Curator's Choice: An eerie postcard of Rudyard Kipling's son before his death

| 31 March 2014

Curator’s Choice: Anna Sparham, the Museum of London’s Curator of Photographs, on a postcard snapshot of Rudyard Kipling’s son

A black and white photo of two army officers during world war one
© Christina Broom / Museum of London
“Christina Broom’s photographic oeuvre is incredibly diverse and the collection has thrown up new and surprising images and lines of enquiry.

Delving through the archive we found a postcard snapshot of Jungle Book writer, Rudyard Kipling’s son, ready to head to the Western Front.

A photo of a postcard with a scribble on it
The back of the postcard points out Jack Kipling© Christina Broom / Museum of London
This shot, taken by Broom, shows Jack Kipling aged 17, in the centre wearing glasses.

On the back of the photographic postcard, the words ‘Rudyard Kipling’s son – centre with glasses’ have been scribbled in pencil.

Jack suffered from incredibly poor eye-sight, and had to wear thick glasses to be able to see anything at all.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Jack, aged only 17, was desperate to join up.

He tried to volunteer, but was turned down – thwarted by his own inadequate vision. He then turned to his father for help.

Rudyard Kipling pulled strings among his military friends and Jack was enlisted as a trainee officer and found himself on the way to war, still under age.

Officers were supposed to be at least 18 years old, in order legally to join up. Tragically, Jack was killed in the Battle of Loos in 1915 at the age of 18.

Kipling felt the loss of his son keenly. He harboured a tremendous amount of guilt for the part he played in Jack’s journey to the Western Front.

The photo has an eerie quality. Jack’s eyes are blocked out by the shine of his glasses, which somehow looks otherworldly.”
  • Christina Broom is at the Museum of London from April 4 – September 28 2014. War of Words, a new addition to the Museum of London Docklands' permanent galleries from April 4, also explores the impact of the First World War on London.

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I think how lonely their house must have been after he was gone.
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