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My Boy Jack

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy]

Rudyard Kipling's poem was tirst published on 19 October 1916 simultaneously in the The Times, Daily Telegraph and New York Times. The poem, untitled, stood at the head of ‘Cripple and Paralytic’, the first in a sequence of four ‘Stories of the Battle’, articles with the overall title ‘Destroyers at Jutland’. The poem was published with the title My Boy Jack in his book The Years Between (Methuen, 1919) and in the Inclusive Edition (1885-1918) of his verses (1919).

The modern understanding of the poem has been bedevilled by the presumption that ‘Jack’ of the poem is to be equated with Kipling’s son John who was lost at the battle of Loos in 1915—an identification set in motion by David Haig in his playscript My Boy Jack, first published and performed in 1997.

Given the occasion of the poem, heading the reports on the Battle of Jutland with its great loss of life, ‘Jack’ is evidently the eponymous Jack Tar; and if one is seeking to attach the poem to any individual ‘Jack’, that would be young John Cornwell, the boy sailor (referred to in the press as ‘the Boy Jack’) whose bravery at the Battle of Jutland was recognised with the award of a posthumous Victoria Cross on 15 September 1916.

But even that identification was overridden by Kipling in the Inclusive Edition (1919) in which he added the years ‘1914-18’ below the title, so disengaging the poem from its original Jutland context, and its possible association with Jack Cornwell, and transforming it into an in memoriam tribute for all those who died at sea and conveying words of stern comfort for those who mourned them.
[cited with some changes from the Notes to “My Boy Jack” by the Kipling Society]

Peter Bellamy sang My Boy Jack in 1982 on his fourth album of songs set to Kipling's poems, Keep on Kipling, accompanying himself on concertina. This recording was also included in 1999 on his anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

Anni Fentiman sang My Boy Jack in 2002 on her and Dave Webber's album Away From It All. They noted:

Rudyard Kipling had only one son, John. In the First World War he helped him join up a little early. John had three weeks basic training, was sent overseas and lost within a very short time. This must have been a terrible blow to his father and he wrote this poem shortly afterwards. The tune to this was created by the greatly missed, Peter Bellamy.

Debra Cowan sang My Boy Jack live at the Bacca Pipes Folk Club, Keighley, West Yorkshire, in November 2006. This recording was released in 2012 on her CD Among Friends.

Lady Maisery sang My Boy Jack in 2011 on their CD Weave & Spin. They noted:

This was originally a poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1915 after his son went missing in action during the First World War. The tune we sing is based on the one composed by Peter Bellamy for his 1982 Keep on Kipling album.

Peter and Barbara Snape sang My Boy Jack in 2011 too on their CD Revel & Rally. Barbara Snape noted:

From a poem written in 1916 by Rudyard Kipling, whose son John was killed in action at the battle of Loos in September the previous year. Set to music by Mr Peter Bellamy, it is a very moving and emotive song.

Lyrics

Rudyard Kipling's My Boy Jack

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
    “Not this tide.”
“When d'you think that he'll come back?”
    “Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.”

“Has any one else had word of him?”
    “Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.”

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
    “None this tide,
    Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
    Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.”

“Then hold your head up all the more,
    This tide,
    And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
    And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!”