Lord Herbert Horatio Kitchener, member of the British cabinet, was a compassionate man.
You can imagine how discomforted he was at the sight of a soldier’s toes bloodied by the twist of a woolen seam, wire-like in a trench-soaked boot.
Lord Kitchener, a British general, was a compassionate man.
Late night, eyes burning, he sought a strategy to obliterate the enemy, a line of seamed stitches, wool spun from the impervious fleece of stolid Hampshire sheep, that cut like an entrenching tool into damp flesh.
How to bridge the gap? Seamlessly close ranks? Eliminate the casualties?
A general, so compassionate, to concern himself with the blistered and bloodied toes, once so small, so pink. Toes scrubbed, counted, tickled by mothers. Toes that had traced the slender calf of a sweetheart’s leg. Toes that trod on the foot of a patient sister teaching the foxtrot.
General Kitchener was a compassionate man.
Imagine his discomfort, chastising the mothers, sweethearts, sisters who spun the Hampshire wool, knit the socks, seamed the toes. “Ladies, to save our soldiers’ feet, you must follow orders. Follow the grafting sequence for a seamless toe. The grafting yarn is switched forward, passed through the next loop, switched to the rear and passed. . . In sum, ladies, the six steps are Switch-pass-pass, switch-pass-pass.”
Deft fingers followed orders. How comforted they must have been-- to know a compassionate general.
How then was it, Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener?
British ordnance would not be switched from factories, not passed to lorries, to ships, to the front where men waited in trenches while mortar sounded without cease, and the sky rained shells.
Men waited in the furrows of blood filled trenches, lines of misery stitched across the French countryside.
After relief came, medics wove their way through French mud, rain, blood, and excrement to find the bodies, bloodied stumps, legs. And body-less feet and toes— still swaddled in seamless, woolen socks.
Lord Herbert Horatio Kitchener was a compassionate man.
British Lord Herbert Horatio Kitchener (1850-1916), first Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, was a decorated career military officer. His ruthless treatment and imprisonment of civilians during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) led to the use of the term “concentration camp.”
He was appointed Secretary of State for War in 1914 by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and launched an aggressive recruitment campaign, enlisting more than a million volunteers in the army. During the war, trench foot, a medical condition that led to many cases of gangrene and amputation, became a crisis. Soldiers needed to keep their feet dry and change socks frequently because the condition was caused by long submersion in the water of the trenches; the conditions was exacerbated by harsh, bulky socks that caused blistering of toes. Kitchener is credited with developing a method of seamlessly grafting the toe of the sock closed. The Kitchener Stitch is a technique many knitters master by memorizing a rhythmic memonic of alternating stitches.
In the spring of 1915, lack of sufficient artillery shells was cited as the cause for a major British defeat at the Battle of Aubers Ridge. The official British historian recorded more than 11,000 casualties, while the Germans estimated British losses at 32,000. Public opinion blamed Lord Kitchener. He died on a mission to Russia in June 1916, when his ship, HMS Hampshire struck a German mine off the Orkney Islands.