Right Honourable Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, KG,
KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, ADC, PC (24 June 1850–5 June 1916)
was a British Field Marshal, diplomat and statesman.
Kitchener was born
in Ballylongford, County Kerry in Ireland, son of Henry Horatio Kitchener
and Frances Anne Chevallier-Cole. Educated in Switzerland and at the
Royal Military Academy, he offered to fight with the French in the Franco-Prussian
War before he joined the Royal Engineers in 1871. He served in Palestine,
Egypt, and Cyprus as a surveyor, learned Arabic, and prepared detailed
topographical maps of the areas.
He later served
as a Vice-Consul in Anatolia, and in 1884 as an Aide de Camp during
the failed Gordon relief expedition in the Sudan. At this time his fiancée,
and possibly the only love of his life, Hermione Baker, died of typhoid
fever in Cairo; he subsequently had no issue. But he raised his young
great-niece Bertha Chevallier-Boutell, daughter of Kitchener's first-cousin,
Sir Francis Hepburn de Chevallier-Boutell.
He won national
fame on his second tour in the Sudan (1886–1899), being made Aide
de Camp to Queen Victoria and collecting a Knighthood of the Bath. After
becoming Sirdar of the Egyptian Army he headed the victorious Anglo-Egyptian
army at the Battle of Omdurman on September 2, 1898, a victory made
possible by the massive rail construction program he had instituted
in the area.
possibly prevented war between France and Britain when he dealt firmly
but non-violently with the French military expedition to claim Fashoda,
in what became known as the Fashoda Incident.
He was created Baron
Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk, on 18
November 1898 as a victory title commemorating his successes, and began
a programme restoring good governance to the Sudan. The programme had
a strong foundation based on education, Gordon Memorial College being
its centrepiece, and not simply for the children of the local elites
- children from anywhere could apply to study.
He ordered the mosques
of Khartoum rebuilt and instituted reforms which recognised Friday -
the Muslim holy day - as the official day of rest, and guaranteed freedom
of religion to all citizens of the Sudan. He went so far as to prevent
evangelical Christian missionaries from attempting to convert Muslims
a substantial charitable fund which had been diverted into the pockets
of the Khedive of Egypt, and put it to use improving the lives of the
He also reformed
the debt laws, preventing rapacious moneylenders from stripping away
all assets of impoverished farmers, guaranteeing them five acres (20
000 m²) of land to farm for themselves and the tools to farm with.
In 1899 Kitchener was presented with a small island in the Nile at Aswan
as in gratitude for his services; the island was renamed Kitchener's
Island in his honour.
During the Second
Boer War (1899–1902), Kitchener arrived with Lord Roberts and
the massive British reinforcements of December 1899. Kitchener was made
overall commander in November 1900 following Roberts' removal due to
Following the defeat
of the conventional Boer forces, and the failure of a reconciliatory
peace treaty in February 1901 (due to British cabinet veto) that Kitchener
had negotiated with the Boer leaders, Kitchener inherited and expanded
the successful strategies devised by Roberts to crush the Boer guerrillas.
In a brutal campaign,
these strategies removed civilian support from the Boers by destroying
Boer farms, building blockhouses, and moving civilians into the first
concentration camps. Conditions in these camps, which had been conceived
by Roberts as a form of humanitarian aid to the families whose farms
he had destroyed, began to rapidly degenerate as the large influx of
Boers outstripped the minuscule ability of the British to cope. Despite
being largely rectified by late 1901, they led to wide opprobrium both
at home and abroad.
One of the Boer
commandos' most provocative tactics was to steal the uniforms of captured
troops and masquerade as British soldiers in order to gain a tactical
advantage in battle; in response Kitchener ordered that Boers found
wearing British uniforms were to be tried on the spot and the sentence,
death, confirmed by the commanding officer. This order - which Kitchener
later denied issuing - led to the famous Breaker Morant case, in which
several Australian soldiers, including the celebrated horseman and bush
poet Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant, were arrested and court-martialled
for summarily executing Boer prisoners and civilians including children
and Africans, and also the murder of a German missionary.
Morant and another
Australian, Lt. Peter Handcock, were found guilty, sentenced to death
and shot by firing squad at Pietersburg on 27 February 1902. Their death
warrants were personally signed by Kitchener. The trial and execution
remain controversial, especially in Australia, where it is widely believed
that the court-martial was flawed, that Kitchener disappeared on tour
immediately following the trial in order to prevent a last-minute appeal,
and that Morant and Handcock were scapegoats who unfairly took the blame
for the killings in order to cover up the extent of Kitchener's no prisoners
policy. This situation has been exacerbated by the loss of the court-martial
documents relating to the case, leaving only a book written by one of
the men found guilty, George Witton, as primary evidence of the proceedings.
The Treaty of Vereeniging
was signed in 1902 following a tense six months. During this period
Kitchener struggled against the Governor of the Cape Colony and the
British government; eventually he won a peace of reconciliation that
recognised certain rights of the Boers and promised future self-government.
(Louis Botha, the Boer leader Kitchener negotiated his aborted peace
treaty with in 1901, became the first Prime Minister of the self-governing
Union of South Africa in 1910.) The Treaty also agreed to pay for reconstruction
following the end of hostilities. Six days later Kitchener was created
Viscount Kitchener, of Khartoum and of the Vaal in the Colony of Transvaal
and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk.
Kitchener was made Commander-in-Chief in India (1902–1909), where
he reconstructed the greatly disorganised Indian army, against the wishes
of the bellicose viceroy Lord Curzon, who became a passionate and lifelong
enemy. Kitchener was promoted to the highest Army rank, Field Marshal,
in 1910; however, largely due to a Curzon-inspired whispering campaign,
he was turned down for the post of Viceroy of India in 1911. He then
returned to Egypt as British Governor General of Egypt and the Sudan
(1911–1914, during the formal reign of 'Abbas Hilmi II as Khedive
(nominally Ottoman Viceroy) of Egypt, Sovereign of Nubia, of the Sudan,
of Kordofan and of Darfur).
He was created Earl
Kitchener, of Khartoum (of which he was already Baron) and of Broome
in the County of Kent, on 29 June 1914. Unusually, provision was made
for the title to be passed on to his brother and nephew, since Kitchener
was not married and had no children.
A World War I recruitment
poster featuring Kitchener.At the outset of World War I, Prime Minister
Herbert Henry Asquith quickly had Lord Kitchener appointed Secretary
of State for War. Against cabinet opinion, Kitchener correctly predicted
a long war that would last at least three years, require huge new armies
to defeat Germany, and suffer huge casualties before the end would come.
A massive recruitment
campaign began, which soon featured a distinctive poster of himself,
taken from a magazine front cover. It has proved to be one of the most
enduring iimages of World War I and could have encouraged large numbers
of volunteers, although it has often been parodied since.
In an effort to
find a way to relieve pressure on the Western front, he proposed an
invasion of Iskenderun with ANZAC, New Army and Indian troops. Alexandretta
was an area with a large Christian population and was the strategic
centre of the Ottoman Empire's railway network - its capture would have
cut the empire in two. Yet he was eventually persuaded to support Winston
Churchill's disastrous Gallipoli campaign in 1915–1916. That failure,
combined with the Shell Crisis of 1915, was to deal Kitchener's political
reputation a heavy blow; he offered to resign but Asquith refused, although
responsibility for munitions was moved to a new ministry headed by David
Lloyd George. In May 1916 preparations were made for Kitchener and Lloyd
George to visit Russia on a diplomatic mission. Lloyd George was otherwise
engaged with his new Ministry and so it was decided to send Kitchener
A week before his
death Kitchener confided to Lord Derby that he intended to press relentlessly
for a peace of reconciliation, regardless of his position, when the
war was over, as he feared that the politicians would make a bad peace.
On 4 June 1916,
he personally answered questions asked by politicians about his running
of the war effort; at the start of hostilities Kitchener ordered 2 million
rifles with various US arms manufacturers. Only 480 of these rifles
had arrived in the UK by 4th June 1916. The numbers of shells supplied
were no less paltry. Kitchener explained the efforts he had made in
order to secure alternative supplies. He received a resounding vote
of thanks from the 200+ MPs who had arrived to question him, both for
his candour and for his efforts to keep the troops armed; Sir George
Arthur, who, a week before, had introduced the failed vote of censure
in the House of Commons against Kitchener's running of the War Department,
personally seconded the motion.
At Scapa Flow,
Lord Kitchener embarked aboard the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire for
his diplomatic mission to Russia. On 5 June 1916, while en route to
the Russian port of Arkhangelsk, Hampshire struck a mine during a Force
9 gale and sank west of the Orkney Islands. Kitchener, his staff, and
643 of the crew of 655 were drowned or died of exposure. His body was
never found. The same day, the last Division of Kitchener's New Army
crossed the channel to take up its positions in Flanders and France
where, eventually, and despite numerous setbacks, they helped to defeat
Germany in 1918.
Following his death
the town of Berlin, Ontario, Canada, was renamed Kitchener in his honour.
Mount Kitchener in the Canadian Rockies was also named in his honour.
A memorial was erected in his honour on the nearby cliffs.
A month after his
death the Lord Kitchener National Memorial Fund was set up by the Lord
Mayor of London to honour his memory. It was used to aid casualties
of the war, both practically and financially; following the war's end,
the fund was used to enable university educations for soldiers, ex-soldiers
and their sons, a function it continues to perform today.