Blackest of Lies: Kitchener's Last Mission

In the early evening of 5 June 1916, just off Marwick Head in Orkney, the Devonshire class HMS Hampshire sank to the bottom of the Pentland Firth, her hull fatally slighted by the mines of the U-75. She sank in 15 minutes, bow first. Although the weather was truly dreadful, the proximity of the ship to dry land and the vast resources of the Grand Fleet nearby made the eventual loss of life truly incomprehensible - perhaps even reprehensible. Of over 700 officers and men on board, only 12 sailors were to survive. It was wartime, of course: death was part of daily life. Thousands were gasping their last in the mud of Flanders each and every day but this was different - among those who vanished from history on that wild summer's evening was Horatio, Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, Secretary of State for War.


HMS Hampshire


The Mission

Kitchener was on his way to the Court of St Petersburg, at the Czar's personal request, in order to discuss matters relating to the war. There were various reasons put forward for this - some say it was because Russian troops were deserting from the Front because their senior staff officers were diverting their pay and the general staff needed someone of Kitchener's stature to put some backbone in them. Some say the Russian war effort needed an injection of gold and that's what was aboard the Hampshire.


St Petersburg

Thinking logically about it, I cannot believe that the key Allied architect of the war would be allowed to travel through mine infested waters at the height of the conflict simply to deliver a few speeches. There was clearly something wrong in Russia unless, of course, HMG wanted to get Kitchener out of the way for a while. Imagine allowing Stormin' Norman to go off on three weeks' vacation at the height of Gulf 1 and allowing him to wander through Afghanistan as he went. It was the oddness of Kitchener's finding himself in that sort of situation that gave me enough room for manoevre in the book.

An Alternative View of History?

In my researching of the event, many inconsistencies and inaccuracies popped up all over the place. Separating fact from conspiracy theory became almost impossible at some points. In the end, rather than create a purely factual account of the event, I decided to weave an alternative thread through the weft of history, always keeping very close to extant documents and eye-witness accounts, in order to make some sort of sense of the pot-holes in the official record. And, of course, I wanted to entertain folks for a few hours. The result was Blackest of Lies and it seems that it had readers wondering where fact and fiction played their respective parts - which was exactly what I had hoped.


Cover design by Rachel Harrison Cover design by Rachel Harrison



Audio book sample narrated by Jack Wynters


The result was that there was a lot of Googling characters, ships, places and events to see which of them really existed. In some cases, curiosity was rewarded but not in all - many aspects of my research, while always in the public domain, would pose problems for the average reader. I was formerly an officer of the Royal Air Force and my last posting was in the MoD where I had access to some interesting archival material. There were also those (few) characters who were entirely fictional. One would only be able to infer this from the absence of internet hits but one could say the same thing about the criminals and the Security Service types - Inspector Vance is a case in point. Their lives were all about secrecy and obfuscation, meaning that there is little trace of them left today. They played their parts in history and moved off into obscurity a great many years ago.

And so, to save everyone the time and effort, I have devoted these pages to giving you a picture of this man 'Kitchener', the real threats to his life and some of the conspiracy theories surrounding his death. I hope you enjoy the experience and leave comments for me to read and answer, if I can.

I should also say here that I have included illustrations in the belief that they do not infringe copyright either because they are being used for educational purposes only or they are already in the public domain. If any visitor knows otherwise, please inform me immediately on and I will initiate my take-down procedure to remove any contentious materials.

Click on any of the buttons below to start reading up on the back story that most interests you - or just start at the left and work your way through them! There is no test at the end.


Graham Ferguson

From the get-go the book draws you in and takes you back in time to follow a plot supported by well developed characters. The author has done his research to a point where I needed to investigate on completion further to understand where the fiction might be. Well done! I look forward to the author's next book!


Wow! The blurring of fact and fiction drive the storyline along at a fast pace. This is one of those books that once you start you can't put it down. The plot line would make a fantastic TV series. Thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and can't wait to read the next instalment. I can't recommend this book enough.


A well researched and written book covering a subject that has not been widely published . I would recommend this to any reader who has an interest in WW1.

Colin FW Smith

Outstanding writing - well researched with seamless blend of truth and fiction. Some great characterisation. Whilst set in WWI its In the genre of 'The Eagle has Landed' or 'Eye of the Needle'. A fast paced thriller. Hard to put down' Already looking forward to the next in the series. Very well done.

Mrs I Rowley

This book keeps moving with a complex plot that kept me wanting to investigate the facts around Lord Kitchener. The facts I craved were well referenced at the end of the book and that really made the story I had enjoyed come alive. Well done, Mr Aitken, keep writing! CPR


Thoroughly enjoyable and intriguing. The author uses historical fact coupled with fiction to deliver an excellent read. Really made me wonder about Kitchener in many ways.

Ian Budd

When I first heard about this book it ticked many boxes for me. Anything about railways, history and the story of Ireland grabs my attention. Coincidentally I had just been reading a novel in which the memorial to Kitchener's death in Orkney waters in 1916 received a passing mention, so I was already aware of the mystery surrounding his demise. I always find conspiracy theories fascinating, usually they are disappointingly ridiculous, this one is not. Although this is a novel, and a very entertaining one, it is made all the more enjoyable by knowing that what you're reading may well be true. Most of the key characters in the book are real and the plot seems much more convincing than the official story. When you reach the end of the book you discover that two of the characters are going to go on and have further adventures. I thoroughly recommend this book, it's a great read and it gets you googling to find out more about the subject.

The Clackclose Kid

Not my usual genre but a great read . Looking forward to the sequel.

William Brooks

Good story and jolly good read. Loved the author's style and looking forward to his next book and future efforts.

David Orme

This story gripped me from beginning to end. By the time it finished I was starting to believe this was the factual demise of Lord Kitchener that I had been reading about. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in WW1, or the Security Service.

P Brooks

Very good read, looking forward to the next one. Have recommended this book to friends. Good luck in the future.

Mairi Finlayson

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I knew nothing about Kitchener and found this book really informative historically and was riveted by the plot and characters, so much so that had to check how Kitchener did die as the plot was so convincing thought this was historically factual. Will look forward to more work by this author.


It's a very engrossing tale from start to finish.

The author expertly weaves the 'facts' that we know about Kitchener and his death, with an entirely plausible story of his assassination by the IRA and subsequent replacement by a lookalike.

The characters are well written and developed - you will end up Googling most of them to find out who was a real person - which definitely adds a certain depth to the novel.

It is fast-paced enough to keep you interested, but there is enough detail to satisfy those looking for something a bit more substantial.

All in all, thoroughly recommended, I look forward to Mr Aitken's next instalment!

Don Sloan

It's 1916, and Great Britain is fully engulfed in the First World War. Lord Horatio Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, is the country's best hope and shining star to lead the troops to victory. That is, he would have been, except for one little detail: He's been murdered by reactionary forces within the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

In this excellent fast-paced historical thriller, based on real people and events, author Bill Aitken takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the mysterious circumstances surrounding Kitchener's death (in this story he's shot dead in his sleep by a fascinating IRB assassin named Sean Gallagher), and puts forth an intriguing possibility: could Kitchener have been "kept alive" for the purposes of morale by the use of a double?

It's up to Lt. Christopher Hubert to pull the deception off, with the full weight and resources of the vaunted British spy organization MI5 behind him. He's aided in his efforts by an ensemble cast of well-drawn characters like Head of MI5, Major Vernon Kell; Colonel Fitzgerald, Lord Kitchener's Personal Staff Officer; and Special Branch Officer Anne Banfield.

The plot thickens when Hubert suggests thrusting Dr. Henry Farmer into the dangerous role of Lord Kitchener's double, and the action moves offshore aboard the HMS Hampshire, bound for St. Petersburg. Joan Thorpe, Lord Kitchener's secretary, is also pressed into action, working closely with Farmer to give the deception depth and authenticity.

Meanwhile, an internal rift has begun developing inside the IRB over Sean Gallagher's role in the assassination and the IRB's plans to take credit for it. The announcement could have wide-reaching implications, with Britain already simmering with tensions about Ireland's participation in the common war effort.

Aboard the Hampshire, plans are made to detonate an explosive device to sink the ship, making the resulting death of "Kitchener" look like the result of a German U-boat attack.

But what of the mysterious agent Duquesne? And the German spy Rix? How do they figure into these outrageous plans?

It's hard to separate fact from fiction in this book without Googling every character to see if he or she really existed. The story carries the reader through the many intrigues and plot twists to a surprising -- and satisfying -- ending.

Blackest of Lies spins a credible conspiracy theory yarn that should satiate the most ardent student of Great Britain's participation in the "War to End All Wars." How close did they come to fatally demoralizing British troops with the demise of their trusted commander? Read for yourself and experience one author's notion of just what might have occurred.

Ralph Thompson Jnr.

Set during World War I, Bill Aitken's novel Blackest of Lies is a fast-paced story set in the world of "special services". Great Britain is at a crucial point the war. Casualties continue to pile up on the battlefield, and morale within the ranks continues to plummet. Furthermore, the tenuous alliance between Britain and Northern Ireland faces constant strain. Without continued support from Ireland, Britain stands a greater chance of losing this war.

External forces and internal threats are at work are trying to undermine Britain's capability to successfully wage war. A particular act spurs various players into action. Britain's fabled counter-intelligence agency MI5 takes action to minimize domestic damage to their war momentum. Irish operatives attempt to use the event to their advantage. The German adversary tries to take advantage of Britain's appearance of vulnerability.

Meanwhile, a kindly doctor is unaware he's about to be inserted into a life-or-death situation for which he's completely unprepared.

The characters and their motivations are well-defined. There are good guys, bad guys, and a group of persons doing bad things for what they believe are good reasons. For some of the characters, the reader gets a glimpse of their personal motivations and deep feelings on the destructive nature of war. Other characters slip in and out surreptitiously, appropriate for the fog-shrouded world of British espionage.

Although fiction, the story incorporates real-life personalities and events. Those inclusions increase the realism found in the story.

I enjoyed this novel, and would heartily recommend it. The only (mild) complaint I have is I would have liked the story to go on a bit further. I found myself immersed in the setting, and would have loved to stay in that world a bit longer.

Mr GH Kearton

Excellent piece of work. Well written, with great plot and characters. Looking forward to the sequel. Highly recommended book, don't miss it !

Karey Harrison

More than just another war thriller. Provides multiple perspectives on Irish 'troubles' and divided UK allegiances in WWI. Sensitive exploration of battle field horrors and trauma woven into intriguing thriller, exposing security service machinations and ruling class privilege.

Deanne Wildsmith

I was very happy to have won this book on a Goodreads Giveaway as I have an avid interest in World War 1 and also enjoy thrillers. I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed the book and liked the 2 main characters, Hubert and Banfield. I thought the storyline was plausible and well written and I will definitely be reading the next book in the series.

Would recommend.

Henk-Jan van der Klis

Before reading Blackest of Lies I knew nothing on the mysterious death of Lord Herbert Kitchener in 1916 during World War I. Bill Aitken came across Donald McCormick's 1959 book The Mystery of Lord Kitchener's Death, which kept his interest to write his own recounting historical novel. The book takes a sentence of death imposed by the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). A man hunter assassinated Kitchener. How would the British public and government react? Can MI5 or MI6 trace down who did it? And will Kitchener's death influence the course of war?

Lieutenant Chris Hubert's suggestion of to replace Kitchener by a lookalike Colonel Henry Farmer is a clever way to distract the Irish, gain some time. But when Kitchener is invited to come to Saint Petersburg,it's better fore all that he won't come back. Read for yourself how Fritz Joubert Duquesne, a Boer, British Secret Service, counter intelligence, German U-75, and stormy weather around Orkney take their toll and have this fast-paced, engaging story come to an end. Are both HMS Hampshire and the double 'Kitchener' gone?

Jelena Bosh

What a ride!!

Usually, in my lack of historical knowledge but an interested mindset towards the British history, I did not expect to love Blackest of Lies as much as I did. Don't get me wrong, the synopsis sounded too good to pass up, hence why I was glad to have been able to receive a copy to read, but I don't usually find historically based books to be very interesting if eye catching at all.

That all comes from having the unlucky hand in reading or trying to finish historical fiction that is anything but action packed, with lovable and funny characters but also a great plot line. There were those rare occasions that I did stumble on those fair few ones that did exceed my expectations and this book? It definitely did!

Set in 1916, we are able to witness an eye opening adventure but also an sad action developed story that talks about all the good, the bad but also the in-between moments predominantly based in the World War I moments.

I didn't know too much if anything about the historical setting before. But now I am so glad that I have found so much depth, interesting facts and everything that I was previously missing in reading this genre based novel before.

Fast paced.

Action packed.

Facts based on historical background that were anything but boring.


Eye opening.




Humour filled.





Special services with the way they worked was a great benefactor to know existed within and throughout the story. It gave a type of "breath of fresh air" in terms of the way war wages were continuously impacting the life-or-death situations.

The fun scenes and the ever favourable type of wit and humour gave the dark, sad and also raw moments a "lift". It made me reconsider that despite this being a work of fiction, so much more of the realism within the Blackest of Lies was seen. At one point I even shed a tear because I wouldn't want to imagine - but sadly I did throughout the entire story - how unforgiving that era must have it been like.

You see everything from real life interpretations, secret service actions, an ideology or such a mass construction of cleverly interlinked external and internal groups of people/ideas. But you also understand how the author plotted certain aspects within the story that made it suspenseful and addictive .

Not knowing what will be thrown into the story next to the very last page is always a plus to any book.

I would recommend this book to anyone!!! I suggest you pick up a copy because you will be thankful to had read such an insightfully interesting and mysterious novel with a dark, raw and humour based edge to it. It different to anything that I have read before.

Thank you Bill Aitken for the opportunity to read this amazing work of art. I look forward to reading more of your future work!

David Neilson

Mysteries surrounding Lord Kitchener's 1916 death at sea have led many to suspect a conspiracy. Now Blackest of Lies, a World War I thriller, offers a plausible reason for intrigue against the British military figurehead. It's up to MI5 officer Chris Hubert, struggling to recover from a gas attack at Ypres, to avoid the loss of morale on the western front if Kitchener's sneak assassination by the IRA becomes known. Tension rises as Hubert's ingenious plan is assailed on all sides, not just by forces opposed to the British Empire (including the impressive Gallagher, Bill Aitken's IRA enforcer, ruthless spies and an engaging and elegiac U-Boot captain) but even dark elements within Whitehall itself. Rising to a climax of utter mayhem as HMS Hampshire goes down off the Orkneys, Blackest of Lies introduces a vulnerable and resourceful main character, giving his all to save the friend he's placed in jeopardy. Atmospheric and skilfully plotted, this admirable debut will leave many wondering if there's not something to the rumours.

Bod in Big D

Set in World War 1. Pace is very slow to start but eventually becomes a decent read. Recommend only if you have some basic knowledge of the time period.


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