Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener

Summary

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener (24 June 1850 – 5 June 1916) was a British Field Marshal and Admiral, who gained fame for the colonial campaigns he led, and later for the important role he played in the early phases of the First World War, although he died halfway through it.

Kitchener became famous in 1898 for his victory at the Battle of Omdurman and securing control of Sudan, after which he was awarded the title “Lord Kitchener of Khartoum”; as Chief of Staff (1900-02) in the Second Boer War he played a major role in the conquest of the Boer Republic by Lord Roberts, and then succeeded Roberts as Commander – when the Boer struggle had turned to guerrilla warfare and the British forces confined the Boer civilians to concentration camps. His tenure as Commander (1902-09) of the Army of India was marred by his disagreement with another famous Anthyphalian, the Viceroy Lord Corzohn, who eventually resigned. Kitchener then returned to Egypt as Consul General (”de facto Governor).

In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War and a member of the Cabinet. He was one of the few who foresaw what would be a long war with anything but a certain chance of victory for Britain, organised the largest volunteer army the British Empire had ever seen and oversaw a significant increase in the production of materials for the war with Germany on the Western Front. His imposing image, which was captured on the recruitment posters that demanded Lord Kitchener wants you, is still recognisable but has been lampooned many times to this day. He was blamed for the Howitzer Crisis in the spring of 1915 – one of the events that led to the formation of the coalition government – and because of this he lost control of his war material and war strategy.

He died in 1916, when the warship carrying him to Russia for negotiations was sunk by a German mine.

After his death, Kitchener was accused of being a good subordinate but a bad commander. Lloyd George – who may have taken credit for some of Kitchener”s achievements in the field of war material – criticized him in his book War Memoirs. After his years of experience commanding relatively small forces during colonial campaigns, Kitchener was discredited for his secretiveness, his refusal to explain his actions to his colleagues, and his unwillingness to organize and allocate responsibilities.

However, after 1970, the opening of new archives allowed historians to restore Kitchener”s authority to some extent, with at least one reporting that his abilities steadily increased with each promotion. Some historians now praise his strategic thinking during the First World War, particularly his organisation of the munitions expansion network and his important role in the creation of the British Army of 1914-1915, which succeeded in delivering an army capable of meeting Britain”s commitments on the European Front.

Born in Ballylongford, a village near the town of Listawell in County Kerry, Ireland, Kitchener was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Horatio Kitchener (1805-1894) and Frances Ann Chevallier-Cole (d. 1864; daughter of the Reverend John Chevallier and his third wife, Elizabeth, née Cole). The family had five children in all (four sons, Henry, Herbert, Arthur and Walter, and a daughter, Frances, Herbert”s eldest). His father had just bought land in Ireland, participating in a land purchase incentive scheme following the recent Potato Famine. The year his mother died of tuberculosis, they had moved to Switzerland in an attempt to improve her condition; the young Kitchener studied there and at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. Francophile and anxious to see action, he joined a French Army hospital unit during the Franco-Prussian War. His father took him back to England when he contracted pneumonia after being lifted in a balloon to watch the Loire Army in action. He joined the Royal Engineers on 4 January 1871. His service in France had violated British neutrality and for this he was reprimanded by Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. He served in Palestine, Egypt and Cyprus as a geodesist, learned the Arabic language and prepared detailed topographical maps of these areas.His younger brother, Lieutenant-General Sir Walter Kitchener (1858-1912), who also followed the military profession, served as Governor of Bermuda from 1908 to 1912. It should be noted that all the male Kitchener brothers followed the military profession.

In 1874, at the age of 24, Kitchener was commissioned by the Palestine Exploration Foundation with an exploration-mapping of the Holy Land, replacing Charles Tyrwitt Drake, who had died of malaria. Kitchener, who was then an officer in the Royal Engineers, teamed up with his colleague Claude R. Conter of the Royal Engineers and between 1874 and 1877 they explored what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, returning only briefly to England in 1875 after an attack by locals in Safed, Galilee.

The Conder and Kitchener expedition came to be known as the Exploration of Western Palestine because it was largely confined to the area west of the Jordan River (Hodson 1997). The exploration collected data on the topography and topography of the area, as well as the local flora and fauna. The results of the exploration were published in a series of eight volumes, with Kitchener”s involvement extending to the first three volumes (Conder and Kitchener, 1881-1885). This exploration had a lasting impact on the Middle East for several reasons:

Kitchener was assigned to Cyprus when he was still a young and unheralded engineer officer. He arrived on the island in September 1878 (two months after the British conquest), coming from Alexandria and accompanying Esme Scott-Stevenson, wife of Andrew Scott-Stevenson, then commander of Kyrenia. Kitchener and a man named Hippersley had been commissioned to map Cyprus, the new British colony. Kitchener then carried the rank of lieutenant. However, disagreements with the first governor of Cyprus, Sir Garnet Woolsley, over how to map Cyprus delayed his work, which only resumed after Sir Garnet was replaced by Sir Robert Biddleff in June 1879. Kitchener”s work, for which he made thousands of drafts, took three years. So detailed was his mapping that he even noted building complexes of villages and small settlements and, of course, indications of their population. During these three years Kitchener visited the most remote corner of Cyprus. He finally completed a detailed map of Cyprus in 1883, but it was not published until 1885. While serving in Cyprus, Kitchener carried the title of director of Survey and head of the Land Registry Office. He also recorded the names and co-ownership titles of the various estates and houses on behalf of the reorganised English Land Registry and then mapped them in detail. Thus Kitchener is considered to this day as the father of the Cyprus Land Registry.

His presence and activity had beneficial consequences, as he worked in the triangulation of the island, while later (March 1880) he took over the direction of the Department of Surveying, until his resignation to serve in Egypt in February 1883. He was also the first to propose the creation of ”reservoirs” in the Troodos valleys to solve the irrigation problem of Cyprus in order to prevent the loss of the water from the torrents.

Kitchener was also interested in archaeology, although we do not know how deep his knowledge in this field was. In Cyprus, however, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Cyprus Museum and served as its first curator. He left Cyprus in February 1883. He died on 5 June 1916, either from the explosion of a German mine on the ship he was on, or from subsequent drowning. His body was never found.

The house in which Kitchener lived was located in the walled old city of Nicosia, at 1 Haidar Pasha Street.On 24 June 1927 (the 77th anniversary of his birth) the then Governor of Cyprus, Sir Ronald Storrs, unveiled a commemorative plaque in this house. In addition, the Government of the Republic of Cyprus honoured his memory with a commemorative stamp issued in October 1979.

Kitchener later served as vice-consul in Anatolia and in 1883 as a British captain with the rank of Major in the Turkish Army during the occupation of Egypt. Egypt had recently become a puppet state of Britain, although in theory it was still under the rule of the Hegibe (Egyptian monarch, viceroy of the Ottomans) and the nominal overlord of the Ottoman Sultan. In 1884 Kitchener was adjutant to Gordon”s failed rescue campaign in Sudan. According to oral testimony by William Ford, who was his servant, Kitchener was appreciated by his men for his leadership and fair treatment of his subordinates, and with his good knowledge of Arabic, Kitchener was able to interact with the local populations. At that time his fiancée and probably the only woman he ever loved, Hermione Baker, daughter of Valentine Baker Pasha, died of typhoid fever in Cairo. So he never had any children, but raised his young niece Bertha Chevallier-Boutelle, daughter of his first cousin, Sir Francis Hepburn de Chevallier-Boutelle.

Major Kitchener served as an intelligence officer in the Nile Campaign in 1884-85. He was present at Abu Klea. In the late 1880s, carrying the rank of Honorary Colonel, he was Governor of the Red Sea Territories (which at that time was practically little more than the port of Swakene). He was seriously wounded in the jaw during a skirmish and recovered in England. He also took part in the Battle of Toschi (1889). Having become sirdar (commander-in-chief) of the Egyptian Army in 1892 – with the rank of brigadier-general and then major-general in the British Army – he led the Anglo-Egyptian forces to the headwaters of the Nile in 1896, built a railway to transport materials and personnel, and defeated the Sudanese at the Battle of Omdurman on 2 September 1898, near Khartoum. Kitchener”s second tour of duty in Sudan (1886-1899) brought him nationwide fame and he was awarded the titles of Adjutant to Queen Victoria and Brigadier Knight of the Order of the Bath. However, this campaign would also make known his toughness, an element of his tactics that became well known after the Boer War. After his victory at the Battle of Omdurman, he ordered the exhumation and scattering of the Mahdi”s remains. It is also very likely that Kitchener averted a war between the United Kingdom and France when he fiercely but non-violently confronted the French military expedition under Major Marchant, which intended to claim Fashoda, in the episode that came to be known as the Fashoda Episode.

He was awarded the title of “Baron Kitchener” of Khartoum and Aspal of Suffolk County on 31 October 1898 as a commemoration of his victory and began a programme to restore orderly administration in Sudan. The programme had a solid foundation and was based on the education at Gordon College, not only of the children of the local elite, but also of children of any social class and region of Sudan.

He ordered the reconstruction of Khartoum”s mosques, imposed reforms that recognised Friday – a holy day for Muslims – as an official day of rest, and ensured religious tolerance for all Sudanese citizens. He tried to prevent evangelist missions from proselytising to Muslims.

Kitchener rescued a substantial fund from charity, which had ended up in the treasuries of the Egyptian hedibis and used it to improve the lives of ordinary Sudanese.

He also reformed the laws on debts, prohibiting moneylenders from acquiring all the assets of poor peasants, guaranteeing them at least 5 acres of arable land and the necessary tools. In 1899, in recognition of his services, Kitchener was granted a small island in the Nile at Aswan; the island was renamed Kitchener”s Island in his honor.

During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), Kitchener arrived in South Africa in December 1899 with Lord Roberts and the massive British reinforcements on board the steamer Danodar Castle. Although he officially held the title of Chief of Staff, in practice he was a lieutenant commander and in February 1900 he ordered a frontal assault during the Battle of Paardeberg, which was criticised by many.

After the defeat of the Boer regulars, Kitchener succeeded Roberts in command of the British force in November 1900. A conciliatory peace agreement that Kitchener had negotiated with the Boer leaders failed in 1901, due to a veto by the British government”s cabinet. As a consequence of this failure, Kitchener continued and extended Roberts” successful strategy of subduing the Boer commandos, which included the scorched earth and concentration camp policy.

The Treaty of Ferraeniging was signed in 1902 after six months of tension. During this period Kitchener had to deal not only with Sir Alfred Milner, Governor of the Cape Colony, but also with the British government. Milner was a hardline conservative who wanted to forcibly exterminate the African inhabitants of South Africa (the Boers), and both he and the British government wanted a humiliating peace treaty to ensure their victory; Kitchener wanted a more generous compromise peace treaty, which would recognise specific rights for the Afrikaners and promise a self-governing regime for the future. Also, although he knew that the British government would reject it, he supported a peace treaty proposed by Louis Botha and the other Boer leaders, in which the Republic of South Africa and the Free State of Orange would retain their independence, undertaking to sign a treaty of alliance with the United Kingdom and to make major concessions to it. These included equal rights for Dutch colonists with British colonists, voting rights for Whitlanders (the non-Dutch inhabitants of South Africa) and a railway and customs union with the Cape Colony and Natal. The British cabinet rejected the offer. In the end, however, the British government decided that the war was dangerously prolonged and backed Kitchener over Milner. Louis Botha, the Boer leader with whom Kitchener negotiated the failed peace treaty in 1901, became the first prime minister of the independent South African Union in 1910. The treaty also agreed to the payment of reparations after the end of hostilities. Six days later Kitchener, who had been promoted from the rank of major-general to that of honorary general during the war, was created Viscount Kitchener, of Khartoum and Baal in the Transvaal Colony and Aspall in the County of Suffolk.

The Court Martial of Brayker Morand

In the Brayker Morand case, several Australian soldiers were arrested and tried by court martial for the summary execution of Boer prisoners, as well as for the murder of a German missionary who was considered friendly to the Boers, carrying out alleged orders approved by Kitchener himself. The famous horseman and popular poet Harry “Brayker” Morand and Lieutenant Peter Hancock were found guilty, sentenced to death and shot at Petersburg on 27 February 1902. The decision to execute them was personally signed by Kitchener. A third soldier, Lieutenant George Wheaton, was imprisoned for 28 months.

After that Kitchener was appointed Commander General of the Indian Army (1902-1909) – his term of office was extended by two years – where he reorganised the Indian Army. While many of his reforms were supported by the Viceroy Lord Corzón, who had initially lobbied for Kitchener”s appointment to the post, the two men eventually came into conflict over the issue of army command. While subsequent events eventually vindicated Corzohn in terms of Kitchener”s attempt to concentrate all military decision-making powers in his person, the intrigues of the Military Commander General earned him the unqualified support of London, and the Viceroy was forced to resign his post.

Kitchener oversaw the 1905 Rawalpindi Parade, which was held to commemorate the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to India. Later, while still in India, he broke his leg in a riding accident, which left him with a slight limp for the rest of his life. Kitchener was promoted to the highest military rank, that of Field Marshal, in 1910 and toured the world. Kitchener hoped for the title of Regent of India, but the Minister of Indian Affairs, John Morley, did not approve of the idea and hoped to send him to Malta as Commander of the British Forces in the Mediterranean, going so far as to announce Kitchener”s appointment to the press. Kitchener exerted great pressure on the Regency, returning to London to influence members of the cabinet and the dying King Edward VII, from whom, on receiving his baton, he received permission to refuse the post in Malta. Morley, however, was unconvinced. This was probably due to the opinion that Kitchener belonged to the Tories (there was a Liberal government at the time), or to some underground smear campaign launched by Lord Corzohn, but the main reason was that Morley, who was a Gladstonian and therefore wary of imperialism, thought it inconvenient, after the recent grant of limited self-government to India in 1909, that the position of Regent should be occupied by a serving military man. As a consequence of this, no serving military officer was appointed to the post until Archibald Wavell in 1943. Prime Minister Henry Asquith liked Kitchener, but was unwilling to confront Morley, who threatened to resign, so finally Kitchener”s proposal for the post of Regent of India was finally rejected outright in 1911.

Kitchener then returned to Egypt as Britain”s Consul General to Egypt and Sudan, in place of Lord Cromer (1911-1914 during the official reign of Abbas Hilmi II, Hegira of Egypt, Ruler of Nubia, Sudan, Kordofan and Darfur).

Kitchener was created Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and Broome in Kent County on 29 June 1914. The odd thing was that provision was made for the title to be passed on to his brother or nephew, as Kitchener was unmarried and had no children. He was eventually succeeded by his elder brother, retired Colonel Henry Kitchener (1846-1937), 2nd Earl of Kitchener.

1914

With the outbreak of the First World War, British Prime Minister Henry Asquith swiftly appointed Lord Kitchener as Minister of War. The post was briefly held by Asquith himself, following the resignation of Colonel Seeley in early 1914, a consequence of the Kurakh Incident. At that time Kitchener was briefly on leave in Britain when war was declared. Contrary to the views of the Cabinet, Kitchener correctly predicted that it would be a long war that would last at least three years, require huge armies to defeat Germany, and inflict huge casualties before it was over. Kitchener had stated that this conflict would destroy human resources “down to the last million.”

Thus began a massive recruitment campaign, which soon featured a distinctive poster of Kitchener taken from the cover of a magazine. It is likely that it prompted many young men to enlist and proved to be one of the most distinctive images of this war, having been copied and parodied many times thereafter.

Secretary of the Cabinet Maurice Hankey wrote of Kitchener: “The great and astonishing fact is that within 18 months of the beginning of the war, which found a people relying solely on sea power and virtually with no military appearance, Kitchener conceived and implemented a national army in every way equipped to stand alone against the armies of the greatest military power the world had ever seen.”

1915

In January 1915 Field Marshal Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, with the agreement of other senior commanders (e.g. General Sir Douglas Hague), called for the New Army to be incorporated into the existing divisions as simple battalions rather than being formed into new divisions. French appealed to Prime Minister Asquith, Kitchener”s superior, but Asquith refused to override Kitchener. This was another reason for the deterioration in relations between French and Kitchener, who had gone to France in September 1914, during the Battle of the Marne, to order the French to take offensive action. However, French was under the impression that the war would be over by the summer, before the deployment of the New Army divisions, as Germany had recently deployed some of its divisions on the eastern front. This was not the case and the New Army divisions began to deploy from the Battle of Loos in September 1915.

Kitchener warned the French in January 1915 that the Western Front was a besieged line that could not be breached, although this was the subject of Cabinet discussions about amphibious landings on the Baltic or North Sea coasts or in Turkey. In an attempt to find a way to relieve pressure on the Western Front, Kitchener proposed an invasion of Alexandretta with Australian and New Zealand troops(ANZAC, the New British Army and troops from India. 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. However, he was eventually persuaded to support Winston Churchill”s disastrous 1915-1916 Gallipoli campaign. (Churchill”s responsibility for the failure of this campaign is disputed; for more information see David Fromkin”s The Peace That Would Stop All Peace). This failure, coupled with the 1915 shell crisis – under the weight of the press attack orchestrated by Sir John French – dealt a heavy blow to Kitchener”s political prestige; Kitchener was so popular with the public that Asquith also used him in the new coalition government, but responsibility for the munitions was assigned to a new ministry under David Lloyd George.

The official story later accepted that Kitchener hoped to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces. Liddell Hart suggested that this was the reason he allowed himself to be persuaded by Joffre to order the attack on Loos in September 1915, an attack which neither French nor Hague (then commanding the British 1st Army) supported.

Kitchener was sceptical about the usefulness of the tank and for this reason, it was developed under the auspices of the Admiralty and Winston Churchill.

With the Russians having been driven out of Poland, Kitchener felt that the chances of German troops moving west and invading Britain were increasing, so he informed the War Council (14 May) that he did not intend to send the New Army to Europe. At the same time he telegraphed (16 May) to the French that he would not send any more reinforcements to France unless it was clear that the German line could be broken. However, at the end of May he sent two divisions, more to please Joffre than because he believed that some breakthrough of the front could be achieved. He had intended to retain the New Army to achieve a decisive blow in 1916-1917, but by the summer of 1915 he had realised that the high casualties and the obligation he had incurred to France could not be ignored. “Unfortunately we must conduct the war as we must and not as we like,” as he told the Dardanelles Committee on 20 August 1915.

In late 1915, Kitchener was sent to inspect the Gallipoli Front and the Middle East in the hope that he could be persuaded to remain in the area as commander. Douglas Hague – who at the time was involved in machinations to appoint Robertson as Chief of the Imperial General Staff – recommended Kitchener”s appointment as Regent of India (“where trouble was brewing”), but not in the Middle East, where his strong personality would have led to attracting both publicity and resources to his person. At the end of 1915, the new Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson, took up the post on the condition that he would talk to the Cabinet on behalf of the army on matters of strategy, leaving Kitchener in charge of manpower and recruitment. While Kitchener hoped to keep his armies in reserve in order to deliver the coup de grace to Germany when all other nations had been exhausted, Robertson was wary of creating fronts in the Balkans and the Near East and so launched major British attacks against the Germans on the Western Front – the first of which was that of the Somme in 1916.

1916

In early 1916, Kitchener visited Douglas Hague who had just been posted as Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Kitchener had played a major role in the removal of Hague”s predecessor, Sir John French, with whom he had had a bad relationship. Hague”s views may have differed from those of Kitchener and the importance he attached to the Mediterranean effort, placing importance on having a strong General Staff in London, but he considered Kitchener a military voice that could counter the madness of the civilian population, as did Churchill. However, he thought Kitchener was ”stuck, tired and very old” and thought it was sad that ”his spirit was losing its cohesion” as the moment for a decisive victory on the Western Front approached (at least as Hague and Robertson saw it). Kitchener was sceptical about Hague”s plan for a decisive victory in 1916 and preferred to carry out smaller attacks of a purely attritional nature to wear down the enemy, but he sided with Robertson in telling the Cabinet that the planned Anglo-French attack on the Somme should go ahead.

Kitchener was under pressure from French Prime Minister Aristide Brienne (19 March 1916) for an offensive on the Western Front that would help relieve the German attack on Verdun.The French had refused to transfer troops from Thessaloniki, which Kitchener believed was intended to increase French power in the Mediterranean.

On June 2, 1916, Kitchener personally answered questions posed by politicians about his direction of the war effort; early in the hostilities, Kitchener had ordered 2 million rifles from various U.S. arms manufacturers. Only 480 of these weapons had arrived in the UK by 4 June 1916. The number of shells received was equally disappointing. Kitchener explained his efforts to secure alternative sources of material. He received a vote of approval and the thanks of 200 Members of Parliament who attended to ask questions, both for his sincerity and for his efforts to preserve the soldiers” equipment; Sir Ivor Herbert, who only a week before had recommended a vote of censure of Kitchener”s leadership at the War Office, personally supported the move.

Sources

  1. Χέρμπερτ Κίτσενερ, 1ος κόμης Κίτσενερ
  2. Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener