Horatio Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener

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Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum PC, KBE, KCB, ADC (June 24, 1850 - June 5, 1916) was a British Field Marshal and statesman.

Kitchener was born in County Kerry, Ireland. 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 trigonometrical 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 fiancee, and possibly the only love of his life, Hermione Baker, died of typhoid fever in Cairo.


Egypt, Sudan and Khartoum

He earned national fame on his second tour in the Sudan (18861899), 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 in 1898, a victory made possible by the massive rail construction program Kitchener had instituted in the area.

Kitchener quite 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 made Baron Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk, on November 18, 1898 for his successes, and began a program restoring good governance to the Sudan. The program 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 to Christianity.

Kitchener rescued 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 ordinary Sudanese.

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.

The Boer War

During the Second Boer War (18991902), Kitchener arrived with Lord Roberts and the massive British reinforcements of December 1899. Kitchener was made overall commander in November 1900 following Roberts's removal due to illness.

Following the defeat of the conventional Boer forces, and the failure of a reconciliatory peace treaty in February 1901 (due to British cabinet veto), which 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 the 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 influxes 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, 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 February 27, 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 Vereeninging 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, though, he won a peace of reconciliation which 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.

India and Egypt

Following this, Kitchener was made Commander-in-Chief in India (19021909), where he reconstructed the greatly disorganised Indian army, against the wishes of the bellicose viceroy Lord Curzon of Kedleston, who became a passionate and lifelong enemy. Kitchener was promoted to 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 he returned to Egypt as Viceroy of Egypt and the Sudan (19111914).

He was created Earl Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Broome in the County of Kent, on June 29, 1914. Unusually, provision was made for the title to be passed to his brother and nephew, since Kitchener was not married and had no children.

 recruitment poster featuring Kitchener
World War I recruitment poster featuring Kitchener

World War I

At the outset of World War I, Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith quickly appointed Lord Kitchener as 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 images of the Great War and arguably resulted in three million men enlisting.

In an effort to find a way to relieve pressure on the Western front, he proposed an invasion of Alexandretta 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 19151916. That failure, combined with the ammunition crisis, 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 alone.

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 June 4, 1916, he personally answered questions asked by politicians of his running of the war; they learned that immediately at the start of the war Kitchener had placed huge orders for munitions with American companies, who had delivered 480 of two million rifles ordered. He received the resounding vote of thanks from the 200+ MPs who had arrived to question him; Sir George Arthur who only a week before had introduced a failed vote of censure in the House of Commons personally seconded the motion.


At Scapa Flow, Kitchener embarked aboard the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire for his diplomatic mission to Russia. On June 5 1916, while en route to the Russian port of Arkhangelsk, HMS 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, was renamed Kitchener in his honour. Mount Kitchener in the Canadian Rockies was also named in his honour.

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.

See also

External links

Preceded by:
Sir Arthur Power Palmer
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by:
Sir O'Moore Creagh
Preceded by:
Sir John Eldon Gorst
British Consul-General in Egypt
Succeeded by:
Sir Milne Cheetham
Preceded by:
Herbert Henry Asquith
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by:
David Lloyd George

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