Hero and Anti-Hero
C. Brad Faught
London: I.B. Tauris, 2016
Hardcover. xiv+304 p. ISBN 978-1784533502. £25
Reviewed by Ian F. W. Beckett
University of Kent (Canterbury)
Is there a need for another biography of Kitchener following those of Sir George Arthur (1920), Sir Philip Magnus (1958), George Cassar (1977), Trevor Royle (1985), and the consolidated two volumes by John Pollock (2001)? It is Faught’s contention that Kitchener requires re-evaluation in an anti-heroic age although, to some extent, this theme has been covered by Stephen Heathorn’s recent study of the changing reputations of Haig and Kitchener in the twentieth century (2013).
In suggesting that Kitchener’s career represents a ‘form of enduring heroism’ , Faught, who has previously written biographies of Robert Clive and Charles Gordon, provides a brisk summary of Kitchener’s life, although he has relatively little really new to say. He agrees with Pollock’s dismissal of issues surrounding Kitchener’s supposed sexuality, and makes a useful point regarding Kitchener’s warm relationships with married aristocratic women. He is entirely correct on ‘Breaker’ Morant’s guilt although he has not used Craig Wilcox’s detailed examination of the case. Rather similarly, Faught has not used Keith Surridge’s monograph on civil-military relations in South Africa to explore the clash between Kitchener and Milner. He is similarly right to emphasise that there was no apparent basis on which Kitchener decided that the Great War might last at least three years. David French’s monographs on British wartime strategy and William Philpott’s important article on Kitchener’s determination to control the deployment of the 29th Division in 1914-15 would have helped to flesh out the argument. Faught does defend Kitchener, however, against charges made against him in recent biographies of Lord Curzon and Eldon Gorst concerning Kitchener’s dispute with the former over the powers of the Military Member of the Viceroy’s Council, which led to Curzon’s resignation in 1905, and Kitchener’s reversal of Gorst’s policies in Egypt after becoming Agent and Consul General in 1911. The footnoting generally is also somewhat lacking in that there is the bare citation of file numbers.
Unfortunately, the book is riddled with errors. One of the most grievous is to attribute Maurice Hankey’s celebrated ‘Boxing Day Memorandum’ – actually dated 28 December 1914 – to R.B. Haldane [211-212]. Another is the extraordinary suggestion that Asquith was a Conservative prime minister . There are too many others. Kitchener’s ADC in the Sudan was not Lord David Cecil but Lord Edward ‘Ned’ Cecil . It was Spion Kop not Paardeburg that saw the worst single day’s fatalities in South Africa . Kitchener was not offered the ‘Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Command’ in 1910 but the army post of GOC, Mediterranean, which was then linked with that of Inspector General of Overseas Forces . Asquith had not been acting as Secretary of State for War for a year when Kitchener took over the War Office in August 1914 but for just five months since the Curragh incident . Two divisions of the BEF were not initially kept back from the Western Front as training divisions but because of the fear of invasion . In this regard, Faught fails to explain how invasion fears and other factors impacted on the decision not to use the County Territorial Associations as a means of expanding the army: it was, of course, the Territorial Force in 1914 not the Territorial Army . Asquith was hardly resurrecting the ‘old idea of establishing an Imperial General Staff’  when Robertson merely replaced Archibald Murray, albeit with more clearly defined powers. Faught also confuses the 2nd Viscount Halifax with his son, the 1st Earl of Halifax, who was the real ‘Holy Fox’ .
In short, Faught’s biography is well enough written but the errors detract considerably from its value. Pollock remains the best biography of Kitchener.
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