Kitchener: Saviour of the Realm by John Pollock - review by Max Egremont

Max Egremont

He Left No Signs When He Sank

Kitchener: Saviour of the Realm


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John Pollock’s biography of Lord Kitchener is the second of two volumes. The first took its hero – and it is clear that to Pollock Kitchener is a hero – up to 1902 and his appointment as Commander-in-Chief in India. This one describes his time in India and then as proconsul in Egypt, and, finally, as Secretary of State for War in Asquith’s wartime Cabinet until his death by drowning while on his way to Russia in 1916. Called into the Government in August 1914 as a symbol of magnificent resistance, Kitchener had his greatest triumph when (with the support of the much derided Haig) he told the incredulous politicians that the war would last at least three years and advocated an immediate campaign of mass recruitment. He steadied Sir John French, the British commander in the field, when French panicked in 1914. He showed prescience and humanity by advocating an eventual peace of reconciliation rather than the grinding down of a defeated enemy.

Kitchener attracted feelings of reverence and loathing. Some of his old Boer enemies claimed that, as he sank to his death, the souls of those who had died in his South African concentration camps laughed in delight to see him float past them to the inevitable torments of hell. Then,

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