Kitchener of Khartoum

Field Marshal 1st Earl
Kitchener of Khartoum

"Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, the hero of the Sudan from another era, has had his reputation reinstated in a new biography to mark the 100th anniversary of his greatest victory, at Omdurman.

Despite his detractors, Kitchener was responsible for laying the foundations of what was to become one of the best governed countries in the British Empire, according to John Pollock, author of Kitchener: the Road to Omdurman." Michael Evans The Times 28th August 1998.

Kitchener's childhood home
Crotta House, Kitchener's childhood home in Ireland.

Herbert Horatio Kitchener was a controversial figure even in his own day, "hated or traduced by some, almost worshipped by others" but his modern reputation really dates from the publication in 1958 of Philip Magnus's Kitchener: Portrait of an lmperialist. From this work comes the popularly accepted theory of Kitchener's homosexuality, for which there is no contemporary evidence whatever, as well as, worse, the denigration of his victories at Omdurman and over the Boers. The often repeated charge that, after Omdurman, the Dervishes were refused permission to tend their wounded is entirely untrue and stems from a disgruntled reporter who was forbidden permission to watch the action. In fact, field hospitals for the Dervishes were set up under the charge of an Egyptian doctor, Hassan Effendi Zeki, while the local inhabitants were encouraged to take their own wounded home. Kitchener, himself, angrily refuted the "cruel and disgraceful" accusations: "Considering the conditions of the troops and the means at my disposal, I did all that I could to relieve the suffering amongst the enemy."

Hours before Kitchener's death
One of the last photographs taken of Lord Kitchener.

In South Africa, there can be no question that the infamous concentration camps were tragically mismanaged but the false notion that they were somehow a manifestation of a darker, cruel side of Kitchener's nature originated in the 1950s. In fact, both the British authorities and the Boers were quite unprepared for the spread of contagion within the camps and the Boers twice refused the offer to remove their families from British protection. Kitchener was horrified by the casualties that occurred and, contrary to report, did visit the camps to see what could be done.

Magnus came to regret the damage he had done to Kitchener's reputation. In 1964, Lady Winifred Renshaw, the widow of one of Kitchener's closest friends, writing to the 3rd Earl's brother, the Hon. Charles Kitchener, added a P.S.: "I don't know whether I told you of Magnus's remark last year: 'I know I've got the man wrong, too many people have told me so."' Alas, Magnus's interpretation became standard.

Kitchener Memorial at Horse Guards
The unveiling of the memorial on Horse Guards.

But Kitchener's hold over his contemporaries remains undeniable. Throughout his life and beyond it, even those who knew him best, like his close friend, Raymond "Conk" Marker, invariably seasoned their affection with a curiously resonant awe:

"In this age of self-advertisement there was always a danger that Lord K. with his absolute contempt for anything of the kind, and his refusal to surround himself with people who attract attention, would not be appreciated at his real value, but I think the country recognises him now.

The more I see of him the more devoted I get to him. He is always the same - never irritable - in spite of all his trials, and always making the best of things however much he may be interfered with. As Chamberlain said, to praise him is almost an impertinence." 

Kitchener of Khartoum: Mason extraordinary

There is an interesting article re Earl Kitchener of Khartoum's masonic connections in the MQ Journal here.

  • Visit to 22 General Hospital Pretoria 14th June, 1902.
  • The unveiling of the memorial on Horse Guards.
  • Kitchener's famous recruitment drive.
  • Crotta House, Kitchener's childhood home in Ireland.
  • Kitchener, John Pollock
  • One of the last photographs taken of Lord Kitchener.
  • Memorial to Lord Kitchener in St. Paul's Cathedral.
  • Kitchener, John Pollock