Grave of Rudyard Kipling’s son correctly named, says authority
Authors of ‘My Boy Jack’ suggested resting place belonged to Dublin-born Arthur Jacob
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission says it made right call in 1992 to change the name on a headstone from an unknown Irish Guards lieutenant to that of Lieut John Kipling.
The commission, which looks after all British and Commonwealth war graves, has said it is satisfied the decision it made in 1992 to change the name on a headstone from an unknown Irish Guards lieutenant to that of Lieut John Kipling remains the correct one.
In 1998, the well-known battlefield historians Tonie and Valmai Holt published a book My Boy Jack about the relationship between Rudyard and John Kipling in which they took issue with the findings of the commission.
They suggested it was not John Kipling’s body that was in the grave in St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) military cemetery near Loos in northern France.
Instead, they believed it was the body of a Dublin-born Lieut Arthur Jacob who was with the London Irish Rifles and who disappeared on the first day of the Battle of Loos.
The announcement by the commission coincides with the centenary of the start of the Battle of Loos on September 25th. Kipling was leading a platoon of Irish Guards when he died on the third day of the battle. The centenary of his death occurs on Sunday. The battle claimed the lives of 20,000 British soldiers.
John Kipling was listed as one of the missing after the battle and his father Rudyard and mother Carrie Kipling spent years trying to establish whether or not he was alive or dead and where his body might be located.
His disappearance inspired Kipling’s poem My Boy Jack which became a stage play of the same name in 1997 and then a television movie broadcast on Armistice Day 2007 which starred Daniel Radcliffe, David Haig and Kim Cattrall.
The Holts were inspired to write their book by the discovery of John Kipling’s grave, but their own research suggested that the commission had made a mistake.
Principally, they stated that John Kipling was a second lieutenant not a lieutenant when he died, though he was “gazetted” (published in the London Gazette as all military appointments must be) posthumously as a lieutenant.
They also said that the place where his body was found in 1919 by a labour company clearing the Loos battlefields was more than 5km away from where he was last seen alive.
They concluded that the labour company had mistaken the identification badges of the Irish Guards and the London Irish Rifles which are very similar.
Having examined the evidence and where the body was located, they posited that the lieutenant buried in Kipling’s grave was Lieut Arthur Jacob from Merrion Road in Dublin who was 19 when he died. He was born into a well-known family of doctors who had founded the Dublin Medical Press. Lieut Jacob’s death was recorded in The Irish Times after he disappeared.
The commission has examined the Holts’ finding and also submitted their evidence the Ministry of Defence in London.
Commission spokesman Peter Francis said the Holts had raised “valuable concerns” about the identification of the Kipling grave and caused it to re-examine its grave registration reports and other internal documentation.
Mr Francis said the commission now believes there is “clear and convincing” evidence that it made the right call in 1992.
While it was correct that John Kipling had written home eight days before he died stating that he was a second lieutenant, Mr Francis said the commission had found numerous precedents of promotions before major battles. It was therefore satisfied that John Kipling was a lieutenant when he died.
He also stated that the grid-reference maps used by the Holts were wrong and where Kipling’s body had been found was where he had fought on September 27th, 1915, when he disappeared.
Mr Francis also said that the labour company involved were very experienced and would not have mixed up the London Irish Rifles and the Irish Guards.
Lieut John Kipling joined the Irish Guards having been turned down by both the Royal Navy and the British army because of poor eyesight. His father managed to persuade his old friend Lord Roberts, colonel-in-chief of the Irish Guards, to secure his son a commission in the Irish Guards. John Kipling was just 18 years and six weeks old when he died.