Horatio Herbert Kitchener
1850 - 1916
British field marshal and statesman Horatio Herbert Kitchener,
1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and Broome (), is best known for
his service in British colonial wars and administration.
Horatio Herbert Kitchener was born on June 14, 1850, at Crotter
House, Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland; his father, an
English lieutenant colonel, had settled in Ireland. Educated in
Switzerland, Kitchener entered the Royal Military Academy at
Woolwich in 1868, served briefly with the French against the
Prussians in 1870, and took his commission in the Royal
Engineers in 1871. He entered routine army service at home but
in 1874 began his connection with the Near East on loan to the
Palestine Exploration Fund. In 1878 he began a survey of Cyprus
after its acquisition by Britain, serving briefly as a
vice-consul in Asia Minor and visiting Egypt unofficially in
1882 to join the British campaign against the nationalists.
Years in Egypt
At the end of 1882 Kitchener was appointed second in command of
the Egyptian cavalry and served with Gen. G. J. Wolseley in the
1884 attempts to rescue Gen. C. G. Gordon. He resigned the
Egyptian army command in 1885, serving at the end of that year
as British representative on the International Commission to
delimit the sultan of Zanzibar's mainland territories.
In the summer of 1886 Kitchener was appointed governor general
of the eastern Sudan with headquarters at Suakin; and in
September 1888 he became adjustant general of the Egyptian army,
directing the cavalry in the battle of Toski in August 1889,
which removed the last threat of a Mahdist invasion of Egypt.
Until 1892 he was involved in reorganizing the Egyptian police.
In April 1892 Kitchener took command of the Egyptian army as its
"sirdar" and began preparing the plans for the Anglo-Egyptian
invasion of the Mahdist-controlled Sudan, to take the form of a
systematic advance up the Nile. The advance on Dongola began in
1896, and Abu Hamed fell in 1897. The advance continued steadily
throughout 1897, and the end of the year saw the British
government authorize the final advance on the Mahdi's capital at
Omdurman. Here, on Sept. 2, 1898, the Caliph was defeated, and
Khartoum was occupied a few days later. There followed the
Fashoda crisis, in which Kitchener and the French colonel J. B.
Marchand confronted each other with their flags on the Nile.
Under British pressure, the French gave way and withdrew
Marchand's force. Kitchener went in triumph to London, received
a peerage, and returned to the Sudan as its first Anglo-Egyptian
South Africa and India
In October 1899 the Anglo-Boer War erupted in South Africa. In
December 1899 Kitchener joined Lord Roberts as his chief of
staff. By the end of 1900, the British had reversed their early
defeats and occupied the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
Lord Roberts returned to England, and Kitchener was made
commander in chief in South Africa. The Boers now resorted to
guerrilla warfare, and Kitchener responded with a ruthless
policy designed to cut off the Boers from their supplies among
the friendly Afrikaners. The countryside was divided up into
closed areas with lines of blockhouses and barbed wire, farms
were destroyed, and the women and children were herded into
"concentration camps," where the death rates from disease were
appalling. These policies did much to strengthen antiwar feeling
in Britain, and Kitchener himself keenly felt the odium directed
against him, to the extent that he allowed the Boers to win
gains in the Peace of Vereeniging of May 31, 1902.
From 1902 to 1909 Kitchener was commander in chief in India,
concerning himself with extensive reforms of the Indian army and
quarreling with the viceroy, Lord Curzon, who resigned in 1905
as a result. Kitchener succeeded in carrying through a large
measure of reform after 1905. In September 1909 Kitchener left
India and was given the rank of field marshal. He now traveled
widely in the Far East, the Antipodes, Turkey, and East Africa
and began serving on the Committee of Imperial Defence after
1910. In September 1911 he returned to Egypt as head of the
British administration, ruling for 4 years. In political matters
Kitchener granted little of substance to the nationalists, and
in economic policies he ruled as a benevolent despot,
undertaking more in land reform and creating more security for
poor peasants than any previous administrator.
In June 1914 Kitchener received his earldom. While still in
England, he was appointed secretary of state for war on Aug. 3,
1914. It was his task to create the new armies for France, to
mobilize industry for the war, and to control military strategy.
In 1916 Kitchener set out in H.M.S. Hampshire for a visit to
Russia, but the ship struck a mine on June 5 and was sunk. His
body was never recovered.
Herbert Horatio Kitchener was born in Ireland on 24 June 1850,
the second son in a family of five children. His father,
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Horatio Kitchener, had served in the
13th Light Dragoons and in the 29th Foot, in India, until his
retirement in 1849.
In 1863 the family moved to Switzerland where his mother died at
the age of 38. His father re-married and moved to New Zealand,
leaving his younger children in Switzerland to complete their
education giving Kitchener a good knowledge of French and
In 1868 he entered the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and on
4 January 1871 was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. Prior
to his commissioning, however, Kitchener and a colleague,
motivated by a spirit of adventure, went to France and joined
General Chanzy's Army of the Loire.
Their objective was "to witness war at first hand" in the
Franco-Prussian conflict but the experience was short-lived.
Chanzy was defeated and Kitchener caught pneumonia. On returning
to England he was ordered before the Commander-in-Chief, the
Duke of Cambridge, to explain his behaviour in joining a French
force, in defiance of Englands strictly neutral role in that
conflict. He got away with it as the Duke said that he would
probably have done the same thing in Kitchener's place.
Following 3 years training in Military Engineering at the School
of Military Engineering in Chatham, and in Aldershot, he was
offered the appointment of Surveyor in Palestine in 1874 by the
Palestine Exploration Fund. In 4 years a complete map of Western
Palestine was produced, showing every village and geographical
feature. This project added much local experience and a
knowledge of Arabic to Kitchener's range of skills.
This was followed, in 1878, by the survey of Cyprus but active
service was needed to bring Kitchener into prominence. He made
many friends in Cyprus, often in religious circles, and Major
General Sir Robert Biddulph, with whom he had had a number of
altercations, spoke warmly of his professional skills and
self-reliance, but added that he was "rather impulsive and does
not always foresee results".
In 1882, when on sick-leave in Alexandria, and with revolt
brewing in Egypt's southern province of Sudan, he was offered
the appointment of Second-in-Command of a regiment of Egyptian
cavalry, then in the course of formation, in the rank of
Captain. But he was still unknown, having had no opportunities
to participate in any of the recent colonial campaigns.
At the end of 1883, a small British force had been massacred by
the forces of the Mahdi, who was now master of almost the whole
of the Sudan except for a few towns. By January 1884, all the
garrisons except Khartoum had been lost.
Major General Charles Gordon, another Royal Engineer, was
quickly despatched to Khartoum, arriving there in February, but
within a month that garrison was cut off and under siege. While
Gordon was on his way from Cairo to Khartoum, Kitchener carried
out a reconnaissance into Upper Egypt to assess whether water
resources and terrain would allow a relief expedition to get
supplies and reinforcements through to Khartoum safely.
It was assumed that the British Government would quickly
authorise such an expedition but this did not happen. Kitchener
was first ordered to undertake it, but was then instructed to
wait at Aswan. To this he commented - "if we go on much longer
in this way, Gordon's blood will be on Gladstone's head".
By May, Kitchener had been ordered to Upper Egypt with his
Abadeh Field Force to organise a line of desert strongpoints
between the Nile and the Red Sea. To remain inconspicuous, he
wore Arab robes, was heavily bearded and rode with an escort of
no more than 20 men, all intensely loyal.
He became equally respected in high places and with his troops
for his energy and devotion. His ability to move among the
tribes, often at great personal risk, enabled him to detect
loyalty or treachery among the local leaders.
The telegraph link between Khartoum and the outside world had
been cut and Kitchener organised a team to carry messages to and
from Gordon. His admiration for Gordon was enormous but the
situation in Khartoum grew steadily worse.
In August, Parliament was asked for funds to send a relief
expedition to Egypt, but it was not until almost the end of 1884
that troops arrived in Debbeh, having been sent up the Nile
rather than by the shorter route across the desert.
On 7 January 1885, Kitchener left Korti with the advance party
of the force intended to relieve Khartoum, but they were too
late. On 2 February they reached Gadkul where they were
horrified to learn that Khartoum had fallen on 26 January and
that Gordon had been murdered. After the death of Gordon, the
relief expedition temporarily ground to a halt and in May
Gladstone ordered total evacuation. Kitchener could foresee many
problems - the welfare of the Sudanese and the safety of Egypt
and the Suez Canal.
As Kitchener compiled his report on the disaster, he commented -
"Never was a garrison so nearly rescued, never was a commander
so sincerely lamented". He determined revenge. By mid-July he
was back in England, now a Lieutenant Colonel, and, with members
of the Camel Corps, was commanded to Osborne House, in the Isle
of Wight, to receive the thanks of Queen Victoria.
In November 1885, after some well-earned leave, he was appointed
British representative on the Zanzibar Boundary Commission. This
was not to Kitchener's liking. Frontiers were ill-defined, with
Germany annexing parts of what are now Kenya and Tanzania. Much
was settled in the capitals of Europe and the commission had
wasted much valuable time and energy, although it brought warm
approval from the Foreign Secretary and the CMG for Kitchener.
On his way home in August 1886 he received a cable while in Suez
appointing him Governor-General of the Eastern Sudan and the Red
Sea Littoral, including the port of Suakin ; a powerful title
but with limited responsibilities. The main objectives were to
safeguard the approaches to the Suez Canal and to contain
gun-running into the Sudan.
In April 1887, Kitchener was promoted to Colonel and was also
appointed an ADC to Queen Victoria. Compliments flowed, both in
respect of his civil and military skills and the fact that he
spoke fluent Arabic. Clearly, he was on the way up.
During this period, however, he had sustained a nasty facial
wound in a skirmish with the forces of the Mahdi. The wound had
failed to heal and in early 1888 he returned to London for
While on leave he was summoned by the Prime Minister, Lord
Salisbury, who was also Foreign Secretary, and was offered the
post of Adjutant-General of the Egyptian Army. Trouble flared
again in August 1889 ; the Dervishes invaded Egypt but were
defeated at Toski. Once again, Kitchener, now a Brigadier
General, received glowing reports on his wide-ranging abilities,
but he was not universally popular due to a somewhat brusque
In 1892, Kitchener was appointed Sirdar (C-in-C) of the Egyptian
Army, a rare achievement for someone only 41 years of age. But a
re-conquest of the Sudan was not expected for many years, due to
a lack of funds, and the appointment called for an administrator
as well as a soldier, with good experience in that part of the
world. Kitchener fitted the job specification well and in 1894
he was knighted, having been awarded the CB in 1889. On every
home leave he had lobbied for the re-conquest of the Sudan, but
no approval of his proposals was given.
In March 1896, however, the situation changed. An Abyssinian
army had almost wiped out an Italian force which was advancing
westwards from their colony of Eritrea. Frantic requests from
the Italians led to Lord Salisbury ordering the Egyptian army to
move into Dongola, the northernmost province of the Sudan.
Kitchener's long-standing wish to avenge the murder of Gordon
had been at least partially granted.
Many of the problems during the 1896-1898 campaign were more in
the nature of a civil war than an invasion. A harsh climate and
the financial and political constraints emanating from London
made Kitcheners task a mammoth challenge. Inevitably, he made a
number of enemies, but after many actions and skirmishes, his
force entered Dongola on 22 September 1896.
In November 1896, when in England to secure money from the
Treasury to continue the campaign, and recently promoted to
Major General, he was commanded to dine with Queen Victoria at
Windsor and was subsequently appointed KCB. With considerable
skill, he persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to grant the
necessary funds and returned to Egypt at the end of the month to
continue his task.
Kitchener's plan now involved the building of a railway line
from Wadi Halfa across the desert, thus cutting out a vast curve
in the Nile and several difficult cataracts.
A young Sapper officer, Lieutenant Percy Girouard, a French
Canadian, surveyed, designed and directed this operation which
presented numerous problems due to the terrain, the climate and
the lack of water.
His force continued its advance south and on 2 September 1898
Kitchener completely destroyed the army of the Mahdi at Omdurman
; Gordon's death had been finally avenged. For this success he
was raised to the peerage and took the title of Baron Kitchener
In 1899, while still Sirdar (C-in-C) of the Egyptian army, he
was promoted Lieutenant General. and appointed Chief of Staff to
Lord Roberts in South Africa. When Roberts returned to England
in 1900, Kitchener was promoted to General and appointed C-in-C.
In addition to constant military activity, his handling of the
peace negotiations at Vereeniging, which brought the Boer war to
an end, illustrated his considerable abilities as a statesman.
On returning to England in July 1902, he was created a Viscount
and received the Order of Merit from King Edward VII. There was
little opportunity for rest and in 1903 he was sent to India as
C-in-C. Travelling by way of Khartoum, he had the pleasure of
opening the Gordon Memorial College, built with funds donated by
the people of Great Britain at the end of his service in the
Arriving in India on 28 November 1902, Kitchener set about a
comprehensive re-organisation of both the British and Indian
armies at the behest of Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, who saw
uncontrolled expenditure on all sides. The entire structure was
muddled and inefficient and the lines of communication were
Troops were formed into Brigades and Divisions, and the
regiments of the Indian army were numbered instead of being
divided among the Bombay, Bengal and Madras armies, a legacy of
the old East India Company. While there were no major warlike
operations during his time in India, there was plenty of scope
for his organising talents.
However, there was at the time considerable conflict between
Kitchener, as the military commander, and the member of the
civilian government who was responsible for supply. This led to
a major breakdown in the relationship between Kitchener and Lord
Curzon. Little did they know that less than ten years later they
would both be attending cabinet meetings in Downing Street. He
was appointed Colonel Commandant of the Royal Engineers in 1906.
Kitchener left India in 1909 but before returning to England he
carried out a tour of inspection of many of the Empires forces,
with the result that compulsory military training was introduced
in Australia and New Zealand.
Promoted to Field Marshal, he was appointed Agent and Consul
General in Egypt and arrived in Cairo on 28 September 1911. The
old conflict between civil servants and military commanders
still existed and Kitchener had to walk a tight-rope in keeping
the peace in what was a somewhat sensitive environment. Despite
this, he retained almost universal popularity.
As he left Cairo for some leave on 18 June 1914, he learned that
he was to be created an Earl and took the title of Earl
Kitchener of Khartoum and of Broome. Broome Park, his English
home, lies midway between Canterbury and Dover.
War clouds were gathering and Kitchener was apprehensive lest he
be prevented from returning to Cairo ; however, he was relieved
when the Foreign Office instructed all those on leave to return
to their posts. On the other hand, colleagues and the press were
signalling that, if war was to come, he was the only war leader
which the nation could trust.
On Saturday 1 August 1914, he visited Broome Park "for a last
look round" (workmen were still on site). On Bank Holiday
Monday, 3 August, he drove to Dover to start his journey back to
Cairo. But, as the boat was about to sail, he was persuaded by
various colleagues, who had travelled down from London on the
boat train, to return with them to the capital. Here he found a
note from the Prime Minister saying that "I was anxious that you
should not get beyond the reach of personal contact and
The British ultimatum to the Germans, who had already invaded
Belgium, expired on 4 August and the country was at war.
Kitchener had a meeting with the Prime Minister on that day
advising him of his wish to return to Egypt, but adding that if
forced to stay in London he would accept nothing less than full
authority as Secretary of State for War. The Foreign Secretary
still wanted him to return to Cairo, but on the following
morning Asquith formally offered him the post he had requested.
He accepted with some reluctance, on the understanding that he
entered the Cabinet as a non-party, non-political soldier for
the duration of the war only. His post in Cairo would remain
open, but no one could foresee how things would develop. When
news of his appointment broke, there was nationwide relief and
approval. Already a national hero and well-known for his courage
and determination, his background was clear of failure and he
had not been involved in recent political disputes.
Kitchener's first task was to put some life into a lethargic War
Office and to obtain cabinet support for what many saw as
extreme views on immediate military strategy. In the first
place, he envisaged a long war - 3 years - whereas many of his
new colleagues believed that all would be over by Christmas
1914. To win, he said, required a million men, including 100,000
immediately. The latter were to be volunteers and a major
recruiting campaign was launched with the famous poster headed -
"Your King and Country Need You". Conscription was not
considered at that stage.
Almost immediately, however, Kitchener clashed with his military
colleagues, both British and French, on a number of fundamental
aspects of policy and strategy. But recruits poured in, many of
them being formed into "local" battalions where they were
friends and colleagues already, thus creating an almost
In France, problems soon arose and both British and French
armies were forced to retreat. Relations between the two
countries became strained and after much discussion in cabinet,
Kitchener decided to go to France immediately to sort things
out. A strategy was agreed leading, at the beginning of
September, to the Battle of the Marne and the first major
setback for the Germans.
In addition to recruitment, munitions and general strategy,
Kitchener became involved in the re-structuring of the medical
services, both in England and in France, many of which were
initially being run by "enthusiastic amateurs", often leading to
muddle and misunderstanding. His involvement in matters
political and military, both in England and in France, was
continuous and un-ending. He negotiated supplies with American
sources and gave whatever help he could to the French with
munitions and equipment following the loss of much of their own
industrial capacity from the German advance into northern
But he could never understand politicians and had many disputes
with his colleagues in the cabinet and, indeed, with some of the
civil servants with whom he was in constant contact. By the end
of 1914, the situation in France had settled into one of trench
warfare with a series of bombardments, assaults and mounting
losses on both sides, without any clear-cut results. Various
suggestions for attacking the Germans via the side door were
considered until finally, with support from Winston Churchill,
First Lord of the Admiralty, plans were made for an invasion of
Turkey, with whom Britain had been at war since November 1914.
To launch this offensive the Royal Navy attacked the Turkish
fleet in the Dardanelles on 18 March 1915 and a seaborne assault
on the Gallipoli peninsula was launched on 25 April. This
assault force comprised mainly Australian and New Zealand troops
but the whole operation was a disastrous failure and resulted in
ultimate withdrawal after suffering enormous casualties.
The war dragged on in France and Kitchener became almost
continuously involved in political argument and discord within
the cabinet, to the extent that on several occasions he felt
that, by now 65, he must resign but each time he was talked out
In May 1916, however, the Russian Emperor advised King George V
that a visit to Russia by Lord Kitchener would be "useful and
important". Accordingly, the navy provided the cruiser HMS
Hampshire and on 5 June Kitchener sailed from the Orknies bound
for Archangel. But unknown to anyone a German submarine had, a
few days earlier, laid a string of mines in the area, with the
objective of sinking or at least hindering ships of Admiral
Jellicoes fleet based on Scapa Flow.
The weather was bad, the sea was rough and the escorting
destroyers could not keep up with the Hampshire, which was
keeping close inshore to avoid the worst of the weather. Just
before 8 pm the Hampshire struck one of these mines and the
"Abandon Ship" order was given, but within just a few minutes
the ship went down in 40 fathoms of ice-cold water. Only 12 from
a complement of more than 600 survived ; those who had survived
the explosion were killed by the intense cold. Kitchener's body
was never found.
Public grief was widespread and troops in France were bewildered
and in shock at this tragedy. Kitchener had achieved his
objective of raising new armies but would have been saddened by
the loss of 19,000 men on the first day of the Battle of the
Somme, less than as month after his death.
A memorial service was held in St. Pauls Cathedral on 15 June
1916 and, in a unique tribute, brief services were held
simultaneously at two mile intervals behind the lines in France,
well within the sound of the guns. In high places, compliments
and criticisms flowed for many years and Kitchener was often
blamed for things which did or did not happen, when he was not
present to defend a particular situation.
Tributes flowed from all quarters -
"It was only when the Last Post rang out that one realised that
one was there to mark the passing of a great man, from a great
work well done, into eternity" - Brigadier General Charteris,
representing Field Marshal Haig and his Headquarters.
"He will live in history amongst the greatest of Great Britain's
sons, but it is well that the world should know that this
straight, true, stern man had a heart as tender as his will was
strong" - Sir Frederick Milner.
Nine years later, a Kitchener memorial chapel was dedicated in
St. Pauls Cathedral, London. The Roll of Honour of the Royal
Engineers stands near a life-sized effigy in white marble lying
on a sarcophagus. A statue of Earl Kitchener, seated on a horse,
stands at the entrance to the Royal Engineers barracks in
Chatham which bears his name. This is a replica of the original
in Calcutta and stood from 1921 until 1958 in Khartoum, when it
was returned to this country and presented to the Corps of Royal
JACANA HOME PAGE
CLASSIC VIDEO CLIPS
JACANA ASTRONOMY SITE
JACANA PHOTO LIBRARY |
OLD MAUN PHOTO GALLERY |
MAUN PHONE DIRECTORY
FREE FONTS |
PIC OF THE DAY
GENERAL LIBRARY |
MAP LIBRARY |
HOUSE PLANS LIBRARY
MAUN E-MAIL, WEBSITE & SKYPE LIST
BOTSWANA GPS CO-ORDINATES
MAUN SAFARI WEB LINKS |
FREE SOFTWARE |
JACANA WEATHER PAGE
JACANA CROSSWORD LIBRARY |
JACANA CARTOON PAGE |
This web page was last updated on:
12 December, 2008