In the years before this famous recruiting poster image was thrust on the public at the start of the First World War, Lord Kitchener had been – among many other things – Commander in Chief in India from 1902-1909. Lord Frederic Hamilton, who seems to have known everybody who was anybody, recalls a conversation at the official residence.
I was once talking to Lord Kitchener at his official house in Fort William, Calcutta, when he asked me to come and have a look at the garden. He informed me that he was giving a garden-party to fifteen hundred guests in three days’ time, and wondered whether the space was sufficient for it. I told him that I was certain that it was not, and that I doubted whether half of that number could get in. “Very well,” said Lord Kitchener, “I shall have the whole of the Fort ditch turned into a garden tomorrow.” Next day he had eight hundred coolies at work. They levelled the rough sand, marked out with pegs walks of pounded bricks, which they flattened, sowed the sand with mustard and cress and watered it abundantly to conterfeit lawns, and finally brought cartloads of growing flowers, shrubs and palms, which they “plunged” in the mustard-and-cress lawns, and in thirty-six hours there was a garden apparently established for years. It is true that the mustard-and-cress lawns did not bear close inspection, but, on the other hand, you could eat them, which you cannot do with ours. Lord Kitchener was fond of saying that he had never been intended for a soldier, but for an architect and house-decorator. Certainly the additions made to his official house, which were all carried out from his own designs, were very effective and in excellent taste.
In a country like India, where so much takes place out of doors, wonderful effects can be produced, as Lord Kitchener said, with some rupees, some native boys, and a good many yards of insulated wire. The boys are sent climbing up the trees; they drop long pieces of twine to which the electric wires are attached; they haul them up, and proceed to wire the trees and to fix coloured bulbs up to their very tops. Night comes; a switch is pressed, and every tree in the garden is a blaze of ruby, saphire, or emerald, with the most admirable result.
‘Here, There and Everywhere’, Lord Frederic Hamilton, Hodder and Stoughton, London.