Sunday saw the start of a string of events this week to mark the centenary of the death of Lord Kitchener, whose face has become a global icon since he was depicted on the front cover of London Opinion magazine in a famous illustration by Alfred Leete.
Hundreds of newspaper stories appeared over the weekend about Kitchener, all tagged to the centenary. Several books have been launched or republished, and having just written Kitchener Wants You with Martyn Thatcher, I now find it near impossible to walk down a street without seeing the illustration or one of its many derivatives.
Kitchener Wants You tracks Kitchener’s career and examines how he was portrayed by magazines and the press from his rise to fame in the Sudan to the present day. This week, I’ll do a post a day based on images from the book – many of which are rarely seen – and some I’ve discovered only recently.
Out of Africa: the hero emerges
Kitchener on the cover of a part work about the Boer War in 1900
Kitchener made his name in North Africa, regaining control lost in an uprising by the Madhi that had resulted in the killing of General Gordon. Over two years, in a campaign that was notable for Kitchener’s brilliance in logistics, the Sirdar (commander-in-chief of Egypt’s forces) added a million square miles to the empire and ultimately massacred the forces of the Madhi’s successor, the Kalifa, Abdulla, at Omdurman.
Some 10,000 Dervishes were killed against a loss of just 48 British troops. It was an army armed with swords comping up against military technology in the form of the Maxim machine gun and modern artillery. However, there was controversy after the desecration of the Madhi’s tomb, and tales that Kitchener wwanted to turn the skull into an ink well.
Yet the country went wild with praise and Kitchener’s movements were closely followed. The press christened him ‘The Avenger of Gordon’.
After the battle, Kitchener sent a telegraph to a colleague in Cairo: ‘The effect of having killed 30,000 Dervishes is that I have 300,000 women on my hands, and I should be much obliged if you could instruct me how to dispose of them.’ His reward was to be made a baron and £30,000. That was in 1898. The next year saw him in South Africa, fighting the Boers. He signed a peace treaty in 1902, being rewarded with a viscounty and £50,000.
Surrounded by women: Kitchener at a garden party
But the problem of being chased by women did not go away, as this detail from a 1902 photograph of the six-foot-two-tall Lord Kitchener at a Kensington Garden party shows. The caption read: ‘Our batchelor general Lord Kitchener – weaponless, beleaguered and retreat cut off.’
Kitchener has been described as a jackdaw collector of fine china, and a dedicated gardener. He appears to have ben tongue-tied among politicians and was ‘either very stupid or very clever’ according to Mrs Asquith, the wife of the prime minister.
The next 12 years were spent in India and then Egypt as consul-gereneral. He was on his way back there on August 3 1914 when he was hauled off a Channel ferry on the orders of Asquith and appointed secretary of state for war.
Tomorrow: Leete and his famous Kitchener portrait