Best known for his famous recruitment posters bearing his heavily moustachioed face and pointing hand over the legend, 'Your country needs you', as secretary of state for war at the beginning of World War I Kitchener organized armies on an unprecedented scale and became a symbol of the national will to win.
Commissioned in the Royal Engineers, in 1886 Kitchener was appointed governor of the British Red Sea territories and subsequently became commander in chief of the Egyptian army in 1892. In 1898 he crushed the separatist Sudanese forces of al-Mahdi in the Battle of Omdurman and then occupied the nearby city of Khartoum, where his success saw him ennobled in 1898.
In 1900 he became commander in chief of the Boer War, where he fought the guerrillas by burning farms and herding women and children into disease-ridden concentration camps. These ruthless measures helped weaken resistance and bring British victory.
On returning to England in 1902 he was created Viscount Kitchener and was appointed commander in chief in India. In September 1911 he became the proconsul of Egypt, ruling there and in the Sudan until August 1914. When war broke out, Kitchener was on leave in England and reluctantly accepted an appointment to the cabinet as secretary of state for war. Flying in the face of popular opinion, he warned that the conflict would be decided by Britain's last 1,000,000 men. He rapidly enlisted and trained vast numbers of volunteers for a succession of entirely new 'Kitchener armies'. By the end of 1915 he was convinced of the need for military conscription, but never publicly advocated it, deferring to Prime Minister Asquith's belief that it was not yet politically practicable.
In his recruitment of soldiers, planning of strategy and mobilisation of industry, Kitchener was handicapped by bureaucracy and his own...