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Man who could have changed our destiny.

Byline: Ross Reyburn

Kitchener. By John Pollock (Constable, pounds 20). Reviewed by

Would Lord Kitchener have prevented the Second World War? The theory may sound far-fetched but Kitchener's death in June 1916 certainly meant the end of an influential figure who would have fought to engineer a very different peace agreement at the end of the First World War to that formulated at Versailles.

Britain's war minister died when a mine sunk the HMS Hampshire in the Baltic Ocean as he was en route to Russia. In Kitchener, the Rev John Pollock completes this major biography assembling a persuasive argument that this soldier with his principles of Christian compassion could well have changed the destiny of Europe had he lived.

In 1922 three years after the Peace of Versailles, Sir Ian Hamilton, Kitchener's chief staff officer, painted a prophetically apocalyptic picture of the havoc created by the misguided peacemakers.

'The Great War has inflicted race hatred, bankruptcy and murder over the best part of the world from Ireland in the west to the near East.' he said. 'I tell you why it is; it is because our politicians have entirely ignored the ideals of those to whom we have raised this memorial by making a vindictive, instead of a generous, peace.'

Hamilton offered the contrast at the end of Boer War when Kitchener forced the politicians to avoid a vindictive peace that would humiliate and wound the feelings of the conquered.

'He beat them and made his own peace; a generous soldierly peace. He lent the Boers money; he rebuilt their farms; he rebuilt their dams; he re-stocked their farms.'

The result was an end to feuds, race hatred, bankruptcy and bloodshed which had paralysed South African progress for a generation, said Hamilton.

'South Africa was more completely ruined than Central Europe; hate was stronger than it is in Germany and yet, within one year South Africa was smiling and so were we.'

Field Marshal Earl Haig was to write of Kitchener 'perhaps victory would have come sooner if he had been with us to the end' of the First World War.

Pollock also argues: 'When that end came he was more than ever missed. Kitchener, with his fluent French might have calmed Clemenceau's resentments and with his huge prestige in America, might have overturned Wilson's ignorant prejudices about Europe, thus preventing the disaster of the Second World War.'

Kitchener's formidable face pointing a stern finger at Britain's men with the words 'Your country needs YOU' became one of the best-known images of the 20th century. The original version appeared of the front page of London Opinion, a popular weekly, after the editor had rejected the original cover and commissioned artist Alfred Leete to design something topical - fast. Various texts were used for the same and such was Kitchener's vast popularity his inspired recruitment campaign proved a hugely successful alternative to conscription, producing a staggering one million volunteers in 1914 alone.

Kitchener's role as war minister involved him in political intrigues that nearly led to his resignation and it was only the incredible success of the evacuation that prevented him paying a heavier penalty for the Dardanelles Disaster.

Perhaps it was as well he did not live to see the terrible slaughter of so many of 'Kitchener's Armies' in France. Whether he would have allowed the senseless mass attacks against machine-gun fire to continue on such a horrendous scale is doubtful for his famous victory in the Battle of Omdurman (1898) during his reconquest of the Sudan had shown the futility of charging modern fire-power in open field when 10,883 brave Dervishes perished.

Pollock points out Kitchener's strategy had been to get the divisions of the New Army fully-trained for combat. He believed 'every month that passed without throwing troops away at a heavily fortified line would make final victory more certain, especially as Britain was now perfecting its secret weapon, soon to be known as the tank.'

After witnessing a trial, Kitchener had immediately ordered 100 of these 'landships' but the French call for a great Allied offensive prevailed after his death with 19,000 British soldiers slaughtered on the first afternoon of the Battle of the Somme, three weeks after Kitchener's death. 'Had Kitchener been alive he might well have ordered Haig to call off the battle rather than continue the slaughter of the flower of the new armies for little gain,' writes Pollock.

Kitchener's scorched earth policy and use of 'concentration camps' to bring an end to the Boer War brought criticism. But it was poor administration that led to the health problems which caused the deaths of so many in the camps and equating them with the Nazi camps used for the Final Solution is ridiculous.

Kitchener's deeds in the field were not sufficient to place him alongside British military giants such as Marlborough, Wellington or Slim. But in Pollock's comprehensive biography, he emerges as an inspirational hero of the Empire and major architect of the victory in the First World War.

His belief that the First World War would last at least three years, faith in the potential of the tank and plane as significant land battle weapons and conviction that the vanquished should be granted a peace with honour, showed the soldier with the shy manner was also a man of vision.


Lord Kitchener, above, and top left, pointing a stern finger at Britain's men with the words 'Your country needs YOU' which became one of the best-known images of the 20th century.
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Title Annotation:Books
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 17, 2001
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