Blackest of Lies: The Places

This is a place holder for the section to be written on the places and other locations described in Blackest of Lies - Ignore all the main blurb below..





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 Duequesne, 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.



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 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

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 and Fitz immediately threw himself in between him and the great man. 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:

Major General Sir Vernon George Waldegrave Kell

Kell was born on 21 November 1873 in Yarmouth, becoming the first DG of MI5, where he was known simply as "K". Smith-Cumming, on the other hand was known as "C" in MI6 (not "M", as Ian Fleming would have you believe) and documents are still signed by the DG MI6 using that initial and in green ink, the colour favoured by the original.

Kell was the son of a British Army officer and a Polish mother. He was gazetted into the South Staffordshires in 1894. He was quite a linguist, speaking German, Italian , French and Polish - all equally well. It's no suprise he ended up taking part in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, where he soon picked up Chinese and Russian, too.


Photograph of Vernon Kell

During the first decade of the 20th century, public fear concerning the presence of German spies actively working in the United Kingdom grew to a significant degree as the Kaiser's militaristic ambitions increased. As a result, Kell and Mansfield Smith-Cumming were selected by the War Office to head up the new Secret Service Bureau in 1909 but they almost immediately decided to split up the work - Kell to concentrate on domestic matters and Smith-Cumming to deal with intelligence matters outside the UK's borders. This is very much like the respective scopes of the FBI and the CIA in the United States (theoretically, at least!). Their working relationships were never great and they separated their departments a year later - Kell's to be renamed as "The Security Service" and Cumming's as "The Secret Intelligence Service". They have, of course, become better known these days as MI5 and MI6, respectively.

In Blackest of Lies, I portrayed Kell as a Major. He had, in fact, been promoted on 3 June 1916 to "temporary Lt Col" but I left this out to avoid disturbing the flow of the book two days before the climax of the plot. I have rectified matters in the sequel, Sweet Sorrow. By December of the same year, he was to be a "full" temporary Colonel.

Throughout the First World War, Kell worked closely with the Special Branch of Scotland Yard, then headed by Sir Basil Thomson (variously spelled Thompson, too). This was not out of choice - MI5 (being a military department) had no power of civilian arrest and Kell wanted stay in the shadows, anyway. Indeed, he was a deeply secretive person in his family life, too. Private snapshots of him, in the most domestic of surroundings, always seem to show him receding into the background, his face shaded by a cap or a Homburg. Kell also worked closely with the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, to develop a more agressive Offical Secrets Act. Churchill loved cloak-and-dagger stuff and ensured that the new Act passed in all its stages in the House in under one hour, still a record, I believe. Kell also ensured that he had power of censorship and a major department was set up in the Mount Pleasant sorting office in London, eventually opening many tons of mail every day and testing for secret inks and hidden messages.

In the inter-war years, MI5 was perennially short of resources. The "spy" scare had now receded with the end of the war and the department was now more on the look out for sedition rather than actual espionage. With the approach of WWII, however, resources began to pour in once more but MI5 seemed unable to deploy them effectively. Inevitably, Kell and his deputy, Holt-Wilson, were required to fall on their swords (Kell was already way beyond retirement age anyway) and Kell was dismissed by Winston Churhill on 10 June 1940 after 30 years in post.

Kell was knighted for his services shortly before his death, which ocurred on 27 March 1942, and is recognised as the longest serving head of any government department in the 20th century.

The great news is that Kell's biography, written by his wife, Constance, in the 1940s, will be available on Amazon at the end of February 2017. It's called A Secret Well Kept: The Untold Story of Sir Vernon Kell, Founder of MI5 and you can order an advance copy by using the link. I've booked mine!

Sir Basil Home Thomson

Thomson had a colourful life of the kind that only seemed possible in the Victorian era. He was born in Oxford on 21 April 1861. His father was to go on to be Archbishop of York. After Eton, he went up to Oxford (New College) but abruptly left after a bout of depression. He emigrated to Iowa in the US in 1882 to train as a farmer.

He fell in love with a girl called Grace Webber but, learning that she was inclined to another man, he promptly had another bout of depression and wandered back to England. Eventually, he came to an understanding with her parents that if he could show he had a reliable source of income, he would be able to marry her. As a result, he joined the Colonial Service in Fiji.

After 3 years in post, he was posted to British New Guinea where he was to contract malaria and be repatriated as a result. But he made a full recovery and was married to Grace in 1889, becoming the advisor to the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. He later became the Assistant Commissioner for native affairs in Suva but was forced to return to England once agan, this time because of his wife's poor health.

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