving for France. His mother, Carrie, recorded proudly in her diary in August: “He looks very straight and smart and young and brave as he turns at the top of the stairs to say, ‘Send my love to Daddo’.”
On September 27 1915, in pouring rain, Second Lieutenant John Kipling was killed on the first day of the Battle of Loos. He was just 18.
Grieving and filled with guilt, Kipling refused to accept that John had died, desperately hoping that he was just “missing”.
He made every effort to find out what had become of him, calling on influential friends including the Prince of Wales to obtain news, but to no avail.
Afterwards, he wrote bitterly: “If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied.” He also penned the haunting poem My Boy Jack, famous for the line: “Have you news of my boy Jack?”
The Kipling tragedy is recorded in Sussex Remembered, a fascinating new book featuring personalities and events of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Author Alexandra Ayton covers the length and breadth of the county. It’s a feast of larger-than-life characters and little-known facts washed down with a flagon of striking and amusing incidents.
Here are the stories of a Sussex missionary martyred in Africa, a renowned healer who foresaw the 9/11 atrocity and the man who created the amazing flying car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Why did the indefatigable Grace Kimmins, pioneer behind what is now Chailey Heritage School, commission the chapel clock with only three faces - the one looking east towards Newick pointedly left blank?
Who sent a wreath of vivid pink carnations to the Clayton funeral of couturier Norman Hartnell with the words: “To Norman from his first customer, with loving memory of his kindness and the glamour he gave me over the years.”?
What was the true identity of Grey Owl, the “Modern Hiawatha” and world famous North American Indian lecturer, broadcaster and writer who entranced little Princess Elizabeth, now The Queen?
The answers, and so much more, are to be found in this volume. Sussex Remembered is published by Pomegranate Press and priced at £7.99.