men and women
in the Royal Navy
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Kipling’s Naval Stories
These are the stories he wrote about the Royal Navy, or about his naval characters. These are all short stories, and may, in many ways, be regarded as extended ‘dits’.
The Victorian and Edwardian Navy
Kipling published two books of naval articles, all originally written as articles for London newspapers.
As well as writing about the Royal Navy, Kipling also wrote about other seafarers, and ships. Four tales which any sailor will probably enjoy are:
Kipling and the Royal Navy
by Commander Alastair Wilson, R.N.
The author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) is particularly known for his stories about the Victorian soldier in India and Afghanistan. But it is not so well-known that Kipling had very close contacts with the Royal Navy, and wrote several stories and pieces of verse about the Navy of the late Victorian era, and World War I and into the 1930s. He also wrote some pieces of journalism for the Admiralty in World War I about the East Coast patrols, submarines in the North Sea, and the destroyers’ night actions after the main clash of the battle fleets at Jutland.
His introduction to the Royal Navy occurred in the 1870s when he was a small boy of six or seven, living in Southsea in the home of a retired sea captain who had been in the coast guard, then run by the Navy and would take young Rudyard into the Dockyard when he went to draw his pension. Young Rudyard later recorded his memories of seeing the ships of Captain George Nares’ Arctic Expedition, 1875-76, HMS Alert and HMS Discovery.
Thereafter, he went away to school and to India where he learned the craft of a writer as a journalist on two British-run newspapers, and where he made the acquaintance of Private Tommy Atkins. He left India in 1889 as an accomplished journalist, and fledgling author. Arriving in London at the end of that year, he took literary London by storm, particularly for his stories of the ‘common soldier’: and he proceeded to write verse and short stories until, two years later, he was exhausted, and took a sea voyage to re-charge his batteries.
He took passage to South Africa, and had as a fellow passenger Commander Edward Bayly (known in the wardroom as ‘Chawbags’) who was going out to the Cape to take command of HMS Mohawk. This reopened his interest in the Royal Navy, and from there he never looked back. The difference in his approach to his naval stories, compared to his stories of soldiers, is that when he was an unknown journalist, he could, and did, drink with privates in the canteen. By the time he came back to the navy, he was a celebrated author, more likely to be dined in the wardroom than to drop into a sailor’s mess at tot-time, so that his naval stories have less of the flavour of the lower-deck about them. However, his two best-known naval characters are Petty Officer Pyecroft, and Engine Room Artificer 1st class Hinchcliffe. Of the latter he wrote the finest description of an old-fashioned E.R.A. that I know – “Give’im a drum of oil and leave him alone, and he’ll coax a stolen bicycle to do typewritin’”. He got the idea for them and their ‘adventures’ from two trips of about two weeks each which he took in HMS Pelorus, at the invitation of Captain Bayly, her CO, in 1897 and 1898.
He also wrote one major piece of verse ("Soldier an' Sailor too") admiring the Royal Marines, who, we would remind non-naval readers, are a part of the Royal Navy. But today, the Royal Marines are mostly used ashore in an infantry role, so the “For Soldiers” section will be as appropriate for them as this one.
Kipling was one of about half-a-dozen authors and poets who have had warships named after them. HMS Kipling (a J & K class destroyer) was launched by his daughter in 1939, and sunk off Crete in 1941 after a short but hectic and action-packed life. See Michael Smith's article for fuller details of her life. For fuller details of Kipling's relationship with the Royal Navy, see "Kipling and the Royal Navy"
Some pictures of old times
In this section we plan to gather together a selection of pictures of the Royal Navy in Kipling's day.
HMS Dreadnought, 1906.
With British forces involved in wars overseas, comparisons, not always favourable, have been made by politicians, the media and members of the forces between the public perception and treatment of the forces of today and those of the end of the 19th century, when Kipling was at the height of his fame.
If you have any comments on Kipling's writings about the Royal Navy, or about this site, or if you have any contributions of your own in prose or verse, please send them to us and we will publish them if suitable. Email to: email@example.com
Click here for the New Readers' Guide on Kipling's works.
Some of Kipling's verse
On Sailors and the Navy
Kipling was a prolific writer of verse. We have so far published the text of over 300 of Kipling's poems on this site. Click here for the full list.
Below we have listed forty which refer to seafaring and seafarers, of which fourteen were either directly about the Royal Navy, or were attached to stories and articles about the Royal Navy. They are listed here, the Royal Navy ones first, then the more general seafaring verses afterwards.
It is worth reminding ourselves that sea travel was far more commonplace than it is today, and sea trade was more evident to more people. You might not travel to Spain, or the Greek islands, or Thailand for your holiday, but if you went to the seaside – even if it was only for a day-trip – the horizon was filled with ships going about their business, and the smallest harbour had a coaster or two in it, bringing in coal, or taking away local produce. So the sea and ships were frequently brought to the attention of everyone, and seafaring was much more generally in the public eye.
Some Naval poems
Guidance on the verse
Providing guidance on the verse is a massive task because of the sheer volume of Kipling's work, over 550 published poems, and at least as many again which remain unpublished.
John Walker, as Verse Editor, has prepared a list of the principal collections in which Kipling's verse has appeared over the years, with the abbreviations we will be using in the indexing system.
We index the notes alphabetically by title, or by first line.
Using the New Readers' Guide
This page is part of the New Readers' Guide to Kipling's works, which tje Kipling Society has been developing over the past seven years. There is a section of the Guide for each story, poem, and other work. To find the stories you can click on The stories listed in the red sidebar on the left (or from the links below), which is an alphabetical list of all the stories.
Those stories for which we have an entry are in red, and if you click on them this will take you to the entry. In most cases there is an introductory page, from which you can jump to detailed notes on the text. You can also find stories via The stories in their collections in the sidebar - or from the links below.
Wherever you are in the Guide, a click on the Elephant's head (Ganesha) logo at the top of the sidebar will take you back to the Home-page for the site.
Kipling Journal back-numbers
We have made the 12,000 or so pages of Kipling Journal back-numbers available on line as plain text-files (apart from the eight most recent issues) to users of this Guide.
Click here to see one or more of the available back-numbers and use the search system to find a word or phrase.
Click here if you wish to join the Society.
Themes in Kipling's works
We have developed a system through which you can search for themes and people in Kipling's works. Click here to use it.
Some useful links
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