(The following is a guest blog post by Mark Diminution, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and Elizabeth Gettins, Library of Congress digital library specialist.)
There are the occasional stories that one hears about a book saving a life due to an informational or even spiritual message, but how many people can claim a book literally saved their life? Maurice Hamonneau did.
Hamonneau, a French legionnaire and the last survivor of an artillery attack near Verdun in the First World War, lay wounded and unconscious for hours after the battle. When he regained his senses, he found that a copy of the 1913 French pocket edition of “Kim,” by Rudyard Kipling, had deflected a bullet and saved his life by a mere 20 pages. Hamonneau’s reward was a Croix de Guerre medal, which also engendered a close friendship with the noted author. Hearing that Kipling was mourning the loss of his son John, who had served with the Irish Guards, the young Frenchman was moved to send the medal and the torn copy of “Kim” to Kipling. Kipling was overwhelmed and insisted that he would return the book and medal if Hamonneau were ever to have a son. Hannonneau did and named him Jean in honor of John Kipling. Kipling returned the items with a charming letter to young Jean, advising him to always carry a book of at least 350 pages in the left breast pocket.
The book is now in the collections of the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The work was a gift from Armida Maria-Theresa and Harris Dunscombe Colt and joins a sizable collection of Kiplingiana, including a large number of early editions, manuscripts, photograph, realia and a great deal of supporting secondary materials that chronicle Kipling’s life and works.
In addition to the book, the Library has the original Kipling/Hammoneau correspondence dating from December 1918 through September 1933. There are eight handwritten and six typescript letters in total.
Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, talks about Kipling’s life-saving book in this video.
*All photographs by Emily Grover
World War I Centennial, 2017-2018: With the most comprehensive collection of multi-format World War I holdings in the nation, the Library of Congress is a unique resource for primary source materials, education plans, public programs and on-site visitor experiences about The Great War including exhibits, symposia and book talks.