Early Life
Horatio Herbert Kitchener was born in Ireland on 24th June 1850. His father was a retired lieutenant-colonel, 20 years older than his wife Ann. Herbert's mother fretted over her son's too sensitive nature and lack of interest in manly pursuits. His father insisted on home tutoring but young Herbert was difficult to teach. One tutor declared that he had never known a boy so devoid of educational basics. When his mother died, in Switzerland, Herbert was only 14 and his father remarried two years later. The newly weds moved to New Zealand and he and his two brother remained in Switzerland to be schooled there. His lack of learning made him a figure of fun with his schoolmates and the humiliation scarred him permanently. However he had an aptitude for languages and became fluent in French and was able to speak German.
Franco-Prussian War
Kitchener chose to be an officer in the Royal Engineers and was trained at Woolwich. At this time he had a homosexual relationship with Claude Condor who was also a cadet at Woolwich. Herbert's father who was living in France urged him to come over to observe the Franco-Prussian War, which he did. He was exposed to the horror of the 3 day battle of Le Mans. He worked as a volunteer with the French ambulance service but he had been gazetted into the Royal Engineers whilst in France.
Royal Engineers
After a RE course at Chatham he was assigned for a short time to a troop of Mounted RE at Aldershot which was his only experience of working with British other ranks, as most of his career was spent working alone or with another officer, as a surveyor and map maker. He hated Aldershot but was soon sent off to do research work in Palestine with Claude Condor. Here he collected a vast amount of information and produced a report in 1875. He and Claude also learned Turkish and Arabic.
End of a Relationship
While doing some archaeological work the two officers were attacked by some Arabs with rocks and clubs. Kitchener was badly bruised and Claude was more seriously hurt. They both fell ill soon after this and had to return to England. Condor claimed that his life was saved by his friend's bravery, but things turned sour between them when Kitchener resumed the survey work without Condor, who was still not well enough. Condor later married a general's daughter and the spurned Kitchener took his revenge by claiming all their research work together as his alone.
Cyprus 1878
Having produced a well-received map of Jordon, Kitchener was sent to Cyprus to conduct a thorough survey and detailed map of the island. But the new governor, Sir Garnet Wolseley had other ideas. Kitchener was very keen to do the job but Wolseley couldn't wait 3 years for a full survey, and ordered him to produce a rough map to enable the British Administration to tax the population. Any uncultivated areas were to have Maltese peasants settled on them to provide revenue. However, when Wolseley was sent to South Africa in April 1879 and replaced by Sir Robert Biddulph things changed for the better and he was able to get on with the job he was sent to do.
Egyptian Army
When Sir Evelyn Wood became Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, Kitchener was chosen to be one of the 26 British Officers. He had not completed his Cyprus map but was released by Biddulph and was sent to Egypt where he was 2nd in command of cavalry. He proved himself to be very unpopular with his fellow officers but was admired by his superiors. But in 1883 he was sent to do more research work, in the Arabah valley, between the Dead Sea and Aqaba.
Sudan 1884
When trouble broke out in the Sudan he was ordered to cease work and join Evelyn Wood at Ismailia. He set off across the desert with 4 Arabs. It was a hard 200 mile trek and his health suffered. As a result of the strong sunlight his eyesight deteriorated and he became prone to headaches. When he was there he was given the task of making telegraph contact with the besieged and cut-off General Gordon in Khartoum. He managed to do this but irritated Gordon by asking him, 'Can I do anything for you? I shall be awfully glad if you will let me know.' Later he asked Gordon to tell him exactly when he expected problems so that he could send provisions and ammunition. Gordon wrote in his journal that it was like a drowning man being asked at what point will things be so desperate that a life buoy should be thrown to him.
Romance
Kitchener had met Colonel Valentine Baker in Constantinople and the Baker family now lived in Egypt in the hope that the warm climate would improve the health of their 16 year old daughter, Hermione. When she met the 33 year old Kitchener in 1883 she fell in love. There was talk of an engagement but Kitchener never mentioned it. In any case, within 4 years she had died, so had Colonel Baker, and his wife.
Governor of East Sudan 1887
Kitchener's governorship was considered a backwater appointment as he was confined to Suakin and a narrow strip of coast. He was ordered not to use the Egyptian troops for offensive purposes but he put together a force of irregulars, which included volunteers from his Egyptian troops, and led an attack in the forces of Osman Digna the Dervish leader. It was a disaster. Kitchener was injured in the jaw and his men had to retreat to Suakin. However, he was praised for his initiative and the Queen appointed him as one of her ADCs. The following year he had another battle with the Dervishes and won.
"We hated the sight of him"
He earned a CB for his work in the successful Battle of Toski where he commanded the Egyptian Cavalry. The Sirdar, Sir Francis Grenfell was in over all command and commented on Kitchener's brusque manner and that he lacked tact. His unpopularity with his colleagues became apparent to his superiors. One officer stated, 'We hated the sight of him'. As to the rank and file, Kitchener had no interest in them.
Sirdar of the Egyptian Army
In 1892 he was given the post of Sirdar when Grenfell was posted to England. This was a huge disappointment to the other officers but his promotion owed a lot to his presenting himself as a man who could cut costs. Lord Cromer, the British Consul General of Egypt, recognised him as 'a good man of business'. Kitchener cut pay, allowances and hospital amenities wherever he could. His dubious policy of employing unmarried men only was justified on the grounds that payment of marriage allowances was an unnecessary expense.
The Dongola Campaign
Kitchener commanded the Anglo-Egyptian forces at the battle of Firket where the Dervishes were heavily defeated. He proceeded carefully after that, waiting for his railway to be built before going on to Dongola. He had an army of 15,000 and 5 gun boats with which to fight a short battle at Hafir, and enter Dongola in September 1896.
Kitchener's Cubs
Sir Herbert Kitchener, as he was now called, was ambitious to conquer the Sudan and put much of his energy into the building of the Sudan Military Railway. He employed a French Canadian, Lieut Percy Girouard who had experience on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was handsome and high-spirited, and became one of Kitchener's 'cubs'. These cubs, his 'happy family of boys', were young officers who had license to do what others did not dare to do. Everyone else was bullied mercilessly.
Omdurman
The campaign of 1898 began in April with the battle of Atbara which caused Kitchener to be worked up into a highly nervous state but he managed to defeat the Khalifa's army in the space of an hour. He paraded the defeated Dervish commander through the streets of Berber in chains like a Roman emperor. The battle of Omdurman was fought with 28,300 Anglo-Egyptian troops, 10 gun boats, 44 field guns and 20 machine guns. What should have been an easy victory over men with spears and muskets nearly turned against them but for the brave charge of the 21st Lancers, and Hector Macdonald's brigade. The attack on Macdonald's brigade caused Kitchener to panic and he galloped around shouting orders to battalion commanders. This should have been done by his staff but he was very poor at delegating. The final acts involved the desecration of the Mahdi's tomb and hoisting the Union flag over Khartoum.
Lord K of K
Before returning to England to have the honours heaped upon him, Kitchener was ordered up the Nile to eject a small band of French soldiers who had established a fort at Fashoda. Kitchener took 5 gun-boats but ended up dealing with the matter diplomatically. In England he was presented with academic honours at universities, the Freedom of the City of London and the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. When other institutions inquired about how best to express their appreciation of his Imperial conquests they were told that gold plate, fine furniture and paintings would be most acceptable. Kitchener had always been a keen collector of objets d'art, porcelain etc. A grateful nation also gave him 30,000, the GCB and a peerage. He was created Lord Kitchener of Khartoum and of Aspall in Suffolk. Everyone now called him K of K.
The Boer War
For several months K of K was installed in a palace in Khartoum as Governor-General but soon after the Boer War started in 1899, he was appointed as Lord Roberts's chief of staff. With the rank of Lieut-General, he acted as 2nd in command and they made an odd couple. K of K was 6' 2" while Roberts was 5' 2". At the Battle of Paardeberg Kitchener clashed with Lieut-General Kelly-Kenny and the resulting great loss of British life was down to Kitchener getting his own way. Kitchener displayed a complete disregard for the lives of his men. At the end of 1900 the war was considered won and Roberts left Kitchener in charge of mopping up. But there was still a lot of fighting to do. Kitchener organised 'drives' to contain the Boers, and built thousands of blockhouses to control the areas of Boer movement.

He did not delegate authority but relied on the telegraph communication to give orders personally. Once when the telegraph wires broke Kitchener was in such a state of frustration that he shut himself in his room and remained there for 48 hours without any food at all. The concentration camps set up to house Boer families caused much soul-searching in England. He was accused in Parliament of using methods of barbarism.

India
Even while still in South Africa Kitchener had his eye on the position of Commander-in-Chief in India and on 28th November he landed there to start work. His arrogance and ambition were matched by Lord Curzon the Viceroy and they recognised kindred spirits in each other, but it was bound to end in tears. Kitchener found himself restricted by a system that allowed a junior officer who was head of the Military Department to override any changes that Kitchener needed to make. K of K sought help from London and eventually had the system changed, but not enough to satisfy his desire for total control. Curzon was even less satisfied and resigned the Viceroyship, to be replaced by Lord Minto who got on well with Kitchener. The Indian Army was reorganised under Kitchener so that the armies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras were centrally administered.

One of his chief aides in India was Capt Frank Maxwell VC of the 18th Bengal Lancers. He was a favourite of Kitchener's but made the mistake of getting married whilst on leave in England. As a result he was sacked and replaced by another officer of the same regiment, Capt Oswald FitzGerald who remained Kitchener's faithful friend and partner for the rest of his life.

Egypt 1911-1914
Lord Kitchener was sent to Cairo as Agent, Consul-General and Minister Plenipotentiary.There was a need for strong leadership in Egypt and Kitchener's dictatorial style suited the Egyptians. He made many changes that improved agricultural conditions for the fellahin and he built roads, railways, bridges, dams and hospitals. In June 1914 he took his annual 3 month leave to England. He never returned to Egypt.
World War 1
Field Marshal Kitchener was 64 when he was appointed Secretary of State for War on 5th Aug 1914. He sat in on the cabinet in London as the second most important person in the government and he was the only one to predict that it would be a long war. But as soon as Field Marshal French started to act on his own initiative Kitchener rushed over to France to take charge. The two Field Marshals could not agree on anything and French blamed Lord K for the 13,000 British casualties at Neuve-Chapelle because the BEF had been starved of ammunition.
A Great Poster
Kitchener Poster
Kitchener Poster
The Gallipoli campaign was a disaster for which Kitchener was partly responsible. He did not give Ian Hamilton clear instructions and did not give adequate staff support. This was the low point from which Kitchener did not recover. Throughout the war he was regarded by the public as the victorious general, on a par with Wellington, the man who would deal with the Germans as he had with the Dervishes in Sudan but Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister, had lost faith in him. He said of Kitchener, behind his back, 'He is not a great man. He is a great poster'. This was a reference to the highly successful recruiting poster showing his Lordship's moustachioed face and pointing finger.
Decline and Fall
The trouble with Kitchener's elevated position was that he did not regard himself as junior to anyone so there was no longer any need to try and please people in authority. And he had never bothered to follow the normal codes of polite behaviour with his subordinates or his colleagues. So now everyone who came in contact with him could see him for what he really was, an arrogant bully. Except, of course, his personal ADC, Oswald.
Kitchener's Death, 5th June 1916
HMS Hampshire
HMS Hampshire
By December 1915 Sir John French had been replaced by Haig and the General Staff came under the control of General Sir William Robertson. Kitchener was sidelined and tried to resign. But he was still a national hero so he was persuaded to stay. In May 1916 he received an invitation from the Tsar to visit the Russian Army on the front line and offer advice. He set sail in HMS Hampshire on 5th June 1916 with 12 people on his staff, including Oswald FitzGerald. At 7.10pm the ship hit a mine and sank into the cold waters of the North Sea within 15 minutes, drowning Lord Kitchener and his faithful companion.

map of campaign
Images of Kitchener
Timeline
1850
24th Jun
Born in Listowel, County Kerry
1868
Entered Woolwich
1871
4th Jan
Commissioned in Royal Engineers
1873
Graduated from School of Military Engineering, Chatham
1874
19th Nov
Started research work in Palestine
1875
10th Jul
Attacked by Arabs
1877
Feb
Resumes work after a spell in England
1878
Cyprus. Map making
1882 Served as officer in the Egyptian Army
1884
Mar
Sudan
1885 Appointed by Zanzibar Boundary Commission
1885 Awarded CMG
1887 Appointed Governor of East Sudan and Red Sea Littoral
1888
17th Jan
Battle against the Dervishes
1888
Jun
ADC to the Queen
1889
3rd Aug
Battle of Toski
1892
13th Apr
Promoted Local Major-General and appointed Sirdar
1896
6th Jun
Battle of Firket, Dongola Campaign
1896
23rd Sep
Successful end to Dongola Campaign
1896 Promoted to Major-General and KCB
1898
8th Apr
Battle of Atbara near Berber
1898
2nd Sep
Battle of Omdurman
1898
Sep
Fashoda Incident
1898
Nov
GCB and peerage
1898
7th Dec
Left England to take up post of Governor General of Sudan
1899
11th Oct
Boer War
1900
11th Dec
Commander-in-Chief in South Africa
1902 Awarded GCMG, Order of Merit, and promoted to General
1902
28th Nov
Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army
1909
10th Sep
Relinquished Command in India and promoted to Field Marshal
1911
Oct
Administrator of Egypt
1914
23rd Jun
Returned to England
1914
5th Aug
Secretary of State for War
1914
15th Nov
Colonel of Irish Guards
1914 Colonel Commandant Royal Engineers
1916
5th Jun
Drowned at sea
Suggested Reading
Kitchener
Pollock, John

Eminent Victorian Soldiers: Seekers of Glory
Farwell, Byron (Viking 1986)

With Kitchener in Cairo
Moseley, Sydney Alexander

Lord Kitchener Of Khartoum: A biography

The King's Shilling: The Life and Times of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum
Kellett R

Lord Kitchener of Khartoum and of Aspall
Aitken, W. Francis.

Kitchener: The Man Behind the Legend
Warner, Philip





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