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Herbert Kitchener

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Herbert Kitchener

The Earl Kitchener
Earl Kitchener
Birth name Horatio Herbert Kitchener
Born 24 June 1850
Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland
Died 5 June 1916(1916-06-05) (aged 65)
West of the Orkney Islands, Scotland
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1871–1916
Rank Field Marshal
Commands held Mahdist War (1884–99)
Second Boer War (1900–02)
Commander-in-Chief, India (1902–09)

Franco-Prussian War
Mahdist War:

Second Boer War:

First World War
Awards Knight of the Garter
Knight of the Order of St Patrick
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Member of the Order of Merit
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire
Relations Henry Kitchener, 2nd Earl Kitchener
Sir Frederick Walter Kitchener
Other work British Consul-General in Egypt (1911–14)
Secretary of State for War, United Kingdom (1914–16)

GCMG, GCIEPC (; 24 June 1850 – 5 June 1916) was a senior British Army officer and colonial administrator who won fame for his imperial campaigns and later played a central role in the early part of World War I, although he died halfway through it.

Kitchener won fame in 1898 for winning the Lord Curzon, who eventually resigned. Kitchener then returned to Egypt as British Agent and Consul-General (de facto administrator).

In 1914, at the start of the volunteer army that both Britain and the world had seen, and oversaw a significant expansion of materials production to fight Germany on the Western Front. His commanding image, appearing on recruiting posters demanding "Your country needs you!", remains recognised and parodied in popular culture. Despite having warned of the difficulty of provisioning Britain for a long war, he was blamed for the shortage of shells in the spring of 1915 – one of the events leading to the formation of a coalition government – and stripped of his control over munitions and strategy.

Kitchener drowned on 5 June 1916 when HMS Hampshire sank west of the Orkney Islands, Scotland. He was making his way to Russia in order to attend negotiations when the ship struck a German mine. He was one of more than 600 killed on board the ship.


  • Early life 1
  • Survey of Western Palestine 2
  • Egypt, Sudan and Khartoum 3
  • Anglo-Boer War 4
    • Court martial of Breaker Morant 4.1
  • India 5
  • Egypt 6
  • First World War 7
    • 1914 7.1
      • Raising the New Armies 7.1.1
      • Deploying the BEF 7.1.2
      • Meeting with Sir John French 7.1.3
    • 1915 7.2
      • Strategy 7.2.1
      • Reduction in Powers 7.2.2
    • 1916 7.3
  • Death 8
  • Image, legacy 9
    • Conspiracy theories 9.1
  • Memorials 10
  • Debate on Kitchener's sexuality 11
  • Decorations 12
  • Honorary regimental appointments 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15
  • Sources 16
  • Further reading 17
  • External links 18

Early life

Kitchener on his mother's lap, with his brother and sister

Kitchener was born in Ballylongford near Duke of Cambridge, the commander-in-chief.[2] He served in Palestine, Egypt, and Cyprus as a surveyor, learned Arabic, and prepared detailed topographical maps of the areas.[1] His brother, Lt. Gen. Sir Walter Kitchener, had also entered the army, and was Governor of Bermuda from 1908 to 1912.[4]

Survey of Western Palestine

In 1874, at age 24, Kitchener was assigned by the Palestine Exploration Fund to a mapping-survey of the Holy Land, replacing Charles Tyrwhitt-Drake, who had died of malaria.[5] By then an officer in the Royal Engineers, Kitchener joined fellow officer Claude R. Conder, and between 1874 and 1877 they surveyed Palestine, returning to England only briefly in 1875 after an attack by locals at Safed, in the Galilee.[5]

Conder and Kitchener’s expedition became known as the Survey of Western Palestine because it was largely confined to the area west of the Jordan River. The survey collected data on the topography and toponymy of the area, as well as local flora and fauna.[6]

The results of the survey were published in an eight-volume series, with Kitchener’s contribution in the first three tomes (Conder and Kitchener 1881–1885). This survey has had a lasting effect on the Middle East for several reasons:

  • The ordnance survey serves as the basis for the grid system used in the modern maps of Israel and Palestine.
  • The collection of data compiled by Conder and Kitchener are still consulted by archaeologists and geographers working in the southern Levant.
  • The survey itself effectively delineated and defined the political borders of the southern Levant. For instance, the modern border between Israel and Lebanon is established at the point in the upper Galilee where Conder and Kitchener’s survey stopped.[5]

In 1878 having completed the survey of Western Palestine, Kitchener was sent to Cyprus to undertake a survey of that newly acquired British protectorate.[2] Then in 1879 he became vice-consul in Anatolia.[7]

Egypt, Sudan and Khartoum

In 1883 Kitchener became a Gordon relief expedition in the Sudan in late 1884.[2] Promoted to brevet major on 8 October 1884[11] and to brevet lieutenant-colonel on 15 June 1885,[12] he became the British member of the Zanzibar boundary commission in July 1885.[13] He became Governor of the Egyptian Provinces of Eastern Sudan and Red Sea Littoral (which in practice consisted of little more than the Port of Suakin) in September 1886 and led his forces in action against the followers of the Mahdi at Handub in January 1888 when he was injured in the jaw.[14] He was promoted to brevet colonel on 11 April 1888[15] and to the substantive rank of major on 20 July 1889[16] and led the Egyptian Cavalry at the Battle of Toski in August 1889 before being appointed Adjutant-General of the Egyptian Army in December 1890.[14]

Kitchener was worried that, although his moustache was bleached white by the sun, his blonde hair refused to turn grey, making it harder for Egyptians to take him seriously. His appearance added to his mystique: his long legs made him appear taller, whilst a cast in his eye made people feel he was looking right through them.[17] Kitchener, at 6'2", towered over most of his contemporaries.[18] Sir Evelyn Baring, the de facto British ruler of Egypt, thought Kitchener “the most able (soldier) I have come across in my time”.[19]

Kitchener, Commander of the Egyptian Army (centre right), 1898

Having become Sirdar (Commander-in-Chief) of the Egyptian Army with the local rank of brigadier in April 1892, he won victories at the Battle of Ferkeh in June 1896 and the Battle of Hafir in September 1896 earning him national fame in the United Kingdom and promotion to major-general on 25 September 1896.[20] He achieved further successes at the Battle of Atbara in April 1898 and then the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898.[14] He quite possibly prevented war between France and Britain when he dealt firmly but non-violently with the French military expedition, under Captain Marchand, intending to claim Fashoda, in what became known as the Fashoda Incident.[21] At this stage of his career Kitchener was keen to exploit the press, cultivating G. W. Steevens of the "Daily Mail" who wrote a book With Kitchener to Khartum. Later, as his legend had grown, he was able to be rude to the press, on one occasion in the Second Boer War bellowing: "Get out of my way, you drunken swabs".[17] He was created Baron Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk, on 31 October 1898.[22]

Kitchener became Governor-General of the Sudan in September 1898 and began a programme of restoring good governance to the Sudan. The programme had a strong foundation, based on education at Gordon Memorial College as 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, 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 attempted to prevent evangelical Christian missionaries from trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.[23]

Anglo-Boer War

Kitchener on horseback in The Queenslander Pictorial in 1910

During the Second Boer War, Kitchener arrived in South Africa with Lord Roberts on the RMS Dunottar Castle along with massive British reinforcements in December 1899.[14] Officially holding the title of chief of staff,[24] he was in practice a second-in-command and was present at the relief of Kimberley before leading an unsuccessful frontal assault at the Battle of Paardeberg in February 1900.[14] Kitchener was mentioned in despatches from Lord Roberts several times during the early part of the war; in a despatch from March 1900 Lord Roberts wrote how he was "greatly indebted to him for his counsel and cordial support on all occasions".[25]

Following the defeat of the conventional Boer forces, Kitchener succeeded Roberts as overall commander in November 1900.[26] He was also promoted to lieutenant-general on 29 November 1900[27] and to local general on 12 December 1900.[26] He subsequently inherited and expanded the successful strategies devised by Roberts to force the Boer commandos to submit, including concentration camps and the burning of farms.[14] Conditions in the concentration camps, which had been conceived by Roberts as a form of control of the families whose farms he had destroyed, began to degenerate rapidly as the large influx of Boers outstripped the ability of the minuscule British force to cope. The camps lacked space, food, sanitation, medicine, and medical care, leading to rampant disease and a very high death rate for those Boers who entered. Eventually 26,370 women and children (81% were children) died in the concentration camps.[28] The biggest critic of the camps was the Englishwoman, humanitarian, and welfare worker Emily Hobhouse.[29]

The Treaty of Vereeniging, ending the War, was signed in May 1902 following a tense six months. During this period Kitchener struggled against Sir Alfred Milner, the Governor of the Cape Colony, and the British government. Milner was a hard-line conservative and wanted forcibly to Anglicise the Afrikaans people (the Boers), and Milner and the British government wanted to assert victory by forcing the Boers to sign a humiliating peace treaty; Kitchener wanted a more generous compromise peace treaty that would recognize certain rights for the Afrikaners and promise future self-government. He even entertained a peace treaty proposed by Louis Botha and the other Boer leaders that would have maintained the sovereignty of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State while requiring them to sign a perpetual treaty of alliance with the UK and grant major concessions to the UK such as equal rights for English with Dutch in their countries, voting rights for Uitlanders, and a customs and railway union with the Cape Colony and Natal, although he knew the government in the UK would reject the offer.[30]

Kitchener, who had been promoted to the substantive rank of general on 1 June 1902,[31] was created Viscount Kitchener, of Khartoum and of the Vaal in the Colony of Transvaal and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk on 28 July 1902.[32]

Court martial of Breaker Morant

In the Breaker Morant case several soldiers from Australia were arrested and

Military offices
Preceded by
Lord Grenfell
Sirdar of the Egyptian Army
Succeeded by
Sir Reginald Wingate
Political offices
Abdallahi ibn Muhammad overthrown Governor-General of the Sudan
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Reginald Wingate
Preceded by
Sir John Eldon Gorst
British Consul-General in Egypt
1911 – 1914
Succeeded by
Sir Milne Cheetham
as Acting High Commissioner
Preceded by
Herbert Henry Asquith
Secretary of State for War
5 August 1914 – 5 June 1916
Succeeded by
David Lloyd George
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Palmer
Commander-in-Chief, India
1902 – 1909
Succeeded by
Sir O'Moore Creagh
Academic offices
Preceded by
Earl of Minto
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
1914 – 1916
Succeeded by
Earl Beatty
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Earl Kitchener
1914 – 1916
Succeeded by
Henry Kitchener
Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum
1902 – 1916
Baron Kitchener of Khartoum
1898 – 1916
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by the Earl Kitchener
  • Kitchener Scholars' Fund
  • The Melik Society
  • HMS Hampshire Home Page
  • National Portrait Gallery 112 portraits
  • Lord Kitchener at Project Gutenberg A short biography written in 1917 by G. K. Chesterton

External links

Further reading


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Heathcote 1999, p192
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 23694. p. 38. 6 January 1871. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c Silberman 1982, pp.121–122
  6. ^ Hull 1885, p199-222
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 24741. p. 4338. 8 July 1879. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  8. ^ Pollock 2001, p54
  9. ^ Dorothe Sommer, Freemasonry in the Ottoman Empire, I. B. Tauris, Londra-New-York, 2015, p. 80.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25184. p. 31. 2 January 1883. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25402. p. 4373. 7 October 1884. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25505. p. 4052. 25 August 1885. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  13. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25527. p. 5080. 6 November 1885. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Heathcote 1999, p193
  15. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25806. p. 2070. 10 April 1888. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25963. p. 4319. 9 August 1889. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  17. ^ a b Reid 2006, p78
  18. ^ MacLaren 1978, p11
  19. ^ Tuchman 1962, p193
  20. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26781. p. 5379. 29 September 1896. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  21. ^
  22. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27019. p. 6375. 1 November 1898. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  23. ^ Korieah 2007, p206
  24. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27146. p. 8541. 22 December 1899. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  25. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27282. p. 844. 8 February 1901.
  26. ^ a b The London Gazette: no. 27256. p. 8459. 14 December 1900. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27253. p. 8217. 4 December 1900. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27441. p. 3750. 10 June 1902. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  32. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27459. p. 4834. 29 July 1902. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  33. ^
  34. ^ Reid 2006, p108
  35. ^ Reid 2006, p116
  36. ^ a b c Heathcote 1999, p194
  37. ^ Reid 2006, p148-9
  38. ^
  39. ^ Reid 2006, p114
  40. ^ a b c Heathcote 1999, p195
  41. ^ Tuchman 1962, p194
  42. ^ a b c Terraine 1960, p39-40
  43. ^ Hankey 1961, p508
  44. ^ Terraine 1960, p38
  45. ^ Cassar 1985, p. 84
  46. ^ Holmes 2004, pp198
  47. ^ Holmes 2004, pp199
  48. ^ Holmes 2004, pp199-201
  49. ^ Holmes 2004, p231
  50. ^ Holmes 2004, pp231-6
  51. ^ Holmes 2004, pp231, 234–6
  52. ^ Groot 1988, p.178
  53. ^ Neillands 2006, p166
  54. ^ Neillands 2006, p174
  55. ^ Holmes 2004, p293
  56. ^ Woodward, 1998, p14, 17
  57. ^ Holmes 2004, pp294-5
  58. ^ Holmes 2004, pp299-300
  59. ^ Liddell Hart 1930, p.197
  60. ^ Woodward, 1998, p14
  61. ^ Woodward, 1998, p14, 16–17
  62. ^ Woodward, 1998, pp113
  63. ^ Bonham-Carter 1963, pp131-3
  64. ^ Groot 1988, p.212
  65. ^ Woodward, 1998, p20
  66. ^ Woodward, 1998, p24
  67. ^ Groot 1988, p.228
  68. ^ Groot 1988, p.238–9
  69. ^ Groot 1988, p.237
  70. ^ Burg 2010, p120
  71. ^ Berry & Leggitt 2004, p82
  72. ^ a b Heathcote 1999, p197
  73. ^ Goldstone 2007, 118
  74. ^
  75. ^ Neillands 2006, p28
  76. ^
  77. ^
  78. ^
  79. ^ Burnham 1944, p293
  80. ^ a b Wood 1931, p1-429
  81. ^
  82. ^
  83. ^
  84. ^
  85. ^
  86. ^
  87. ^
  88. ^
  89. ^
  90. ^
  91. ^ Plaque #590 on Open Plaques.
  92. ^ Plaque #3290 on Open Plaques.
  93. ^
  94. ^
  95. ^
  96. ^
  97. ^
  98. ^
  99. ^
  100. ^
  101. ^
  102. ^
  103. ^
  104. ^
  105. ^ a b Hyde 1972, p161
  106. ^ a b Hyam 1991, p38-39
  107. ^ Judd 2011, pp.172–176
  108. ^ Richardson 1981, p123
  109. ^
  110. ^
  111. ^
  112. ^ Wilson 2003, p598
  113. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29180. p. 5325. 3 June 1911. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  114. ^ Edinburgh Gazette, 23 June 1911
  115. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27023. p. 6688. 15 November 1898. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  116. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26795. p. 6271. 17 November 1896. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  117. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25991. p. 5919. 8 November 1889. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  118. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28263. p. 4855. 25 June 1909. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  119. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27306. p. 2698. 19 April 1901. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  120. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26484. p. 912. 13 February 1894. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  121. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25614. p. 3793. 6 August 1886. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  122. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28095. p. 1. 31 December 1907. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  123. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26801. p. 7227. 8 December 1896. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  124. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26508. p. 2508. 1 May 1894. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  125. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25479. p. 2681. 12 June 1885. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  126. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26460. p. 6553. 21 November 1893. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  127. ^ The London Gazette: no. 25830. p. 3372. 19 June 1888. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  128. ^ a b c d e f g h
  129. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27441. p. 3755. 10 June 1902.


See also

  • Honorary Colonel, Scottish Command Telegraph Companies (Army Troops, Royal Engineers – 1898[128]
  • Honorary Colonel, East Anglian Divisional Engineers, Royal Engineers – 1901[128]
  • Honorary Colonel, 5th (Militia) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers – 11 June 1902[129]
  • Honorary Colonel, 4th, later 6th Battalion, Royal Scots – 1905[128]
  • Colonel Commandant, Royal Engineers – 1906[128]
  • Honorary Colonel, 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers – 1908[128]
  • Honorary Colonel, 7th Gurkha Rifles – 1908[128]
  • Honorary Colonel, 1st County of London Yeomanry – 1910[128]
  • Regimental Colonel, Irish Guards – 1914[128]

Honorary regimental appointments

  • Order of Osmanieh (Ottoman Empire) first class – 7 December 1896[123] (second class – 30 April 1894;[124] third class – 11 June 1885[125])
  • Order of the Medjidie (Ottoman Empire) first class – 18 November 1893[126] (second class – 18 June 1888[127])


Kitchener's decorations included:


According to A. N. Wilson, his interests were not exclusively homosexual. "When the great field marshal stayed in aristocratic houses, the well informed young would ask servants to sleep across their bedroom threshold to impede his entrance". His compulsive objective was sodomy, regardless of their gender.[112]

Patrick Barkham, a contemporary journalist, remarked that Kitchener "has the failing acquired by most of the Egyptian officers, a taste for buggery".[110][111]

The proponents of the case point to Kitchener's friend Captain Oswald Fitzgerald, his "constant and inseparable companion", whom he appointed his aide-de-camp. They remained close until they met a common death on their voyage to Russia.[105] From his time in Egypt in 1892, he gathered around him a cadre of eager young and unmarried officers nicknamed "Kitchener's band of boys". He also avoided interviews with women, took a great deal of interest in the Boy Scout movement, and decorated his rose garden with four pairs of sculptured bronze boys. According to Hyam, "there is no evidence that he ever loved a woman".[106]

Some biographers have concluded that Kitchener was a latent or active homosexual. Writers who make the case for his homosexuality include Montgomery Hyde,[105] Ronald Hyam,[106] Denis Judd[107] and Frank Richardson.[108] Philip Magnus hints at homosexuality, though Lady Winifred Renshaw said that Magnus later repudiated this belief.[109]

Debate on Kitchener's sexuality

  • As a British soldier who was lost at sea in the First World War and has no known grave, Kitchener is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Hollybrook Memorial at Southampton, Hampshire.[90]
  • Blue plaques have been erected to mark where Kitchener lived in Westminster[91] and at Broome Park near Canterbury.[92]
  • The NW chapel of All Souls at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, not normally open to visitors, was rededicated the Kitchener Memorial in 1925.[93]
  • 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, their sons and their daughters, a function it continues to perform today.[94] A Memorial Book of tributes and remembrances from Kitchener's peers, edited by Sir Hedley Le Bas, was printed to benefit the fund.[95]
  • The Lord Kitchener Memorial Homes in Chatham, Kent, were built with funds from public subscription following Kitchener's death. A small terrace of cottages, they are used to provide affordable rented accommodation for servicemen and women who have seen active service or their widows and widowers.[96]
  • A statue of the Earl mounted on a horse is on Khartoum Road (near Fort Amherst) in Chatham, Kent.[97][98]
  • The Kitchener Memorial on Mainland, Orkney, is on the cliff edge at Marwick Head, near the spot where Kitchener died at sea. It is a square, crenelated stone tower and bears the inscription: "This tower was raised by the people of Orkney in memory of Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum on that corner of his country which he had served so faithfully nearest to the place where he died on duty. He and his staff perished along with the officers and nearly all the men of HMS Hampshire on 5 June 1916."[99][100]
  • In the early 1920s, a road on a new council estate in the Kates Hill area of Dudley, Worcestershire (now West Midlands) was named Kitchener Road in honour of Lord Kitchener.[101]
  • The east window of the chancel at West Sussex has stained glass commemorating Kitchener.[102]
  • In December 2013, the Royal Mint announced their plans to mint commemorative two-pound coins in 2014 featuring Lord Kitchener's "Call to Arms" on the reverse.[103]
  • A memorial cross for Lord Kitchener was unveiled at St Botolph's church in 1916 (near Liverpool Street station), perhaps one of the first memorials of World War I in England.[104]
Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head on Mainland, Orkney


Frederick Joubert Duquesne, a Boer soldier and spy, claimed that he had assassinated Kitchener after an earlier attempt to kill him in Cape Town failed.[79] Duquesne's story was that he posed as the Russian Duke Boris Zakrevsky in 1916 and joined Kitchener in Scotland.[80] While on board HMS Hampshire with Kitchener, Duquesne supposedly signalled a German submarine that then sank the cruiser, and was rescued by the submarine, later being awarded the Iron Cross for his efforts.[80] Duquesne was later apprehended and tried by the authorities in the U.S. for insurance fraud, but managed to escape.[81] In World War II, he ran a German spy ring in the United States until he was caught by the FBI in what became the biggest roundup of spies in U.S. history: the Duquesne Spy Ring.[82] Coincidentally, Duquesne had escaped from a British Prisoner-of-War camp on the islands between the Great Sound and Hamilton Harbour, in Bermuda, during the Second Boer War, making his way to the United States.[83][84] Kitchener's brother was to die in office in Bermuda in 1912, and his nephew, Major H.H. Hap Kitchener, who had married a Bermudian,[85][86] purchased (with a legacy left to him by his uncle) Hinson's Island, part of the former Prisoner of War camp from which Duquesne had escaped, after the First World War as the location of his home and business.[87][88][89]

General Erich Ludendorff, Generalquartiermeister and joint head (with von Hindenburg) of Germany's war effort, stated that Russian communist elements working against the Tsar had betrayed Kitchener's travel plans to Germany. He stated that Kitchener was killed "because of his ability", as it was feared he would help the tsarist Russian Army to recover.[78]

FBI file photo of Duquesne.

In 1926, a hoaxer named Frank Power claimed in the Sunday Referee newspaper that Kitchener's body had been found by a Norwegian fisherman. Power brought a coffin back from Norway and prepared it for burial in St. Paul's. At this point, however, the authorities intervened and the coffin was opened in the presence of police and a distinguished pathologist. The box was found to contain only tar for weight. There was widespread public outrage at Power, but he was never prosecuted.[77]

After the war, a number of conspiracy theories were put forward, one by Lord Alfred Douglas, positing a connection between Kitchener's death, the recent naval Battle of Jutland, Winston Churchill, and a Jewish conspiracy (Churchill successfully sued Douglas for criminal libel, and the latter spent six months in prison).[76] Another claimed that the Hampshire did not strike a mine at all, but was sunk by explosives secreted in the vessel by Irish Republicans.[72]

Conspiracy theories

Since 1970, the opening of new records has led historians to rehabilitate Kitchener's reputation to some extent. Robin Neillands, for instance, notes that Kitchener consistently rose in ability as he was promoted.[75] Some historians now praise his strategic vision in World War I, especially his laying the groundwork for the expansion of munitions production and his central role in the raising of the British army in 1914 and 1915, providing a force capable of meeting Britain's continental commitment.[1]

Kitchener is officially remembered in a chapel on the north-west corner of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, near the main entrance, where a memorial service was held in his honour.[74]

Not everyone mourned Kitchener's loss. C. P. Scott, editor of The Manchester Guardian, is said to have remarked that "as for the old man, he could not have done better than to have gone down, as he was a great impediment lately."[73]

Image, legacy

Lord Kitchener sailed from Scrabster to Scapa Flow on 5 June 1916 aboard HMS Oak before transferring to the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire for his diplomatic mission to Russia. Shortly before 19:30 hrs the same day, while en route to the Russian port of Arkhangelsk during a Force 9 gale, Hampshire struck a mine laid by the newly launched German U-boat U-75 (commanded by Curt Beitzen) and sank west of the Orkney Islands.[72]

Lord Kitchener's memorial, St Paul's Cathedral, London
Kitchener boards HMS Iron Duke from HMS Oak at 12.25pm on 5 June 1916 prior to lunching with Admiral Lord Jellicoe at Scapa Flow


In addition to his military work, Lord Kitchener contributed to efforts on the home front. The knitted sock patterns of the day used a seam up the toe that could rub uncomfortably against the toes. Kitchener encouraged British and American women to knit for the war effort, and contributed a sock pattern featuring a new technique for a seamless join of the toe, still known as the Kitchener stitch.[71]

On 2 June 1916, Lord Kitchener personally answered questions asked by politicians about his running of the war effort; at the start of hostilities Kitchener had ordered two million rifles from various US arms manufacturers. Only 480 of these rifles had arrived in the UK by 4 June 1916. The numbers of shells supplied were no less paltry. Kitchener explained the efforts he had made to secure alternative supplies. He received a resounding vote of thanks from the 200 Members of Parliament who had arrived to question him, both for his candour and for his efforts to keep the troops armed; Sir Ivor Herbert, 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.[70]

Kitchener was under pressure from French Prime Minister Aristide Briand (29 March 1916) for the British to attack on the Western Front to help relieve the pressure of the German attack at Verdun. The French refused to bring troops home from Salonika, which Kitchener thought a play for the increase of French power in the Mediterranean.[69]

Early in 1916 Kitchener visited Douglas Haig, newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the BEF in France. Kitchener had been a key figure in the removal of Haig's predecessor Sir John French, with whom he had a poor relationship. Haig differed with Kitchener over the importance of Mediterranean efforts and wanted to see a strong General Staff in London, but nonetheless valued Kitchener as a military voice against the folly of civilians such as Churchill. However, he thought Kitchener "pinched, tired, and much aged", and thought it sad that his mind was “losing its comprehension” as the time for decisive victory on the Western Front (as Haig and Robertson saw it) approached.[67] Kitchener was somewhat doubtful of Haig's plan to win decisive victory in 1916, and would have preferred smaller and purely attritional attacks, but sided with Robertson in telling the Cabinet that the planned Anglo-French offensive on the Somme should go ahead.[68]


Kitchener and Asquith were agreed that Robertson should become CIGS, but Robertson refused to do this if Kitchener “continued to be his own CIGS”, although given Kitchener’s great prestige he did not want him to resign; he wanted the Secretary of State to be sidelined to an advisory role like the Prussian War Minister. Asquith asked them to negotiate an agreement, which they did over the exchange of several draft documents at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris. Kitchener agreed that Robertson alone should present strategic advice to the Cabinet, with Kitchener responsible for recruiting and supplying the Army, although he refused to agree that military orders should go out over Robertson’s signature alone – it was agreed that the Secretary of State should continue to sign orders jointly with the CIGS. The agreement was formalised in a Royal Order in Council in January 1916. Robertson was suspicious of efforts in the Balkans and Near East, and was instead committed to major British offensives against Germany on the Western Front — the first of these was to be the Somme in 1916.[66]

Asquith, who told Robertson that Kitchener was “an impossible colleague” and “his veracity left much to be desired”, hoped that he could be persuaded to remain in the region as Commander-in-Chief and acted in charge of the War Office, but Kitchener took his seals of office with him so he could not be sacked in his absence. Douglas Haig – at that time involved in intrigues to have Robertson appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff – recommended that Kitchener be appointed Viceroy of India (“where trouble was brewing”) but not to the Middle East, where his strong personality would have led to that sideshow receiving too much attention and resources.[64] Kitchener visited Rome and Athens, but Murray warned that he would likely demand the diversion of British troops to fight the Turks in the Sinai.[65]

Archibald Murray (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) later recorded that Kitchener was “quite unfit for the position of secretary of state” and “impossible”, claiming that he never assembled the Army Council as a body, but instead gave them orders separately, and was usually exhausted by Friday. Kitchener was also keen to break up Territorial units whenever possible whilst ensuring that “No “K” Division left the country incomplete”. Murray wrote that “He seldom told the absolute the truth and the whole truth” and claimed that it was not until he left on a tour of inspection of Gallipoli and the Near East that Murray was able to inform the Cabinet that volunteering had fallen far below the level needed to maintain a BEF of 70 divisions, requiring the introduction of conscription. The Cabinet insisted on proper General Staff papers being presented in Kitchener’s absence.[63]

Kitchener with General Birdwood at Anzac, November 1915

Kitchener advised the Dardanelles Committee (21 October) that Baghdad be seized for the sake of prestige then abandoned as logistically untenable. His advice was no longer accepted without question, but the British forces were eventually besieged and captured at Kut.[62]

Kitchener continued to lose favour with politicians and professional soldiers. He found it “repugnant and unnatural to have to discuss military secrets with a large number of gentlemen with whom he was but barely acquainted”. Esher complained that he would either lapse into “obstinacy and silence” or else mull aloud over various difficulties. Milner told Gwynne (18 August 1915) that he thought Kitchener a “slippery fish”.[60] By autumn 1915, with Asquith’s Coalition close to breaking up over conscription, he was blamed for the failure to bring in that measure and for the excessive influence which civilians like Churchill and Haldane had come to exert over strategy, allowing ad hoc campaigns to develop in Sinai, Mesopotamia and Salonika. Generals such as Sir William Robertson were critical of Kitchener's failure to ask the General Staff (whose chief James Wolfe-Murray was intimidated by Kitchener) to study the feasibility of any of these campaigns.[61]

Reduction in Powers

At an Anglo-French conference at Calais (6 July) Joffre and Kitchener, who was opposed to “too vigorous” offensives, reached a compromise on “local offensives on a vigorous scale”, and Kitchener agreed to deploy New Army divisions to France. An inter-Allied conference at Chantilly (7 July, including Russian, Belgian, Serb and Italian delegates) agreed on coordinated offensives.[57] However, Kitchener now came to support the upcoming Loos offensive. He travelled to France for talks with Joffre and Millerand (16 August). The French leaders believed Russia might sue for peace (Warsaw had fallen on 4 August). Kitchener (19 August) ordered the Loos offensive to proceed, despite the attack being on ground not favoured by French or Haig (then commanding First Army).[58] The Official History later admitted that Kitchener hoped to be appointed Supreme Allied Commander. Liddell Hart speculated that this was why he allowed himself to be persuaded by Joffre. New Army divisions first saw action at Loos in September 1915.[59]

With the Russians being pushed back from Poland, Kitchener thought the transfer of German troops west and a possible invasion of Britain increasingly likely, and told the War Council (14 May) that he was not willing to send the New Armies overseas. He wired French (16 May 1915) that he would send no more reinforcements to France until he was clear the German line could be broken, but sent two divisions at the end of May to please Joffre, not because he thought a breakthrough possible.[55] He had wanted to conserve his New Armies to strike a knockout blow in 1916–17, but by the summer of 1915 realised that high casualties and a major commitment to France were inescapable. “Unfortunately we have to make war as we must, and not as we should like” as he told the Dardanelles Committee on 20 August 1915.[56]

Kitchener warned French in January 1915 that the Western Front was a siege line that could not be breached, in the context of Cabinet discussions about amphibious landings on the Baltic or North Sea Coast, or against Turkey.[53] In an effort to find a way to relieve pressure on the Western front, Lord Kitchener proposed an invasion of developed under the auspices of Churchill’s Admiralty.[54]

In January 1915, Field Marshal Sir John French, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, with the concurrence of other senior commanders (e.g. General Sir Douglas Haig), wanted the New Armies incorporated into existing divisions as battalions rather than sent out as entire divisions. French felt (wrongly) that the war would be over by the summer before the New Army divisions were deployed, as Germany had recently redeployed some divisions to the east, and took the step of appealing to the Prime Minister, Asquith, over Kitchener’s head, but Asquith refused to overrule Kitchener. This further damaged relations between French and Kitchener, who had travelled to France in September 1914 during the First Battle of the Marne to order French to resume his place in the Allied line.[52]


Kitchener's Dream, German propaganda medal, 1915


French had been particularly angry that Kitchener had arrived wearing his Field Marshal's dress uniform. This was how Kitchener normally dressed at the time (Hankey thought Kitchener’s uniform tactless, but it had probably not occurred to him to change), but French felt that Kitchener was implying that he was his military superior and not simply a cabinet member. By the end of the year French thought that Kitchener had "gone mad" and his hostility had become common knowledge at GHQ and GQG.[51]

They met, together with Viviani (French Prime Minister) and Millerand (now French War Minister). Huguet recorded that Kitchener was "calm, balanced, reflective" whilst Sir John was "sour, impetuous, with congested face, sullen and ill-tempered". On Bertie’s advice Kitchener dropped his intention of inspecting the BEF. French and Kitchener moved to a separate room, and no independent account of the meeting exists. After the meeting Kitchener telegraphed the Cabinet that the BEF would remain in the line, although taking care not to be outflanked, and told French to consider this "an instruction". French had a friendly exchange of letters with Joffre.[50]

By 31 August, Sir John French, concerned at the heavy losses which the BEF had suffered at Le Cateau was sent messages asking him not to withdraw by Joffre, President Poincare (relayed via Bertie, the British Ambassador) and Kitchener. Kitchener, authorised by a midnight meeting of whichever Cabinet Ministers could be found, left for France for a meeting on 1 September.[49]

Meeting with Sir John French

Sir John French’s orders from Kitchener were to cooperate with the French but not to take orders from them, and given that the tiny BEF (about 100,000 men, half of them regulars and half reservists) was Britain’s only army, to avoid undue losses and being exposed to “forward movements where large numbers of French troops are not engaged” until Kitchener had had a chance to discuss the matter with the Cabinet.[48]

Kitchener's wish to concentrate further back at Amiens may also have been influenced by a largely accurate map of German dispositions which was published by Repington in The Times on the morning of 12 August.[42] Kitchener had a three-hour meeting (12 August) with Sir John French, Murray, Wilson and the French liaison officer Victor Huguet, before being overruled by the Prime Minister, who eventually agreed that the BEF should assemble at Maubeuge.[47]

Kitchener, believing Britain should husband her resources for a long war, decided at Cabinet (6 August) that the initial BEF would consist of only 4 infantry divisions (and 1 cavalry), not the 5 or 6 promised.[46] His decision to hold back two of the six divisions of the BEF, although based on exaggerated concerns about German invasion of Britain, arguably saved the BEF from disaster as Sir John French (on the advice of Wilson who was much influenced by the French), might have been tempted to advance further into the teeth of the advancing German forces, had his own force been stronger.[42]

At the War Council (5 August) Kitchener and Lt.-General Sir Douglas Haig argued that the BEF should be deployed at Amiens, where it could deliver a vigorous counterattack once the route of German advance was known. Kitchener argued that the deployment of the BEF in Belgium would result in having to retreat and abandon much of its supplies almost immediately, as the Belgian Army would be unable to hold its ground against the Germans; Kitchener was proved right, but given the belief in fortresses common at the time, it is not surprising that the War Council disagreed with him.[45]

Deploying the BEF

However, [44]

The great outstanding fact is that within eighteen months of the outbreak of the war, when he had found a people reliant on sea-power, and essentially non-military in their outlook, he had conceived and brought into being, completely equipped in every way, a national army capable of holding its own against the armies of the greatest military Power the world had ever seen."[43]

Cabinet Secretary Maurice Hankey wrote of Kitchener:

At the outset of the First World War, the Prime Minister, Asquith, quickly had Lord Kitchener appointed Secretary of State for War; Asquith had been filling the job himself as a stopgap following the resignation of Colonel Seely over the Curragh Incident earlier in 1914, and Kitchener was by chance briefly in Britain on leave when war was declared. Against cabinet opinion, Kitchener correctly predicted a long war that would last at least three years, require huge new armies to defeat Germany, and cause huge casualties before the end would come. Kitchener stated that the conflict would plumb the depths of manpower "to the last million." A massive recruitment campaign began, which soon featured a distinctive poster of Kitchener, taken from a magazine front cover. It may have encouraged large numbers of volunteers and has proven to be one of the most enduring images of the war, having been copied and parodied many times since. Kitchener built up the "New Armies" as separate units because he distrusted the Territorials from what he had seen with the French Army in 1870. This may have been a mistaken judgement, as the British reservists of 1914 tended to be much younger and fitter than their French equivalents a generation earlier.[42]

Young men besieging the recruiting offices in Whitehall, London
The iconic, much-imitated 1914 Lord Kitchener Wants You poster

Raising the New Armies


First World War

He was created Earl Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Broome in the County of Kent, on 29 June 1914.[40]

At the time of the Agadir Crisis (summer 1911) Kitchener told the CID that he expected the Germans to walk through the French “like partridges” and he informed Lord Esher “that if they imagined that he was going to command the Army in France he would see them damned first”.[41]

In June 1911 Kitchener then returned to Egypt as British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt during the formal reign of Abbas Hilmi II as Khedive.[40]


Kitchener was promoted to the highest Army rank, Field Marshal, on 10 September 1909 and went on a tour of Australia and New Zealand.[36] He aspired to be Viceroy of India, but the Secretary of State for India, John Morley, was not keen and hoped to send him instead to Malta as Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the Mediterranean, even to the point of announcing the appointment in the newspapers. Kitchener pushed hard for the Viceroyalty, returning to London to lobby Cabinet ministers and the dying King Edward VII, from whom, whilst collecting his Field Marshal's baton, Kitchener obtained permission to refuse the Malta job. However, Morley could not be moved. This was perhaps in part because Kitchener was thought to be a Tory (the Liberals were in office at the time); perhaps due to a Curzon-inspired whispering campaign; but most importantly because Morley, who was a Gladstonian and thus suspicious of imperialism, felt it inappropriate, after the recent grant of limited self-government under the 1909 Indian Councils Act, for a serving soldier to be Viceroy (in the event, no serving soldier was appointed Viceroy until Archibald Wavell in 1943, during World War II). The Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, was sympathetic to Kitchener but was unwilling to overrule Morley, who threatened resignation, so Kitchener was finally turned down for the post of Viceroy of India in 1911.[40]

Kitchener presided over the Rawalpindi Parade 1905 to honour the Prince and Princess of Wales' visit to India.[38] That same year Kitchener founded the Indian Staff College at Quetta (now the Pakistani Command and Staff College), where his portrait still hangs.[39] His term of office as Commander-in-Chief, India was extended by two years in 1907.[36]

Later events proved Curzon was right in opposing Kitchener's attempts to concentrate all military decision-making power in his own office. Although the offices of Commander-in-Chief and Military Member were now held by a single individual, senior officers could approach only the Commander-in-Chief directly. In order to deal with the Military Member, a request had to be made through the Army Secretary, who reported to the Indian Government and had right of access to the Viceroy. There were even instances, when the two separate bureaucracies produced different answers to a problem with the Commander-in-Chief disagreeing with himself as Military Member. This became known as "the canonisation of duality". Kitchener's successor General O’Moore Creagh was nicknamed "no More K" and concentrated on establishing good relations with the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge.[37]

A portrait of Field Marshal Kitchener in full dress uniform taken shortly after being promoted to the rank

Kitchener was appointed Lord Curzon of Kedleston, who had originally lobbied for Kitchener's appointment, the two men eventually came into conflict. Curzon wrote to Kitchener advising him that signing himself “Kitchener of Khartoum” took up too much time and space – Kitchener commented on the pettiness of this (Curzon simply signed himself "Curzon" as an hereditary peer, although he later took to signing himself “Curzon of Kedleston”).[35] They also clashed over the question of military administration, as Kitchener objected to the system whereby transport and logistics were controlled by a "Military Member" of the Viceroy's Council. The Commander-in-Chief won the crucial support of the government in London, and the Viceroy chose to resign.[36]

Broome Park, Kitchener's country house in Kent



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