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Horatio Kitchener, British Secretary Of State for War, 1914-1916 (WWI, First World War, Great European War)

Updated on December 9, 2013

Horatio Kitchener Arrives

In 1914, Horatio Herbert, first Earl Kitchener, fulfilled the forecasts of the prophets by taking control of the War Office.

1850

  • June 24th - he was born at Gunsborough Lodge, County Kerry, Ireland, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Horatio Kitchener, of the 9th Foot (now the Norfolk Regiment), and Frances, daughter of the Rev. John Chevallier.

The Kitcheners came from Hampshire and the Chevalliers from Jersey to Suffolk in the seventeenth century.

The Kitcheners had moved to Ireland, where his father had bought two small estates, shortly before Horatio was born.

"Remember that the honour of the British Army depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to maintain the most friendly relations with those whom you are helping in this trouble.
The operations in which you are engaged will, for the most part, take place in a friendly country, and you can do your own country no better service than in showing yourself in France and Belgium in the true character of a British soldier. Be invariably courteous, considerate, and kind. Never do anything likely to injure or destroy property, and always look upon looting as a disgraceful act.
Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound. So keep constantly on your guard against any excesses." - Kitchener's Counsel to the British Soldier

Field-Marshal Earl Kitchener, Secretary of Stale for War.
Field-Marshal Earl Kitchener, Secretary of Stale for War. | Source

Kitchener's Family And His Early Life

1854

  • Horatio and his family moved to Crotter, near Ballylongford.
    He spent his early years there, along with three brothers and one sister.

Horatio was educated privately in Switzerland, France, and Germany. This was to ensure that he became acquainted with foreign languages at an early age.

1864

  • his mother died.

1868

  • the future Secretary of State for War entered the Royal Academy, Woolwich.

1870

  • When the Franco-Prussian War broke out he volunteered for service in the Second Army of the Loire, under General Antoine Chanzy, one of the few French officers of the time who came through the war defeated but not disgraced.

1871

  • the unreadiness and the political confusion which contributed to the French débâcle made a lasting impression on the young volunteer, who, as the result of a balloon adventure, contracted pleurisy and had a critical illness.

1891

  • His eldest brother, Colonel Henry Elliott Chevallier Kitchener, heir-presumptive to the Earldom, gained honours in Burma, and was Chief Transport officer of the Manipur Field Force.

1912

  • Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Walter Kitchener, one of his younger brothers, died.
    He had a distinguished career in Africa and the East, had become Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Bermuda.

Earl Kitchener of Khartum, G.C.I.E., G.C.S.I., G.C.B., British Secretary of State for War.
Earl Kitchener of Khartum, G.C.I.E., G.C.S.I., G.C.B., British Secretary of State for War. | Source

Kitchener's Early Professional Career

1871

  • Kitchener returned to England after his bout of pleurisy, and took up field telegraphy, photography, railroad construction, and surveying as his special subjects, in order to finish his course at Woolwich, where his progress was materially assisted by his fondness for and proficiency in mathematics.

1872 to 1874

  • he obtained a commission as lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, spending three years between Chatham and Aldershot.

1874 to 1877

  • he was associated in the work of surveying Western Palestine, providing Biblical students with a mass of valuable data, and incidentally surviving some exciting adventures and attacks of fever and snow blindness.

After spending a short time with Baker Pasha in the Balkans, Kitchener made a survey of Cyprus, and organised the Land Courts of that island, a labour which was interrupted for a time during which he was Vice-Consul in Anatolia, and controlled the refugees from Bulgaria and the Caucasus.

All this time he was gaining a mastery of Turkish and Arabic.

1882

  • these studies stood him in good stead when he responded to Sir Evelyn Wood's call for officers to aid him in building up the remnants of the Egyptian Army into a cohesive and manageable whole.
  • He served through the Egyptian campaign as major of Egyptian cavalry.

Then, with Colonel Taylor, of the 18th Hussars, he was commissioned to bring the fellaheen cavalry into military existence.

Lord Kitchener, in full dress, leaving the War Office.
Lord Kitchener, in full dress, leaving the War Office. | Source

Kitchener's Middle Years

Engaged in negotiating with the tribes at Dongola and at Debbeh, while Gordon was in Khartoum, he travelled disguised as an Arab, carrying a phial of poison for his personal use in emergency.

He had witnessed the death of a spy at the hands of the dervishes, and resolved that suicide would be preferable.

1884

  • Gordon wrote that if Kitchener would take the place he should be appointed Governor-General.

Kitchener's next work was that of Boundary Commissioner in Zanzibar, but he was soon again in Egypt.

1886, August to 1888, September

  • he was Governor-General of the Red Sea littoral and Commandant of Suakin, when he gave Osman Digna and the Khalifa some impression of the fate that was in store for them.
  • At Handoub he narrowly escaped death from a bullet which wounded him in the jaw.
  • Soon afterwards, however, he was well enough to head the first Soudanese Brigade against Osman Digna's trenches at Gemaizeh, and he led the mounted troops at the Battle of Toski.

1888

  • he was breveted a colonel, and became Inspector-General of Police and Adjutant-General of the Egyptian Army.

1892

  • with the temporary rank of brigadier-general, he succeeded Sir Francis (later Lord) Grenfell as Sirdar.

There followed in due and deliberate course the occupation of Dongola, the Battle of the Atbara, and the final rout of Mahdism at Omdurman, all prepared for and carried through with a masterly patience and a resourcefulness which won for Kitchener the popular cognomen of "the Soudan machine," the thanks of Parliament, the G.C.B., a peerage, and a grant of £30,000.

In addition to liberating the Soudan, Lord Kitchener, by his tact at the meeting with Major Marchand at Fashoda, happily averted a war between Britain and France.

The Atbara Bridge and the Gordon Memorial College at Khartum are also witnesses to his untiring zeal.

1894

  • his father died.

Lord Kitchener, visiting Brighton, talking with Indian hero, Subadar Mir-Dast, 55th Coke's Rifles, who gained the V.C. and Indian Order of Merit. With Lord Kitchener is Col. J. N. Macleod, Officer Commanding hospital for wounded Indian soldiers.
Lord Kitchener, visiting Brighton, talking with Indian hero, Subadar Mir-Dast, 55th Coke's Rifles, who gained the V.C. and Indian Order of Merit. With Lord Kitchener is Col. J. N. Macleod, Officer Commanding hospital for wounded Indian soldiers. | Source

Kitchener's Great Services in South Africa and India

1900 to 1902

  • Lord Kitchener served in South Africa, first as Chief of Staff to Lord Roberts, and then as Commander-in-Chief, and was rewarded by a grant of £50,000 and an advancement in the peerage to the rank of viscount.
  • He took the title of Viscount Kitchener of Khartum, of the Vaal in the Colony of the Transvaal, and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk.

1902

  • he was gazetted a general.

1902 to 1909

  • Viscount Kitchener was Commander-in-Chief in India.
  • He succeeded not only in reorganising the Indian Army, but in abolishing the old system of mixed civil and military control, and in establishing a Staff College at Quetta.

1909

  • he was created a field-marshal, and came back from India via China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand (where he was consulted on Colonial defence), and the United States.

1911

  • he was appointed British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt, a post which was being kept open for him till the completion of his task of "organising victory" in the Great War.

1914

  • he was created an Earl.

Lord Kitchener arriving at a station "somewhere in France " on his way to visit the French Headquarters.
Lord Kitchener arriving at a station "somewhere in France " on his way to visit the French Headquarters. | Source

Kitchener's Appointment as British Secretary of State for War

1914

  • August - Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener accepted the post of British Secretary of State for War.
  • Referring to Lord Kitchener's appointment, Mr. Asquith used these memorable words :

" He has at a great public emergency responded to a great public call, and I am certain he will have with him in the discharge of one of the most arduous tasks that has ever fallen upon a Minister the complete confidence of all parties and of all opinions."

  • To which may be added a few passages from Lord Kitchener's first speech in the House of Lords, in which he said:

" The terms of my service, are the same as those under which some of the finest portions of our manhood, now so willingly stepping forward to join the Colours, are engaging that is to say, for the war ; or if it lasts longer than three years, then for three years. It has been asked why the latter limit has been fixed. It is because, should this disastrous war be prolonged and no man can foretell with any certainty its duration then, after three years' war, there will be others fresh and fully prepared to take our places and see this matter through."

1916

  • February 15th - House of Lords

Notwithstanding the heavy blows and consequent losses which Russia suffered during the summer of 1915, and which would probably have overwhelmed any less tenacious and courageous people, her army has been thoroughly reorganised and re-equipped ; her armaments have increased, and the spirit which pervades her forces is as high as at the outset of the campaign.
The active co-operation of the Russian people in the manufacture of munitions of war exhibits very clearly this reality of their patriotism, and their determination to carry this life-and-death struggle, whatever its length, to a victorious conclusion.” - Earl Kitchener

Lord Kitchener Drowned

1916

  • Monday, June 5th
    Even at the moment when the public was beginning to realise something like the truth about the Jutland battle came grievous tidings such as no man had dreamed of.
    Off the Orkneys, at night, H.M.S. “Hampshire”, carrying Lord Kitchener and his staff to Russia, was mined or torpedoed, and it was feared that there were no survivors. Ultimately, out of the whole crew a dozen, who had succeeded in clinging to a raft, came to shore alive after all hope had been abandoned.
    The torpedo idea was discarded ; in the seas which were running on that fatal night no torpedo practice was possible, even had it been conceivable that a submarine was in these waters.
    The “Hampshire” had undoubtedly been destroyed by a loose mine.
    The stormy waves had completed the work, sweeping every raft and engulfing every boat that had put off from the doomed vessel.
    The heavy seas had compelled her separation from the escorting destroyers an hour or two before the catastrophe.

For Kitchener there was to be no burial "… to the noise of the mourning of a mighty nation," for the nation mourned in silence which meant more than any pageantry of grief.

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    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      My knowledge of war history is sorely lacking, and, though I took many weeks to finally getting around to reading this, I found the read very worthwhile.