by Dr Anne Samson
As the following talk will highlight, there are aspects of Kitchener's life which have been fleetingly glanced over in previous biographies, many of which came out shortly after his death in 1916. Most of his forty biographers treat him as British, which technically he was having been born to British parents. However, his upbringing and early adult years were informed by experiences outside of England. These helped create and form this man who everyone in Britain looked towards to see them through the conflict which was to become known as the Great War or World War One.
Despite the unanimous vote of confidence in Kitchener at the outbreak of war, by mid-1915 he was being criticised and sidelined by his and when he died unexpectedly on 6 June 1916, he became the scapegoat of many of the ills in Britain's management of the war - purely as he could not defend himself. This was the for the general man on the street and the soldier in the trench of working-class stock, the demise of Kitchener was a huge shock and this is evinced in the outpouring of biographies which soon flooded the market -10 in 1916 and 1917 in three languages.
For all his faults, and he had a few, Kitchener was regarded as the best military man available to steer the Empire through the troubled times which began in August 1914 and it is hoped that this paper will go some way to demonstrate this.
Kitchener was born near County Listowell, on 24 June 1850, the third of five children and was named after his father's hero, Lord Horatio Nelson. His childhood years were spent in Ireland and Switzerland where he was initially homeschooled. The move to Switzerland in 1863 was the result of his mother's ill-health, but it did not help as she died in 1864 when Kitchener was 14 years old. Soon after, his father remarried and moved to New Zealand, leaving Kitchener, his two brothers and sister at school in Switzerland, his fifth sibling was a step-sister born in New Zealand.
As with all children, these early years were to influence Kitchener later. Kitchener was used to the 'quirky' - his father did not believe in comfortable living and used only newspapers to keep himself warm at night during winter - in Ireland! Self-regulation was encouraged with the children meting out punishment on each other for perceived and real injustices. There is a story of Kitchener's sister pinning him down spread-eagled for a day because he had teased her - he was tied to croquet rings.
On arrival at boarding school, the young Kitcheners discovered that for all their home schooling, they were not well-versed in the requirements of the formal education system and curriculum and had quite a bit of ca[t]ching up to do. Perseverance and determination enabled them to do so - the family motto was 'thorough' and Kitchener seemed to take this to heart.
Having completed his schooling, Kitchener determined to follow in his father's footsteps and join the Army - his two brothers did likewise. Kitchener, though, was not an outstanding student, coming 28/56 in the Chelsea examination for entry to Woolwich Academy. Here he trained as an engineer, mathematics being one of his strong subjects.Whilst waiting for his first appointment, Kitchener visited his father who was then living in Northet-n France. His visit coincided with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the young soldier could not resist the opportunity of seeing the action for himself. He, and a friend Henry Dawson, enlisted in the French Army, joining General Chanzy's army at Loire where he served as an ambulance-man. his time there, he went up in a hot-air balloon and fell ill- it is not clear whether Kitchener contracted pneumonia whilst on his excursion or whether he fell ill afterwards, but it took him a year to recover. On return to the UK, he was severely chastised by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Cambridge, for almost causing an international incident which could have resulted in Britain joining the European conflict. Afterwards, the Duke informed the young Kitchener that he would have done exactly the same thing had he had the opportunity. Kitchener's time in France is said to have instilled in turn the need for military planning and he eventually received his campaign medal in 1913.
He then spent time at Chatham studying photography, ballooning, surveying, submarine mining and fortifications.
In 1873, Kitchener served as ADC to Brigadier-General Richard Greaves where he attended manoeuvres in Austria. When Greaves fell ill, Kitchener stepped in to attend dinners with the Archduke Frans Joseph in Vienna. Following he took himself off to Hanover to improve his German and to study von Moltke's military reforms of the German Army. It is reported that he remained in contact with the Kaiser before the outbreak of war in 1914.
This was followed by 18 months at Aldershot where he was responsible for training troops in field telegraphy.
Military action remained scarce and so Kitchener accepted a posting with the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1874 to map the territory. He eventually succeeded Claude Condor when the latter could not return due to poor health. During this time, Kitchener learnt Arabic and following some time in Cyprus mapping that territory and as vice-consul of Anatolia, he went to Egypt where he was appointed as second in command to lieutenant-Colonel Taylor of the 19th Hussars. Here he formed and trained the Egyptian cavalry which was to cause conflict later as he was an engineer who had become a cavalryman - he was an outsider and should not have been as successful as what he was.
During his breaks from mapping, Kitchener, rather than return to England, took the opportunity to travel to Bulgaria to see how Turkey was progressing in the Russo-Turkish war. This absence has led Smithers to note that at the age of 32, 'to his contemporaries, [Kitchener] was almost unknown, a mere name in the Army List, and no opportunity to distinguish himself in any of the colonial campaigns of the period had come his way. Against that he had some unusual credentials. He had seen a little of great European Armies at war, he was a considerable linguist, was accustomed to working on his own and to living amongst people of other races. He was strong and tough, had had his courage tested and was expert with both horse and camel.
During his time in Cyprus, Kitchener took leave to travel to Egypt where he undertook intelligence work dressed as an Egyptian Arab, even allowing himself to be taken prisoner to obtain information and emotionlessly watched a fellow spy be tortured to death when found out - to save himself. He had also, during one of his forays ended up travelling 200km across the desert which is where he developed a squint. He had refused to wear dark glasses as this would have given away his disguise. This squint was to cause some of his cabinet colleagues to distrust him as he could not look at them squarely. Looks were clearly as important then, as they are now.
In 1885, Kitchener was appointed to the Zanzibar Boundary Commission to determine where the Sultan's territory ended and how the mainland should be divided between Britain and Germany (today's Kenya and Tanzania). After his return from this trip, his first to sub-Sahara Africa, Kitchener was appointed Governor-General of the Red Sea littoral and Commandant of Suakin where his task was to regulate trade through the Red Sea. This was his first posting to a position of command, and not surprisingly, he made mistakes. However, his perseverance and what is known as military 'good luck' saw him through - his victory, barely gained, over Osman Digna in effect wiping out all his errors - at least for the British. In 1887, whilst Governor General, he was severely wounded in the face by a bullet which resulted in him returning to England for treatment and recuperation.
He was a little better known for his escapades, and won a great supporter when, in England recuperating, he was appointed as an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. On 11 June, 1888, Kitchener was gazetted as a Colonel and arrived in Egypt in December of that year when General Sir Francis Grenfell gave him command of the 1st Brigade Soudanese. From 1890 to 1891, Kitchener was commanding the Egyptian Police and in 1892, he became Sirdar or Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Army following Grenfell's resignation. During his time as Sirdar, Kitchener defeated the Dervishes, finally avenging Gordon's death after a wait of ten years. Kitchener had been within reach of Khartoum when Gordon was killed, however, despite informing the British authorities of the situation through communications he'd had with Gordon, he was forbidden to go to his rescue. He had hardly completed the campaign when he received instructions to proceed to Fashoda to ensure Britain's supremacy over that of France. Kitchener's knowledge of French clearly aided him in his diplomatic mission.
On his return to Cairo, in December 1899, Kitchener received instructions to proceed to South Africa where he would be second to Lord Roberts in Britain's struggle against the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Kitchener had met with Roberts in Curragh to lay the ground for an eventual appointment, and the two men arrived in Cape Town on 10 January 1900 having met up in Gibraltar. Believing the Boers to be defeated as the Boer capitals had been captured, Roberts left in November and Kitchener assumed complete command of the war, seeing it through to its end in 1901 when he played an instrumental role in bringing about peace. On Roberts' return to Britain, he took on the War Office to try and have troops returned to South Africa. However, the damage had been done and Kitchener had to constantly justify his need for additional troops and supplies. By the time Roberts left South Africa, the war had already cost £80million, more than the four years of campaigning in East Africa in 1914.
Kitchener's appointment appears to have been controversial- both then and now. As Royle pointed out, Kitchener was a relatively unknown quantity to his fellow soldiers, although by 1900 he was better known for his avenging of Gordon's death. His appointment as Roberts' second in command meant that he was appointed over 43 others who quite rightly would be a bit put out by this 'young pup' issuing orders. Kitchener was therefore given special rank to assist with his authority, however, men such as Sir John French were technically his superior. When Roberts left, Kitchener was left without a second as the position of CGS or Chief of the General Staff had not yet been formalised - this was only to happen during World War One and then only really when Wully Robertson was appointed as CIGS, Chief of the IMperial General Staff, in December 1915. What this meant during the Boer War was that Kitchener had no sounding board with a similar level of experience to his own, his ADC's and assistants being younger.
As many of you are aware, Kitchener made some mistakes whilst in command in South Africa. I'm not going to go into these, but to say that by all accounts the systems were not in place to support a war such as that being fought against the Boers - even Roberts had gone against War Office accepted practice as it was impractical. That the systems were unsuitable became apparent after the war when the army was completely revamped following an enquiry to which Kitchener contributed.
In 1901, he returned to England, from where he proceeded to India as Commander-in-Chief of that Army. He remained in india without a break until September 1909 to tour Australia and New Zealand where he reviewed their military services and proffered suggestions for improvement. En route, he stopped in Japan and China to witness manoeuvres there. A visit to the USA was also undertaken and in response to a journalist's question commented that one city had the most attractive women he'd seen. Following a short stay in England, he returned to Egypt, this time as British Agent following Sir Eldon Gorst's death and after he had commanded the coronation forces on 22 June 1911 as requested by the king.
Whilst on leave in England in 1914, the First World War broke out and after some persuasion, Kitchener finally accepted the post as Secretary of State for War. He remained in this position until his untimely death on 6 June 1916 when the ship he was on, HMS Hampshire, was sunk. In his 64 years, only eleven, and those inconsecutive, were spent in England. By 1919, Kitchener had been the only Field Marshal to die at the hand of the enemy. 
This has been a brief overview of Kitchener's life, with some quite significant events glossed over. Rather than look at these in a little more detail, I want to rather spend time on aspects of Kitchener's life which are not well known and which might well provide some insight into the actions he took and why he was regarded with the esteem he was.
As you may have already ascertained, Kitchener was a linguist. He was fluent in English, French, German and Arabic. He was probably also competent in Hindustani given the comment by colleagues. On board ship to India, it was noted that Kitchener spent 'four hours a day studying Hindi', whilst Frank Maxwell, his ADC in South Africa noted that towards the end of the war, Kitchener was engaged in learning Hindustani as he was hoping to get a posting to India.
Together with his learning of languages, Kitchener developed a sensitivity to other cultures. His brother recalls visiting him in London on one of his rare occasions, only to find him sitting crosslegged on the floor as he had learnt in Kitchener had found the company of Egyptians far more engaging than that of his fellow officers at the time which led to him being ostracised by his colleagues. He had to tread carefully though when he became friends with Nubar Pasha, the Egptian Prime Minister, who was mistrusted by the Resident Agent who could influence Kitchener's future. Kitchener's awareness of the Egyptian cultural elements enabled him to resolve a number of conflicts in years to come when he initiated reforms to improve the lot of the peasant farmer,  and had clearly helped in his intelligence work.
When he was commander of the Egyptian police, Kitchener would only sanction replacement uniforms when the existing set was in rags, and even then the replacement would not be much better. His force, known for its rags was looked at in disgrace, however, Kitchener knew that if his men were given new uniforms, they would be sold at the nearest market. He had spent enough time in the deserts and in the markets to know his people.
His time in France and Switzerland, both up and in the 1870s French army, enabled him to understand how the French military worked. This sensitivity too, played a part, when at the end of the Boer war, Kitchener entered into discussions with Botha and Smuts regarding an armistice and the peace discussions. Where Lord Milner, the High Commissioner wanted to impose a harsh peace, Kitchener fought to let the Boers retain some dignity and it was only due to his work behind the scenes which brought about the peace in 1901. Twenty years. after Kitchener's death, Smuts recalled the one meeting he had with Kitchener and how he had brought about the peace. Kitchener ensured the Boers had safe passage to discuss the situation and assisted them as he could. His introduction of the concentration camps had actually been an attempt to protect Boer women and children, whilst also keeping them from assisting their men folk. Botha was grateful and wrote to Kitchener thanking him for ensuring their safety. However, having not spent much time amongst the Boers, he mistakenly allowed them to organise their own camp administration and sanitary arrangements. Not being used to living in such close proximity, the outcome was the horror we know about. The camps were also affected by the general supply problems Kitchener was having to deal with - his soldiers were suffering as much from a lack of supplies as were the camps.
Similarly, during his time in India, he was able to bring about reforms through his understanding of the culture and past, despite this bringing him into conflict with the Viceroy, Lord Curzon.
Closely linked with this, Kitchener had a strong religious faith. He had developed this when working with Claude Condor who was studying Hebrew as part of his work on mapping Palestine. Both Condor and Kitchener through their studies became interested in Anglo-Catholicism.  He was also to become District Grand Master of the Masons whilst in India and opened the Masonic Temple at Khartoum on 7 January 1913. Kitchener's idea of faith was such that he was able to relate to his Hindu and Islamic subjects without offence. It was his knowledge of the Mahdi's religion that enabled him to explain his actions satisfactorily to Queen Victoria who expressed her concern at the treatment meted out on his grave when Kitchener entered Khartoum.
At heart, he was a sensitive fellow. He grew orchids, winning a competition for the 'best display of Dendrobium Orchis at the Orchid and floral Exhibition, Victoria Nursery, Calcutta'.  When close friends and colleagues died, he was known to withdraw and on occasion shed a tear. Kitchener had learnt not to show emotion as a child and so, only those close to him were privy to this expression of sorrow. He would often withdraw, sometimes for days and it's recorded that he missed five meals after the capture of Lord Methuen at Tweebosch, during the Boer War, he was so upset.
He had a knack of picking prize porcelain and other antiques as well as renovating buildings to accommodate his acquisitions, particularly following his appointment to India. In fact, he was known on occasion to tell a host what gift would be most appropriate for his collection and antique dealers would close their shops when he was around as he would often purchase their best items for less than what had initially been paid for them.
His sensitivity extended to his men. In reforming the military in India, Kitchener introduced the idea that officers had to put their men first. His fundamental principle was to 'treat your men as you would like to be treated' with instructions going out that officers were not to eat until their men had done so and to ensure accommodation for rank and file was sorted before they looked to their own. He took great care in writing out instructions to the Indian officers setting out exactly what he wanted them to do and how they were to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases. This format was again followed during the First World War when he wrote to the rank and file about the behaviour expected of a soldier.
Warner tells a story of Kitchener's bodyguard during the Anglo-Boer War suffering from scurvy and sores as Kitchener had not shown any interest in their welfare. However, he also goes onto note that Kitchener possibly had little respect for them as a fighting force given their behaviour in action. Perhaps this experience influenced the guidance he issued to his Indian officers - he did not want a repeat performance.
Kitchener as a sensitive person is quite the opposite view of the man who was seen as being detached, hard and on occasion ruthless. He is recorded as having approved 51 executions by the time he was 51 and many a soldier and officer had suffered a tongue lashing for incompetence. He was also known to use forced labour to ensure he achieved targets within budget. This led to a mutiny in Omdurman when he left there.  However, he would quite often win the admiration and respect of his men when he would visit and join in - this was specifically commented on when the railway line being built from Wadi Haifa to Abu Hamed was washed away - within a week the work was back on target, Kitchener having mucked in with a shovel. He further earned respect from the men as he was one of the few officers who had come through the ranks, so to speak. He came in as a lieutenant due to his time in Woolwich but had not purchased a commission as he could not afford to.
If he trusted someone, they were given complete freedom - men such as Archibald Hunter, William Birdwood and Ian Hamilton give testimony to this, as did Wully Robertson who was appointed his CIGS during the First World War. His loyalty and trust extended to his brothers, both of whom he appointed to significant roles under his command. His younger brother, Walter, was given command of a camel corps during one of his desert campaigns as well as during the Boer War, whilst his older brother, Henry, was sent to East Africa during World War One to ascertain the extent to which volunteers could be raised. Another of his trusted group was the railway engineer, Percy Girouard.
Percy Girouard was to be a significant other in Kitchener's life. Having overseen the building of the Wadi Haifa line, Girouard was appointed to assist with railway management during the Boer War. Girouard was to repay Kitchener for his employment by allowing Kitchener to buy a larger piece of land in Kenya than the law permitted. As mentioned earlier, Kitchener had visited East Africa as part of the Zanzibar Commission in 1885. He later, in 1908 and 1911, after travelling on the Uganda line and doing a two-week walking safari, negotiated with Girouard about the farm. He and three friends, also soldiers, went into the coffee business together, one of them staying on the property. Kitchener's plan was that when he he would spend the British winter months on his farm in Africa. However, it was to be his brother who spent time on the farm, dying there in 1937. Girouard was later removed as Governor in 1912 for his liberal handing out of farm property and of being too pro-settler. Again, in 1915, Kitchener employed Girouard to assist with the purchase of war materials ensuring that the ordinance ordered and delivered was not defective. When Lloyd George formed the Munitions Office and Kitchener died, Girouard lost his job.
Kitchener's negotiation over the farm land was indicative of his search for a good deal as he was cautious in spending money. He came in under budget for the campaign at Omdurman, being possibly the first General ever to not use his full budget.[l1] Lord Cromer was so impressed at Kitchener's handling of finances that he believed if Kitchener had not been a General, he could have been one of the best Chancellors of the Exchequer. 
Apart from being thrifty himself, Kitchener believed it important that Army commanders be trained in finance and urged to the post-Boer War Commission that the system of accounting be simplified so that 'officers are [able] to effectively deal with the subject.  Similarly, he felt it was important that cavalry soldiers know how to look after their horse. This was crucial to preventing 'unnecessary heavy wastage in the field which it may be difficult to supply.  Kitchener himself had been taken to task by his subordinates for not acclimatising the cavalry sufficiently and driving the horses too hard whilst in South Africa. This was rather surprising given Kitchener's horsemanship - he trained and managed his own race horses both in Cyprus and India. However, his actions could be explained by the pressures he was under to bring the war to a conclusion.
Whilst in India, Kitchener was very aware of the cost of ammunition noting that 'a man's annual allowance would only last about two days' fighting, and we have also to allow for preliminary training'. He therefore looked to Indian factories to manufacture arms and ammunition as this would be cheaper than importing them from England, and there would be the additional advantage of creating employment in India. 
Kitchener in his attempt to get the army officers responsible for finance and reducing wastage introduced Divisional accountability by compiling the Indian Army Estimates 'on a Divisional basis, showing clearly all sums, for the administration of which each General Officer Commanding a Division or Independent Brigade is responsible. At the same time decentralization of the Military Accounts Department [was] carried out, by means of which each Divisional General [was] provided with a Financial Adviser. 
Kitchener, however, seemed to learn from his mistakes and made this a feature of training for young officers. On 6 September 1902, Kitchener, in a speech to the Yeomanry at Westpool encouraged the men to be ready and trained for time of war as he hoped no campaign would last long enough to enable men to be trained in the art of war. In particular, Generals were to ensure their men were ready for war. He offered advice: not to consistently pick fault unless they could remedy the shortcomings. They should become 'trusted leaders in war, and instructors in peace, and at all times their ready helpers, able and willing to promote their welfare, and to spare no effort to increase their preparedness for the stress of active service'. 
Respect was important and this could only be achieved by a thorough knowledge and its application. Young officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, should be encouraged to put their learning into practice 'in their own way', with mistakes pointed out at the end so that their impact could be discerned. In addition, opportunities to work with the other armed services should be found and taken to ensure that all could work.  Kitchener seems to have learnt from one of his heroes, lord Roberts who took his learning from Brigadier Sydney Cotton. Cotton maintained that 'parade grounds were simply useful for drill and preliminary instruction, and that as soon as the rudiments of a soldier's education had been learned the troops should leave their nursery, and try as far as possible to practice in peace what thev would have to do in war. 
As mentioned earlier, on leaving India before taking up his post in Egypt, Kitchener toured Australia and New Zealand. In making his recommendations for defence, he recognised that 'the strain of passing from peace to war will absorb the energies of all engaged, even when every possible contingency has been foreseen.  He was also influential in South Africa's Defence Act of 1912 when Lukin and Methuen consulted him regarding what would be feasible. 
He believed there were three things required for the execution of a successful war: men, material and money. 
Education was therefore accorded a high position. He backed the Gordon Memorial College in Egypt and more significantly, the Staff College in Quetta; India which meant that officers based in India did not have to travel to England for training. In April 1911, he formed the Joint Committees of Education Fund for Europeans and Eurasians in India. He also encouraged Indian officers to go on study tours to Japan and that before they did so, be fluent in Japanese.
Kitchener also had views on transport, particularly after the Boer War.
 Rye pp529, 267; This was his summary of a speech at the London Guildhall on 9 July 1915 'In urging the formation of a separate transport department, I would point out that there is no more important work in any branch of the Army and none in which a thorough and careful training is more necessary, more especially at a time like the present when mechanical transport will probably be an important adjunct to the military transport system'. An important part of transport was the railway. Kitchener had realised the value of the railway during his early days in Egypt and its limitations during the Boer War when he tried to revamp the transport arrangementsand introduce alternatives to rail. Instrumental in his development prior to the outbreak of World War One was Percy Girouard. Girouard had been employed to build the line from Wadi Haifa to Abu Hamed to avoid the rapids along the Nile, as all other engineers Kitchener had approached had refused, believing it to be an impossible task. Girouard undertook the challenge and brought the line into being within budget having negotiated the loan of locomotives from Cecil John Rhodes. This move also ensured that the 1 meter gauge line built in the north would be replaced with the 3 foot 6 gauge enabling the Cape to Cairo line to be completed. Kitchener was a supporter of Empire - from what he could see from the outside, Britain was the best option for developing countries. Returning to railways during the Great War, he turned to Quartermaster General Sir John Cowans who was trying to convince the local commanders of the need to lay light rails in their sector to aid the delivery of food and munitions. The commanders, however, refused to allow the release of men for track-laying with the resulting chaos we've all heard of. Rail support to them was unknown.
In addition, Kitchener felt it important that different parts of the armed forces learn to work together. He had worked with Admiral David Beatty in planning operations against Omdurman and Dongola and together the men had designed a gunboat of the Zafir class. Unfortunately circumstances meant that the boats were not ready for the campaign, but the idea of the forces working together had been cemented for Kitchener. Kitchener was also to encourage the use of planes in time of war. He had been in a balloon in the 1870s in France, and whilst in Egypt had gone up in a plane. It is believed he was the first soldier to have done so and saw the potential for military purposes. Following a visit to the Royal Flying school early on in the First World War, he encouraged flying in formation which was achieved within a few years.
Having seen the tank in action during testing, he became an advocate, ordering 100 to be made. His enthusiasm for technology increased particularly from 1916 when his work as Secretary of State for War had been reduced following the formation of the Munitions Department and the appointment of Wully Robertson as CIGS. The first tanks, those ordered by Kitchener, were used on the battlefield three months after Kitchener's death.
One of the questions which is often asked is whether Kitchener was homosexual. I don't think so. Royle records Kitchener as organising social gatherings before he became a recluse. He organised a party for 100 people with his commander Taylor of the 19th Hussars and later beat Andrew Haggard (Rider's brother) at an eating competition, although Haggard was quick to point out that Kitchener had lost the drinking aspect. Kitchener seemed to know he was a good looking man and often wrote to his sister about the number of young ladies who had sought his company at dances. However, all this came to an end when Hermione Baker, a good friend, died of tuberculosis. After this, the women who appeared in his life were motherly figures - the Countess of Salisbury and later Margot Asquith being two of his regular correspondents.
Kitchener's appointment to the War Office in 1914 was at the request of Prime Minister Asquith who had been prompted by Lord Haldane, the previous Secretary of State for War. Kitchener, however, refused to accept the position until it was made clear that the king had requested he accept. He accepted, but on condition that his appointment be on the same conditions as the enlisting men, that is, for the duration of the war or three years.
Kitchener's reluctance to accept the post was not one of modesty. He had no faith in the War Office and all through his career had orchestrated to avoid a posting there. At one point, he noted that he could set up a rival department and that it would take three months for the War Office to find out. On another occasion he announced that he would rather be a street-sweeper than go to the War Office and reportedly on his arrival at the War Office noted that 'not even one working pen' existed.
Kitchener's concerns about the War Office dated to the early days of his military career. On his arrival at Cape Town in 1900 to support Lord Roberts in his attack against the Boers, Kitchener changed the way transport was organised. This brought a note of objection and censure from the War Office. He did not see why he was being reprimanded by the 'old red-tape heads of department' who quoted regulations which were dated about 1870 and intended for Aldershot manoeuvres'. For Kitchener, the men in the War Office had little practical experience of the field and this was evident in the instructions sent and the weapons. When he asked for breaching guns for his action in Omdurman, the War Office decided to send him something else. Kitchener kept objecting until he got what he wanted. His stubbornness led to this incident being reported in the press. As far as Kitchener was concerned, systems were there to serve the people and not the people to serve the systems. In this he was supported by Haldane who was keen to reform the War Office. Haldane noted on 2 October 1902 that 'he despaired of [the War Office] until they let loose in it somebody like Lord Kitchener'. He refused as he had no interest in fighting politicians.
So, when Sir John Broderick, Secretary of State for War asked Kitchener to join the War Office after the British-Boer War to help reform the army along German lines, Kitchener refused. He believed that the proposed reforms would only be possible if conscription were allowed and that this was not likely as the British public would veto it. During World War One, when Kitchener launched his recruitment drive, it was Asquith who was loathe to introduce conscription despite significant others believing that given Kitchener's standing, the public would have condoned it. Kitchener tended to side with Asquith, his backer, as he knew the systems were not in place to deal with the large intake conscription would produce. As it was, the army was struggling to cope with the number of volunteers.
Kitchener had done everything to avoid being sent to the War Office or to do what he considered were routine duties. It was following correspondence to his earlier patron, Lord Salisbury, that he was appointed to the Zanzibar Boundary Commission expedition in place of reconstructing mess tents in England. Although Kitchener was not a political player in the sense of a politician, he played a very astute game to achieve his goals. Asquith supported his desire to become Viceroy of India following Morley's term of office ending, and it was only when Morley threatened to resign from Cabinet that Asquith agreed to allow Lord Hardinge of the Foreign Office to be appointed Viceroy instead. Kitchener had also written to Hardinge to try and convince him of the difficulties he would face, but Hardinge refused to withdraw his interest. Other patrons Kitchener used were Lord and Lady Salisbury, Ma[r]got Asquith and son, Lord Cranborne. He was also friends with the Duke of York, later George V. He had courted lord Roberts for his appointment in the Boer War and it was through his instigation that Percy Girouard was appointed to oversee the South African Railway system during the same. In additon, he arranged with Lord Cromer's ADC that he would initially refuse a request to go to Egypt in order to not offend Sir John Biddulph, whilst he was in Cyprus. Biddulph's secretary had noted that whenever Kitchener could, he would put himself before duty, whilst Cromer, also known as Evelyn Wood, pointed out that Kitchener had a knack of misinterpreting orders he did not like.
Another trait Kitchener had, which worked in his favour, was to write copious letters to his seniors setting out what he had done and why. Through this means, he pushed boundaries and as his actions were a fait accompli, they were seldom challenged - so long as he was winning. He thus pre-empted any possible reprimand. His dislike of journalists at the front line may well have been linked to ensuring his version of events were received the authorities before those of the press. He was also conscious of the press releasing military secrets which could damage military action. On 26 November 1914, in a speech to the House of Lords, Kitchener explained his position on press censorship. He recognised the need for information and news from the front to be circulated, but this was not to be to the detriment of military activity. He, therefore, asked that the public be patient in waiting for information. This accords with Arthur George's comment that Kitchener had refused to let it be known on what days the British Expeditionary Force was sailing, much to the annoyance of family members. However, when the force arrived safely without incident, Kitchener's decision was accepted as having been worth it. This reluctance to provide information was to cause him problems and was one of the reasons for his downfall. His claim that he couldn't trust politicians with information as they would share it with their 'pillow partners' was squashed by Asquith who noted that Kitchener often wrote to Margot Asquith of things discussed in Cabinet, although Warner notes that this did not include any militarv information.
From a political point of view, Kitchener's appointment was a great achievement. Apart from ensuring the Dominions, India and were in accord, the British public was confident that the man who had avenged Gordon and defeated the Boers was in charge. However, the appointment was not without its difficulties. Kitchener was a soldier, and one who took command, in control of a civilian department and which functioned differently to the Army. Although at its head, he had to leave the fighting and strategy/tactics to the men on the ground. For a man of Kitchener's calibre, this was not easily done, especially when he saw the mistakes being made or had an alternate approach. He was used to being in responsibility for his decisions and taking action, without having to explain and defend his every move. Arthur notes that Kitchener was against the initial move of the British Expeditionary force in Europe, however, as he had not enough time to master the position before a decision had to be made, his not having been involved in the discussions around the plans prior to the outbreak of war, he deferred to the experts and those who had. Arthur implies that Kitchener's gut reaction was right and absolves him of complicity in the defeat which followed.
Perhaps surprisingly, Kitchener did defer to those who seemed to know best. This was his view for not upsetting the arrangements concerning the BEF and accounted for his sanctioning of the Dardanelles expedition. He recognised that he did not have enough knowledge about the ships being used and so, on being reassured by the Admiralty that the ships would be able to breach the forts without the use of the army, he reluctantly sanctioned the expedition.
Habits are hard to break and for the 64 year old Secretary of State for War, this was no exception. He continued to run the war as he had his previous campaigns, causing his subordinates, colleagues, political and military, to despair. Kitchener was used to being ultimately responsible for seeing a campaign through and approached the Great War in the same way. He had only accepted the position under the same conditions as those enlisting voluntarily - for three years or the duration of the war, whichever was shortest. Although his appointment was to a political or civilian position, he approached it as a military posting, going to the office in uniform, which he did when he went across to France to meet with his counterpart there. His attendance in his Field Marshall uniform and his fluency in French, was to lead to a troubled relationship with General French, although to read the letters from French to Kitchener during this time, one would think that they were best of colleagues.
Whilst French was undertaking his actions on the Western Front, Kitchener was studying the maps and information he had to hand. This would enable him to advise his colleagues about the wider war. However, as he was appointed on the 6th of August and only took up his position on the 7th, many decisions had already been made. One of these was about East Africa. The Cabinet decided on 5 August that an Indian Brigade would be sent to East Africa to help protect the border with German East Africa and that another Expeditionary Force would launch a coastal attack on the German colony. This ended in the disaster at Tanga and the War Office took control of the campaign. Kitchener refused to sanction action in the theatre unless there was a clear chance of victory and that troops would not be required from elsewhere. It could cynically be stated that Kitchener was trying to avoid war in the area as he owned a struggling coffee farm on the Uganda Railway, however, more significantly, he knew the terrain. Having fought successfully in Egypt and the Sudan, he knew what preparation and precautions were needed in hostile territory. Added to this, he had travelled some of the land in East Africa and knew its challenges. He had also been involved in the decision to give Kilimanjaro to Germany in 1885 and so could not see any reason to fight for something Britain had determined was not worthwhile. However, his colleagues both in the War Office and Cabinet decided otherwise and as complaints about Kitchener grew, Asquith was forced to take action. This he did by sending Kitchener to the Dardanelles to ascertain whether the troops there could be withdrawn or not. Whilst Kitchener was in the Dardanelles, the decision was made to re-launch the campaign in East Africa which saw Jan Smuts and the South Africans participate from 1916 onwards. Kitchener's concerns were realised when the campaign took until 25 November 1918 to end, a situation which required the sending of reinforcements and supplies to a theatre which would have no impact on the outcome of the war in Europe.
Kitchener's trip to the Dardanelles, did result in the decision to withdraw the troops from that theatre which was done with little or no loss of life. As mentioned previously, Kitchener had reluctantly sanctioned the naval attack on the Dardanelles as he felt he did not have sufficient knowledge of the naval aspects to object and following the request that troops be sent to support the navy, he felt tied to assist, with the disastrous consequences we know of.
By this time, November 1915, Kitchener's star had faded amongst his colleagues but not amongst the people. The result was that Kitchener's role changed. General Wully Robertson was appointed his ClGS and having heard of Kitchener's reputation before meeting him, insisted on being given various powers to counteract the Field Marshal if required. He was later to report that this was not needed. Kitchener obviously trusted Robertson and left him to focus on the military aspects. Instead Kitchener turned to areas he felt more comfortable with and where he could make the most impact. This was as a mediator between the military and foreign politicians and it was on a trip to Russia to encourage the Tsar to continue fighting that the ship he was travelling on went down.
Kitchener had announced soon after his appointment that the war would be a long one, at least four or five years and that Britain or the Empire's impact would only really be felt in 1917. Before then, Britain would be planning and assisting the French with holding actions. He also felt it imperative that the volunteers be trained before being sent across to Europe. This required a careful balancing act which he was ultimately to lose. Kitchener was a perfectionist and would not do things in half measures. This meant that when he sourced weapons and ammunition, he was insistent that only bona fide companies with good reputations were used. He did not see the point of having his men killed unnecessarily as they had been in his desert campaign. As someone at Sandhurst recently commented at a conference on General Haig - a soldier's task is to not be killed.
I am undecided as to whether Kitchener was best placed in the War Office or whether he should have been given a field command. His actions at paardeburg and other spur of the moment decision making incidents suggest it was a good thing he was not given a military posting, however, had he been given a chance to prepare a battle on the Western Front, things may well have turned out differently. In his post in the War Office, he the most qualified in terms of his wider knowledge. No other general had the range of international experience he had. He had studied the German military system of von Moltke and had kept up to date with German military developments. He was aware of both the Chinese and Japanese military situations and had assessed those of New Zealand and Australia. His tour of the USA had also given him insight into that country's preparedness and of course he knew what to expect from South Africa, India, Egypt and to an extent East Africa and they trusted him in return.
Kitchener was as human and ambitious as the majority of people, he made mistakes, but he learnt from them. He knew his limitations and his strengths and was prepared to step back - particularly in later life - if he felt there were better qualified men around. When they weren't, he took full control and responsibility.
My interest in Kitchener stems from his involvement in the East Africa campaign which I have touched on briefly and my knowledge of the Boer War, is for a South African, scarce - other than the myths. The images of Kitchener in these two events appeared contradictory and I set out to explore the reality. There's still more work to be done, but I hope this short overview of some of Kitchener's life will have challenged some of the existing perceptions of this Victorian and Edwardian celebrity.
 Enigma p26
 Enigma p30
 Groser p28
 Smithers pp4/5
 Graser p96
 Arthur p360 - any since?
 Enigma p55
 Enigma p26
 Rye 262
 Magnus pp121, 181
 Rye p140-1
 Rye p140
 Rye p189 on evidence to the Royal Commission post Boer War, 13/4/1903]
 Rye p215
 Rye p245
 Rye p264
 Rye p292-3 Financial statement of the Government of India for 1909-1910, pp207-215
 Rye p183
 Rye p208
 Rye pp209-212
 Earl Roberts p53
 Rye pp115-117
 Timothy Stapleton, Military history of South Africa (2010), p114
 Rye pp529, 267;
 Rye p186
 Magnus p123
 Arthur pp73-4
 Kellett p88
 Enigma p55-6
 George Arthur, vol 3 31 George Arthur, vol 3 32 Magnus, p196
 Graser p130; http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=WDA190004220.127.116.11
 Kellett p33
 Rye p183
 Magnus, p212
 Magnus, pp91-2
 Rye, chap 137
 Rye p491
 Arthur George, vol 3
 George Arthur, vol 3
A lecture given to the Johannesburg branch of the SAMHS on 8 Nov 2012
Return to Society's Home pageSouth African Military History Society / firstname.lastname@example.org