Feature Articles - The Most Popular War in History - Lord Kitchener of Khartoum

Lord Kitchener of Khartoum in Sirdar uniform during the 1890s. (Picture from 'The British Empire', Daily Telegraph publications.) Lord Kitchener of Khartoum (1850-1916)

Lord Kitchener of recruiting poster fame had a distinguished military career.  Born into an Anglo-Irish family he joined the Royal Engineers and served with distinction in Egypt and other places.

He accompanied General Wolseley to Khartoum on the expedition to relieve General Gordon (they arrived two days late).  He was later able to redeem his association with this exercise by launching a successful invasion of the Sudan beginning in 1895 and ending with the very unequal Battle of Omdurman in 1898 (locals with spears and out-of-date firearms versus Europeans with rifles and Gatling or Maxim (machine) guns...).

To be fair he made a successful Governor of the Sudan afterwards until called to serve in the Boer War.  Again (and this time against rather more equal opponents - the Boers were excellent shots, and tough) he distinguished himself, and at the end of this campaign he was promoted Field Marshal, serving (again with distinction) in India.

This successful military career and eminence (Omdurman and other actions in Britain's imperial possessions had made him a very prominent public figure) brought him appointment as Secretary of State for War in 1914 with responsibility for recruitment.

A hastily-drafted recruiting leaflet (probably written by Kitchener himself) appeared within days of August 4th, and the famous poster a few weeks later.  As my father points out (p105 of At Duty's Call), to a cynical generation taught to have no heroes (and especially not military heroes) his pre-eminence is difficult to comprehend.

He remained in this post until 1916 when he was lost at sea on the cruiser Hampshire which sunk on striking a German mine, although it has been suggested that he was sidelined somewhat before his death.

The Famous Poster

The famous Kitchener recruitment poster


1. Reader W J (1988) At Duty's Call - A Study in Obsolete Patriotism, Manchester University Press

2. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia (2002) Standard Edition. Microsoft Press

Picture Credits:

Scan of Kitchener poster kindly supplied by Michael Duffy.  The poster itself was designed by Alfred Leete.

Photograph of Lord Kitchener in the 1890s from The British Empire, Daily Telegraph Publications 1997.

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Article and photographs contributed by Humphrey Reader.

A Greyback was a British Army shirt.

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Minor Powers