Page 47 - BWS_92_WEB
P. 47

    Railway line-up: Suffolk Regiment soldiers joined civilians to see him off at Stowmarket Station
  At the time no stations had yet been built and only one section of the track, near Mendlesham, was complete. So Kitchener and the other dignitaries had to wait trackside for a contractor’s locomotive, pulling two carriages, to arrive. The carriages were on loan from Great Eastern and had been festooned with flags and bunting to
mark the occasion.
A huge crowd of onlookers turned up,
including parties of schoolchildren who had been excused lessons for the day. All vied to catch a glimpse of Kitchener, and it’s said some irritated him by trying to touch his coat-tails. After he boarded the train it steamed to a temporary station just outside Haughley. There he toasted the line’s success before being taken to Stowmarket by chauffeur-driven car.
Civic leaders, soldiers from the Suffolk Regiment and hundreds of spectators awaited him and speeches were made in his honour. The scene was captured by a local photographer who turned the image into a best-selling souvenir postcard. Kitchener
then left for London on a mainline train, cheers ringing in his ears.
When Kaiser Wilhelm threatened the peace of Europe in 1914, Britain was without a Minister for War. As a military heavy- weight, Kitchener was asked and immediately launched an exhaustive recruitment campaign. He was persuaded that using his name and face on posters would fill the ranks. Surprisingly, the one we are most familiar with today, showing him pointing and bearing the slogan “Your Country Needs You”, was not widely used. It has since become iconic and was even reproduced on a £2 coin issued to mark the 100th anniver- sary of the war in 2014.
Nevertheless the campaign was a huge success and, by Christmas, more than one million men had signed up to what became known as the Kitchener Army. In fact he was credited with creating a force capable of holding its own against even the most ferocious foe.
A shortage of artillery shells and the failure of Gallipoli in 1915 saw his reputation
Busy boy: Kitchener’s 1902 visit schedule, including the opening of the Mid-Suffolk
Light Railway
tarnished, so the following year he embarked on a top secret mission to Russia that would surely redeem it. Sailing from Scapa Flow on board HMS Hampshire, it was to be the old soldier’s last hurrah as the ship struck a mine and sank. He was presumed drowned along with 600 crew.
The fact that his body was never found led to conspiracy theories, the strangest being that a sinister organisation called The Unseen Hand had killed him to stop him helping Tsarist Russia stay in the war; others (including his sister) believed he had taken refuge in a cave; yet more swore he was a prisoner of the Germans.
Numerous mementos of him were made and sold to a public who felt that if his memory were kept alive, his spirit would safeguard the country. Others were not so generous about him. Margaret Asquith, the acid-tongued wife of the PM, declared: “If Kitchener was not a great man, he was at least a great poster.”
Whether or not you agree with her, perhaps it’s still worth toasting him the next time you enjoy a glass of Aspall’s. You can do so in the Kitchener Arms bar established in a vintage train coach on the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, which was revived as a heritage line offering steam trips in Wetheringsett, near Stowmarket, in
1991. As the village has
no pub, it even
provides them
with somewhere
to enjoy a tipple.
Bottoms up!
Money talks: A commemorative £2 coin
bearing Kitchener’s Your Country Needs You image was minted in 2014
 Big apple: The warlord was related to the family behind Aspall Cyder
  ISSUE 92 JULY/AUGUST 2022 47

   45   46   47   48   49