by John McGivering)
notes on the text
In the early days, the material that went into the deep well often came directly from Kipling’s journalism; and often re-emerged with surprising rapidity. The newspaper story of 1 January 1887 about the capture of a Burmese town by mother-naked British soldiers was out again in the paper as the short story “the Taking of Lungtungpen” on 11 April that same year. Sometimes the material must have come from stories he was told, perhaps by his mother, of her life in India while he was a child in England; many of Kipling’s Indian stories are of the 1870s and not the 1880s. Sometimes the material came from soldiers’ tales, or from the files, or from Army history.For an account of the wider background to this tale one cannot do better than "Kipling's Burma, A Literary and Historical Review" by George Webb. For more on the British in Burma in peace and war see “Mandalay”, “The Grave of the Hundred Head”, “A Conference of the Powers” in Many Inventions, letters II to IV in From Sea to Sea (vol. 1), and “The Ballad of Boh Da Thone.”
…are memorable figures, and they quickly gathered an enormous circle of admirers in such stories as “The Big Drunk Draf’“, “The Madness of Private Ortheris “ and “The Taking of Lungtunpen“.Birkenhead also describes (p. 137) Kipling aboard the S.S. Empress of China on passage from Yokohama to Vancouver in 1892, reading “The Taking of Lungtunpen“ at a function in the saloon to raise money for the widow of a sailor who had been ost over the side.
Lightweight or not, the Soldiers Three tales had the great advantage of novelty, for no writer hitherto had thought the lives of ordinary British soldiers worth writing about.And Charles Carrington (p.106), never one for half-measures, and a survivor of four years in the trenches in the Great War, expresses whole-hearted admiration for the soldier tales:
Search English literature and you will find no treatment of the English soldier on any adequate scale between Shakespeare and Kipling.A sentiment echoed by Marghanita Laski (p. 34), writing of the Soldiers Three:
...they stand with Shakespeare’s Nym and Bardolph and Pistol as the most famous soldiers in literature.