KIPPENBERGER, Howard Karl
Soldier, lawyer, and editor.
A new biography of Kippenberger, Howard Karl appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Howard Karl Kippenberger was born on 28 January 1897 at Ladbrooks, near Christchurch, the son of Karl Kippenberger, a schoolmaster who later became a farmer at Waimate. Educated at Christchurch Boys' High School and later at Canterbury University College, he was in the words of General Freyberg “a born soldier”. At any rate, at the age of 14 he discovered military history, a subject which was to be his consuming interest for the rest of his life. But practice had to accompany theory and at the age of 18 he volunteered for active service in the First World War. As a private, and later an N.C.O. in the 1st Canterbury Regiment, he took part in four attacks on the Somme during the autumn of 1916. He was repatriated after being seriously wounded in the right arm.
Kippenberger qualified as a solicitor in 1920 and later became manager and then a partner of the Rangiora branch of a Christchurch legal firm. During his 20 years in Rangiora, he served for eight as a borough councillor. But the Army was his great love: he built up what was probably the most comprehensive library of military history and textbooks in New Zealand and he joined the Territorials. Commissioned, he commanded the Rangiora platoon of the 1st Battalion Canterbury Regiment. In 1929 he was promoted to captain, in 1934 to major, and in 1936 to lieutenantcolonel commanding the 1st Cants.
On the outbreak of the Second World War he was given the command of the first South Island battalion in what was to become the 2nd New Zealand Division. He led this battalion, his “beloved Twentieth Battalion”, through the fighting in Greece, Crete, and Libya with the exception of a period in Crete during which he had command of a composite brigade. In the fierce fighting at Bel Hamed, in late November 1941, his battalion was badly mangled and he was wounded and taken prisoner. He organised an escape for himself and 20 others and, after a sojourn in hospital, became brigadier, commanding the 5th Infantry Brigade.
“Kip”, as he was generally known not only in the 20th Battalion and the 5th Brigade but throughout the whole New Zealand Division, took the brigade back to the Western Desert to build the El Adem box before moving east to join the Division in Syria. Then followed the fighting and breakout at Minqar Qaim, the battles of El Mreir and Ruweisat Ridge, the holding of the line, and in October-November the turning of the tide at El Alamein, in all of which the infantry brigadier played a prominent part and was awarded his first D.S.O. During the fighting across North Africa to Takrouna in Tunisia, Brigadier Kippenberger led the 5th Brigade apart from the occasions, when in General Freyberg's absence at Corps Headquarters, he was acting major-general in command of the Division. In that year he won a bar to his D.S.O. After furlough he resumed command of the 5th Brigade at the Sangro in Italy and in February 1944 again took command of the Division as it faced up to Cassino. On 2 March, while descending Monte Trocchio, Major-General Kippenberger stepped on a mine and had one foot blown off and the other so badly shattered that it was later amputated.
After convalescence in England, he took control of the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners of war released from Germany. In 1946 he returned to New Zealand to become editor-in-chief of the war histories, which he was determined should fittingly record the national effort in the Second World War. His own autobiographical account of his war, Infantry Brigadier, appeared in 1949 and was acclaimed a classic in its field. Unit and campaign histories indicate how high were the standards he demanded of the authors. Taken together they constitute a formidable achievement and will remain a monument to a man who inspired great efforts in soldiers and writers alike. “Kip” held office on many committees; he was Dominion president of the R.S.A. from 1948 to 1955, served on the New Zealand Patriotic Fund Board, the Canteen Fund Board, the national executive of Heritage, the National Art Gallery, and Dominion Museum, and as colonel of the Canterbury Regiment. In keeping with his outstanding record and services he was awarded many honours, the C.B.E. in 1944, the C.B. and the Legion of Merit (U.S.A.) in 1945, and the K.B.E. in 1948. Sir Howard was known by his title or as “The General” to some, but to the great majority he was “Kip”, the name which will remain a household word with those who served under him during the war. He died in Wellington on 5 May 1957.
“Kip” was an outstanding soldier because he dedicated himself so completely to preparing himself and his men for whatever task seemed likely to be assigned to them. His years of reading and study were all part of that preparation. His men trusted him absolutely because they knew how dedicated he was to their interests and to the good name of the battalion or brigade he commanded. At once sensitive and stern, he had the powers of imagination, decision, and determination which mark a great leader. By his own example, and by his pre-battle talks to his officers and men, he inspired greatness in others; they felt they simply could not fail “Kip” and they acted accordingly. Although he normally spoke so quietly that it was difficult to hear him, he spoke both with knowledge and with feeling and he was always listened to intently. He set high standards but he retained a sense of dry humour and never lost the common touch. His feeling for his men may be expressed in his own words: “Few were saints, but they were men whom one was proud to command and in whose midst their commanders felt humble”. That feeling was strongly and warmly reciprocated. His courage was great and most notably shown in the way he conquered the tragic consequences of his wounds by learning to walk again and to carry on without self-pity or a word of complaint.
A stained glass window at Christchurch Boys' High School and the Kippenberger Memorial Fellowship, founded by the New Zealand Returned Services Association, help to commemorate his life and work.
In 1922 Kippenberger married Ruth Isobel Flynn, of Lyttelton. They had two sons and a daughter.
by Angus Ross, M.C. AND BAR, M.A.(N.Z.), PH.D.(CANTAB.), Professor of History, University of Otago.
- Infantry Brigadier, Kippenberger, H. K. (1949)
- 20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment, Pringle, D. J. C., and Glue, W. A. (1957)
- Evening Post, 4,11,18 Apr 1953
- Evening Post, 6 May 1957 (Obit).