Boys' Book of Famous Soldiers - J. W. McSpadden


The Solder of Deeds—Not Words

When Chinese Gordon lost his life in Khartoum, Egypt, in 1884, because the British relief force reached him two days too late, a young officer accompanying the expedition was getting his first glimpse of a land that was destined to make him famous. "Kitchener of Khartoum" was to become as widely known in a later generation as Chinese Gordon was in his own. Each won his spurs in a foreign land.

Kitchener was then a cavalry officer of thirty-five, and did not seem destined to get much higher in army circles. Yet he had never lost faith in himself. After this first expedition to Egypt, when he was still only a major, he remarked drolly to a fellow officer:

"Never mind, my dear fellow, a few years hence you and I will be generals, and these people who annoy us now (meaning the red-tape departmental clerks) will be looking out of their club windows, with all their teeth falling out of their heads!"

During this same expedition, he spoke of the fact that their commanding officer had missed the key-point, by saying:

"It's the same with everybody. We must stop floundering, or people will forget, that Khartoum is our objective and always will be."

Prophetic words for Kitchener of Khartoum.

Who was this strong, stern, silent soldier whose career linked up past wars with the great World War of our own day?

Like Wellington and Roberts, Kitchener came of Irish stock. He was born near Listowel, June 24, 1850, his father, Colonel Henry Kitchener, having bought a considerable estate in the counties of Kerry and Limerick.

Colonel Kitchener had seen a good deal of active service himself, and still more of garrison life. He determined to retire, and after buying: some 2,000 acres of land in Ireland, at a bankrupt sale, he built a hunting lodge, called Gunsborough House. This was Herbert Horatio Kitchener's birthplace. Whether the name of the house had anything to do with his warlike career, history does not state. But certain it is, that he was a born soldier—a man of iron almost from his boyhood.

"Yes," said his old nurse, in talking about him only a few years ago, "I know that he is a great man; and they tell me that he has no heart, and that everybody is afraid of him; but they are wrong. He is really one of the most tender-hearted men in the world; and whenever he comes to see me, he is 'my boy' just as he was in the old days in Ireland, when he used to run to me in all his troubles, and fling his arms around me and hug me. Ah, there is nobody left who knows the real Master Herbert as I know him."

As a boy at school, Herbert Kitchener was not very brilliant. Like Wellington, whose mother called him "the fool of the family," Kitchener did too much day-dreaming to make much headway with his studies. His first teacher was a governess, who gave him up in despair. Then he was sent to a private school where he did not do any better.

His father lost his patience. Just before an examination, he made a dire threat.

"Young man," said the Colonel, "if you fail I'll make you toe the mark. I'll send you to a girl's school."

Apparently the threat did not have the desired effect. He flunked and was transferred to the other school. This time he was told that failure meant that he would be taken out of school entirely and apprenticed to a hatter.

The warning had the desired effect. Herbert buckled down to work and not only passed his examinations, but even began to show a decided liking for mathematics—which study was to be of good service in later life.

By this time the family had moved into a more pretentious home, known as the Crotta House. Little is related of his boyhood life there. It was quiet and uneventful. The boy was of reserved nature, preferring to sit quietly in, the corner and listen while others did the talking. Yet when drawn out, he could talk well, preferring to reason rather than argue. His chief outdoor sport was swimming. The home was only a few miles inland from the Atlantic coast, and he and his brothers often rode over for a dip.

His father was of industrious and thorough-going type. The family motto was "Thorough," and the Colonel lived up to it. "K. of K." also became a master of detail; and here on his father's estate he learned his first lessons in it. Colonel Kitchener constantly preached the value of time—and practised what he preached. Instead of settling down to a life of ease, he was always at work on the estate. He reclaimed large tracts of bogs, turning them into fertile land. He raised breed horses and cattle. He set up his own factory for making bricks, tiles, and drain-pipes. His own life of energy and organization was the best possible example to his boys. That Herbert, with all his apparent indolence, was profiting by it, became evident years afterward.

When the boy was fifteen, his father determined on a complete change of environment for him. "I want you to see something else besides Ireland," he said. Herbert was accordingly sent to Switzerland, to a French school conducted by a Mr. Bennett. It was in Villeneuve, at the eastern end of Lake Geneva. In this scenic spot of Europe he remained for some four years, paying occasional visits home, but becoming more and more a cosmopolitan, instead of merely a shy Irish lad. He learned to speak French like a native, and got a start in German and Italian. Languages always came easy to him.

Meanwhile he trudged about the mountain country on many a long excursion, with a camera slung across his shoulders, learning an art that he was soon to put to good use. Thanks to this outdoor life he grew up into a strong, well-built fellow, with a physique that was to stand the test of many hard days to come.

His father wanted him to follow in his own footsteps, and become a soldier. He used his influence to place him in the Royal Military Academy, at Woolwich. Herbert entered there as a cadet, in his nineteenth year.

Two years later, while still a cadet, we find him getting his foretaste of actual warfare. It was the summer of 1870. War had been declared by France against Prussia—the short but terrible war so skillfully engineered by Bismarck. Herbert Kitchener had gone to spend a summer vacation with his father, at Dinan in the north of France, and promptly got imbued with the war fever. He enlisted in a battalion, in the Second Army of the Loire, commanded by General Chanzy. This army, like other well-intentioned but poorly organized troops of the French, was driven steadily back by the superior German forces, until the enemy bombarded and captured Paris.

It is interesting to note that Kitchener's first and last military service was on behalf of the French against their hereditary enemies—and that history came dangerously near to repeating itself in the German drive of 1914 against Paris. That it did not do so, was due in no small measure to the grim veteran who was now Secretary of War, and to his wonderful army of volunteers, dubbed "Kitchener's Mob."

Whether or not Kitchener did any actual close-up fighting in these early days we do not know. One novel experience, however, is placed to his credit. He made an ascent in an observation balloon, with two French officers. In those days, the big bags were risky and unknown quantities, and an ascent was something to talk about.

The ill-starred war over, young Kitchener returned to Woolwich, and his school duties as though nothing special had happened.

"Why did you go off and join the French army?" he was asked by the commandant.

"Please, sir," came the straightforward answer, "I understood that I should not be wanted for some time, and I could not be idle. I thought I might learn something."

He had indeed—if nothing more than the power of a thoroughly prepared enemy against an unready land.

The next stage in Kitchener's career was picturesque but full of hardship. It was in connection with an exploring expedition to the Holy Land.

In 1865, a society called the Palestine Exploration Fund had been founded, its object being to study the history and geography of the country. Seven years later it had entered on the gigantic task of surveying a tract of about 6,000 square miles, much of it desert or mountainous country.

Kitchener was just graduating, from the Military Academy, with the usual rank of lieutenant, and was casting about for active service. He could not brook the idea of settling down to garrison life. The post of assistant to the leader of this Palestine Expedition was offered him, and he accepted with alacrity. While a private enterprise, it had the sanction of the War Department, and promised to provide thrills as well as work. The fact that it was the Holy Land of Bible story also appealed to Kitchener. Witness one of the first entries in his Journal:

"Looking down on the broad plain of Esdraelon . . . it is impossible not to remember that this is the greatest battlefield of the world, from the days of Joshua and the defeat of the mighty hosts of Sisera, till, almost in our own days, Napoleon the Great fought the battle of Mount Tabor; and here also is the ancient Megiddo, where the last great battle of Armageddon is to be fought."

Lieutenant Kitchener reported for duty in Palestine, in the Fall of 1874. The exploration party was then working in the hill country south of Judah, which was still a sealed book to the rest of the world. Their job was "to search in every hole and corner of the country and see what is there, and classify everything in proper form"—to quote the words of their prospectus. For this work they required both the surveyor's instrument and the camera.

In the use of the latter, Kitchener had shown aptitude at school; and it is said that this fact had something to do with his appointment. It is evident from the first official report that he "made good." His chief, Lieutenant Conder, states that he succeeded in securing some excellent photographs "under peculiarly unfavorable circumstances."

The climate did not set well with him at first, and after two attacks of fever he recovered his health sufficiently to take part in the Dead Sea work of 1875.

At Wady Seiyal, reports Conder, " we were caught in the most tremendous gale which we have yet experienced in tents; and our next march of nineteen miles in a perfect hurricane of bitter wind, with showers of sleet and hail, necessitated by the fact that all our barley and other stores were consumed, was the hardest bit of experience we have yet encountered. Our dogs and two muleteers were unable to face the storm, and took refuge in caves. Old Sheikh Hamzeh fell off his pony twice, and had to be tied on. The brave beasts struggled for eleven hours, and crossed more than one torrent of cold water up nearly to the girths, but by eight at night they were in a warm stable, and we had found refuge in Hebron in the house of a German Karaite Jew, whose hospitality was as great as his subsequent charge was high."

At times the ground was so uneven and devoid of trails, that they could not march much faster than one mile an hour. The only human beings they encountered were the Bedouin Arabs—sly, furtive fellows who were always ready for a trade, but who would kill a man just as readily for his shirt.

The slow progress, however, did not worry Kitchener particularly. He made good use of the time in photographing old walls, caves, and natural strongholds. For instance, five days were spent in getting data and records of the ruins of a fortress erected at Ascalon by Richard Coeur-de-Lion, during his famous Crusade.

Here it was that Kitchener's skill in swimming and presence of mind were put to the test. Lieutenant Conder was swept off his horse while fording the stream, and was in imminent danger of drowning, when Kitchener sprang to his aid and towed him ashore.

Despite the danger and hardships, Kitchener reveled in this wild life. One of the party says of him: "He was as good company as a man could wish to have, full of life and good spirits. We none of us thought much about our toilets, and he least of all. Why, after a few months' traveling about in Palestine, he looked more like a tramp than an officer in Her Majesty's Army: His clothes wouldn't have fetched a three penny-bit at any 'old clo' shop in Whitechapel."

It was in this first field service that he won a reputation which clung to him through his whole career. They said that his chief amusement was work, and his relaxation, more work. He was of seemingly tireless energy, and never could understand the let-downs of others. The boyhood trait of silence was also marked in the man. Although he picked up languages easily, he used them sparingly. It was said of him later that he could keep silent in ten languages.

In a letter home, from Palestine, he throws a sidelight on this working phase of his nature. "The non-commissioned officers," he says, "though ready to go through any amount of work or danger, are much discouraged at the prospect of an indefinite delay without employment, which, in my opinion, is more trying in this climate than work."

Not long after, the round of work and routine duty was varied by a first-class fight. A Moslem sheikh had become so impertinent one day, that Lieut. Conder ordered him out of his tent. The sheikh drew a knife and was promptly disarmed and made prisoner by the British. Instantly he lifted up his voice, calling for his men. The response was prompt. They seemed to spring up out of the very rocks, and soon there were two hundred of them howling and dancing around the handful of Englishmen. Conder thus relates the happening:

"Lieut. Kitchener and I were immediately surrounded. Three came to me and asked me with curses what I was doing. An old man thrust his battle-axe violently into my side, but I did not like to strike him, though I had now a hunting-crop in my hand. I told them they were mad and would be severely punished if they struck an Englishman. About this time other members of the party saw a gun leveled at me five yards off, but fortunately the man's hand was caught before he fired. A man now came into the crowd which surrounded me, and dealt me a blow on the head with a large club with great violence, causing two wounds on the side of my head, covering my face with blood. A second blow, directed with full force at the top of my head, must inevitably have brained me, had I not put my head down to his chest. My servants gave me up for dead. The blow fell on my neck, which ever since has been so stiff and swollen that it is impossible to turn it round. The rest of the party saw me fall.

"As soon as I got up, I dealt this man a blow in the face with the handle of my whip which staggered him, but my whip flew out of my hand and left me entirely unarmed. I must inevitably have been murdered but for the cool and prompt assistance of Lieut. Kitchener, who managed to get to me and engaged one of the clubmen, covering my retreat.

"A blow descending on the top of his head he parried with a cane, which was broken by the force of the blow. A second wounded his arm. His escape is unaccountable. Having retired a few paces from the thick of the fray, I saw that the Moslems were gradually surrounding us, stealing behind trees and through vineyards, and I well understood that in such a case, unless the soldiers arrived at once, we must all die. Many of the servants had indeed already given up hope, though no one fled. I gave the order to leave the tents and fly round the hill.

"Lieut. Kitchener was the last to obey this order, being engaged in front. He retreated to his tent, and whilst running he was fired at, and heard the bullet whistle by his head. He was also followed for some short distance by a man with a huge scimitar, who subsequently wounded with it more than one of our people."

The timely arrival of the regular soldiers undoubtedly saved the little party from massacre.

Another enemy, the Eastern fever, was more successful in attack. Both Conder and Kitchener had to return to England to recuperate. In 1877, Kitchener went back, this time in command of the expedition, and by midsummer had completed his survey of northern Palestine. He had covered all told one thousand miles of country, making photographs and maps which added immeasurably to the general knowledge.

On his way back to England, Kitchener stopped in Turkey, which was then at war with Bulgaria. His observations on the qualities of soldiers in the two peoples, as recorded in an article written for Blackwood's Magazine, are interesting in the light of later wars.

The publication of the results of the Palestine exploration first brought Kitchener to public notice. He was officially thanked and began to be regarded as a marked man. He had won his first spurs.

His next task was along similar line. The Island of Cyprus occupied a strategic position in the Mediterranean, and moreover had been the scene of much turmoil. The British Government desired to set up a stable regime there, and to this end decided to make a careful survey of the Island and its resources. They naturally turned to Kitchener to do the work. The satisfactory way in which he carried it through earned for him the warm approval of Lord Derby, then Secretary of State for the Colonies. One of his associates in Cyprus says of him there: "We saw little of Kitchener at the club or anywhere else where Englishmen mostly congregated, although he sometimes turned up at the gymkhana meetings to contribute his share to their success. Kitchener was always a hard worker, a gentleman with a long head who thought much but said little. It is, of course, easy enough to prophesy when you know, but honestly, to my mind, he looked a man who would go far if he only had his chance.

As an immediate result of this work, Kitchener was given the rank of Major, and sent with Lord Wolseley's expedition into Egypt—then in the throes of civil war. One reason for his promotion was his ability to speak Arabic. His several years in the East had not only taught him the languages, but valuable insight into manners and customs.

The campaign was short and summary. The rebel forces were routed and order established in northern Egypt. Kitchener's ability to organize, and his knowledge of the people soon made him indispensable. His name occurred so frequently in the official reports, that Lord Cromer, in the home office, remarked: "This Kitchener seems to have a finger in every pie. I must see him and find out what he is like." Later, after seeing him, Cromer said: "That man's got a lot in him. He should prove one of our best assets in Egypt."

The next event—and a dramatic one—in Kitchener's life was concerned with the attempted rescue of Gordon, some three years later. This famous General had been sent to subdue the Soudan, which literally means "Land of the Blacks," and had not received sufficient reinforcements. It was a blunder on the part of the home Government for which Gordon was to pay with his life. A relief force under Wolseley was sent too late.

Kitchener was fully alive to the peril of the situation, but being only a subordinate could not do much to hasten affairs. He did know, however, that a widespread conspiracy was being hatched which threatened the safety of Wolseley's forces as well. How he got at the bottom of this conspiracy is related by Charles Shaw, a Canadian journalist who accompanied the expedition.

A group of Arabs who had been in a brawl were lying tied hand and foot in the guardhouse, when a tall man, also securely tied, was thrown in with them. Although dressed like a native, Shaw relates, "he looked a different brand of Arab than I had been accustomed to. He was Kitchener. He was after the conspiracy.

"I didn't know much Arabic in those days, but we could hear the Dongolese talk and talk in excited tones the whole night, the tall man occasionally saying a few words.

"When we paraded before the large open-faced orderly tent next morning, we were almost paralyzed to see Lord Wolseley himself seated at the little table with Kitchener beside him, both in full staff uniform. A tall, fine-looking Arab was being examined through the interpreter. He didn't seem impressed by the glittering uniforms or the presence of the Commander-in-chief, or embarrassed by their questions. Once or twice an expression of surprise flitted over his face, but his eyes were always fixed on Kitchener, who would now and again stoop and whisper something in Lord Wolseley's ear. Once he raised his voice. The prisoner heard its intonation and recognized him. With ' a fierce bound the long, lithe Arab made a spring and was over the table, and had seized Kitchener by the throat. There was a short, swift struggle. Wolseley's eye glistened, and he half drew his sword. Kitchener, athletic as he was, was being overpowered, and the Arab was throttling him to death.

"There was a rush of the guard—and within ten minutes a cordon of sentries surrounded the Mudir of Dongola's tent. Within three days he was a prisoner in his palace at Dongola, guarded by half a battalion of British soldiers. The conspiracy was broken.

"How widespread it was, only half a dozen white men knew at the time. . . . To it the treachery of the Egyptian garrison at Khartoum and the death of Gordon was due, and the preservation of the Desert Column (the relief force), can be placed to its discovery."

The next few years in Kitchener's life, which we can but summarize, show him wielding a masterful hand in the pacification of Egypt. After Gordon's death, the command was re-organized, and Kitchener became a Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry. His duties took him to the extreme outposts.

Halfway down the Red Sea, over against Mecca, is Suakim, the southern outpost of Egypt. Suakim has the distinction of being one of the hottest stations on earth, and one of the most desolate, comparable to Central Arizona in the hot season. Here Kitchener served as Governor from 1886 to 1888, with distinction. The following year found him fighting on the frontier of the Soudan, the wild, vast back-country to the south and west.

From 1889 to 1892 he served as Adjutant-General of the Egyptian Army, nominally as an officer of the Sultan's viceroy, the Khedive; but in reality the visible presence of England's protecting power. He received several high decorations, which would show that he won the esteem and confidence of his Egyptian patrons. Finally in 1893 the Khedive made him Sirdar, or Commander-in-chief.

South of the Egyptian frontier, on the Upper Nile among the cataracts, the three cities, Dongola, Berber, and Khartoum form a triangle of trading centers. Kitchener saw that these were the strategic points in the control of Upper Egypt, and in 1896 led an expedition thither.

Ever since the death of Gordon, the country had been unsettled. It remained to Kitchener to wield the avenging sword. He laid a light railroad southward along the Nile, and marched swiftly, taking his supplies with him. At Omdurman he finally met the enemy and inflicted a crushing defeat. At Khartoum, where Gordon had been slain, he set up a stable government.

He came back to civilization a Major General in the British army, a peer of England—and "Kitchener of Khartoum." This popular title was speedily shortened to "K of K," and was as well known wherever English Tommies assembled as "Bobs," the affectionate nickname of Lord Roberts.

But Kitchener never won the deep affection of the rank and file, that Roberts inspired. He was taciturn, aloof, and a stern disciplinarian. His name evoked fear and respect, but never love. And yet, his men would follow him through fire and water, for they had unbounded confidence in his ability. It was his name that was placarded through London, when the recruiting began for the Great War—and not the King's.

"Will you serve with Kitchener?" the posters said. And they responded, three million strong—"Kitchener's Mob," which was to become so soon a skilled army under his guidance.

They tell of him that when he took the post of Secretary of War, on his first visit of inspection to the office he looked around and said, "Is there a bed here?" When answered in the negative, he gave the brief order, "Have one brought in."

Thereafter for several weeks he literally lived in his office night and day. He had at last found a job that measured up to his fullest requirements for hard work, and he reveled in it. Incidentally, he "delivered the goods"—but nobody marveled at that; it was nothing more than was expected of him!

Says an anonymous writer in The Living Age: "England never fully understood Lord Kitchener, and perhaps he never fully understood his countrymen. They weaved innumerable myths around this shy and solitary man, who revealed himself to few. To them his figure loomed gigantic and mysterious through the sandstorms of African deserts and the mists of the Himalayas. In their hour of trial he came among them for a space, and then vanished forever in the wild Northern seas: He was a good man to fight for or to fight against, and he found a worthy end."

Important Dates in Kitchener's Life

1850. June 24. Herbert Horatio Kitchener born.
1865. Sent to Switzerland to school.
1868. Entered Royal Military Academy, at Woolwich.
1870. Volunteered in French army against Prussia.
1874. Sent as second-lieutenant to Palestine, with exploration party.
1878. Surveyed Island of Cyprus, for British Government.
1885. Lieutenant-colonel of cavalry in Egypt.
1893. Sirdir, or commander-in-chief, of Egyptian army.
1898. Created a baron.
1900. Chief of staff to Roberts in South Africa.
1902. Made general, and commander-in-chief in India.
1911. Consul-general in Egypt.
1914. Secretary of War. Field-marshal.
1916. June 5. Lost his life at sea.