THOUGH written before the announcement of his appointment to succeed Sir Eldon Gorst as British Agent in Egypt, the following little sketch of Lord Kitchener in The Organizer will prove timely:
When Lord Kitchener returned to England from India, where he had been for seven years Commander-in-Chief, the popular opinion prevailed in Great Britain at that time that an appointment would be speedily found for him, enabling him to control, as far as it is given to mortal man to control, the military destiny of the nation. He would be allowed to dictate to a large extent, at any rate, military policy. This is what nearly everyone, not actually engaged in pulling the wires of the nation behind the scenes, felt. And, strange to say, nearly everyone, irrespective of party, was disappointed. Popular supposition was belied. Lord Kitchener was not placed in the all-important position at the head of affairs which had been expected. Now, however, we need no longer lament. He has had his reward. The renowned K. of K. has been appointed a director of the Chatham & Dover Railway!
There is a tradition, begotten of truth, in railway circles, that the man of great name who joins the board of directors of a railway company in this way must be inevitably of the ornamental rather than
of the useful school. All who know Lord Kitchener say it is a tradition to which he will be wholly false. K. of K. is the last man in the world to trade upon his great name. His lifelong hatred of men who do that sort of thing has made for him more than one enemy in the past. But what does that matter to a man who does not care a fig how many enemies he makes provided he feels sure he has found the true way? The men who have served him in the past have brought only one passport—the passport of their ability.
A story comes from a highly authentic source to the effect that during the South African war a really first-class officer went to Lord Kitchener armed with a letter of introduction from a very illustrious British personage, the document almost amounting to a command that the officer should be given a certain post of responsibility on Lord Kitchener’s staff. The great soldier had always been guided by one inflexible rule. “I choose my own men and not other people’s” was his maxim, and he saw no reason why he should even then depart from it. The officer in question kicked his heels in Capetown for several weeks to no purpose, and ultimately had the good sense to return to London. An army officer may be a pet of society, but before a pet of society can hope to find favor with K. of K. he needs must prove himself “a man for a’ that.”
“K. is a remarkably good soldier,” was once the rather carping tribute of a critic, “but I am not sure that he is not an even better foreman of the works.” This remark was, unintentionally, a compliment, because, as a discerning military tactician afterwards remarked, “No general worthy of the name could fail in that capacity.”
To be described as a “foreman” means that he is essentially a splendid man of business. He has led armies to victory simply through his innate genius for organization. We saw a fine display of business-tactics and strategy in the way in which he settled things for us in South Africa after Lord Roberts had departed from the scene. It has been truthfully said that by his aid we did not merely beat the Boers; we conciliated them. At Khartum, and even earlier in his career, he gave abundant proof of his skill as a business soldier. Lord Kitchener has the gift of silence, so invaluable to a great
business man. Soldiers who have seen active service under him testify that when fighting is afoot K. of K. invariably keeps his own counsel. There is never any leakage of information when he is in command, because, so far as those around him can gather, there is never any information to leak!
“A thing is ordered. It must be done. No excuses will avail,” are the three great working precepts Lord Kitchener’s subordinates must ever keep before them. And so it happened during the Khartum expedition, when an officer lost a Nile steamer through another man’s stupidity he was a ruined man, since the responsibility was his. The fruits of long years of meritorious services were destroyed. K. of K. does not find it easy to forgive a failure. . . . But, after all, a man who has been called upon to fight the battles of the Empire cannot afford to be a sentimentalist.
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