BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms

Author: Edward J. Erickson

Total Number of Pages: 204

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent):


When writing in this volume’s Preface, the author notes that the book ‘…Explores a selection of Rudyard Kipling’ military poetry relating to how the British Army waged its campaigns during what are called ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. He also notes that  ‘Kipling’s military poetry offers insights into the profession of arms’  and that his ‘…Intent for the reader is…to generate an appreciation for Rudyard Kipling’s military poetry and for the timeless themes about the nature of soldiering and the profession of arms contained in these verses’. In all these endeavours, the author has been successful.

As would be expected, the volume opens with a Contents section. This is three pages in length and within in it each poem is listed under the relevant Chapter. This provides a quick reference for a specific work and obviates the need to search the Index for a specific title. In a reversal of usual practice, a Dedication is placed immediately after the Contents section, and is itself followed by an Acknowledgements section. Within this, thanks are tendered for the organisations and individuals who contributed to the volume, and the reader is introduced to Kipling’s poetry through ‘When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre…’ a selection appropriate for the location. A List of Maps follows, the title being self-explanatory, and this is, in turn followed by a List of Plates. This summarises the captions found under the 20 colour images appearing within a designated section at the centre of the volume. The existence of that section is not however mentioned on the Contents page. A Foreword appears next and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned Preface. This summarises what is to follow, and, through the use of subsections, presents the author’s viewpoint concerning his subject and outlines the volume’s themes. It also offers the author’s thoughts as to how it should be read.  The Preface is followed by the eleven Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume. As previously noted, the volume follows a specific theme; summarised as the development of a soldier from a raw, untrained recruit (Chapter 1 Becoming Tommy Atkins – Learning to Soldier), to being a professional in his field. This is not however merely a recital of military service, and there is much, much more, all examined through the lens of Kipling’s poetry. The experiences of returning veterans are investigated, as is patriotism (both real and imagined) and, in Chapter 11 a non-military section titled Kipling for Fun. The title is self-explanatory and includes many of Kipling’s well-known, non-military verses. Within each Chapter, a designated Introduction sets the scene for what is to follow. Several poems relevant to the Chapter then appear. These are presented as subsections within the Chapter and are accompanied by relevant explanatory notes and interpretation of the verses from a military perspective. Where applicable, page-specific Footnotes are provided to clarify terminology or expand / interpret words appearing within a specific poem. Two Appendices follow Chapter 11. The titles (Britain’s Wars, Campaigns and Expeditions (and covering the period 1701-1939) and Brief Biography of Rudyard Kipling) are self-explanatory. A section titled Further Reading follows Appendix 2. This is bibliographical in nature and function and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; its final section. The volume contains 10 Maps, and, as already noted, a 20-image colour section. Although well and informatively captioned, the images in the latter section are unsourced, and not referred-to within the Index.

When reviewing this volume, this reviewer found the Index problematical. While undertaking a random search in the course of his review, he found numerous examples where events he considered worthy of inclusion within the narrative were not to be found within the Index. To take page 79 as an example; references to The Jacobite Rebellion, Williamites and the Treaty of Limerick on that page do not appear within the Index. Equally, the Index-entry to the Charge of the Light Brigade contains no reference to the evocative image that is listed as Plate 3. It would also be reasonable for the Index to record the names of the various publications in which the poems first appeared (the English Illustrated Magazine on page 101 being but one example), or even the names of collections (The Seven Seas on the same page), yet these are also missing. Such absences serve to reduce the authority and reliability of the Index, and inevitably raise questions concerning what else may be missing. There is no way to know.

The matters referred-to above notwithstanding, this reviewer found this volume a delightful, well written, informative and (above all), memorable, volume, to the extent that it bids fair to become a Standard Reference Work on its subject. Such is the universality and appeal of Kipling’s work, this volume is likely to have a wide range of readers; from literary and military scholars and students, to members of the armed forces, to both military, political and ‘generalist’ historians and those interested in ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. Military modellers may also find the colour plates useful as research tools, while readers seeking merely to be entertained on a wet Sunday afternoon could do well to peruse its content, if only to laugh at the accents and marvel at the genius of the poetry and the way things were when ‘Britannia ruled the World’.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8¾.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient

Author: Jon Bursey

No. of Pages: 274

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ½


In the Author’s Note at the front of this volume, the author, when alluding to the establishment of Hong Kong, notes that ‘…I have been struck…both by the critical nature of [Charles] Elliot’s role and by the comparative lack of recognition accorded him subsequently as a person and for his work. I have sought in this book to describe his life…the challenges that faced him, and to set them in historical context’. He also states that ‘It has been my intention to cover the whole of Elliot’s career as thoroughly as sources permit’. It is an effective summary.

An Acknowledgements section placed after the Contents page thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to the volume. It is followed by the previously mentioned Author’s Note. Within that section (and in addition to the statements already noted), the author also details the efforts he made to ensure accuracy of the narrative and to provide modern-day equivalent-values for mid-Nineteenth Century currency. A Maps section follows. This contains four full-page maps relevant to the narrative. A List of Illustrations appears next. This replicates the captions for the 36 images appearing within a 16 page section placed at the centre of the volume. A Prologue section then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the work then follows. Consisting of nineteen Chapters, these are in turn sub-divided to three Parts. These trace Charles Elliot’s life, with Chapter One (Forbears, Father and Family) providing ancestral background. The remaining Chapters detail Elliot’s career, while simultaneously providing background to the various events in which he played a part. Such is their detail, these ‘backgrounds’ are in themselves worthy of scrutiny. An Epilogue placed after Chapter 19 summarises and reviews Elliot’s life and his accomplishments. Three Appendices follow that Chapter. Where appropriate, the book uses End-notes to provide addition information. These are numeric, sequential and Chapter-specific, with the relevant citations being placed in a dedicated Notes and References section after the Appendices. A Bibliography follows and is in turn followed by an eight-page Index; the volume’s final section. As already noted, the book contains both Illustrations and Maps.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent and well-researched volume. For this reviewer however it was let down by inconsistencies in its Index. Random Index searching during the reviewing process for items such as Pax Britannica (page xvii) and Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew (both on page 213), found entries for neither. What else may also have been omitted is not known. In addition, the English East India Company (page xviii)  appears within the Index as East India Company. Which title is correct?  There is no way of knowing. Numerous quotes appear within the volume. Some are referenced, some are not (the quotes on page 165 being but two examples of such practices). In the absence of relevant citations to prove their authenticity, unreferenced quotes have little research value, a detail which may reduce the volume’s value as a research tool. Curiously, many quotes do not commence with a capital letter. In apparent defence of this practice the author states that ‘For the sake of authenticity I have reproduced spelling punctuation and syntax…as they appear in the original odd though they may sometimes seem including the apparently random use of capital letters’.  Whether this statement applies to the aforementioned quotes is unclear, but the presence of capitalised and non-capitalised quotes within the volume, does the narrative no favours.

This volume is well written and researched. Being biographical in nature it may appeal to readers seeking a straight ‘adventure’ story. It may also be useful to historians interested in the Nineteenth Century Royal Navy.  Historians researching British Imperial Policies and actions during the same century may well find it worthy of their attentions, while those seeking in-depth historical data on locations such as China, the ‘British’ Caribbean and the Republic of Texas may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’