Eleven eleven : Have you news of my boy Jack … ?

Today, 92 years ago, World War One, the Great War, ended. This day of November 11 is always a solemn day here in France.

Lazare Ponticelli

Today, 92 years ago, World War One, the Great War, ended. This day of November 11 is always a solemn day here in France. It is also a public holiday. There are now no longer Great War veterans alive in France. The last, Lazare Pontecelli, died in 2008, aged 110 years and 79 days. He lived in the commune of Kremlin-Bicêtre, on the southern border of Paris.


This morning a friend posted Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen on facebook.

Before Binyon’s death in 1943 (he was born in 1869) he said that he could not remember the exact date that he had written the poem but it was after the Allies had defeated the Kaiser’s army in the Battle of the Marne (5/12 September 1914).  The poem was published in The Times that September.

He wrote:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.

Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,

They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

This is a poem that always brings tears to my eyes.

Kipling and his wife Carrie

So does Rudyard Kipling’s poem Have you news of my boy Jack?

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”

Not this tide.

“When d’you think that he’ll be back?”

Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”

Not this tide.

For what is sunk will hardly swim,

Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh dear, what comfort can I find?”

None this tide.

Nor any tide,

Except he did not shame his kind –

Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Kipling’s only son, John, then only 18, was declared Missing in Action during the September 1915 Battle of Loos. He was serving with the Irish Guards in France.

Kipling (1865/1936), heartbroken, would not accept his son’s death until 1919. John Kipling’s body was not found, but in 1992 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission named a previously unknown soldier buried in St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery near Loos as John Kipling. The headstone on the grave now identifies it as that of the young Kipling. Historians do though argue that it is not John’s body resting in that grave but the body of a soldier from the London Guards. Only a DNA test would be able to determine whether it is or not.

I would like you to listen to this poem being recited here –watch?v=7ld69y_g28o

It also always makes me cry.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses

11-11-2010 at 13:28:02

Thanks for nothing, I am sitting here crying my eyes out. I had never heard that poem before and hearing it read like that, very emotional. I posted it on my blog too as being only too appropiate for today.

11-12-2010 at 08:38:20

I hadn’t realised that it was the French who set up the first monument to an unknown soldier. They did it two years after the war to alleviate some of the suffering of families whose boys had been lost and never been buried.

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