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Kitchener laments heavy British casualties in War
Lord Kitchener by Sir Robert Ponsonby Staple. Photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London

Kitchener laments heavy British casualties in War

Claims satisfactory progress on both fronts

London, 27 November 1914 - Lord Kitchener has lamented the heavy losses suffered by the British army in the early months of the war, but says that wounded men will be better soldiers for the experience when they return to the front.

Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, Kitchener stated: ‘The wastage of the fighting force naturally demands a large stock of men on which to draw, but although the number of casualties reported is heavy our actual losses are relatively low, and it must not be forgotten that wounded officers and men returning to the front are the more valuable from having learnt the caution, born of experience, which adds to the qualifications of the bravest soldier who is taking part in such a campaign.’

He also appealed for more recruits: ‘There is a real need and ample room for all the men who are ready to come forward and serve their country.’

Injured soldiers arrived in Dublin on the hospital ship Oxfordshire. Some of these soldiers may recover enough to return to the front in which case, the caution they have learned from their injuries will make them better soldiers. (Image: Irish Life, 13 November 1914. Full collection of Irish Life available from the National Library of Ireland.)

Progress of the War

With regard to the progress of the war, Lord Kitchener pointed to a generally satisfactory state of affairs.

He noted that through October and into November the German army had been attempting an outflanking manouevre to the north of the French lines, presumably in an effort to seize the ports of Dunkirk and Calais. The German operation had been facilitated by the capture of the Belgian port of Antwerp and only a bold forward movement by British troops under Sir John French held them up. Reinforcements came - including from the Indian Army - and this, coupled with the actions of the French Army prevented the Germans from advancing to their stated targets.

Lord Kitchener also praised French troops: ‘The French Army have shown the greatest tenacity and endurance, and have displayed the highest fighting qualities in thus defending their positions against any advance of the Germans.’

Actions by the French army at the front at Ypres had relieved the pressure on British soldiers, who had stayed in the trenches for a fortnight without break following a massive German offensive in November 1914.

British losses during this period have been heavy, which is not surprising considering the strenuous nature of the fighting, but Lord Kitchener claims they are slight in comparison to those of the enemy. 'Reinforcements have replaced our casualties, and the troops under Sir John French are refitted, in the best of spirits and confident of success under their leader.'

The Eastern Front

Southern Poland: one of the three chief fields of war. The Russians have advanced on Cracow through the Carpathians. (Image: Irish Life, 16 October 1914. Full collection of Irish Life available from the National Library of Ireland.)

Referring to the Eastern Front, Lord Kitchener noted two major developments: the advance of Russia and the entry of Turkey into the war on the side of Germany. 

The Russians have been engaged in successful campaigns against both the German and the Austrian armies and are now reported to be advancing on Cracow and through the Carpathian Mountains unchecked.

Meanwhile, the decision of the Turks to bomb the Russian port of Odessa without warning at the start of October opened a new front in the war. They seem to be finding the going tough, however, as twice the Russian and Turkish armies have met - and twice the Russians have prevailed.

Referring to the overall prosecution of the war, Lord Kitchener concluded: ‘In addition to keeping up the forces we now have in the field, the difficulties with which the War Office has had to contend are many and various, but I may confidently say they are being met and dealt with in a more satisfactory manner than I at first thought possible.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.