KITCHENER, ORGANIZER OF VICTORY
AT THE WAR OFFICE
WHY did the Government yield to popular clamour and appoint Lord Kitchener to the War Office?
For myself I regard this surrender as almost the most decisive proof of the imaginative power of the Prime Minister. It was necessary to present a unanimous front to the enemy; it was necessary to give the public a sense of security. By placing Lord Kitchener at the War Office, Mr. Asquith satisfied the entire British nation, and with this satisfaction a wave of enthusiasm for the war rose in every part of the country, and swept the whole nation forward in a settled determination to see the business through.
But Mr. Asquith knew, every member of the Cabinet knew, that under the administration of Lord Haldane preparations had been made for the crisis which now visited the empire. All the marvellous organization which carried our gallant army to France, without the loss of a man or a bundle of hay, had been planned years before by the Staff College under the administration of Lord Haldane. Every perfection of that immense machinery was an established fact. The men were there, the commissariat was there, the medical service was there, the transports were there, and the railways were thoroughly prepared for their task. Without hitch of any kind the most highly organized army in the world left these shores, passed to the fighting-line, and never once has lacked for food or blanket. All this had been thought out, planned for, and prepared in every minutest detail by Lord Haldane.
One thing, however, was lacking.
In the supreme moments of a nation's history, the personality of a man who has the confidence of the people is a possession of almost incalculable value. Mr. Asquith, who had been the object of a pitiless partisan attack for some years, and Lord Haldane, who was actually accused of pro-German sympathies, could not, in spite of their obvious merits, arouse the enthusiasm of the entire nation. One man alone was able to do that, and this man was a Tory of Tories, whose views about Liberalism, of course, were very well known to the Government. Nevertheless, Mr. Asquith decided that Lord Kitchener should be called to the War Office. By that decision he relieved the tension of a very critical situation, and made it plain to all who could understand that he was a statesman of imagination. Was there ever a more telling and more ironical stroke? The wonderful legend of Kitchener, in a moment of the gravest danger, acted upon a practical nation and a great empire with a force not to be equalled by the reality of a greater man.
In this sense it may truthfully be said of Lord Kitchener that "he came at the right hour, and he was the right man." In the opinion of a singularly able politician, Mr. Lloyd George, with his swiftness of thought, his impatience of red tape, and his willingness to delegate authority, guided by young military opinion, would have made an incomparably better Secretary for War than the real Lord Kitchener. But this same observer sees very clearly that the better administration of Mr. Lloyd George would nothing like so splendidly advantage the nation as the personality of Lord Kitchener. It was the personality of Lord Kitchener, the great Kitchener legend, which gave to the awakened and rather startled people of Great Britain, at the outset of Germany's challenge, that sense of confidence and security which has since characterized the nation's attitude through every hour of the conflict, even the darkest and most bitter; and it is this same personality, this same legend, which is still inspiring the Optimism of a nation absolutely convinced of victory.
If we leave out of count this psychological value, it might almost be argued that scarcely any soldier of importance could be less fitted in a moment of crisis for the post of War Secretary than the great Lord Kitchener. For Lord Kitchener is a man who does not easily get into a new saddle; he takes time to look about him before he is sure of his surroundings; and he moves slowly until he is perfectly acquainted with the road ahead of him. Moreover, he has spent by far the greater part of his life in the East, and is not only ignorant of European conditions, but frankly out of sympathy with modern democracies. Few men living, I imagine, are more completely out of touch with the England of the present time than this heavy and ponderous man who at a single stroke became the national hero. Further, he is no longer Steevens's Sirdar, "slender but firmly knit . . . built for tireless steel-wire endurance." He is sixty-four years of age, bulky and heavy-shouldered, with a fatherly and benignant aspect, wearing spectacles, his hair turning grey, his large red face expressing something more than a shield for his brain. In fact Lord Kitchener bears at the present day no resemblance at all to the legendary Kitchener.
But if any man in England were to suggest that General Baden-Powell should go to the War Office he would very certainly be laughed to scorn, and if any man were to call for Lord Kitchener's resignation he would assuredly be denounced as a German spy. And yet, if it had not been for Lord Haldane's work at the War Office, those very champions of Lord Kitchener who are now most loud and ridiculous in his praise might be choosing the lamp-post on which to hang him. For Lord Kitchener, I think, could not possibly have reorganized the War Office and got the army safely over to France, in the time at his disposal, without chaos and disaster.
Providentially for us, providentially as history may say for the whole world, Kitchener came to a War Office thoroughly reformed and perfectly equipped for its tremendous responsibilities. And, providentially again, the work that fell to his hands was just that very work at which he excels, the work of making new armies. Instead of finding excitement and disorder he entered a War Office that was working with so smooth a precision that one might have thought no crisis had arisen. Into this calm atmosphere, conducted by a smiling and agreeable Prime Minister, Lord Kitchener came only to inherit routine which could not be improved upon. But something was waiting for him to bring into existence, something foreseen and partially prepared for by other men, but something to which the magic of his fame could bring an almost irresistible wizardry. As I have already stated, his first call for 500,000 men, while it took away the nation's breath for a moment, steadied the national mind and prepared it for a long and laborious war. Then when we learned that this new army, and even the splendid troops from the Dominions, were to be well drilled before being sent to the front, we realized that however great the crisis there was no immediate danger, and felt that Kitchener would see us safely through all dangers.
Is it possible to exaggerate this psychological value?. Those who remember the early days of the war will testify that the announcement of Kitchener's appointment to the War Office was like a victory after days of most dread and terrible anxiety. And at the present moment are we not all living in the faith that Kitchener---the terrible, silent, ferocious, and merciless Kitchener---will hold on to the end and will never loose his hold until the enemy is beaten?
So completely has the Kitchener legend taken possession of the national mind that it is perfectly safe to discuss the matter, even as I am discussing it now, with no fear in the world that England will waver in her confidence. And one need not be concerned with German interest in our discussion, since the work to which Kitchener has now set his hand, the work most fatal to German ambition, is just the work which Kitchener does excellently well. The first critical months are over---the months when swiftness of decision and brilliance of initiative might have hastened the end; and we can now look round about us, talk with a degree of freedom impossible during those first months, and gossip more or less to our heart's content. Moreover, it should rather increase than lessen the confidence of Great Britain to learn that she owes her great achievement in Europe not to one elderly man, but to a body of young and brilliant staff officers, who under Lord Haldane's wise and stimulating headship set the British War Office in such amazing good order.
It must not be imagined, however, because one no longer believes in the Kitchener legend, that the real Lord Kitchener is only a figurehead to the ship of state in its hour of dirty weather. He is an entirely different person from the legendary Kitchener, and at the present day he is no longer the real Kitchener who laid a railway across the desert and broke the savage power of the Dervishes. But he is still an obstinate, slow-thinking, and tenacious organizer, still a man who knows the right person for a particular undertaking, still a man who yields to no social pressure in the sphere of patronage, and still a man who is an absolute terror to the grafter and the fool. He has set himself to raise immense armies in England, and he is determined that nothing shall make him despatch these new troops to the front until they have acquired something of the discipline and smartness which are such distinguishing marks of the regular British Army. A weaker man, or let us say, a man less obstinate, might have been tempted to send these green armies to France and to Belmonths of the war. Kitchener was like a rock in this matter. And he was like a rock, and remains like a rock, in another matter, the matter of war correspondents. The Cabinet at one time were very nearly of the same opinion as the newspapers, and in their discussions of this question attempted to bring Lord Kitchener to their way of thinking; but he stuck obstinately to his guns, refused to budge, and brought the Cabinet to see the reasonableness of his judgment.
It may be said at this point that Lord Kitchener's relations with the Cabinet, which might have been somewhat difficult, are in truth of a quite cordial and cheerful character. One can imagine that in any animated discussions he would play a minor part to such quick and vigorous thinkers as Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Winston Churchill, and this, indeed, is true; but it seems that Lord Kitchener has not resented this intellectual superiority of his colleagues. On the contrary. he has listened to many arguments which must have been entirely new to him, the early sullenness and rather grudging acquiescence, natural in the circumstances, giving gradual place to a half-humorous and as it were tolerant acceptance of the position. For Mr. Asquith he entertains a great and real respect, and it is pleasant to know that he has introduced into the Cabinet a wise military habit, always addressing his chief as "Sir." He is not an easy man to convince, and he has occupied places of almost autocratic power too long to be comfortably at home in a council chamber. It says very much for his capacity, I think. that he has been able to accommodate himself to this unfamiliar position, and, in the company of men inspired by principles which must be entirely foreign to his own notions, has adapted himself without any blunder to the circumstances of the times.
Many stories are told of his Cabinet experiences, but few are true. One story, which happens to be true, and which very well exemplifies both Lord Kitchener's acquiescence and his good humour, cannot, unfortunately, be publicly told. There is, however, a true story of his War Office experiences which may be related in print. Mr. Lloyd George called one day upon Lord Kitchener to explain to him that recruiting in Wales would be far quicker if the men were told that they would form a Welsh army and serve under a Welsh general who understood their traditions and spoke their language. "But where is your Welsh general?" demanded Kitchener, who does not greatly like to be bothered with details of nationalism. "We had better discuss that with Colonel Owen Thomas, who has come with me, and is now in your waiting-room." Kitchener rang his bell and gave orders for the visitor to be admitted. As soon as he saw him he said, "You were in South Africa?" "Yes, sir," replied the colonel. "Well, you're now Brigadier-General commanding the Welsh army; you'd better go and get to work at once."
This swiftness of decision has not been usual with Lord Kitchener of recent years, but on occasion, when his mind is settled about a thing, he makes other men move more swiftly than is altogether comfortable. It is said that he has created dissatisfaction at the War Office by ruthlessly discharging men who have not immediately responded to commands something too peremptory for pleasant obedience. He is more sensitive to certain forms of criticism than the Kitchener legend would lead us to suppose, and woe betide the official through whose mistake or neglect the War Office comes in for public attack.
Sensational stories are told of Lord Kitchener's visits to France since the outbreak of war. It is said---and for a long time I believed it---that, after General Smith-Dorrien's brilliant rescue of the British Army from almost certain annihilation, Kitchener went over to France and had one French general shot and two French generals thrown into prison. There was some ground for this exciting story, but as it is told it is entirely untrue. What Kitchener has done---and he deserves the highest praise for it---is to secure greater and more friendly cooperation between the chiefs of the two armies. At the beginning of such a war, friction between the heads of armies in alliance is almost certain to occur, even when the troops themselves are in the most hearty and affectionate relation with each other. Some such friction arose in this instance, and, by a timely visit and very wise diplomacy, Lord Kitchener was able not only to remove the causes of friction, but to bring the generals in question into quite cordial relationship. It is not true, however, if my information is correct, that Lord Kitchener has been to the front. I understand that the French War Secretary, whom he met in Paris, convinced him that it would not be wise for him to pay that visit.
Fig. 5. LORD KITCHENER LEAVING THE WAR OFFICE.
If one were asked what Kitchener has done at the War Office to earn the gratitude of the nation, keeping one's self entirely to the field of military administration, it would be extremely difficult. to name even one achievement. His greatest service has been the contribution of his legendary personality, for even in the field of military administration this tremendous reputation has had a certain effect. Tommy swears by him. But beyond this I do not know what credit the critical British officer would give to the new Secretary for War. The delay in clothing and equipping the men of what we call Kitchener's first army has been prolonged to a point which cannot escape censure, and there are sound judges who hold that this tiresome and irritating if not dangerous delay might have been sensibly abridged if Lord Kitchener, the autocrat, had. been more open to suggestions and more willing to depute authority. He has not succeeded, so far as I am able to discover, in speeding up the work of the War Office, and he has certainly introduced no new and far-reaching changes which a bolder, more brilliant, and less obstinate man, in so pressing a necessity, might have ventured his own reputation upon for the good of the army.
In spite of this, it remains to be seen whether these new armies will not surprise Lord Kitchener's critics when they take the field. Slow and laborious as the War Secretary's administration may be, it is nevertheless inspired by his dogged and unswerving passion for absolute efficiency. Sooner or later the uniforms and boots will appear, the rifles and bayonets be handed out, and the troops, which at the time of writing are drilling in mufti with obsolete rifles, will make their appearance as a marching army.
Not till then shall we be able to judge rightly of Lord Kitchener's administration. And one must certainly bear in mind that the lack of rifles and uniforms is the fault of Kitchener's predecessors, and take into our consideration the undeniable fact that the War Office never contemplated the raising of so prodigious an army.
If Kitchener has not speeded up the war machine as we could have wished it to be speeded up, at least he has not fussed and fumed, and this, in the circumstances, must be counted to him for a virtue. From the very first he has exercised a calming authority. Never once has he betrayed the least symptoms of hysterics. When the German war machine unmasked itself and the whole world stood at gaze before a mechanism so perfect and gigantic that to east and west of its frontiers it could fling out irrefragable hosts of disciplined fighting men, Kitchener, having despatched Great Britain's very small but very perfect expeditionary force, calmly sat down behind the still unbroken shield of the British Navy to raise an army of half a million men. Then as the war proceeded, shivering to atoms most of the theories of the experts, Kitchener asked for another 500,000 men; and now the War Office speaks of an army exceeding 2,000,000 men. Throughout this most trying and difficult period., Lord Kitchener never once, by anything he said or did, spread the feeling of panic. His very slowness helped excitable people to keep their heads and to see the crisis in its true proportions. I am not at all sure whether a more brilliant and imaginative Secretary of State for War might not have acted unhappily on the nation's nerves.
But Kitchener's fame remains in Egypt. He added very little to his reputation in South Africa and has left no such monuments in India as were left by Lord Roberts along the Himalayan frontier. And at the War Office, in this supreme crisis of our national life, he has really done nothing. He has really done nothing, attempted nothing, which by the wildest reach of imagination could be called a master-stroke of genius. He is nothing more at the War Office than a gruff and most dutiful official, sparing himself no pains, sacrificing his days and nights, struggling with all his powers and with all his strength to fulfil his trust, but without vision and without inspiration.
It is said that in every discussion which has taken place about the defence of the country, in such instances as discovered a difference between him and his colleagues, he has always been handsomely beaten in argument. Mr. Winston Churchill, who is soldier and sailor, too, and who has a brain which absorbs information and a mind which seizes upon conclusions with singular rapidity, easily bewilders, confuses, and converts the very much slower and wholly unoriginal brain of the War Secretary. Lord Kitchener lives upon his reputation, but he is still a man of such iron tenacity that he is able to prolong this existence with a pretty good grace. And it is possible, for he is a modest and listening man in the company of his equals and superiors, that his experience of a very remarkable Cabinet may modify some of his worst prejudices and enlighten his mind where it is most dark.
But he will be a very indifferent historian who, pronouncing judgment on these parlous times, dismisses Lord Kitchener as a dry and tedious official who did nothing for the nation in its hour of trial. Lord Kitchener contributed his personality, his reputation, and his name at the very moment when the whole empire was hungering and thirsting for a Man. This psychological service, as we must again insist, was and in a lesser degree continues to be of value to the state. Kitchener was, indeed and beyond all question, the right man who came at the right hour; and although it is good for the nation to learn that it does not depend upon any one man for its safety, good for it properly to appreciate the principles which make the system of its government independent of the individual, still, for the masses, a hero is always a necessity and for the state is sometimes an advantage.
Moreover, as I hope has been made quite clear, while Lord Kitchener is neither demigod nor heaven-sent genius, he is by no manner of means a bad Secretary of State for War. He might be quicker, he might call to his side the great organizers of commercial life, he might in twenty different ways delegate his authority; but when everything has been urged against him he still remains at his post as the quiet, unruffled, pertinacious, and plodding administrator, who, refusing to be hurried and refusing to be turned from his path , keeps his eyes steadily fixed upon one goal, and that goal the honour and the safety of his country.
The soldier believes in him, the public believe in him, and his immediate staff are ready to make any sacrifice he demands of them. Such a man may not dazzle the world, but, give him time, and with such troops as the empire places at his disposal, he will assuredly wear down the enemy.
[This chapter is written by a student of war and summarizes as briefly as possible the chief engagements with which Lord Kitchener has been connected. It gives, I think, a very useful synopsis of his work in the field.]
LORD KITCHENER'S association with Egypt began in 1882, when he was appointed to a cavalry command in the Egyptian Army, and in January, 1885, in the Gordon Relief Expedition, he accompanied the Desert Column to the Gadkul Wells. He was actively employed during the anxious period that followed the fall of Khartoum, and in the subjection of Osman Digna in the Eastern Sudan, of which province, towards the close of 1886, he became Governor-General. While still holding this office, he joined the troops in the field, and was wounded in an unsuccessful fight with the Dervishes outside Suakim. As a result, he was warned that in future he should not, while holding this appointment, take part in such operations, but he commanded a Sudanese brigade in the defeat of Osman, and was then left with a garrison of 9,000 men to defend the place.
The great invasion planned by Wad-en-Nejumi in the spring of 1889 brought Kitchener into new prominence, and after the fight at Argin, when the Dervish power seemed threatening, it became necessary to supplement his force. Two Egyptian battalions, a mule battery, and some cavalry were despatched to him in haste at the front, and these forces, with a Sudanese battalion, were under his command in Sir Francis Grenfell's victory over the Dervishes at Toski, August 3. Handling his troops with great skill, he made a detour with his mounted troops, and cut off Nejumi's retreat, thus forcing the battle, in the decision of which, with much desperate fighting, he took a leading part. Nejumi was killed, and Mahdism received a blow from which it took years to recover. The brave Dervishes had, of course, little chance, for their fanatical courage was met by trained and disciplined troops, British, Egyptian, and Sudanese, directed by very skilful generalship. Kitchener rendered great services in the subsequent fighting, as well as in administrative work, and came to be recognized as the man of the future in Egypt.
LORD KITCHENER AS SIRDAR
(Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Army)
In April, 1892, he succeeded Sir Francis Grenfell as Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, and his influence soon inspired the policy of the Government. There had been many evidences of renewed Dervish activity. Kassala was threatened, and the Italians had been severely defeated at Adowa. The moment seemed favourable for an active policy, both with the object of relieving the Italians, and of seizing a moment in which the Dervishes were weakened by their efforts elsewhere. The Sirdar had all ready, and about 9000 troops well organized and trained were under his own command. An advance was also desirable because the race between the Powers for possession of the region of the Upper Nile had begun. It was therefore determined to move on Akasheh and then on Dongola, but the decision of the British Government was arrived at suddenly, and the story is told that the Chief of the Egyptian Staff was aroused by stones being thrown at his window in the middle of the night (March 12, 1896) to hear the intelligence, and that no one was found bold enough to awake and inform the Sirdar, who therefore received the welcome news in the morning.
The river, the desert, and the wells are the three great strategic factors in Egyptian campaigning, and the Sirdar soon proved himself a master in the use of them. In the fighting at Ferket, June 6, he despatched a river column under command of Colonel Hunter, afterwards General Sir Archibald Hunter, which marched up the east bank of the Nile, with Egyptian irregulars on the other bank to prevent any escape of the Dervishes across the stream. At the same time a desert column under command of Major Burn-Murdoch was to operate on the east, and prevent escape in that direction also. The Dervishes, who were under command of Emir Osman Azrak, could not avoid the action, and the engagement developed exactly as the Sirdar had planned. The march of the river column was irresistible, and when the Dervishes sought to escape eastward, the desert column, which had been skilfully led in the darkness, blocked the way. The Dervishes fought with the utmost courage and resolution, but they were utterly defeated, and the Nile Valley was cleared of them for a distance of fifty miles, while the only organized army of the Khalifa was destroyed.
During subsequent months the railway was carried onward to Kosheh, the gunboats were taken up the river and supplies were pushed forward. The weather was intensely hot, heavy rainstorms swept the valley, and cholera, which had been coming north, reached the troops and inflicted severe losses. In addition, the Nile rose late and the dragging of the gunboats over the Second Cataract was delayed. But in September the advance was resumed, and the force was so overwhelming and so well dispersed that the Dervishes fled, and Dongola was occupied, every Dervish flying from the pressure. It was a triumph of skilful administration and management and the troops were well supported in the advance of the gunboats under Commander Colville, RN, afterwards Admiral the Honourable Sir Stanley Colville.
Kitchener's policy was to advance slowly, and to consolidate and prepare everything as he went onward. Therefore Dongola was put in order, the railway was pushed on towards the. place, and advanced posts were established.. Whether it would have been possible to make an immediate move forward it is unnecessary now to inquire. The Khalifa expected it, and immediately set about fortifying Omdurman. But it was not until the next year, 1897, that the reconquest of the Sudan was determined upon. England had compelled the Egyptians to abandon that province, and it was announced on the part of the British Government that responsibilities had been incurred, which must be fulfilled, and that the crumbling away of the "baleful rule of the Khalifa" made the time opportune to act.
But Kitchener had come to the conclusion that to carry forward the railway in the direction of Khartoum was inadvisable, the country being difficult. The Nile between Wady Halfa and Khartoum makes a double curve like the letter "S," and the railway abandoned would have crossed the southern curve of the "S" from Dongola and Debbeh to reach Khartoum, whereas the Sirdar now thought it advisable to strike across the northern curve from Wady Halfa to Abu Hamed. Fortunately there was at the head of the railway service an engineer officer of first-rate merits, Colonel Girouard, who pushed the line on from Wady Halfa at the rate of a mile and a half a day. This could, no doubt, have been done many months earlier, but the importance of the Dongola province made it necessary first to subjugate it, and in that province were now the friendly Jaalins, who had been exasperated by the cruelties of the Khalifa, who had decimated them, and they were guarding the right flank of the new advance.
So successful was all this preparation and organization directed by the Sirdar, that when the new railway had reached Abu Hamed, and that place had been captured after a stiff fight by Colonel Hunter, an immediate advance was made, and Berber, which is about a hundred miles farther up the river, fell without a blow, on September 6.
The Dervishes were strangely inactive. If the Emir Mahmoud, who had 10,000 men at Metammeh, which is about a hundred miles up-river from Berber, had moved, the Sirdar would have had a far more difficult task. That place was shelled, chiefly by way of reconnaissance, by the gunboats under Commander Keppel, afterwards Vice-Admiral Sir Colin Keppel. The irrepressible Osman Digna, who had appeared again in force in the Eastern Sudan, also retired into obscurity, having quarrelled with Mahmoud. Progress was made with the railway, which very quickly advanced to Abu Hamed and on to Berber.
The Atbara falls into the Nile a few miles above Berber, and on one of its affluents, about three hundred miles above that place, is Kassala, on the borders of Abyssinia, which the Italians had defended against the Dervishes. It was now to be restored to Egypt, and the Sirdar, by this time Major-General Sir Herbert Kitchener, went to Suakim and Massowah to arrange the conditions of the transfer, and the place was occupied by Egyptian troops on December 25, 1897.
Early in 1898 it became known that Mahmoud, who had now made a pact with Osman, was intending at last, with 20,000 men, to move against Berber. British troops were therefore hurried up from Alexandria, and Egyptian forces were concentrated to meet the threatened attack. On February 10, Mahmoud began to pass his troops across the Nile to Shendy preparatory to the advance, and his boats and rafts occupied a fortnight in the operation. It seemed to many observers that in the midst of this business of transport Mahmoud's troops were given into their enemy's hands. An ideal opportunity presented itself of destroying one half of them before the others could come to their aid. But nothing was done, and the explanation given was that it was the Sirdar's plan to get Mahmoud out of his strong position at Metammeh and into the open ground.
The great danger was of a frenzied Dervish rush, which it might be difficult to stop with existing means. Therefore "dum-dum" bullets were served out for the Lee-Metford, while the "dumb dumb" methods applied by the Sirdar against the press correspondents were to some extent withdrawn, concerning which one critic said that the general in the field, who restricts the press too much, lays himself open to the remark that, like Caesar, he prefers "to write his own Commentaries."
Mahmoud's object was to cross the desert from the Nile, and pass over the bed of the parched Atbara, in order to strike at Berber from the east. The Sirdar had now about 13,000 British and Egyptian troops, and the main body was concentrated at El Hudi, which place is a few miles up the Atbara from its confluence with the Nile. Mahmoud was now in a difficulty. He saw that his prepared advance on Berber was checkmated, and that a retirement on Omdurman would be perilous. The position for the Sirdar's forces was not easy. They were supplied by camel transport, the heat was punishing them severely, and dysentery and enteric fever appeared. It was imperative to make a move, and on April 4 the camps were struck and the advance begun. General Hunter, on the next day, tried to draw the Dervishes by advancing with eight squadron of cavalry, eight maxims, and a battery of horse artillery. Large bodies of Baggara horsemen thereupon came out, and Hunter had to make a skilful withdrawal.
It was on April 8, that the battle of the Atbara was fought. The enemy was not to be caught in the open, as the Sirdar had hoped. He was fortified in a zeriba formed of cut mimosa bushes, backed with strong palisades, and behind an encircling trench, with earthworks, crosstrenches, and shelters. But twenty-four guns were brought to bear, the palisades were blown away, and a rocket battery set the Dervish shelter in furious conflagration. Only a few Baggara horsemen appeared, and were swept away with maxims. After the position had been pounded for an hour and a half with shell, the advance began, the Sirdar watching the development of his plans from an advantageous post nine hundred yards away.
The pipes of the Highlander, the bugles of the other British regiments, and the bands of the Egyptian battalions playing inspiriting tunes gave a fine military spirit to the long line which advanced with fixed bayonets. General Gatacre and his aide-de-camp were the first men to reach the Dervish outer defences. The Camerons were to have driven a way through for the other battalions to rush into the midst of the enemy, but this was impossible, and the Camerons led, followed by other regiments. Then the hand-to-hand fighting began. The Dervishes in the trenches neither asked nor received quarter. They were armed with Remingtons, Martinis, fowling-pieces, and elephant-guns. The Egyptians, who were on the right, lost heavily, and the British had five officers and twenty-one men killed, and ninety-nine officers and men wounded. The Dervishes were soon utterly routed. They had fought bravely, but their fire was ineffective, and the mounted men were with Osman Digna and not present. It was a fine fight and a striking success, but the Dervishes were hopelessly outclassed by the well-trained forces opposed to them, who were amply provided with efficient guns and rifles. The Emir Mahmoud, slightly wounded, was captured, and brought before the Sirdar, where the following colloquy is recorded to have taken place: The Sirdar: "Why have you come into my country to burn and kill?" Mahmoud: "As a soldier I obey the Khalifa's orders, as you must the Khedive's." The Emir also declared that he was not a woman to run away!
The battle of the Atbara was the penultimate blow at the power of the Khalifa Mustapha. Kitchener, more than a soldier, a diplomatist and searcher of the spirits of men, who had himself, disguised, speaking Arabic like a native, walked among the Dervishes in the bazaars, had prepared all well. Resourceful and strong-willed, knowing what he wanted and resolved to secure it, he would not budge an inch until he saw whither he was going, and, like an old Roman, he had built the roads his men should traverse, and so, step by step, he was advancing towards Khartoum. He had able lieutenants who did the fighting---Hunter, Gatacre, Broadwood, Maxwell, Wauchope, Lyttelton, and many more. There were risks to be run, but upon the success of this campaign the future of Egypt hung. Thinking of this,---it was after the Atbara,---as a witness recorded, there was wrung from Kitchener the exclamation, "My God! if I had failed!"
But where there is a soldier who spares neither himself nor those under him, and who carries on the administration of an army as Kitchener did, there is small likelihood of failure. It was in May that preparations for the advance on Khartoum began. At Fort Atbara three months' provisions for 25,000 men were stored, and at Abadieh an arsenal and repair-shops were established for the flotillas. A second British brigade was prepared for embarkation, and Gatacre took command of the division thus constituted. The total strength was 7500 British and 12,500 Egyptians.
The Sirdar left for the front on August 13. The flotilla rendered the utmost service as a means of transport, and successive batches of men were hurried forward. Wad Hamid was passed, and reconnaissance showed that the Khalifa had abandoned the forts at the Shabluka Gorge, which is at the southern end of the Sixth Cataract. The troops could have turned them, and the Khalifa had reserved his strength for the coming battle at Omdurman.
At that capital of the Khalifa stood the white tomb of the Mahdi, which was first seen by the reconnaissance party, who had pushed on to the island of Jebel Rogan, which is about thirty-four miles below Khartoum. It is said that Major Staveley Gordon, General Gordon's nephew, was the first to set eyes upon it. Intense heat and violent storms, with terrific downpours, marked the stages of the advance, of which El Hajir, Wady Abid, Suruab, and Egeiga were the stages, the last-named place being only six miles from Omdurman. It was reached at about 1 P.M. on September 1, and when the cavalry rode out to the Jebel Surgham slopes, the whole army of the Khalifa, some 50,000 strong, was discovered, formed in five divisions, advancing to the attack. But this advance soon stopped, and the Dervishes were seen to be preparing their bivouacs and camp-fires. It was bad generalship, for if they had come on in force, before the Sirdar's troops could deploy, the situation would have become difficult for the latter. Meanwhile Commander Keppel had gone forward with his flotilla, and had landed a howitzer battery, which had opened fire at three thousand yards and partly destroyed the dome over the Mahdi's tomb. The night was one of anxiety in the Sirdar's camps, for the Khalifa might, with much advantage on his side, have attempted a night attack, and the men lay fully dressed on the sand, with their arms beside them. The total force with the Sirdar was then about 22,000 men.
The troops stood to their arms about an hour before sunrise on September 2, in anticipation of an attack, but the Dervishes did not move, and Kitchener resolved to advance. The bombardment from the gunboats was resumed, and then the Dervish hosts were seen to be in movement. The Sirdar's army was disposed upon a curved front, its extremities resting on the Nile, and the gunboats being on either flank. The Dervishes came on in great force and with military regularity from the left round the slopes of Jebel Surgham, to attack the centre, while a right attack, which was not pressed home, was seen developing round the heights of Kerreri.
A battery of artillery and some machine-guns inflicted great losses upon the Dervishes, but did not stop their advancing. The British infantry opened fire in volleys and independently, and a rain of lead fell upon the Dervish spearmen, who were advancing in rushes. When they came within eight hundred yards this fire became very deadly, and the ground was soon strewn with the dead and wounded. Some of them approached within two hundred yards, only to fall before the pitiless fire. There were scarcely any British casualties, until some Dervish riflemen lodged on Jebel Surgham opened fire. Then some of the British fell, but the enemy were soon driven off. By 8 A.M. the Dervish attack had slackened, and they were retiring rapidly, except that on the right the Khalifa's son, Sheikh-ed-Din, and Wad Helu attacked Colonel Broadwood in great force. There was much hand-to-hand fighting, and the position would have been serious if one of the gunboats had not opened fire and driven off these brave but unequal assailants.
So ended the first stage of the battle. The second began with a cavalry mêlée on the left, in which a lancer regiment charged a body of Dervishes, and lost both officers and men. The enemy were found in unexpected strength in a hollow place, where the British mounted men were at a disadvantage. While this was in progress the Sirdar had ordered, at 8.30 A.M., a general advance on Omdurman, but it was then discovered that the Khalifa, with about 40,000 men, was behind the height of Jebel Surgham. Macdonald's brigade was attacked by some 20,000 men, preceded by Baggara horsemen commanded by the Khalifa himself. But the horsemen were swept away, and machine-gun and rifle fire proved deadly to the close ranks of the Dervishes, whose bodies soon strewed the plain. Not a man got within three hundred yards of the fighting-line.
But now on the right other hosts were advancing, and Macdonald wheeled about, receiving reinforcements, and a pitiless fire was opened, particularly by the Sudanese, under whose hail of lead nothing could live. Macdonald had handled his troops with masterly skill, and had snatched victory from the jaws of peril. The brigades of Lewis and Wauchope were with him at this critical moment. The slaughter among the Dervishes was fearful, nearly 11,000 being killed, and as the troops advanced and cut off the retreat of the main body to Omdurman. the flight became a rout, and the fugitives escaped to the south.
This was the final triumph, which the Sirdar had won by masterly organization and preparation, and by skilfully disposing his forces. Good generalship, as we have seen, had also been found in his lieutenants. to whom the actual success in the fighting was very largely due. He mentioned them all, and many officers, very liberally in his despatches. The Sirdar described the result of the action as being " the practical annihilation of the Khalifa's army, the consequent extinction of Mahdism in the Sudan, and the submission of nearly the whole country formerly ruled under Egyptian authority." The power of modern armies had been demonstrated, and not less of the fine administration of military means, both personal and material. The Khalifa had failed as a general. If he had attacked at night, when British fire would not have been so effective, or if he had remained within his entrenchments and defences at Omdurman. he would have imposed a harder task on his assailants. The total loss in the Sirdar's army was forty-eight killed and three hundred and eighty-two wounded. The British killed were two officers and twenty-five men, twenty-one of them in the lancer charge referred to.
For these services Sir Herbert Kitchener was created Baron Kitchener of Khartoum, and a sum of £30,000 was awarded to him.
Omdurman was occupied, the Khalifa's European captives were liberated, and the British and Egyptian flags were hoisted at Khartoum. The Khalifa had fled with the remnant of his followers, the fighting was done, and nearly all the British troops returned to Cairo.
Reference may now be made to the Fashoda incident. On September 7, one of Gordon's old steamboats, which was in the Khalifa's service, returned to Omdurman, but to find a new flag flying there. Her captain surrendered and reported that at Fashoda, on the White Nile, he had been fired on by a party of white men. This was the expeditionary force of Major Marchand and his Senegalese. The Sirdar thereupon proceeded to Fashoda, and told the French officer, who said he was acting under the order of his Government, that the presence of a French force was an infringement of the rights of Egypt by the French Government. A very strained feeling arose out of this incident between the British and French Governments, but after a long diplomatic correspondence the matter was amiably settled, and Major Marchand and his troops returned to France.
Lord Kitchener was still at Khartoum, building a new city, and organizing a new administration to replace the vanished Dervish rule, of which the last fragments had been crushed by his lieutenants, when he was summoned to act as Chief of the Staff with Lord Roberts, who was about to proceed, in December, 1899, to South Africa to take up the command against the Boers, after the weary movements and strange blunderings of British generals on the upper Tugela. In the Egyptian campaigns and the conquest of the Sudan, brilliant as they were, there had been hardly any opportunities for the display of high strategy, tactical skill, or genius for command. The Nile and the railway that ran alongside it and crossed one of its great sinuosities, had been the line of approach. The strategy was always direct and frontal, for the desert protected both flanks. The great merit of Lord Kitchener had been his talent for administration, his foresight, his slow but certain progress towards his object, and the rigid economy with which he built up and maintained his army.
In South Africa the situation was entirely different. There was no narrow limitation of space or opportunity. The enemy was alert and elusive, and though the business of maintaining the army depended, in the new plans, on a single line of railway, that line was long and exposed to attack on every side. What Lord Roberts expected from Kitchener, who had been appointed at his own request, was not brilliant and rapid strategy, but sure calculation and inflexible strength. Kitchener possessed the power of decision and distinction, and he consistently eliminated the personal factor, depending for success on energy, organization, and numbers. The staff organization of the British Army was not complete, and, as Chief of the Staff, Kitchener became Lord Roberts's right-hand man, ready to undertake any organizing work, such as the reorganizing of the transport and intelligence departments, or to implant energy where it was wanting.
As Chief of the Staff, Kitchener was not responsible for the strategical plans or the generalship, though he was not without influence on both. These plans brought about the crossing of the Orange River without fighting, the turning of the Boers' front, the threatening of their communications and of their capital, and the opening of the whole country to the British to march where they chose. There was no such impasse as had been reached on the Tugela. The Modder Drifts were seized by French and his cavalry, Cronje was driven from his lines, and Kimberley was relieved, though Cronje slipped through.
The Boers had been outmanoeuvred and captured, but the blow had not fallen. In the business of the pursuit of Cronje, General Kelly-Kenny was nominally in command, "but," said Lord Roberts, "Lord Kitchener is with you for the purpose of communicating my orders." In practice Kitchener was the driving force, and when Cronje had taken refuge at Paardeberg, Kitchener's idea was to rush his laager at once, annihilate his force, and march straight on Bloemfontein.
But Kitchener's resolution to attack has been criticized on the ground that the object would have been attained by occupying the surrounding positions, concerning which it must be observed that Kitchener did not know what Boer reinforcements might arrive. The actual attack directed by Kitchener was certainly defective, two out of four brigades being thrown away in a frontal advance without cover and on the wrong side of the river, while the flank attacks were not in sufficient force, and orders were confused. This may be ascribed to Kitchener's desperate eagerness to attack, and to his limited tactical experience. His ambiguous status in the field complicated the difficulty. The assault was abandoned, and Cronje soon afterwards surrendered. Subsequently Kitchener was charged with the duty of repairing the railway and the bridges over the Orange River.
The plans whereby Bloemfontein was occupied and Ladysmith and Kimberley relieved were Lord Roberts's own. So, too, after a six weeks' interval, there was the rapid advance by which Johannesburg and Pretoria were occupied, the issue of the campaign being thus decided, though another leap was required which carried Roberts to Koniatipoort. Then Lord Roberts, in December, 1900, returned to England, and Lord Kitchener assumed the command. During the previous months he had been actively employed, and was concerned in Lord Methuen's pursuit of De Wet, who once came very near to capturing Kitchener himself.
In February and March, 1901, Lord Kitchener made efforts to conclude the campaign by negotiation, but President Kruger by cable counselled protracted resistance, and President Steyn adopted the same line, looking for some outside intervention. Kitchener then, with the utmost energy, set about a series of vigorous operations by which the country was to be swept from end to end, large numbers of mounted men being required, but before they arrived Kitchener had delivered some shrewd blows at the enemy. The blockhouse plan and the scheme of gathering the civil population into camps were his. He created a great organization, and the columns of Gorringe, Crabbe, Henniker, Scobell, Doran, Kavanagh, Alexander, and others carried out his plans.
It is unnecessary to describe the operations which brought the war to a close. They were prolonged and chequered, but brought about the ultimate success of British arms and the settlement of South Africa. For his services Lord Kitchener was promoted to be Lieutenant-General and General, was given a vis-county, and received the thanks of Parliament and a grant of £50,000. For great strategy the campaigns had offered no opportunities, and the occasions for generalship in command were few, but Kitchener had again proved himself a wonderful organizer and administrator in the military sphere, and he possessed the supreme merit of clearly recognizing the end, combined with a precise and detailed knowledge of the means by which it could be attained.
THE MAN HIMSELF
DULL and tiresome, brilliant and wonderful,---whichever his career may be,---Kitchener himself, Kitchener the man, the domestic unit, the poor fallible human brother, must be interesting---interesting to the gossip and interesting to the peering and appraising psychologist.
What manner of creature is this tall, heavy, fierce, and rather truculent-looking man who strides about in the popular imagination with the inexorableness of destiny and whose eyes, brooding on the confusion of human disarrangements, are mystic with the propulsive force of the Universal Will?
The little chalk-faced, mild-mannered clerk loves to relate stories of Kitchener's iron discipline and hugs himself over any incident which acquaints him with brutality of his hero's mind. The least pugilistic Sunday-school teacher adores in Kitchener qualities which in himself, beyond a doubt, would incur the everlasting torments of divine displeasure. Ascetic and charming clergymen, poets, painters, musicians, and philanthropists, editors of Liberal newspapers, Socialist lecturers, pacifists, vegetarians, and the whole company of those who compose the army of Sweetness and Light, see in Kitchener not only the Man of Destiny and the Man for "The Day," but a Man whose personality is in itself an excellence---as beguiling, enchanting, and intoxicating as forbidden fruit.
Publicly everybody is ready to acquiesce in the gospel of civilization, the gospel of Christianity, and to say that the greatest of things is love; but privately the citizen, whose furniture, larder, and salary are the acrid envy of watchful foes, is apt to consider the gospel of Christianity an experiment in idealism and to hold the sterner faith which has been so sedulously, frankly, and successfully preached in Germany for the last forty years. We must be invincible. Look to your guns!
But is Kitchener of Khartoum, in fact, the tremendous person of popular imagination? We have already suggested that he is of a milder brand.
In a man so victorious and inevitable there must be an element of Prussian sternness, if not brutality, and we may say at once that popular imagination has something to go upon in its idea of this British national hero pro tem. We shall tell two stories which justify the public conviction. Kitchener can be excessively hard, and almost inhumanly brutal. But this by no means exhausts his character. There are other sides to him. Indeed, one may say that his brutality is rather an accident of his ambition than one of his original elements, for the man was nothing of a bully as a boy, and from youth to the present day has been naturally and profoundly shy.
Ambition was the earliest manifestation of his character. But even this distinguishing characteristic began its career modestly and tamely. He wanted to swim well and ride well, but he never risked his boy's neck at either game. In youth he made up his mind to pass an examination. As a lieutenant of Engineers his growing sense of uncommon powers led him no farther afield than map-drawing in Palestine. Here he learned to know that the management of men is not so difficult a thing as it seems to youth, and life became a pleasanter adventure than the classrooms of Woolwich had led him to suppose. Then came Egypt, and with Egypt ambition was in supreme command of Kitchener's soul.
A brother of the present writer was a cadet at the Royal Military College of Sandhurst at a time when one of Kitchener's brothers was on the staff of lecturers. It happened one day---this was in the early eighties---that my brother was walking in the grounds of the college with Kitchener's brother, and as they went along the lecturer said to the cadet, "My young brother has just got himself appointed to Egypt; he'll never come out till he's at the top." This remark amused my brother as a piece of family conceit, for he had never even heard of Herbert Kitchener; but it shows one that so early as 1884 the future Sirdar of Egypt had impressed his brother with the forcefulness of his ambition.
But there was an element of tenderness in Herbert Kitchener during those hard and toilsome years,---an element which persisted long after he was world famous and which possibly exists to the present day. Among his relations were two dear diminutive old Scotch ladies who lived in Phillimore Gardens, Kensington, by name the Misses Hutchinson, and Kitchener was no dearer to these charming spinsters than they to him. He wrote to them brightly and boyishly by almost every mail, and whenever he returned to London the house in Phillimore Gardens was not only his regular headquarters, but the first goal at which he aimed. Before he went to Egypt for his advance to Khartoum these dear old ladies presented him with a gold-headed swagger cane, and when the advance was accomplished and the photographer arrived to make a picture of the general and his staff, Kitchener seated himself in the centre of the group with this stick held so ostentatiously that the old ladies in Kensington could not fail to recognize it when the photograph appeared in the illustrated papers. That, I think, is a charming touch in the man of blood and iron. He sent them roses from Gordon's grave at Khartoum and coats of the Khalifa from the Sudan. When he returned to London in a blaze of glory, the arrangements made for his reception would not admit of his proceeding immediately to the house of his old friends; but he wrote to them in the midst of his lionizing, explaining the reasons for his delay, and adding, "But I am coming soon, and I hope you will give me a jolly tea like the teas of old days---bread and jam, and no people." They called him Herbert, pronouncing it "Hairburrt," and they would sit one on either side of him, studying his bronzed face with their small, smiling, shrewd eyes, teasing him, chaffing him, adoring him, and giving him sound advice. In their house he was like a schoolboy, running up the stairs two at a time, whistling in his bedroom, going in and out just as he pleased, and telling them such stories of his campaign as no one else in London ever heard---stories, I am afraid, lost to the future biographer, for the Misses Hutchinson are no longer the good angels of mortality.
Fig. 7. LORD KITCHENER
These charming old ladies lived to see their hero's success in South Africa, and I know a story of Kitchener's setting out for the campaign which deserves to be told. The spinsters, who rejoiced in his peerage, thought it would be a fine thing to send him a riding-whip for this campaign, and they took cab to Piccadilly and ordered a very handsome whip with a gold handle ornamented with a coronet, the letter "K" and the word "Pretoria." When the whip was ready to be sent, they paid a second visit to the shop, a visit of inspection, and examined the present with minute carefulness and a slow, grudging, and canny approval. "Yes," said the humorous-minded tradesman, pointing to the coronet and the "K," 'I fancy old Kruger will be very well pleased with it when he gets it into his hand,"---a jest which. threw the old ladies into a condition of the very greatest indignation, for they were Scotch, and therefore something superstitious.
Kitchener once offered to give these faithful friends one of the many gold caskets which had been presented to him by the grateful corporations of provincial cities. The old ladies consulted together as to the acceptance of the gift. One of them asked, "Do we need it? " The other said, "No, we certainly don't need it." "What could we do with it?" asked the first. "Hum," replied the contemplative other, "we could perhaps use it as a tea-caddy."
Other friends have been as greatly devoted to Kitchener, and to these other friends he has been equally faithful. When he was at Simla, and at a time when he was exceedingly busy, one of his friends died at Lahore. As soon as the news reached him, Kitchener started off from Simla, not to be present at the funeral, but to comfort the widow of his friend, a woman for whom he entertained great respect and affection. The idea that Kitchener is a woman-hater is false., and has its origin only in a busy man's natural distaste for chatter and frivolity. It is said that Queen Victoria challenged him on this question, anxious to arrange a match for the triumphant young general, and that Kitchener replied, "But I love one woman already, ma'am, and always have loved her." Here was romance and mystery. The old Queen raised her head. "Who is she?" asked Victoria. "Your Majesty," replied Kitchener.
Some of Kitchener's most intimate friends are women. I suppose, for instance, that few people know more of his character than Lady Salisbury and Lady Desborough, to name only two of his friends among women. He was a great friend, as we have said already, of Lady Curzon. That he is not in any sense a lady's man is happily true, but that he dislikes intelligent, sympathetic, and good women is entirely false. Moreover, to tell a little-known truth, he has been in love, and has proposed marriage: but in this campaign he failed to organize victory.
Two things have beaten Lord Kitchener,---a woman and a pond. Of the woman we have said enough; she is delightful, pretty, and very clear-headed; she liked K. of K., was proud of his friendship, but could not be subdued by his will. She is now married, and is one of the great hostesses of London.
With less restraint we can speak of the pond. Lord Kitchener has three hobbies; he is a collector, an architect, and a gardener. Above everything else he loves altering and improving a house or a garden, particularly a house, and he really does this difficult and delicate work very well indeed. At Simla he set about improving Snowdon, the official residence of the commander-in-chief, and succeeded in making this rather commonplace and trivial building a very fine and handsome palace. He made like improvements, but on a smaller scale, in his country house at Simla, Wildflower Hall. Here he built a fine library, and panelled the walls, embellishing the panels with the coats of arms of the great Indian princes---a fine exhibition of good taste and a telling stroke in diplomacy. But he wanted to improve the garden of Snowdon, and nothing would satisfy him in the midst of the garden but a pond. Now Simla is high up in the Himalayas, and to make a pond in the Snowdon garden was a more difficult matter than to construct the dam at Assouan. But K. had spoken, and the impossible was attempted. Every effort failed. Kitchener came and surveyed the wreck. "Send for a buffalo," he commanded. A buffalo was brought up from the plains below, and for a number of days walked round and round in the embryonic pond, puddling the soil. Then it fell over the khud, or precipice, and perished miserably. "Send for oxen," said K. Oxen came and trampled the resisting bottom of the postulated but effectively expostulating pond, trampling it, trampling it, and trampling it till winter came, when they died of pneumonia. To this day the very beautiful gardens of Snowdon are waterless.
In his garden, wherever he may be, Kitchener is accustomed to do a great deal of the work. Officers who come to report to him are always glad when the interview is conducted in this fashion, for Kitchener is more human in a garden, and when one walks at his side, even at six o'clock in the morning when he begins his day's work, the nerves are not called upon to bear the strain of meeting his eyes. In his garden at Simla he has expressed to officers very close to him the pain it causes him to dismiss a man, even when the offender is guilty of a serious fault. Without compunction he gets rid of the inefficient and the studiously stupid, but it really hurts him to punish a good man who has blundered. In one particular case of which I know, it was a matter of days before he could make up his mind to dismiss such a man.
About the eyes of Kitchener it may be said without offence that the terror they inspire is heightened by a squint which has tended to grow more pronounced with age. The eyes are blue, penetrating, and full of judgment; without their irregularity they would be difficult eyes to face, but with this irregularity they fill certain men with a veritable paralysis of terror. Some one who knows him very well has described to me the effect of those eyes upon people who meet him for the first time. "They strike you," I was told, "with a kind of clutching terror; you look at them, try to say something, look away, and then, trying to speak, find your eyes returning to that dreadful gaze, and once more choke with silence."
Another person, a man of very great social importance, said to me, "I have never felt the least dread of Kitchener; he has stayed with me, and has been perfectly jolly and nice, entering into any fun that was going on, and being as larky and jovial as the youngest. Moreover. he tells a story very well, particularly a story against himself. No, I have never experienced that feeling of terror which he certainly inspires in many people, men and women alike ." Then after a pause, this great nobleman said, "All the same, if he were coming to inspect my regiment I should be frightened out of my life!"
It seems to me that the man's character is excellently suggested by a phrase which a singularly clever and observant woman used in describing to me the effect he produced upon her mind. "He sits in a chair," she said, "as if it were a throne." The man has natural dignity of mind, and that dignity has been developed into a distinct and sensible kingliness by the long exercise of an almost autocratic authority. He has never leaned on another man. He has never consulted and taken advice. Always it has been upon his own brain that his masterful will has depended for the victory of his purposes.
But such men are sometimes frightfully conscious of solitude; moments come to them when they are bowed and dizzied by the burden of responsibility. " Ah, if you only knew," he said to one of his closest friends in Egypt, "the awful strain of having to make up one's mind in crisis after crisis, knowing that on that one decision everything depends." Such moments have come to him, and those who look can see the marks of that tremendous strain visible in his face, which is no longer alert, eager, and lean with the pacing energy of his brain. On the whole, however, responsibility and authority have made him a greater man than his parts would have suggested to the most admiring of his friends forty years ago.
Fig. 8. LORD KITCHENER IN HIS ACADEMIC GOWN
"K. is a wonderful administrator," one of his friends told me, "but he is not otherwise an able man." This is true. Kitchener is by no means, for instance, a great general. Again, his statesmanship has never advanced out of gun range, because it is entirely without the genius which trusts humanity. In consequence he is something of a bungler, something of a blunderer. "In Egypt," I was told, "he behaved like a great bull in a china shop. We used to call him K. of Chaos. The man was never any good except in making an army and preparing for a campaign." I do not think this judgment altogether a true one, but it is sufficiently true to show that Kitchener is not the heaven-born genius of popular imagination. He is a slow, thorough, painstaking, laborious, and determined organizer. He takes a long time to get anywhere, but when he arrives the man on the spot knows immediately why he has come.
He is a little conscious, perhaps, that soldiers do not regard him as quite one of themselves. He is said to be much more genial and human among his civilian staff in Egypt than he has ever shown himself when holding a purely military command. It is as if the man were always on his guard with soldiers. Among civil servants, where his talents are indisputable, he unbends, although he always sits in a chair as if it were a throne. Occasionally, even among his civilians, and even at dinner, Kitchener can be ferocious. With guests in his house, a lady or two at the table, he has been known to handle a man so angrily and pitilessly that it has been an ordeal of the nerves for the women to remain.
I will now tell the two worst stories I know about Kitchener, and get rid as quickly as possible of this particular aspect of his character. One is of Egypt and one of South Africa; both are true.
It happened that Kitchener, during his Egyptian command, wanted a certain bridge to be built, and sent for an engineer to give him his orders. When the command was finished, he added, "I will inspect the bridge on------," naming a certain date. The engineer expressed his doubt whether the bridge could possibly be finished in so short a time. He was told that on that day Kitchener would come to the spot and if the bridge was not finished there would be trouble. There the interview ended.
The engineer set off on his labour of Hercules. He was young, devoted, and ambitious. He worked by night and by day, did incredible things, and at the moment when Kitchener arrived had everything ready for the inspection. His eyes shining with pleasure. his face wet with perspiration, his hands still grimed with the anxious work of last touches, he advanced to Kitchener, saluted, and said, with a smile, "Well, sir, we've just managed to do it in time." The only answer he received, the dreadful eyes fixed upon him, the voice cold with authority, was this: "Yes; but you ought not to appear before me unshaved."
This is what I call the Prussian element in Kitchener's character, and for myself I hate it so, much, detest it so spiritually, that I would give much to add to my story that the engineer threw the piece of cotton-waste, on which he was wiping his dirty hands, straight into K.'s face, even if one had to record that he was subsequently buried in close proximity to his bridge. Nevertheless, I remind myself that Kitchener is a man burdened with responsibility, that the East is not good for the liver, and that perhaps something had occurred that day to put him out. But I don't like to hear that when this story was retold to Kitchener in after years he laughed heartily. It would have been rather nice to record that he covered his face with his hands.
The other story is this. During the war in South Africa it was necessary on a certain occasion for Kitchener to make a quick and highly perilous journey by train. A daring and high-spirited youngster volunteered to drive the engine. The journey was accomplished. The volunteer driver, delighted that he had got the great general safely through most dangerous country, said to Kitchener as the Chief of the Staff passed him standing beside his sweating engine---"We weren't very long, sir, were we?" To which K. of K. replied, scarce looking at him, "You'll have to be quicker going back."
Well, it's horrid and odious and uncivilized, but this is undeniable. that such a spirit does get things done, and without such a spirit no one man perhaps could produce efficiency over a tremendously wide and infinitely difficult field. Kitchener, I think, is not brutal by nature, but, as we have said, has acquired brutality in the course of his journey from a big job to a bigger, and from a bigger to a still bigger.
Of his personal courage there can be no question, nor of his sacrifice of himself in the public interest. If he has spared no man, never has he spared himself. If he has exposed other men to danger, he himself in the face of the most imminent death has remained calm and indifferent.
During a serious time in Egypt, only a year ago, he was sitting one evening with some friends in the courtyard of his house when a fanatic suddenly sprang through the dusk into the midst of the group and waving his right hand above his head seemed as if he were about to hurl a bomb straight at Kitchener's head. Kitchener, I am told by two persons who were present, never moved a muscle, never turned a hair. He remained exactly as he had been a moment before, occupying his chair as if it were a throne, and showing not the smallest concern for his safety. The madman, who carried no bomb, was caught and removed, and K. of K. went on with the conversation.
A German officer who accompanied the British troops in Egypt said of Kitchener: "Personal danger does not seem to exist for him, although he has nothing whatever of the braggart about him. His entry into Omdurman was madly venturesome, but there was something almost comic about his calm, when, for instance, he lit a cigarette, carefully considering which way the wind blew, while bullets were whizzing all round him, and this, in his case, is not playing to the gallery, it is simply the man's natural manner."
The chief and distinguishing trait of his innermost character is a love of altering things, a disposition probably inherited from his land-improving father. He never quite approves of other people's work. His way is always the better way. Once in Egypt, when two great ladies from England were staying at the Agency, he took these distinguished guests to see the magnificent ball-room which he had just added to the rather mean official residence of the British Agent. A number of natives were on their hands and knees polishing the floor in unison. K. of K. regarded them for a moment or two, and then striding forward told them that their method was the wrong method and that the best way of polishing a floor was in such a fashion. The natives altered their positions, got ready to work in the new order, and then started. The next moment they were a broken and disorganized line, some of them sprawling and rolling on the floor. The two ladies laughed at this tableau. "Do it your own way," commanded Kitchener, and the scowl on his face very effectually expressed his chagrin. Certainly he disapproved of the spontaneous laughter of his guests.
In many instances his alterations have been great and valuable improvements. The hobby nearest to his heart is architecture, and on Broome Park, his place near Canterbury, made famous by Ingoldsby, he has expended infinite labour and no little money. As an evidence of his diligence in this work and his thoroughness in detail, it may be related that he spent several days with Lord and Lady Sackville at Knole---probably the most perfect house in the whole world---taking impressions of the carvings with sheets of wet blotting-paper. He would spend hours at this work, a lady standing by with water, and scarcely any words escaped his lips during the operation except the command, "More water."
He wanted to see the interior of Rufford Hall, and, staying in the neighbourhood, asked his hostess to drive him over. The lady told him that Lord and Lady Savile were away, and that for a very good and somewhat delicate reason the house was never shown. Kitchener persisted in his request, but the lady persisted in her refusal. One day, without a word to his hostess, he ordered a car, drove over to Rufford, where he found only an old woman in charge, and succeeded in forcing an entry. He told the story at dinner that night, laughing boisterously at his ruse; but the lady, need we say, did not join in his laughter.
His love for Broome is now the dearest affection of his heart. During the alterations., which he superintends very closely, he resides in an unused gardener's cottage, among exceedingly shabby surroundings, and lives with scarcely more luxury than you find at the table of an agricultural labourer. "You don't know what it costs me to leave Broome," he said, with real feeling. the last time he went back to Egypt. The friend to whom he made this remark told me that he was like a schoolboy going back from delightsome holidays to the grind of school.
With this love of altering, extending, and improving houses and gardens, there goes the cupidity of the collector. Lord Kitchener knows a good deal about silver and china, a little about furniture, and he is a furious collector. I was told by an incomparable judge that the has knowledge but not taste. However this may be, he has, beyond all question, the passion of a collector, and will do almost anything to get possession of an object of his desire. His friends frankly tell him that he visits them chiefly for loot, and he has been told to his face, good-humouredly of course, that he is an incorrigible cadger. Many people are strong enough to ignore his hints and to refuse his beggings; but it is not so easy for those who happen to be his official inferiors to refuse him the piece for which he hints steadily and with increasing emphasis. I am told that this habit of the collector has grown with the years, is exceedingly unpleasant, and appears to be quite incurable. His collection of swords is said to be one of the finest in the world.
Lord Kitchener is neither an effective speaker nor a great writer. But he has two epigrams and one humorous remark which he is said to fire off, watching eagerly for their effect, at every fresh European visitor to Cairo. The first sententious epigram is this: "The future of Egypt is in Abyssinia." The second: "I started life as a consul: it has taken me forty years to get myself made a consul-general." The humorous remark, made to people who talk to him about Egyptian art, is as follows: "I don't think much of the art of a people who for four thousand years have drawn cats in precisely the same way."
It has been related of him---but I doubt the truth of the story---that to a man who began calling him Kitchener very soon after introduction, the Sirdar put the sudden question, "Why not Herbert, for short? "
Two other things really said by Lord Kitchener may be recorded. Speaking at a dinner of the East Anglians after his smashing of the Mahdi, he said that he was delighted to be welcomed home by brother Anglians, who evidently did not hold the ancient belief that a prophet had no honour in his own country. "I cannot claim to be a prophet," he continued, "but I have been engaged recently in upsetting one,---one who is now being received in his own country with a far different and perhaps warmer reception than that which I have the honour to receive to-night." The other remark was made quite spontaneously to a man of my acquaintance. Kitchener was speaking of his early days, and of the impressions made upon him forty years ago by all the beauty, and silence, and mystery of the East. "Damascus," he said, "made the profoundest impression; I continually see it even now, and exactly as I saw it then---it presents itself to my mind in perfect miniature as if I were looking at the city itself, but through the wrong end of a telescope."
He does not seem to be a great reader. He has studied with fair thoroughness the curious notes of Richard Burton to the "Nights," and he is occasionally interested by a modern novel, particularly imaginative novels masquerading as future history with the trappings of science. But he is no judge of a book, and does not seem to care a straw for the higher regions of literature.
One need not bore the reader by a summing-up. It is fairly obvious that this man, who stands just at present so totally and bracingly for the whole British Empire, is neither romantic hero nor heaven-sent genius. But also it is plain, I hope, that he is neither the absolute tyrant nor the bloodless machine of popular fancy. He is a simple, not very amiable, and occasionally a distinctly unpleasant official, who by the concentration of his will in a narrow groove, and by incessant, slow, unsparing, and plodding labour has achieved great and enormous victories. But within the man himself there is a certain dignity of soul, not white-robed and transfigured, it is true, but stiff with buckram and heavy with gold-lace, which gives a real weight, a genuine authority, to the impression he makes upon even considerable people.
Married to a woman who realized that history is spiritual progress, and that lordship, in spite of cocks' feathers and scarlet, is only the police of civilization, Lord Kitchener might have been one of the greatest officials in modern English history. But he is a man who does not inspire the love of women, he has no spiritual ideals, no inspiration, and all his work has been characterized by so exclusive a masculinity that it is almost certain posterity will not be greatly curious about him. He will live in the shadows with Wellington, not in the sunlight with Nelson and Napoleon.
His service to his generation, however, has been nobly rendered, the living world owes him gratitude, and perhaps if the two little old ladies of Phillimore Gardens could rise to tell us all they know about him we might add to our gratitude the warmer and kinder feeling of affectionate admiration. For we know that. if Kitchener has made enemies, he has also grappled to his side one or two great and steady friends who find in him not only a powerful official and a remarkably able administrator, but a man whose friendship is a very pleasant possession.
Table of Contents