Your country wants you!

Horatio Herbert Kitchener was born on 24th June, 1850 to Henry Horatio Kitchener in Crotter House in Listowel, Co. Kerry, Eire. His father was a soldier in the army and bought the Crotter House Farm with his retirement funds.

In their early teens, Herbert Kitchener and his brother were sent to a French school in Geneva, Switzerland, where they enjoyed a thorough schooling. They returned to London in order to have their education finished by an army instructor. At the age of 18, he entered the Royal Military Academy but became bored by the mundane life there. Two years later he visited his father (who had since relocated to France and remarried) and was exposed to the French solider singing heroic songs before going into battle and was smitten by it all, he offered his services to the French army of the Loire and fought several battles with them.

He applied for and received a commission into the Royal Engineers in 1871, although it became very boring for Kitchener, so he applied for a position in Palestine, surveying uncharted land. Following his duties in Palestine (1874-78) and Cyprus (1878-82) he was attached to the Egyptian army in 1883, where he helped to train the native people. Here he established an excellent rail network and became renowned for his sound economics. Kitchener stayed in Egypt for nearly a quarter of a century and by 1892 he had become Commander in Chief of the Egyptian army. He took part in the unsuccessful operation to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum in 1894-85.

Kitchener was also appointed Governor General of Eastern Sudan (the British Red Sea territories) in 1886, a position he held until 1888, in which he helped to turn back the last Mahdist invasion of Egypt in 1889.

He was made commander of the Egyptian army in 1892, when he began the reconquest of Sudan in 1896, having reorganised the army in the interim. Because of his excellence in organisation and training of the local forces, he was finally able to reoccupy the city of Khartoum from the separatist Sudanese forces of al-Mahdi in 1898, after a two year battle, a feat which was talked about for many years to follow (mainly because he was victorious where others had failed). Because of his accomplishment, he was made Baron Kitchener Of Khartoum And Of Aspall, acquiring the nickname of ‘Kitchener of Khartoum’, or ‘K of K’ for short. He had been granted the title Lord Kitchener by which we know him today.

He was appointed chief of staff to Lord Roberts during the Boer War in 1900. His mathematically adept mind, and renowned powers of organisation, meant that whatever job he was asked to do was completed in quick time, further enhancing his already fearsome reputation. Here he reorganised transport, led an (unsuccessful) attack on Paardeberg and suppressed the Boer revolt near Prieska.

When Lord Roberts returned to England at the end of 1900, he left Kitchener behind to mop up continued guerrilla resistance, a task which took until 1902 and for which he was much criticised by politicians such as David Lloyd George and Charles Trevelyan. He fought the guerrillas by burning farms and by herding women and children into disease-ridden concentration camps; ruthless measures, perhaps, but they did help weaken resistance and bring about a British victory.

"I must say I like having the whole thing cut-and-dried and worked out."
- Kitchener during the Boer War.

After the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed in 1902, Kitchener was created Viscount Kitchener Of Khartoum, Of The Vaal, And Of Aspall and sent to India as Commander in Chief of the British forces situated there, where it was enough for the troops to know that he was in the country - their work rate increased as they knew that Kitchener would deem failure in any project unacceptable. He remained in the position until 1909, when he was made Field Marshal.

Kitchener served as Consul General to Egypt from 1911-14, being made an earl in 1914. However, with the outbreak of the World War I he was in England on leave, on August 6th, when Herbert Asquith asked him to be Secretary of State for War, a position which he was reluctant to accept. His duties involved the administration of all the British forces, something which his efficient mind was well suited to. When the troops were efficiently mobilised, generally the people of the country became confident, knowing that such a great commander was overseeing their war effort.

Kitchener foresaw a war lasting several years, rather than months, and planned accordingly, although being almost alone in this belief amongst his collegues. He was used on the recruiting poster for British soldiers. His handlebar moustaches, steely gaze and pointing finger, were all instrumental in the recruitment of the ‘New Army’. The most famous recruitment poster in history depicted Kitchener with finger outstretched: "Your country wants you!". Over 3,000,000 men volunteered in the first two years of the war, vastly expanding the army from 20 to 70 divisions. Unfortunately, many of this second wave of young recruits were killed in gruesome battles, such as that of The Somme and Passchendaele.

"He is not a great man. He is a great poster."
- Herbert Asquith

Kitchener effectively oversaw war strategy for the first year and a half of the war; after the Mons battle in 1914 he travelled to Ypres to stiffen the weakening resolve of Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

Unfortunately his relations with the rest of the war cabinet were strained. Kitchener was difficult to work with, finding it hard to develop close working relationships with colleagues. By the end of 1915 he was convinced of the need for military conscription, but never publicly advocated it, deferring to Prime Minister Asquith's belief that it was not yet politically practicable; compulsary military service was eventually introduced by Kitchener in 1916.

Following an attack by Lord Northcliffe's newspapers in 1915 over a shortage of shells, responsibility for munitions was taken from him; later in the same year he was stripped of control over strategy.

"Lord Kitchener has starved the army in France of high-explosive shells.
The admitted fact is that Lord Kitchener ordered the wrong kind of shell -
the same kind of shell which he used largely against the Boers in 1900.
He persisted in sending shrapnel - a useless weapon in trench warfare.
He was warned repeatedly that the kind of shell required was a violently
explosive bomb which would dynamite its way through the German trenches
and entanglements and enable our brave men to advance in safety.
This kind of shell our poor soldiers have had has caused the death of thousands of them."
- Lord Northcliffe, Daily Mail (21st May, 1915)

Kitchener was also involved with the disastrous Dardanelles (at Gallipoli) campaign (albeit under considerable pressure from Winston Churchill), by the time Kitchener withdrew the troops from the the area in January, 1916, Allied casualties totalled over 250,000 men.

This campaign tarnished Kitchener's reputation as a military strategist, and although he offered to resign from the cabinet, his overwhelming popularity in the country at large made the government fearful of the consequences of allowing him to leave the cabinet. He eventually took over the job of improving the work rate of Britain’s industries. He didn’t like the job; to him it had little to do with the actual war. Inevitably, he fell out with many of his colleagues – partly because he was used to being solely in charge of operations.

Sent on a mission to Russia in June 1916 to encourage continued Russian resistance to Germany, Kitchener's ship, the H.M.S. Hampshire struck a German mine off the Orkney Islands and sank; Kitchener was drowned on 5 June 1916.

"We have to make war as we must and not as we would like to."
The Field Marshal on the Gallipoli campaign.

Sources :