Blackest of Lies: The People

In this section of the site, I'll talk a little about some of the characters, both real and fictitious. Why both? Simply because some readers have said they Googled for this person or that and could find nothing. Here, I can tell you which of them really played their part in historical events and which were figments of my imagination.

I had originally thought to split them into real-life and fictitious but there were so many of the former and so few of the latter that it would be a bit unbalanced. I considered giving a page to each character but there was so little information on some (like Fitzgerald) that some pages would look very odd. In the end, I decided to split them up into The Good, The Bad and The Questionable.

Let's start, then, with The Good ...

The Good

Kitchener

As you might imagine, we could fill several websites on Kitchener alone and there are a great many books written about him, so I will keep it fairly short.

Horatio Herbert Kitchener was born in Ballylongford in County Kerry, Ireland on 24 June 1850 (shown in the illustration below in his mother's lap). His father had been an Army officer and his mother, the daughter of a priest. Kitchener senior was eccentric, to say the least - he disdained blankets and slept under newspapers sewn together. His style of bringing up his son was brutal, once staking him out on his croquet lawn with hoops. One wonders what he had done to merit it. The family was later to move to Switzerland, since his mother was suffering from tuberculosis, before Kitchener joined the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He was subsequently gazetted into the Royal Engineers in 1871. His initial work was as a surveyor and he visited Cyrpus, Egypt and Palestine, preparing topographical maps. His efforts in the last of these regions had an important and lasting effect, ending up by being published in an 8-volume set. In 1878, he was appointed vice-consul in Anatolia.

 

Kitchener (centre, in his mother's lap) with his family

Kitchener is probably best known for his time in Egypt and the Sudan. The illustration below shows him in his role as Commander of the Egyptian army. He took part in the failed attempt to rescue Gordon in the Sudan in 1884 and led his troops against the Mahdi 4 years later, when he sustained an injury to his jaw. Whatever revisionist historians might say about the empire building of the Victorian era and the abuses it perpetrated, Kitchener did his utmost to cutural stability in the Sudan. He restored Friday - the Muslim Holy Day - as the day of rest, ordered mosques to be rebuilt and guaranteed freedom of religion for all citizens of the country. He was particularly active in preventing evangelical Christians from attempting to convert Muslims. He became 'Kitchener of Khartoum' in 1898.

Kitchener as commander of the Egyptian army

Kitchener also served in the Boer War, instituting the 'scorched earth' policy, that so angered Duquesne, to restrict the ability of the Boers to live off the land. He replaced Roberts, who had instituted the infamous concentration camps, at the end of 1900. Kitchener fought against the prevailing desire to forcibly Anglicise the Boers and to bring them to a humiliating peace treaty (a foretaste of what was in store for Germany at the end of the First World War and which Kitchener would have tried hard to resist had he survided). He left for the UK in June 1902 where, a little over a month later, he was taken to London by the Prince of Wales to meet the King, bed-ridden after an operation yet keen to meet Kitchener.

 

Kitchener during the Boer war

Later that year, Kitchener was sent to India as Commander-in-Chief where his plans for the reform of the Indian army soon brought him into conflict with Lord Curzon, the British Viceroy. It soon descended into a petty argument and, the government supporting Kitchener, Curzon eventually resigned in a huff. In the end, history proved Curzon to have been right and some of Kitchener's reforms were reversed by his successor, O'Moore Creagh (affectionately known as 'No More K'. Kitchener really wanted the post of Viceroy and lobbied hard for it but he had too many political enemies by that point and, although Asquith was a supporter, he was eventually turned down for the post. In 1909, Kitchener was promoted to Field Marshal and departed on a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

 

Kitchener shortly after being promoted to Field Marshal

In 1911, he returned to Egypt as Consul-General. After the Agadir Crises, he informed the Imperial Defence Committe that he thought the Germans would make short work of France but told them he'd be damned first rather than take command of the army in France. Just before the start of the First World War, he was created Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and Broome in the County of Kent.

At the very outset of hostilities, Asquith had Kitchener (who was in the process of returning to Egypt after a spell of leave in England) appointed Secretary of State for War. Almost immediately, he came into conflict with the government over the number of troops required and predicted the war would last at least 3 years. He began instituting the huge recruitment campaign that made his face familiar around the world.

 

Iconic Kitchener 1914 recruiting poster

Kitchener had serious reservations about the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and came into conflict with the Cabinet over risking it too far into the teeth of the German armay while being poorly supported by the Belgians and the French. In the end, he came into serious disagreement with Sir John French, commander of the BEF, who thought that Kitchener had 'gone mad'. French eventually complained to Prime Minister Asquith but he refused to over-rule his Secretary of State for War. Shortly afterwards, Kitchener travelled to the Marne to sort French out personally.

Kitchener wanted to invade Alexandretta in a move to cut the Ottoman Empire in two but was persuaded to support Churchill's disastrous Gallipoli Campaign. The result of the campaign, combined with the crises caused by the shortage of shells at the Front (used to great advantage by Repington and Llyd George), dealt Kitchener a serious blow to his prestige. The image below shows Kitchener in Gallipoli.

 

Iconic Kitchener 1914 recruiting poster

Kitchener's ablity to work well with politicians was never great. He is stated as having remarked that is was "repugnant and unnatural to have to discuss military secrets with a large number of gentlemen with whom he was but barely acquainted". Many of his Cabinet colleagues found him 'impossible' and Kitchener clearly knew this. When he travelled to Gallipoli, he took his seals of office with him so that he could not be sacked in his absence. Early in 1916, he visited Haig (who had replaced French after Kitchener had engineered him out of the post of Commander-in-Chief BEF) in France. Haig valued Kitchener's advice but thought he looked 'pinched, tired and much aged' and thought his mind was 'losing its comprehension'. A few weeks later, Kitchener was dispatched on a mission to Russia, taking in the Fleet at Scapa, and was killed when the ship sank as a result of striking a mine laid by the newly-launched U-75. His body was never recovered. The illustration shows him boarding the Iron Duke from HMS Oak on 5 June 1916. After a conference with Adminral Lord Jellicoe, he transferred to HMS Hampshire and set sail for Archangel a short time later.

 

Kitchener boarding the flag ship Iron Duke from the destroyer HMS Oak on 5 June 1916

As an indication of the King's grief at the loss of a man he considered a personal friend, he sent the following telegram to Millie Parker, Kitchener's sister:

 

While the whole nation mourns the death of a great soldier, I have personally lost in Lord Kitchener an old and valued friend, upon whose devotion I ever relied with utmost confidence. To you and the members of your family I desire to express my heartfelt sympathy in the loss which has befallen you under such sudden and tragic circumstances.

 

GEORGE R.I.

A more complete biography, with links to the events of the period, can be found on Wikipedia and is well worth a look.

 

Lt Col Dr Henry Farmer RAMC

I do wish Henry was real. He is, without a doubt, my favourite character in the book. He walked into his office in Farnham House fully formed, I didn't have to 'design' him, I just had to draw him. Extraordinary - no idea where he came from. However, Hnery's life an works up to the point in our story is reasonably accurate as far as doctors of he Royal Army Medical Coprs went. He was f an age to serve in the Boer War and his explots at Galipoli are well within the realms of possibility. You will have seen the image above of Kitchener in the same theatre, so, as a senior officer looking after the welfare of the me, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that K would have wanted to speak to him on the subject.

All that means, of course, that we have no photograph of our Henry. You will have to imagine him from my description and your own imagination. I would like to say more on the subject of how I had originally intended toi treat the poor chap but I don't want to write any spoilers for those who have not yet read Blackest.

 

Lt Christophe Hubert MC, PPCLI

Chris is also a fiction but he is typical of the type of soldier who suffered the horrors of gassing but stayed in uniform. He was quite right when he said that there were several of his 'type' working in MI5 alognside him. It's an historical fact. Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry really did fight at Second Ypres, which is when the Germans first deployed gas an offensive weapon. Hard to control, it nevertheless had a demoralising effect on the Allies and medial staff simply had no idea how to treat it. The story of the Canadian dragoon dying beside Hubert at 'Pops' is taken from the diary of a nurse serving at that time and place.

The PPCLI were primarily recruited fromt he Ottawa region (thank you to my narrator, Jack Wynters, for correcting my spelling in the book) as described.

The effect of chlorine on the lungs was a variable death sentence, depending on the degree of exposure, but its power to strip the epithelial layer of the delicate pulmonary tissues had a lasting, scarring effect. How long Hubert has is anyone's guess - even mine - but fe's in for a couple more adventures at least.

 

Admiral Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa

Jellicoe was known as the man who could lose the war in a single afternoon.

 

Admiral Jellicoe

 

Jellicoe's account in his memoirs of Kitchener's visit is an odd read. In it, he tells us that he would not have hesitated to take the Grand Fleet on the same route followed so disastrously by Kitchener. I find that an appallingly silly utterance for a man of his prominence and experience. Yet that was his professed opinion. He does, however, mention K's fixed determination not to lose a moment in getting away to Russia. You can view "The Grand Fleet 1914-1916, Its Creation, Development and Work" at www.naval-history.net. Make sure you check out the page "Lessons Learned 419" onward, which concern themselves with Kitchener's visit. One or two porkies in there, as history has shown.

 

Kitchener on board the flag ship Iron Duke with Jellicoe on 5 June 1916

 

Detective Inspector Anne Banfield, Special Branch

You may be surprised to learn that this lady really did exist and uncovered the Darlington plot in those sleazy Turkish Baths. One of the few woman Detective Inspectors of the famous Special Branch of the period, she must have been quite a lady. Sadly, I was never able to discover her real name but Donald MacCormick interviewed her in her Lisbon retirement in the early 1950s. She gave him a good deal of information, part of which I mention later in connection with Thomson. She really was given short shrift by him in his office when she tried to espress her concerns over Kitchener's safety. Thomson's words, as reported by MacCormick, are used in the novel.

As I say, I never got to know her real name at the time of her adventures in Scapa but I do know that she spent her twilight years in Portugal as Madame Hubert, the widow of a Swiss hotelier.

 

Inspector Vance, Glasgow Police

Yes, Vance was a real-life character and was involved, according to the writer MacCormick, in the business on Orkney. He was an officer of the Glasgow Police force who was often called upon by the Security Services to perform shady deeds at the Port of Glasgow. When the journalist apporached him for material for his book, Vance had nothing to say. He took his secrets to the grave, it seems.

 

Detective Inspector MacLoughlin, Scotland Yard

I've put Mac in here mainly through a sense of guilt. I cast aspersions on his abilities in the book yet I have no evidence he was at Broome and he was in all probability a perfectly capable officer. What I do know is that he gave his life to the nation on board the Hampshire and I'd like to set the record straight.

 

Lt Col Oswald Arthur Gerald Fitzgerald

Lt Col Fitzgerald served in India with the 18th, King George's Own, Lancers.

 

The regiment was raised at Gwalior, India, during the upheaval of the Indian Mutiny in 1858, as the 2nd Regiment of Mahratta Horse. In December, it was joined by a small body of independent cavalry of Punjabi Muslims called the Tiwana Horse. In 1861, it was redesignated as the 18th Regiment of Bengal Cavalry, becoming Lancers in 1886. The regiment served in the Second Afghan War during 1879-80 and took part in the 1897 Tirah Campaign on the North West Frontier of India. During World War I, the regiment was sent to France in 1914 with the Indian Cavalry Corps and participated in the Battles of the Somme and Cambrai. In 1918, it moved to Egypt joining the 13th Cavalry Brigade and took part in General Allenby's brilliant campaign in Palestine. The regiment fought in the Battle of Megiddo and the subsequent dash towards Damascus - riding 550 miles in 38 days!

Extracted from military.wikia.com

Fitzgerald (known to his friends as "Fitz") served as Kitchener's Personal Staff Officer (PSO) for many years and was certainly a courageous soldier. It is reported that he was prepared to take a bullet for Kitchener on one occasion when they were both stationed in Egypt. A rumour had surfaced about a plot to assassinate the great man, so Fitzgerald was already on the qui vive. Suddenly a lone gunman appeared in Cairo railway station in front of Kitchener and Fitz immediately threw himself in between the two. Fortunately, the would-be killer was taken down quickly by guards and the situation evaporated.

The amazing thing is that I can find very little information about "Fitz" beyond that and would be very grateful to any reader who can help me do him a little more justice on these pages.

"Fitz", the only one without a hat, can be seen in the middle of the photograph below which depicts Kitchener and his staff in Egypt probably around the turn of the 20th century.

 

Kitchener's staff in Egypt, including Fitzerald in the centre

Fitzgerald died on the Hampshire, of course, and his body was later recovered from the sea. He would have been about 40 at the time. A short British Pathe newsreel of his burial in Ocklynge Cemetary, Eastbourne, a few days after the sinking can be seen here.

 

West Sussex document on the sinking: http://bit.ly/2dzaTUT

 

Miscellaneous

The were a host of other characters who had fewer lines in the book but nevertheless played their parts. Dudeney, the gardener, is drawn true to life, as was Kathleen ('Jane') Sissmore, who would go on to become a successful barrister. Miss Thorpe did not exist but I like to think she might have, having met so many of her type in doctors' surgeries. Savill and the other named naval officers are true to life and played their parts, although Rice was an invention. The Orkney lifeboat people valiantly tried to persuade the Admiralty to allow them to put to sea but were refused permission. Who knows how things might have turned out if they had been allowed.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/lord-kitchener-death-suicide-conspiracy-theories-1.3614604

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