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Horatio Kitchener

Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850 - 1916) was a British army officer who gained fame for his role in colonial conflicts in Egypt and the Sudan. He is also well-known as the Commander in Chief of the British forces in South Africa for the latter part of the 1899-1902 war. Kitchener achieved a number of key imperial military victories for Britain in Egypt and the Sudan, and he was made Baron Kitchener of Khartoum and Aspall in 1898. The British press were instrumental in creating an image of Kitchener as a hero of empire and a ‘man of destiny’. In December 1899 Kitchener was appointed chief of staff to Lord Roberts, the Commander in Chief of Britain’s forces in South Africa; and by the end of 1900 he had replaced Roberts as Commander in Chief. In February 1901 Kitchener engaged in tentative peace talks with General Louis Botha, but these came to nothing and fighting subsequently intensified. Kitchener then adopted a series of tactics in his attempt to win and end the war, including a controversial ‘scorched earth’ policy used to deprive Boer commandos of food and other supplies. This also entailed a continuation and extension of the policy of ‘rounding up’ of Boer women and children (and some men) into ‘concentration camps’. The camps were at first improvised and poorly resourced, and epidemics of disease spread quickly through them, leading to around 27,000 deaths, although the death rate was subsequently brought under control. At the peace negotiations at the end of the war in 1902, Kitchener played an important mediatory role, encouraging the High Commissioner Alfred Milner to take a conciliatory rather than punitive approach to the peace. On his return to Britain, Kitchener was once again welcomed as a hero of empire. He later served in India, and again in Egypt and in 1914 was appointed Secretary of State for War. He died in 1916 when the ship he was travelling on, HMS Hampshire, was sunk by a German torpedo.

Schreiner’s only extant letter to Kitchener was written in the context of the South African War, on 9 January 1901. In it she inquires whether Kitchener might be willing to meet with her, so that she could “put a few points” to him. While it is not known whether this meeting ever took place, it does not seem likely given the wartime circumstances. The letter itself is indicative of Schreiner’s sense of potential political influence as a public intellectual, and in it she suggests that her ‘insider’ position gives her a unique perspective on the war.

For further information see:
Philip Magnus (1958) Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist London: John Murray
Keith Neilson (2004) ‘Kitchener, Horatio Herbert, Earl Kitchener of Khartoum (1850-1916)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/34341
John Pollack (2001) Kitchener London: Constable
Trevor Royle (1985) The Kitchener Enigma London: Joseph
Philip Warner (2008) Kitchener: The Man Behind the Legend London: Phoenix
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