♦ En Français ♦

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, dit Lord Kitchener (24 juin 1850, Bally Longford, comté de Kerry, Irlande5 juin 1916), comte Kitchener (de Khartoum), fut un maréchal et un homme politique de l’empire britannique.

Il rentre à la « royal military academy »de Woolwich en 1868. Après avoir servi volontairement dans l’armée française pendant la guerre de 1870, il devient officier des « Royal Engineers » et effectue plusieurs séjours extérieurs en Palestine et à Chypre.

Il officia en Égypte et au Soudan, où il a écrasé en 1898 l’état Madhiste fondé par Muhammad Ahmad ibn Abd Allah Al-Mahdi puis se confronta notamment à Jean-Baptiste Marchand durant la crise de Fachoda, puis en Afrique du Sud lors de la guerre des Boers. S’il fit ses premiers faits d’armes en 1870, comme volontaire dans l’armée de Napoléon III, il est aux yeux de la communauté des historiens l’un des grands instigateurs de la guerre moderne, notamment par la mise en place des premiers camps d’internement pendant la guerre des Boers, mais aussi auparavant par l’emploi systématique des canons Maxim contre la cavalerie Mahdiste.

Sa carrière avait fait de lui un véritable héros national et son effigie sur les affiches de recrutement, d’après un portrait d’Alexander Bassano, avait encouragé des millions de volontaires à s’enrôler. Il réussit à faire passer en peu de temps l’armée britannique de 150 000 soldats de métier, à plus de 1,5 millions de mobilisés. Il gonfla encore les effectifs à plus de 3 millions de soldats, via sa loi de conscription de janvier 1916.

Ministre de la Guerre au cours de la Première Guerre mondiale, il périt au cours d’une mission qui devait le conduire en Russie : le 5 juin 1916, au nord-ouest des Orcades, le croiseur de la Royal Navy HMS Hampshire faisait route vers l’empire russe lorsqu’il heurta une mine allemande et s’enfonça rapidement dans les eaux glacées emportant lord Kitchener âgé de 66 ans. Même si ses collègues n’avaient plus pour lui une grande considération, il avait conservé toute sa popularité et sa disparition choqua considérablement les Britanniques, et il fut la seule personnalité militaire des nations en guerre à disparaître de mort violente lors du conflit.

♦In English ♦

Kitchener was born in Listowel, County Kerry in Ireland son of Lt. Col. Henry Horatio Kitchener (1805 – 1894) and Frances Anne Chevallier-Cole (d. 1864; daughter of Rev John Chevallier and his third wife, Elizabeth, née Cole). The family were English, not Anglo-Irish: his father had only recently bought land in Ireland. The year his mother died of tuberculosis, they had moved to Switzerland in an effort to improve her condition; the young Kitchener was educated there and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. Pro-French and eager to see action, he joined a French field ambulance unit in the Franco-Prussian War; his father took him back to England after he caught pneumonia after ascending in a balloon to see the French Army of the Loire in action. He was commissioned into the Royal Engineers on 4 January 1871. His service in France had violated British neutrality, and he was reprimanded by the Duke of Cambridge, the commander-in-chief. He served in Palestine Egypt and Cyprus as a surveyor, learned Arabic, and prepared detailed topographical maps of the areas.

During the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Kitchener arrived with Lord Roberts on the RMS Dunottar Castle and the massive British reinforcements of December 1899. Officially holding the title of chief of staff, he was in practice a second-in-command, and commanded a much-criticised frontal assault at the Battle of Paardeberg in February 1900.

Following the defeat of the conventional Boer forces, Kitchener succeeded Roberts as overall commander in November 1900, and after the failure of a reconciliatory peace treaty in February 1901 (due to British cabinet veto) which Kitchener had negotiated with the Boer leaders, Kitchener inherited and expanded the successful strategies devised by Roberts to crush the Boer guerrillas.

In a brutal campaign, these strategies removed civilian support from the Boers with a scorched earth policy of destroying Boer farms, slaughtering livestock, building blockhouses, and moving women, children and the elderly into concentration camps. Conditions in these camps, which had been conceived by Roberts as a form of controlling the families whose farms he had destroyed, began to degenerate rapidly as the large influx of Boers outstripped the minuscule ability of the British to cope. The camps lacked space, food, sanitation, medicine, and medical care, leading to rampant disease and a staggering 34.4% death rate for those Boers who entered. The biggest critic of the camps was Cornish humanitarian and welfare worker Emily Hobhouse. Despite being largely rectified by late 1901, they led to wide opprobrium in Britain and Europe, and especially amongst South Africans.

The Treaty of Vereeniging  was signed in 1902 following a tense six months. During this period Kitchener struggled against Sir Alfred Milner, the Governor of the Cape Colony and the British government. Milner was a hardline conservative and wanted to forcibly anglicise the Afrikaners, and Milner and the British government wanted to assert victory by forcing the Boers to sign a humiliating peace treaty, while Kitchener wanted a more generous compromise peace treaty that would recognise certain rights for the Afrikaners and promise future self-government. Eventually the British government decided the war had gone on long enough and sided with Kitchener against Milner. (Louis Botha, the Boer leader with whom Kitchener negotiated his aborted peace treaty in 1901, became the first Prime Minister of the self-governing Union of South Africa in 1910.) The Treaty also agreed to pay for reconstruction following the end of hostilities. Six days later Kitchener, who had risen in rank from major-general to full general during the war, was created Viscount Kitchener, of Khartoum and of the Vaal in the Colony of Transvaal and of Aspall in the County of Suffolk.