Jan 162014

By Duncan Harley.

minty kitchenerLord Kitchener is to be featured on the new Royal Mint £2 coin.

Kitchener drowned after his ship was sunk at sea on the 7 May 1916 but in some quarters the man is still celebrated as an heroic general who rallied the nation to send the youth of Scotland to their deaths in the madness of the trenches of France and Belgium during the first years of that war to end all wars.

Thought by some modern thinkers to be a thoroughly nasty man, in 1898 he famously sent a force of 8,200 British troops equipped with modern weapons against 20,000 Sudanese citizens and a few thousand or so Egyptians on dromedaries up the Nile to destroy a town in the Sudan by the name of Omdurman in a revenge attack for a previous British defeat.

Sven Lindqvist, a Swedish historian, has pointed out that the decisive battle of Omdurman was fought in the name of civilisation but nobody in Europe asked how it came about that 15,000 Sudanese were killed while the British lost only 48 men. Nor did anyone question why almost none of the Sudanese wounded survived.

In his book ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’ Lindqvist refers to some sad and shameful 19th-century newspaper accounts of British massacres of wounded Sudanese after the battle.

Maxim machine guns, lack of any medical care or indeed any victuals for prisoners plus sharp British bayonets may have been the weapons of choice, however the British resolve for HRH Queen Victoria and her then imperial empire, was almost certainly the prime motivation for this quite appalling pre- WW1 slaughter.

In that dated and historically inaccurate film The Great Escape, the German prison commandant advises the British Senior Officer that 50 of the escapers were shot while attempting to flee Nazi Europe and that their personal effects will be returned to the POW camp.

–          How many of them were wounded?
–          Here are the names of the dead.
–          How many of them were wounded?
–          I am advised by a higher authority that none were wounded.

On the 26th of January 1899 at the ‘battle’ of Omdurman’s conclusion, Winston Churchill wrote to his mother with the message that:

“Our victory was disgraced by the inhuman slaughter of the wounded and Lord Kitchener was responsible for this.”

Kitchener’s influence over his contemporaries remains undeniable. Throughout his life and well beyond it, even those who knew him best, such as his school friend Raymond ‘Conk’ Marker, invariably seasoned their affection with a curiously resonant awe:

“In this age of self-advertisement there was always a danger that Lord K. with his absolute contempt for anything of the kind, and his refusal to surround himself with people who attract attention, would not be appreciated at his real value but I think the country recognises him now.

The more I see of him the more devoted I get to him. He is always the same – never irritable – in spite of all his trials, and always making the best of things however much he may be interfered with. As Chamberlain said, “to praise him is almost an impertinence.”

Many of us Scots are of the opinion that the new Royal Mint £2 Lord Kitchener coin is unworthy of the memory of our dead ancestors and is quite shameful.

Worth refusing perhaps should you be given the opportunity.

Should you agree, there is a petition at http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/royal-mint-replace-the-kitchener-2-coin-with-one-that-truly-commemorates-the-millions-who-died-in-the-first-world-

Should you disagree there is a Lord Kitchener appreciation society at http://www.kitchenerscholars.org/pages/khartoum.htm .

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  7 Responses to “A Bad Coin”

  1. Hi, I am a little concerned that you are mixing up the appropriateness of Kitchener being used to commemorate the first world war and the war itself. The Kaiser was in control of a militarised and belligerent germany/prussia. Some even argue that the Kaiser was insane. Whatever, had the Kaiser gained the resources of all of mainland europe the who knows what nightmares might have followed? Britain had no choice but to fight to prevent such expansion of germany.

    How the war was prosecuted is open to debate but in the face of an entirely new industrialised war many experts believe our war leaders did the best they could.

    For the record I am not in favour of Kitchener being used in this way and think there are others more deserving.

    • I can certainly understand your concern Alexander but am unsure about the notion that a militarised and belligerent Germany Prussia led by an insane leader was at the route of that conflict.
      That the prosecution of the war led to mass slaughter is undeniable. Your assertion that Britain had no choice but to fight is debatable.
      Who from that period of time would you like to commemorate coin wise?

      • Hi, thanks for your reply. I didn’t mean to suggest that the cause of the war was all germany/prussia. However once germany had started actions britain had no option but to react or germany would have had all of mainland europe’s resources to power it’s ambitions. Many of those european countries had their own “empires” and those foreign resources would also come under the sway of a greater germany/prussia and threatening britains “empire”, I cannot see how conflict could have been avoided.

        No one wanted “mass slaughter”.

        I have signed a petition to have Edith Cavell on a £2 coin. I consider all this “to do” to be about Celebrate or Commemorate? I choose to commemorate as celebration of war seems wrong to me.

  2. Cheers Alexander. Edith Cavell seems a very cool choice in my opinion. Can you post the link here please since I am pretty sure that other Voice readers will want to follow your lead.

  3. “to send the youth of Scotland to their deaths in the madness of the trenches of France and Belgium during the first years of that war” Gosh was it only the Scot’s fighting in the trenches…. but you do not mention the Scot’s who were at Omdurman….referring only to “British”?

    Sorry but your first paragraph uses the same emotion rousing misinformation that Kitchener used to rally the troops!

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