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Press release

  • 9 November 2007

Archive helps to tell tragic story of Kipling's soldier son

The closing lines of Johns last letter to his father Rudyard

The closing lines of John's last letter to his father Rudyard Kipling (Copyright National Trust from the Rudyard Kipling Papers, University of Sussex Library)

John Kipling in uniform, 1915

John Kipling in uniform, 1915

The final letter from Rudyard Kipling's soldier son, killed in World War I, is among key items from the University of Sussex to feature in a major new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London.

The scribbled three-page note is addressed to "Dear F" and is dated 25 September, 1915, two days before John was killed in the Battle of Loos. John (or Jack, as he was known), tells his father he is about to march to the front-line trenches for "the great effort to break through and end the war". He writes of pouring rain, incessant gunfire, the trenches and long marches. He writes: "You have no idea what enormous issues depend on these next few days" and signs off: "Well so long old dears. Dear love. John".

The poignant letter is one of 20 items (from the University's Kipling papers, held in Special Collections in the Library) to appear in the My Boy Jack exhibition, which opened at the museum this week (Tuesday 6 November).

Other items from the University's Kipling papers to feature in the exhibition include:

  • Letters of condolence to Rudyard Kipling from Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (who both lost sons in the WWI), King George V and Queen Mary;

  • Personal items from John's childhood, including a letter from Rudyard Kipling saying he must do better at school, from 1913;

  • Copy of Just So stories dedicated to Kipling's daughter Elsie and to John (on the title page "by Rudyard Kipling" is crossed out and replaced with "Their Daddy")

Karen Watson, Senior Library Assistant (Special Collections), who helped to supervise the University's contribution to the exhibition, says: "I think the exhibition was very poignant. It shows how much of a family man Rudyard Kipling was and what great lengths he went to to find out what happened to his son."

The exhibition coincides with the screening of a major TV drama, My Boy Jack, starring Daniel Radcliffe, David Haig and Kim Cattrall, on Remembrance Sunday (11 November, 9pm). It was written by actor David Haig, who plays Rudyard Kipling, opposite Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) as his son John and Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall as Kipling's American wife, Carrie.

Both the exhibition and drama tell the story of how Kipling (who lived in Sussex) helped his teenage only son to gain a commission in the Irish Guards and fight in World War I. Posted to France on his 18th birthday, John went missing six weeks later in his first action, at the Battle of Loos in September 1915. He had previously been declared medically unfit for active service due to severe short-sightedness. The story then follows the grief-stricken efforts of the Kiplings to find their son and to finally accept in 1919 that he had died.

The Kiplings were among the millions of parents who lost sons in the Great War. Many remained missing, with no known grave. In 1992, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission announced that the grave of an 'unknown Irish Guards Lieutenant' was in fact that of John. The exhibition will conclude with an examination of new evidence that strongly disputes this.

The exhibition runs at the Imperial War Museum, London, until 24 February 2008. Entrance is free.

Notes for editors

  • The personal papers of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), are held on deposit from the National Trust at the University of Sussex in its Special Collections. Material ranges from notebooks and sketchbooks to personal correspondence with monarchs and statesmen. Kipling's life as a writer at work in momentous times, yet increasingly at odds with social and political developments, is represented in the main Archive and in 17 further related collections. For more information, see Kipling
  • For further details of My Boy Jack at the Imperial War Museum, London, contact: Victoria Main. Tel:  020 7416 5497, email:
  • For further information on the ITV1 drama My Boy Jack contact: Natalie Cheary, ITV1 Press Office, tel:(0)20 77378676, email:

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email


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