Horatio Herbert Kitchener

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Horatio Herbert Kitchener

The British field marshal and statesman Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and Broome (1850-1916), 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 governor general.

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.

Further Reading

Kitchener himself wrote little of significance. During his lifetime, especially in the early years of World War I, dozens of potboilers were written about his life, but they are of little value. More useful are Sir George Arthur, Life of Lord Kitchener (3 vols., 1920), and Gerald French, The Kitchener-French Dispute: A Last Word (1960). The outstanding study, however, is that by Sir Philip Magnus, Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist (1958).

Additional Sources

Cassar, George H., Kitchener: architect of victory, London: W. Kimber, 1977.

Royle, Trevor, The Kitchener enigma, London: M. Joseph, 1985.

Warner, Philip, Kitchener: the man behind the legend, New York: Atheneum, 1986, 1985. □