Sunday, September 4, 2016

Book Review: Mr. Kipling's Army: All the Queen's Men

Book Review: Mr. Kipling's Army: All the Queen's Men by Byron Farwell

While perusing the shelves at Half Price Books a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a short but interesting book by Byron Farwell, entitled Mr. Kipling's Army: All the Queen's Men.  The book is a work of non-fiction that describes much about the life of the officers and men of the British Army during the time between the end of the Napoleanic Wars and the outbreak of the Great War; basically it covers the Victorian and Edwardian era.  It focuses in most depth upon the time period between the Crimea War (1853-1856) and the Second Boer War (1899-1902) inclusive.  This is the time period covered by much of Kipling's stories and poems regarding the British Army, throughout which Queen Victoria reigned save for the last year. This explains the title.

The book focuses not on wars and battles, although some are mentioned briefly, but rather on the everyday life of the officers and other ranks that made up the British Army.  It covers such aspects as where (socially and geographically) officers and other ranks came from, how long they served, what they ate and drank, the training and education they received, and the medical care they received. Sports, marriage, and the spiritual life are all touched upon, as well.  If there was an aspect of life in the British Army during the time period, it is likely addressed, at least in passing.

I really enjoyed this book.  It helps in understanding the world of the British Army that Kipling wrote of, in part by providing additional background and context.  L.P. Hartley wrote that the "The past is a foreign country."  This book serves as an admirable gazetteer to part of the past that was described by Kipling.

The book was originally published in 1981; I purchased a used copy.  I've not investigated whether it is in print or otherwise still available.  For all I know, it could be common in library collections, and there could be a million copies available through Amazon.  If you're interested in it, I wish you the best of luck finding a copy.

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