Wednesday, June 5, 2013

This Day in History: Jun 5, 1916: British War Minister Lord Kitchener drowns

 File:Horatio Herbert Kitchener.jpg

In the icy waters of the North Sea on June 5, 1916, the British cruiser Hampshire strikes a German mine and sinks off the Orkney Islands; among the passengers and crew drowned is Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the British secretary of state for war.

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 File:StateLibQld 1 102586 Lord Herbert Kichener on horseback..jpg
Kitchener was a war hero who earned the lord distinction with his triumphant leadership of the British army in the Sudan in 1898. Serving as chief of staff during the Boer War (1899-1902), he drew criticism from such liberal politicians as David Lloyd George for his bold prosecution of the successful war effort, including the destruction of Boer farms and the internment of civilians in concentration camps.

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After serving in the colonial administrations of both India and Egypt, Kitchener was appointed secretary of war by Prime Minister H.H. Asquith upon the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914. Kitchener, the first member of the military to hold the post, was responsible for building up Britain's army to face Germany—a country that, after steadily building and improving its armed forces for the past 40 years, was by 1914 in possession of the European continent's most powerful land army.

 File:Kitchener recruitment.jpg

All the regular divisions of the British army went into action in the summer of 1914 and the campaign for volunteers—based around the slogan "Your King and Country Need You!—began in earnest in August of that year. New volunteers were rapidly enlisted and trained, many of them joining what were known as Pals battalions, or regiments of men from the same town or from similar professional backgrounds. Over the first two years of the war, over 3 million British men volunteered to serve in the so-called Kitchener's New Armies.


By the summer of 1916, however, Kitchener had become a controversial figure, especially in the wake of the Allied failure to gain a victory against the Turks in their ambitious land invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula the previous spring. After Gallipoli, Kitchener had forfeited a good deal of credibility as a military strategist, and many of his fellow ministers had long lost faith in his efficacy and nerve. The British public, on the other hand, still regarded him as the man who embodied the strength and resolve behind the government's war strategy.
In early June 1916, Kitchener left London aboard the cruiser Hampshire on a diplomatic mission to Russia, where he was to encourage that volatile ally to continue mounting a stiff resistance to their common enemy, Germany, on the Eastern Front of the war. On June 5, while traveling off the Orkney Islands, northwest of Scapa Flow in the North Sea, the Hampshire was sunk by a German mine, killing the war secretary and his colleagues.

 Charles A Court Repington Article
Journalist Charles Repington wrote in his journal of Kitchener's drowning and its effect on the British population: We hoped against hope, but no doubt now remains. A great figure gone. The services which he rendered in the early days of the war cannot be forgotten. They transcend those of all the lesser men who were his colleagues, some few of whom envied his popularity. His old manner of working alone did not consort with the needs of this huge syndicalism, modern war. The thing was too big. He made many mistakes. He was not a good Cabinet man. His methods did not suit a democracy. But there he was, towering above the others in character as in inches, by far the most popular man in the country to the end, and a firm rock which stood out amidst the raging tempest.

 Kitchener's contribution to racial hatred

Experts are agreed on the fact that Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Commanding in Chief of the British forces during the Anglo Boer War and the person responsible for concentration camps, contributed greatly to the racial hatred which caused immense divisions in South Africa. Kitchener with personal "valet"A BBC documentary programme revealed that he told blatant lies over scandalous practices during the war. The programme Kitchener, the Empire's Flawed Hero which formed part of a BBC series titled Reputations, attracted much attention over hints that Kitchener had homosexual tendencies.

A preview revealed that the speculations were based on the fact that he had never married, appointed unmarried men as his batsmen or grooms and that he collected porcelain and made flower arrangements. He was also partial to interior decoration and liked making table arrangements, a refined art during the Victorian era. However, historians taking part in the programme pointed out that there was no evidence for these conjectures. They point to the dualities in his character possibly originating from his sadistic father and gentle mother and that these qualities were similarly reflected in his own life.


Sir Thomas Pakenham refers to a tame swallow Kitchener cosseted. When the swallow escaped, Kitchener is said to have found this more upsetting than anything else which happened during the war. Pakenham pointed to the latest South African research which suggest that as many as 30 000 blacks had been detained in British concentration camps and that Kitchener used them as labourers - his attitude reflected in his words: "Let the kaffirs do the rest."


Pakenham maintains that conditions in black concentration camps were even worse than those in white camps which claimed the lives of 26 000 women and children, also revealing the shocking fact that they received no rations. Until Kitchener resorted to the practice, it had been an unwritten agreement that nobody would involve blacks or coloured people in the war - that it was a white man's war - Pakenham contends.


The late Judge M T Steyn refers to him in the programme as a man who had claws instead of nails, and author Dot Serfontein said his decision to arm blacks had fomented racial hatred.

Taken from:  & [05.06.2013]


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