A gentleman in kharki - 44

PERHAPS one of the most famous patriotic songs of the Anglo-Boer War was The Absent-minded Beggar by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling had visited South Africa before the war and later became a friend of Alfred Milner and Cecil Rhodes. When the war broke out, he was asked by Britain's Daily Mail proprietor Alfred Harmsworth to work as a war correspondent.

Initially, he felt he could not take up the post, but he did contribute The Absent-minded Beggar and the poem was published on October 31 1889.

It was set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, who, with William Gilbert, had written the famous Gilbert & Sullivan operas. Proceeds from the sale of the resulting song sheets were "devoted by the Daily Mail in the name of Rudyard Kipling to the benefit of the wives and children of the reservists".

The picture printed on the sheets, showing a British soldier with a bandaged head holding a rifle ready to face the enemy, was from the painting titled A Gentleman in Khaki by British artist Richard Caton Woodville. Thought to have inspired Kipling's poem, the image became so popular that it was used on cups, saucers and copper plaques and in many other forms throughout the war.


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