On this day in 1915, Second Lieutenant John Kipling of the British army, the only son of Nobel Prize-winning author Rudyard Kipling, is killed at the Battle of Loos, in the Artois region of France.
The Battle of Loos, part of a joint Allied offensive on the Western Front, began on September 25, 1915, and engaged 54 French and 13 British divisions on a front of some 90 kilometers running from Loos in the north to Vimy Ridge in the south. The death toll at Loos was greater than in any previous battle of the war. The names of the British soldiers killed on the opening day of battle alone filled four columns in London’s Times newspaper the following morning.
The British made five separate attempts to push past German positions at the Bois Hugo forest before calling off the attack on September 27. One of the many officers reported “missing” after facing machine-gun fire and shellfire from the Bois Hugo was Second Lieutenant John Kipling. His body was never found; neither were those of several of his fellow officers. Twenty-seven soldiers under their command were also killed.
Rudyard Kipling, perhaps best-known for his classic children’s novel The Jungle Book (1894), later wrote a haunting elegy to his son, and to the legions of sons lost in the First World War:
That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given…
To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes – to be cindered by fires –
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation.
But who shall return us our children?