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 (Hodson 1997). The survey collected data on the topography and toponymy of the area, as well as local flora and fauna. 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:
Kitchener later served as a Vice-Consul in Anatolia, and in 1883, as a British captain but with the Turkish rank of bimbashi (major), in the occupation of Egypt (which was to be a British puppet state, its army led by British officers, from 1883 until the early 1950s), and the following year as an Aide de Camp during the failed Gordon relief expedition in the Sudan. At this time his fiancée, and possibly the only female love of his life, Hermione Baker, died of typhoid fever in Cairo; he subsequently had no issue. But he raised his young cousin Bertha Chevallier-Boutell, daughter of Kitchener's first-cousin, Sir Francis Hepburn de Chevallier-Boutell.
Kitchener won national fame on his second tour in the Sudan (1886–1899), being made Aide de Camp to Queen Victoria and appointed a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB). However, this campaign also made his brutality infamous, an aspect of his tactics that became well known after the Boer War. In 1896 British forces under Horatio Kitchener moved up the Nile, building a railway to supply arms and reinforcements. After victory in the Battle of Omdurman, near Khartoum, Kitchener had the remains of the Mahdi exhumed and scattered, presumably to teach a lesson to his opponents.
In the late 1880s he was Governor of the Red Sea Territories (which in practice consisted of little more than the Port of Suakin) with the rank of Colonel. Then after becoming Sirdar of the Egyptian Army in 1892, with the rank of major-general in the British Army, he headed the victorious Anglo-Egyptian army at the Battle of Omdurman on 2 September 1898, a victory made possible by the massive rail construction programme he had instituted in the area.
He was created Baron Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk, on 31 October 1898 as a victory title commemorating his successes, and began a programme restoring good governance to the Sudan. The programme had a strong foundation based on education, Gordon Memorial College being 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 and 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 attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.
He also reformed the debt laws, preventing rapacious moneylenders from stripping away all assets of impoverished farmers, guaranteeing them five acres (20,000 m²) of land to farm for themselves and the tools to farm with. In 1899 Kitchener was presented with a small island in the Nile at Aswan as in gratitude for his services; the island was renamed Kitchener's Island in his honour.
Following the defeat of the conventional Boer forces, Kitchener succeeded Roberts as overall commander in November 1900, and after the failure of a reconciliatory peace treaty in February 1901 (due to British cabinet veto) which Kitchener had negotiated with the Boer leaders, Kitchener inherited and expanded the successful strategies devised by Roberts to crush the Boer guerrillas.
In a brutal campaign, these strategies removed civilian support from the Boers with a scorched earth policy of destroying Boer farms, slaughtering livestock, building blockhouses, and moving women, children and the elderly into concentration camps. Conditions in these camps, which had been conceived by Roberts as a form of controlling the families whose farms he had destroyed, began to degenerate rapidly as the large influx of Boers outstripped the minuscule ability of the British to cope. The camps lacked space, food, sanitation, medicine, and medical care, leading to rampant disease and a staggering 34.4% death rate for those Boers who entered. The biggest critic of the camps was Cornish humanitarian and welfare worker Emily Hobhouse. Despite being largely rectified by late 1901, they led to wide opprobrium in Britain and Europe, and especially amongst South Africans.
The Treaty of Vereeniging was signed in 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 hardline conservative and wanted to forcibly anglicise the Afrikaners, and Milner and the British government wanted to assert victory by forcing the Boers to sign a humiliating peace treaty, while Kitchener wanted a more generous compromise peace treaty that would recognise certain rights for the Afrikaners and promise future self-government. Eventually the British government decided the war had gone on long enough and sided with Kitchener against Milner. (Louis Botha, the Boer leader with whom Kitchener negotiated his aborted peace treaty in 1901, became the first Prime Minister of the self-governing Union of South Africa in 1910.) The Treaty also agreed to pay for reconstruction following the end of hostilities. Six days later Kitchener, who had risen in rank from major-general to full general during the war, was created Viscount Kitchener, of Khartoum and of the Vaal in the Colony of Transvaal and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk.
This order - which Kitchener later denied issuing - led to the famous Breaker Morant case, in which several soldiers from Australia were arrested and court-martialled for summarily executing Boer prisoners and also for the murder of a German missionary believed to be a Boer sympathiser. The celebrated horseman and bush poet Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant and Lt. Peter Handcock were found guilty, sentenced to death and shot by firing squad at Pietersburg on 27 February 1902. Their death warrants were personally signed by Kitchener. A third, Lt. George Witton, was reprieved.
Kitchener was promoted to the highest Army rank, Field Marshal, in 1910 and went on a tour of the world. 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, perhaps in part because he was thought to be a Tory (the Liberals were in office at the time) and 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), Morley could not be moved. The Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, was sympathetic but was unwilling to overule Morley, who threatened resignation, so Kitchener was finally turned down for the post of Viceroy of India in 1911.
Kitchener then returned to Egypt as British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt (the job formerly held by Sir Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer) and of the so-called Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1911–1914, during the formal reign of Abbas Hilmi II as Khedive (nominally Ottoman Viceroy) of Egypt, Sovereign of Nubia, of the Sudan, of Kordofan and of Darfur). Whatever the legal niceties, Egypt was in reality a British puppet state and the Sudan a directly-administered British colony, making Kitchener Viceroy of the region in all but name.
Kitchener was created Earl Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Broome in the County of Kent, on 29 June 1914. Unusually, provision was made for the title to be passed on to his brother and nephew, since Kitchener was not married and had no children.
At the outset of World War I, the Prime Minister, H. H. 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 Seeley 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 suffer 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 himself, 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.
In an effort to find a way to relieve pressure on the Western front, Lord Kitchener proposed an invasion of İskenderun with Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), New Army, and Indian troops. Alexandretta was an area with a large Christian population and was the strategic centre of the Ottoman Empire's railway network - its capture would have cut the empire in two. Yet he was instead eventually persuaded to support Winston Churchill's disastrous Gallipoli campaign in 1915–1916. That failure, combined with the Shell Crisis of 1915, was to deal Kitchener's political reputation a heavy blow; Kitchener was popular with the public, so Asquith retained him in office in the new coalition government, but responsibility for munitions was moved to a new ministry headed by David Lloyd George. Later in 1915 Kitchener was sent on a tour of inspection of Gallipoli and the Near East, in the hope that he could be persuaded to remain in the region as commander-in-chief.
At the end of 1915, the new Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson, took office only on condition that he was granted the right to speak for the Army to the Cabinet in matters of strategy, leaving Kitchener solely with responsibility for manpower and recruitment. Whereas Kitchener had hoped to hold his armies in reserve to administer the coup de grace to Germany after the other warring nations had exhausted themselves, 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.
In May 1916, preparations were made for Kitchener and Lloyd George to visit Russia on a diplomatic mission. Lloyd George was otherwise engaged with his new Ministry and so it was decided to send Kitchener alone.
A week before his death, Kitchener confided to Lord Derby that he intended to press relentlessly for a peace of reconciliation, regardless of his position, when the war was over, as he feared that the politicians would make a bad peace.
On 4 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 with 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 in order 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.
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 Kitchener stitch.
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."
Fritz Joubert Duquesne, a Boer and German spy, claimed to have sabotaged and sunk the HMS Hampshire, killing Kitchener and most of the crew. According to German records, Duquesne assumed the identity of Russian Duke Boris Zakrevsky and joined Kitchener in Scotland. En route to Russia, Duquesne signalled a German U-boat to alert them that Kitchener’s ship was approaching. He then escaped on a raft just before the HMS Hampshire was destroyed. Duquesne was awarded the Iron Cross for this act. In the 1930s and 1940s, he ran the famous Duquesne Spy Ring and was captured by the FBI along with 32 other Nazi spies in the largest espionage conviction in U.S. history.
The fact that newly-appointed Minister of Munitions (and future prime minister) David Lloyd George was supposed to accompany Kitchener on the fatal journey, but cancelled at the last moment, has been given great significance by some. This fact, along with the alleged lethargy of the rescue efforts, has led some to claim that Kitchener was assassinated, or, somewhat more plausibly, that his death would have been convenient for a British establishment that had come to see him as figure from the past who was incompetent to wage modern war. Given that Kitchener's death hit Britain like a thunderclap and was widely perceived as a disaster for the war effort, this interpretation seems far-fetched, to say the least.
After the war, there were a number of conspiracy theories 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.) Another claimed that the Hampshire did not strike a mine at all, but was sunk by explosives secreted in the vessel by Irish Republicans.
Probably the most spectacular Kitchener-related conspiracy was the effort in 1926 by a hoaxer named Frank Power to actually recover and bury Kitchener's body, which he claimed had been found by a Norwegian fisherman. He 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 ultimately never prosecuted.
The role of Fritz Joubert Duquesne in Kitchener's death has been hypothesised/documented in several books and movies:
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. 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".
A contemporary journalist remarked that Kitchener "has the failing acquired by most of the Egyptian officers, a taste for buggery".
According to another writer, 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.
J. B. Priestley noted in his book on The Edwardians that one of Lord Kitchener's personal interests in life included planning and decorating his residences. He was also known to collect delicate china with a passion (such allusions to an 'artistic temperament' were a common code for implying homosexuality at that time).
However, he was apparently in love with, and may have been engaged to, Hermione Baker, the beautiful young daughter of Valentine Baker, commander of the Egyptian gendarmerie, but she died from typhoid in January 1885, aged eighteen. In 1902 he unsuccessfully courted Lord Londonderry's daughter, Helen Mary Theresa. He was friendly, in her old age, with the courtesan Catherine Walters.
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