Kitchener: The Man Not the Myth by Anne Samson

A multi-dimensional view of one of Britain’s most distinguished officers

Published by Helion & Company, LTD, available from Casemate Publishers

The enduring image of Field Marshal Kitchener of Khartoum stares down through the decades since the First World War, index finger thrust towards the viewer enjoining him to action with the words “Your Country Needs You”. “You” is written in large, red capital letters, creating the impression of a one-on-one dialogue between Kitchener and the person reading the poster. Kitchener is correct, imposing, and compelling. He is a leader, commanding the youth of England to heed their country’s call. Kitchener is almost mesmerizing, but the picture is only two-dimensional. His military personality is on full display; but there is nothing of the inner man present. Kitchener however led a complex life and possessed a side not well known to the public. Anne Samson attempts to explain that inner man to readers in Kitchener: The Man Not the Myth.

Born and raised in Ireland, Kitchener entered the British Army officer corps via Woolwich Academy, where engineer and artillery cadets received their initial training. As a young lieutenant he volunteered to support the French army in 1871 during Franco-Prussian War. He performed duties as an ambulance crewman and gained an appreciation of serving under combat conditions, but also earned a rebuke for his actions violated British neutrality between the belligerents. Despite the censure, his career suffered no harm from the sojourn to the continent. He subsequently received advanced engineering training and participated in a variety of overseas surveying expeditions. In 1874, Kitchener was seconded to the Palestine Exploration Fund to perform a series of surveys of the Holy Land. The assignment lasted until 1877, and resulted in a comprehensive, multi-volume compendium of maps. Following the completion of this duty, Kitchener rotated to a variety of assignments in Cyprus, Egypt, Sudan, and Zanzibar. His time in Egypt was spent in an advisory and leadership role to the Egyptian Army and included service in the failed attempt to relieve the besieged British general Charles Gordon at Khartoum.

Samson covers the initial 18 years of Kitchener’s career in one short chapter and focuses the bulk of the narrative on his subsequent roles in a variety of assignments of increasing importance. He served as the commander (Sirdar) of the Egyptian Army at the end of 1892, securing a string of victories that ultimately secured the Sudan and resulted in him being appointed its governor-general in 1898. Kitchener followed this appointment with command and staff appointments in South Africa during the Boer War, as Commander-in-Chief in India and ultimately British Agent in Egypt just prior to the outbreak of the First World War. He ultimately served as the British Secretary of State for War after England entered the First World War in support of its ally France after Germany violated Belgian neutrality in August 1914. As The Secretary of State for War, Kitchener oversaw the massive expansion of the British Army from a small, professional expeditionary force to an enormous national army. He was still serving in this role when he was unexpectedly killed during a mission to Russia when the cruiser upon which he was sailing, the HMS Hampshire stuck a mine and sank.

Samson writes in an engaging styled and provides plenty of detail regarding Kitchener’s interactions with peers, superiors, civilian leaders and subordinates. She explores his character and development from a young man of action who could be almost ruthless in his quest to achieve professional advancement, but ultimately growing into evolving into a leader who combined the skills of diplomat, commander, and politician. Samson illustrates that while he had many of the shortfalls associated with 19th century Imperialism evident in his habits and behaviors, he was surprisingly forward thinking in his ideas about class and society. Kitchener does emerge a more fully formed man from Samson’s analysis, however the book overall follows an expected format of examining Kitchener through his professional actions and relationships. The book does not contain much new information with regard to British military expeditions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or during the early years of the First World War. Readers looking for a broader strategic picture are advised to look elsewhere.

Kitchener: The Man Not the Myth is slightly over 250 pages, including a comprehensive bibliography and extensive footnotes. An array of black and white photographs illustrating Kitchener’s career accompany the text, along with a small selection of maps. Overall, this is an excellent study of Kitchener that takes readers beyond the façade of the two-dimensional man.

Readability- four stars
Accuracy- five stars
Historical Value- four stars
Details- five starsOverall Rating – four stars
Overall Rating % 90