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John Denton Pinkstone FRENCH (1852-1925)

Known As
General French; Sir John French
Biographical Details

Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres (1852-1925), was a senior British Army officer who was Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in the first 18 months of the war.

John French was born on 28th September 1852 in Kent to an Anglo-Irish family.  He saw brief service as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, before becoming a cavalry officer. He achieved rapid promotion and distinguished himself on the Gordon Relief Expedition. French became a national hero during the Second Boer War.

During the Edwardian Period he commanded I Corps at Aldershot, then served as Inspector-General of the Army, before becoming Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS, the professional head of the British Army) in 1912. During this time he helped to prepare the British Army for a possible European War.

French's most important role came at the start of the First World War as Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After the British suffered heavy casualties at the battles of Mons and Le Cateau, French wanted to withdraw the BEF from the Allied line to refit and only agreed to take part in the First Battle of the Marne after a private meeting with the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener. In May 1915 he leaked information about shell shortages to the press in the hope of engineering Kitchener's removal. By summer 1915 French's command was being increasingly criticised in London by Kitchener and other members of the government, and by Haig, Robertson and other senior generals in France. After the Battle of Loos, at which French's slow release of XI Corps from reserve was blamed for the failure to achieve a decisive breakthrough on the first day, Prime Minister Asquith demanded his resignation. French was then appointed Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces for 1916–18.

French retired from the British Army in April 1921 and was elevated to the Earldom of Ypres in June 1922.  He died at Deal Castle, Kent, on 22nd May 1925, aged 72.

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