I’m lucky enough to live in the middle of the Sussex High Weald next to the historic village of Burwash. The village is probably most famous for being home to Rudyard Kipling for much of his life.
His glorious house, Batemans, is somewhere I go often. It’s a beautiful place with stunning gardens and acres of woodland and countryside to roam around in, but the house also holds a sad connection to the Great War. As you head upstairs to the rear of the house, you’ll come to a room laid out as the bedroom of John Kipling.
John was the youngest child of Rudyard and Caroline Kipling and their only son. In 1914 when war broke out John was only 16, but was desperate to join up, sharing his Father’s strong sense of patriotism. In 1915, John was turned down by the Army and Navy when he applied for commission due to his severe short sightedness, much to his disappointment. Rudyard was keen to help his son, so used his influence and friendship with the former Commander-in-Chief Frederick Roberts to gain John a commission into the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards. John had just turned 17.
In August 1915, Second Lieutenant John Kipling was sent to France with his Battalion. The Battalion were in action a month later in the Allied attack that would become known as the Battle of Loos. British and French casualties at Loos were twice that suffered by the Germans – among these was the 18 year old John Kipling.
He was officially declared ‘missing in action’ as in the melee of battle his body could not be recovered. Nobody was sure exactly what had happened to John, but there were witnesses who reported seeing him attacking a German position, disappearing among the smoke, wounded. His parents, like so many others, were devastated and desperately tried to locate John – holding out hope that maybe he was alive. Rudyard had been to France often, reporting on the war and helping the British Government with propaganda, so had many connections. He and his wife travelled there as soon as they received news of John’s ‘MIA’ status, visiting field hospitals in the desperate search for news of what had happened to him. They even posted a notice in the Times, asking for anyone with information to come forward.
Unfortunately they would never find the answers they were searching for and it wasn’t until 1992 that John’s remains were finally discovered and laid to rest. Rudyard was wracked with guilt following John’s death, which reflected greatly in his writing.
‘If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied’
After the war, Rudyard Kipling worked with the CWGC but also locally here in Sussex to help ensure that his son and all those who died were remembered.
In Burwash, next to the church on a small island in the middle of the road is the war memorial on which John Kipling is named. It’s a special memorial, for there is a lantern atop which is illuminated on each day of the year that a man listed on the memorial was killed – which is near enough every day. It’s design was heavily influenced by Kipling. The memorial itself has recently been cleaned and the inscriptions made as clear as they were the day it was unveiled on 24th October 1920.
The light will continue to shine, as one young man’s story from this one small village, is repeated endlessly throughout the country.