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Lord Kitchener is best remembered for a WW1 call-up poster

Posted in Communications, Historical articles, History, World War 1 on Monday, 29 April 2013

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This edited article about Lord Kitchener originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 235 published on 16 July 1966.

WW1 Home Front, picture, image, illustration

London during WW1 with Lord Kitchener's face looking down from that famous call-up poster by Frank Bellamy

The stern face of Lord Kitchener, which stared down accusingly from call-up posters all over England during the First World War, was probably the best incentive young men in Britain could have had to join the Army. In his young days, this man had been involved in colourful exploits that had made him famous throughout the British Empire.

The plaque above marks the house at 2 Carlton Gardens, near St. James’s Park, London, where he lived from 1914-1915, during the war for which his poster with the slogan: “Your Country Needs You” helped to recruit troops.

Son of a colonel, Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916) was brought up in Ireland. After a spell of training at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1870 he offered to join the French Army to help repel German invaders.

Kitchener’s attempt to get into the French Army was frowned upon in England and he was reprimanded for “a breach of discipline”. His next three years were spent more quietly in the Royal Engineers. Then, quite suddenly, he was sent to explore Palestine – a first small step that was to carry him far.

When Britain acquired Cyprus in 1878, Kitchener was the officer chosen to survey the island. Then he became a temporary vice-consul at Kastamuni, in Asia Minor. In 1882 he asked if he could join an expedition to crush a rebellion in the Egyptian Army. His request was refused, so he took a “holiday” instead, dressing himself up as a Levantine and spending his time reconnoitring the Nile valley.

His “holiday” over, Kitchener returned to Cyprus and to an uncomfortable interview with an angry superior officer. Shortly afterwards he found himself second-in-command of a unit of Egyptian cavalry.

At this time, severe trouble was brewing in the Sudan, where the Mahdi, a Moslem religious leader, had united rebellious Arab tribes against the British.

The Mahdi was a powerful man with a large, determined and skilful army. The important city of Khartoum in the Sudan fell to his men. In 1886, Kitchener, now a recognised authority on the Middle East, was appointed Governor-General of the Eastern Sudan, where for some years he steadily prepared an army to challenge the Mahdi. The result was the battle of Omdurman, 1898, in which the Mahdi was beaten by an army less than half the size of his own.

By 1914, Kitchener, famed and trusted by the public, had unrivalled knowledge of the British Empire. He was made Minister of War and was one of the few who realised that the fight with Germany would not be “over by Christmas”. He set out to expand the British Army to an extent never before attempted, and in three years the Army grew to three-and-a-half times its former size – three million of the men were volunteers. His success probably saved Europe from German domination.

In June, 1916, Kitchener sailed from Scapa Flow to visit the Tsar of Russia, who wanted his advice. He was never seen again. His ship, H.M.S. Hampshire, disappeared in bad weather off the Orkneys, probably sunk by a mine.

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