Kipling in Alsace, Kitchener at Bethune; Lady Feilding is Coming Home, and Roland Leighton Has Arrived

First up, today, Rudyard Kipling reports on his tour of French positions. His day

began at 6 a.m. … among the wooded hills of Alsace… We stopped to look at a battery of mountain guns; got out and walked under the gloom of many trees… thence we got into communication trenches and walked and walked and walked, till we met a fatherly and motherly Colonel who took us into the first line trenches which are 7, or to be exact, 7 1/2 metres–say the length of a cricket pitch, from the Germans. They were Bavarians and had been carefully attended to the night before, with the result that they were quite tame, and I had peeps at ’em through loopholes blocked with plugs. The Colonel pulled the plugs and bade me look. I saw to green sandbags in a wilderness of tree trunks and stones and no Bavarians saw me… The trenches were beautifully clean and kept like a museum. There was no smell save the cookery. There was no noise because we were so close by and–nothing whatever happened.[1]

What should we make of the tone, here? Is the private Kipling so much like the boyish, published Kipling? Perhaps–but flat on the page in the first person it reads like a strained attempt at careless bravado. Does he puff out his chest a bit when writing home to Carrie, emphasizing the danger in this letter to his wife the way some young men play it down when writing to their mothers? And as for the proximity of these naughty Bavarians, are we to believe that Kipling is very brave, or rather just a bit credulous? Or both?


Further west, in the British sector, another legend of the Empire was perambulating. The 2/Royal Welch and the rest of their brigade had to spend a day of “rest” perfecting their turnout:

August 19th–The Brigade went south to the 2nd Division’s area at Béthune. On the road it marched past Lord Kitchener, who was damned by the men for having posted himself at the top of a hill. Nevertheless, the Battalion’s appearance won unusually complimentary remarks from him. Of course, everything that would detract from the turnout of the Brigade had been sent, as was the Field Ambulance, by another road.[2]


And in Belgium, Dorothie Feilding has finally acknowledged her illness and exhaustion and made plans to come home.

Aug 20th, Fumes
Mother dear–

I am crossing either the 23rd or the 24th, I am not quite sure which, via Boulogne. I will wire you as soon as I know for sure.

Dr Jelly is crossing by the same boat & since writing to you, he has decided he would rather I went on way through London to be vetted by physician. He will take me to someone he knows early next morning after arriving London…

Don’t worry–I’m not dead, or likely to be for the next century, only Dr Jelly just wanted me to see the bloke in London on my way down as being simpler than leaving it till later. So you mustn’t think please, it’s because there’s anything the matter, because there ain’t. It’s just I’m that amiable (ahem) you know I always do as requested. I expect you will see my lovely phiz almost as soon as you get this.

Isn’t it nice to think I shall be at Newnham in no time?

Ever so much love

PS Gott strafe Tonks![3]

“Tonks?” you ask? Why that’s Lady Feilding’s pet nickname for physical pain. Her stay at home will be extended far beyond what she intends, as she recuperates. And at home, of course, the letters to mum cease to be written–this is the last we will hear of Dorothie until October.


A different sort of pain and agitation in Buxton–Roland is almost here.

Thursday August 19th

This has been another day of agitation and misery and suspense. I waited all morning in vain to hear something of Roland, till at last at about 12.30 he telephoned from Lowestoft. I could hardly hear anything he said and there was such a noise going on that I could scarcely recognise his voice. The only thing characteristic of him that I could really hear was his laugh–that laugh which I expected never to hear again. Even after telephoning nothing was satisfactorily arranged; we left it quite indefinite whether he would try to come here to-night or meet me in London to-morrow.[4]

With the bad telephone connection, it seems as if Roland relied on the older technology, and followed up by telegram:

Lowestoft, 19 August 1915

Arriving Liverpool St 11.30 tomorrow will meet you St Pancras first class ladies waiting room as soon as I can get across there

So there it is. Tomorrow, for the first time since March, for the first time since Roland has been at the front and Vera has become a nurse, they will see each other.[5]


With that to look forward to, we now have a decided anticlimax for today: a side note on the reorganization of the expanding British army.

I won’t have too much to say about the larger units of the war–the Divisions and Corps. Men identified with their battalions–the largest unit expressing their regimental identity–and with the immediate groups of their company, platoon, and section. They might, too have some sense of comradeship with the other battalions in their brigade, the men they marched past every few days and shared billets and trench posts with. But the other brigades in their Division hardly mattered to ordinary fighters, or the lieutenants and captains who led them.

Nevertheless: as the units of the New Army (Kitchener’s Army) continue to complete their training, entire Divisions are being formed of New Army troops. Other Divisions continue to mix Regular army battalions with the earliest New Army battalions. But today, a century back, the most elite and most conservative infantry regiments in the army were reorganized in a way that surely pleased them–the Guards got their own Division.

There had traditionally been six battalions of Guards, drawn from four regiments: two Grenadiers, two Coldstreams, and one each of the Scots Guards and the Irish. While many county regiments had already added a dozen New Army battalions, the Guards had barely doubled. This new Guards Division would encompass four battalions of both the Grenadier Guards and the Coldstreams, two Scots Guards, two Irish Guards, and the one battalion of the newly created Welsh Guards.

This division, then, now contains–or would have contained–quite a few of the soldiers who have been discussed here. Edward Hulse, of the Scots Guards, is dead, while John Kipling, of the 2/Irish Guards, has not yet departed. Bim Tennant, of the 4/Grenadiers, is still on the coast, while Raymond Asquith has only just transferred into the regiment. And in the Coldstreams, of course, we have the Feildings–Dorothie‘s brother Rollo will remain in his staff job for some time, while cousin Rowland continues with the 1/Coldstreams. I have hardly looked to the future, but I imagine that more of our paths will soon cross. Up the Guards!


References and Footnotes

  1. Carrington, Rudyard Kipling, 506.
  2. Dunn, The War the Infantry Knew, 141.
  3. Lady Under Fire, 102-3.
  4. Chronicle of Youth, 234.
  5. Letters from a Lost Generation, 142.