How Ki­pling helped quell an In­dian mutiny in the trenches

Jun­gle Book au­thor rewrote sol­diers’ let­ters to fight Ger­man pro­pa­ganda in first world war

The Observer - - NEWS - By Jamie Doward

He was one of Britain’s most cel­e­brated writ­ers of the 20th cen­tury, the No­bel prizewin­ning au­thor of The Jun­gle Book. But Rud­yard Ki­pling’s work for Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence dur­ing the first world war has been lost in the mists of time.

Now new re­search has high­lighted the ex­traor­di­nary role the au­thor of Kim and the poem If played in push­ing out proem­pire pro­pa­ganda de­signed to tem­per the threat of an in­sur­rec­tion among g In­dian sol­diers fight­ing ng in France.

Dr Ga­jen­dra Singh, , a his­to­rian at Ex­eter Univer­sity, has s been comb­ing combthe ar­chives of Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence in­telom­ing for his forth­com­ing book, Spectres of Vi­o­lence. He e has re­vealed how, in the sec­ond decade cade of the 20th cen­tury, some 14,000 In­di­ans liv­ing in the e US were be­com­ing an acute cute con­cern for the se­cret cret ser­vices. Drenched in pre- Bol­she­vik ide­al­ism, lte many were plot­ting rev­o­lu­tion and the over­throw of the Raj. j. A pow­er­ful clan­des­tine Ger­man in­tel­li­gence unit – known as the In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre for the East – saw them as use­ful pawns and tried to ma­nip­u­late them with anti-Bri­tish pro­pa­ganda. “Around half of the ex­pats re­turn to In­dia in 1914 to sow in­sur­rec­tion, to smug­gle arms and ex­plo­sives, and to de­velop cel­lu­lar net­works,” Singh said. “They are re­spon­si­ble for a near in­sur­rec­tion in the early months of 1915. What causes most con­cern among the Bri­tish is that these guys are pen­sioned sol­diers. They y know what they’re do­ing. They call them­sel them­selves the Ghadar move­ment – Urdu for fo mutiny or re­bel­lion – and they are ar con­stantly hark­ing back to 1857.” T This was the year of a bloody but un­suc­cess­ful un up­ris­ing against the East Eas In­dia Com­pany – an event that the th Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties were des­per­ate des­pera to en­sure would not be re­peated. repeB Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence was also wor­ried wo about the thou­sands of troops t In­dia had sent to fight in France. Agents were mon­i­tor­ing their let­ters home to record any anti-Bri­tish sen­ti­ment that could pos­si­bly mu­tate into in­sur­rec­tion. At the same time there was grow­ing col­lu­sion be­tween Ir­ish and In­dian rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, fos­tered by Ger­man in­tel­li­gence, which spread sto­ries about how poorly In­dian sol­diers were be­ing treated.

“Ki­pling was re­cruited by Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence in the first world war to write for Amer­i­can jour­nals un­der his own name, to show the Bri­tish in a pos­i­tive light and un­der­mine In­dian na­tion­al­ists,” Singh said.

“In 1917 he’s asked by a branch of Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence to write a form of fic­tional In­dian cor­re­spon­dence. He was given real let­ters sent home by In­dian sol­diers and asked to write his own ver­sion in or­der to spread pro­pa­ganda in the United States.”

Ki­pling was al­ready mak­ing reg­u­lar vis­its to Ire­land to re­cruit troops for the war ef­fort. Dev­as­tated by the death of his only son, 18-year-old John, in the bat­tle of Loos in 1915, Ki­pling acted out of pa­tri­o­tism, Singh be­lieves.

“By this stage he’s a ma­jor lit­er­ary fig­ure,” Singh said. “His son has just died and he’s en­gag­ing in these tours to bol­ster re­cruit­ment in Ire­land. He does it as a way to sal­vage his son’s mem­ory, to do what he can for the war ef­fort.”

It was the era of pulp fic­tion, when weekly mag­a­zines were pop­u­lar, and Ki­pling’s let­ters were read avidly by au­di­ences around the world. The let­ters sought to cap­ture the essence of the In­dian sol­dier abroad and painted his re­la­tion­ship with Britain in glow­ing, pa­ter­nal­is­tic terms.

“He writes them to show how in­fused with loy­alty and def­er­ence the In­dian sol­diers were to the Bri­tish,” Singh said. A sol­dier who is re­cov­er­ing in Hampshire re­counts how “when the em­peror com­manded me to his palace to re­ceive a medal I saw all the won­ders and en­ter­tain­ments of the city of Lon­don”.

He talks about vis­it­ing a “palace filled with car­pets, gilt fur­ni­ture, mar­ble, silks, mir­rors, vel­vets”, and which had “hot wa­ter [that] ran in sil­ver pipes”.

“The idea is to try to con­struct the good In­dian against the bad,” Singh said. “Britain wants to show that the ma­jor­ity of In­dian opin­ion is on our side and that these In­di­ans [ plot­ting in­sur­rec­tion] aren’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole.”

Ki­pling’s role in spin­ning for the em­pire is un­likely to sur­prise his crit­ics. Ge­orge Or­well de­scribed him as a “jingo im­pe­ri­al­ist”. “He’s not ter­ri­bly fash­ion­able now,” Singh said. “It’s a bit un­fair as his work is far more am­bigu­ous than it is be­ing read now.”

Un­der­wood Ar­chives/Rex

In­dian sol­diers serv­ing in France at the start of the first world war in 1914.

Rud­yard R Ki­pling, whose son John was killed in 1915.

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