John French, 1st Earl of Ypres
|The Earl of Ypres|
|Born||28 September 1852
Ripple, Kent, England
|Died||22 May 1925 (aged 72)
Deal Castle, Kent, England
|Service/branch|| Royal Navy (1866–1870)
British Army (1870–1921)
|Years of service||1866–1921|
|Commands held||1st Army Corps
British Expeditionary Force
Second Boer War
World War I
|Awards||KCB (1900), KCMG (1902), GCVO (1907), GCB (1909), ADC (1911), OM (1914), KP (1917), PC (1918)|
Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres, KP, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCMG, ADC, PC (28 September 1852 – 22 May 1925), known as The Viscount French between 1916 and 1922, was an Anglo-Irish officer in the British Army. He distinguished himself commanding the Cavalry Division during the Second Boer War, became Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1912 but resigned over the Curragh Mutiny, and then served as the first Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force for the first two years of World War I before serving as Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, then becoming Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1918, a position which he held throughout much of the Irish War of Independence.
Early career 
French’s family was related to the French/De Freyne family which had substantial estates in Ireland.He was born the son of Commander John Tracy William French RN, of Ripple Vale in Kent (born 1808, died 1854) and Margaret French, née Eccles from Glasgow (who went insane when he was ten and died in 1867, leaving him to be brought up by his sisters). He was educated at a Harrow preparatory school and Eastman's Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth before joining the Royal Navy in 1866.
In 1869 he served as a midshipman on HMS Warrior, where he witnessed the accidental sinking of HMS Captain. He left the Navy after it was discovered that he was acrophobic and suffered from seasickness.
After joining the Suffolk Artillery Militia in November 1870, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars on 28 February 1874. He transferred to the 19th Hussars on 11 March 1874, becoming adjutant of his Regiment on 1 June 1880, and, having been promoted to captain on 16 October 1880, became adjutant of the Northumberland Hussars on 1 April 1881. He was promoted to major on 3 April 1883. He returned to 19th Hussars in October 1884. These promotions (captain at the age of 28, major at 30) were relatively rapid.
French took part in the Sudan expedition to relieve Major General Charles Gordon in 1884 and took part in the Battle of Abu Klea in January 1885, where he impressed Redvers Buller. Promoted to lieutenant colonel on 7 February 1885, he became Commanding Officer of the 19th Hussars on 27 September 1888. He was promoted brevet colonel 7 February 1889, and was posted to India in September 1891. There, at cavalry camp during an exercise in November 1891, he first met Captain Douglas Haig, with whose career his own was to be entwined for the next twenty-five years. French became Assistant Adjutant-General of Cavalry in 1893.
When commanding the 19th Hussars in India French was cited for adultery with the wife of a brother officer during his leave (inevitably christened “French leave” by his colleagues) in the Indian hills – he was lucky this did not terminate his career. He was on half-pay in 1893-5, possibly as a result of the Indian divorce scandal, and reduced to bicycling with his sons as he could not afford to keep horses.
Buller got him a job as Assistant Adjutant-General at Army Headquarters on 24 August 1895, writing a new cavalry training manual (in practice extensively assisted by Captain Douglas Haig). Beckett writes that French's career was saved by Sir George Luck, formerly Inspector-General of Cavalry in India and now Inspector-General of Cavalry in the UK. French was also a protege of the influential General Evelyn Wood.
Haig, recently returned from the Sudan War, was French’s brigade-major at Aldershot. Early in 1899, at his own request, French borrowed £2,500, in a formal contract with interest, from Haig. He was within 24 hours of bankruptcy – which would have required him to resign his commission – after unwise investments in South African mining shares. Richard Holmes believed the loan was never repaid, but Haig’s biographer Walter Reid believes the loan was probably repaid in 1909.
Boer War 
He served in the Second Boer War as a local major-general commanding cavalry forces in Natal from 23 September 1899, winning the Battle of Elandslaagte on 21 October 1899. After Elandslaagte and Lombard's Kop (30 October 1900) caricatures of French appeared in the “Illustrated London News” and he became a press hero.
French was ordered out of Ladysmith to take command of the newly forming Cavalry Division; French and Haig escaped under fire on the last train out of Ladysmith as the Boer siege began. He was one of the few senior officers to be retained by Frederick Roberts, the new Commander-in-Chief. After the Battle of Colesberg (1 January 1900) the following verse was published about him:
- “E’s so tough and terse
- ‘E don’t want no bloomin’ nurse
- and ‘E ain’t had one reverse
- Ave yer, French?”
He also led the Division at the relief of Kimberley. French promised Roberts (10 February) that if he were still alive he would be in Kimberley, where the civilian population was urging Colonel Kekewich to surrender, in five days. He did indeed capture it on 15 February after his 8,000 cavalry and 6,000 mounted infantry overwhelmed a force of 900 Boers on a ridge at Klip Drift. French also prevented the main Boer field army from escaping across the Modder River at the Battle of Paardeberg later that month. Cavalry, although less successful at Poplar Grove (7 March 1900), played a leading role in this stage of the war, including the capture of Bloemfontein (13 March 1900) and then Pretoria (5 June 1900). French did not have a high opinion of Roberts, was ambivalent about Kitchener and disliked Nicholson, under whose control Roberts had centralised all transport – French managed to retain autonomy for cavalry division transport.
Promoted to the substantive rank of major-general on 9 October 1900 and appointed KCB, he was made Commander of Johannesburg district in November 1900 and Commander of Cape Colony in June 1901. He was appointed KCMG in recognition of his services in South Africa and promoted to lieutenant general for distinguished service in the field on 31 October 1902. Lord Kitchener, the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, referring to French, later said "his willingness to accept responsibility, and his bold and sanguine disposition have relieved me from many anxieties".
Edwardian Period 
French attracted the attention of Lord Esher when he testified before the Elgin Commission. French was considered as a possible Chief of the General Staff in 1903-4, pushed by Lord Esher and Admiral Fisher. He was on the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1905. The historian, Richard Holmes, argues that this was in part because of his willingness to consider amphibious operations – including at various times, in the Baltic and on the Belgian Coast. Philpott argues that French was a significant influence on pre-war strategic planning.
French was given General Officer Commanding-in-Chief status at Aldershot on 1 June 1905 He wrote a preface for the English translation of Friedrich von Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in Future Wars” in 1906. He was promoted to full general on 12 February 1907. French became, on the recommendation of Esher, Inspector-General of the Army on 21 December 1907. He was also appointed GCVO in 1907. Advanced to GCB in the King's Birthday Honours 1909, he was made an Aide-de-Camp General to the King on 19 June 1911.
At Aldershot, he may have privately shared the doubts which others had about his intellectual capacity. However, Esher wrote of him that his grasp of strategy and tactics broadened, and, although naturally gregarious, he became more aloof and solitary as he prepared himself for high command.
Chief of the Imperial General Staff 
He became Chief of the Imperial General Staff ('CIGS') on 15 March 1912 and was promoted to field marshal on 3 June 1913, although he neither had staff experience nor had studied at Staff College. As CIGS French forced through controversial changes to infantry battalions such that they no longer comprised eight small companies commanded by captains but instead comprised four large companies commanded by majors. He also ensured that cavalry were still trained to fight with sword and lance (the “Arme Blanche”) rather than only being trained to fight dismounted with firearms, as Roberts had preferred. At a 17 November 1913 meeting of BEF senior officers (French, Haig, Wilson, Paget, Grierson) – Wilson privately recorded his concerns at French’s lack of intellect and hoped there would not be a war just yet.
Curragh Incident 
With Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, the Cabinet were contemplating some form of military action against the Ulster Volunteers (UVF) who wanted no part of it, and who were seen by many officers as loyal British subjects. In response to the King’s request for his views (the King had also written to the Prime Minister), French wrote (25 Sep 1913) that the army would obey “the absolute commands of the King”, but he warned that some might think “that they were best serving their King and country either by refusing to march against the Ulstermen or by openly joining their ranks” although he stressed that he wanted to act firmly against dissidents within the army. In December 1913, in his memorandum “Position of the Army with Regard to the Situation in Ulster”, French recommended that Captain Spender, who was openly assisting the UVF, be cashiered “pour decourager le autres”.
With political negotiations deadlocked and intelligence reports that the Ulster Volunteers (now 100,000 strong) might be about to seize the ammunition at Carrickfergus Castle, French only agreed to summon Paget (Commander-in-Chief, Ireland) to London to discuss planned troop movements when Seely (Secretary of State for War) repeatedly assured him of the accuracy of intelligence that UVF might march on Dublin. French did not oppose the deployment of troops in principle but told Wilson that the government were “scattering troops all over Ulster as if it were a Pontypool coal strike”.
At another meeting on 19 March French told Paget not to be “a bloody fool” when he said that he would “lead his Army to the Boyne”, although after the meeting he resisted lobbying from Robertson and Wilson to advise the Government that the Army could not be used against Ulster. That evening French was summoned to an emergency meeting at 10 Downing Street (he was requested to come in via the garden, not the front door) with Asquith, Seely, Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty), Birrell (Chief Secretary for Ireland) and Paget, where he was told that Carson, who had stormed out of a Commons debate, was expected to declare a provisional government in Ulster. French was persuaded by Asquith to send infantry to defend the artillery at Dundalk, and by Seely that a unionist coup was imminent in Ulster. No trace of Seely’s intelligence survives. Seely reassured French, who was worried about a possible European war, that “large mobile forces of the Regular Army” would only be sent to Ireland if needed, although he was sure that Ulster would support Britain in that event. The result was the Curragh Incident in which Hubert Gough and other of Paget’s officers threatened to resign rather than coerce Ulster. French, advised by Haldane (Lord Chancellor) told the King (22 March) that Paget should not have asked officers about “hypothetical contingencies”, and declared that he would resign if Gough, who had confirmed that he would have obeyed a direct order to move against Ulster, were not reinstated.
French suggested to Seely that a written document from the Army Council might help to convince Gough’s officers. The Cabinet text stated that the Army Council were satisfied that the incident had been a misunderstanding, and that it was “the duty of all soldiers to obey lawful commands”, to which Seely added two paragraphs, stating that the Government had the right to use "the forces of the Crown" in Ireland or elsewhere, but had no intention of using force “to crush opposition to the Home Rule Bill”. Gough insisted on adding a further paragraph clarifying that the Army would not be used to enforce Home Rule on Ulster, to which French added in writing “This is how I read it. JF CIGS”. He may have been acting in the belief that the matter needed to be resolved quickly after learning from Haig that afternoon that all the officers of Aldershot Command would resign if Gough were punished.
Asquith publicly repudiated the “peccant paragraphs” (25 March). Wilson, who hoped to bring down the government, advised French to resign, as an officer could not be seen to break his word, even at the behest of politicians. Asquith at first wanted French to stay on as he had been “so loyal and well-behaved”, but changed his mind despite French drawing up two statements with Haldane, claiming that he had been acting in accordance with Haldane's statement in the House of Lords on 23 March. Seely also had to resign. French resigned on 6 April 1914.
French had been made to look naiive and overly friendly to the Liberal Government. Most officers were Conservative and Ulster Unionist sympathisers, but with a few exceptions (Kitchener and Wilson’s party sympathies were well known) took pride in their loyalty to the King and professed contempt for party politics. French was thought by Margot Asquith to be a “hot Liberal”. By 1914 he was a personal friend of the Liberal ministers Churchill and Jack Seely and was friendly to Seely when his first wife died in childbirth in August 1913, whilst Sir Edward Grey wrote “French is a trump, and I love him”. After 1918 French became a Home Ruler, but at this stage he simply thought his duty to be ensuring that the Army obeyed the government’s orders. As far back as 20 April 1913 Wilson recorded his concerns that French’s friendship with Seely and unexpected promotion to Field Marshal were bringing him too close to the Liberals. Throughout the affair he resisted pressure from Wilson to warn the government that the Army would not move against Ulster, and had an acrimonious telephone conversation (21 March) with Field Marshal Roberts in which Roberts told him that he would share the blame if he collaborated with the Cabinet’s “dastardly” attempt to coerce Ulster; French for his part blamed Roberts for stirring up the Incident. Esher, who had written of French (22 March 1914) that he was “too much in the hands of the politicians”, approved of his resignation, as did H.A.Gwynne, who throughout the crisis had pressed French to tell the Cabinet that the Army would not coerce Ulster, and Godfrey Locker-Lampson MP.
Margot Asquith wrote that he would soon be “coming back”, suggesting that Asquith may have promised to appoint French Inspector-General. Churchill described him as “a broken-hearted man” when he joined the trial mobilisation of the fleet in mid-July. French was still seen as a potential Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, although French himself was uncertain that he would be appointed.
Commander-in-Chief, BEF 
1914: BEF goes to war 
Mobilisation and Deployment 
The “Precautionary Period” for British mobilisation began on 29 July, the day after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. French was summoned by Sir Charles Douglas (CIGS) and told (30 July) he would command the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). There was no other serious candidate for the position. He was first briefly re-appointed Inspector-General of the Army (1 August). Sir John spent much of 2 August in discussions with French Ambassador Paul Cambon. British mobilisation began on 4 pm on 4 August. Until Germany invaded Belgium it was unclear whether Britain would join in the war, but she did so at midnight on 4 August.
French attended the War Council at 10, Downing Street (5 August), and there presented the War Office plans (drawn up by Wilson) to send the BEF to Maubeuge, although he also suggested that as British mobilisation was lagging behind France’s it might be safer to send the BEF to Amiens (also the view of Lord Kitchener and Lt.-General Sir Douglas Haig). French also suggested that the BEF might operate from Antwerp against the German right flank, similar to schemes which had been floated in 1905-6 and reflecting French’s reluctant acceptance of the continental commitment. This suggestion was dropped when Churchill said the Royal Navy could not guarantee safe passage.
Kitchener, believing the war would be long, decided at Cabinet (6 August) that the BEF would consist of only 4 infantry divisions (and 1 cavalry); French believing the war would be short, demanded 5 infantry divisions but was overruled at another War Council that afternoon. Embarkation began on 9 August.
On 12 French, Murray, Wilson and the French liaison officer Victor Huguet met at French’s house at Lancaster Gate (12 August) and agreed to concentrate at Maubeuge, and after another meeting with Kitchener (who had had an argument with Wilson on 9 August – given Wilson's influence over French this served to worsen relations between French and Kitchener), who still preferred to concentrate further back at Amiens, they left to obtain the Prime Minister’s agreement.
French crossed to France on 14 August, and spent the next few days visiting President Poincare, Messimy (French War Minister) and Joffre (16 August). Sir John’s orders from Kitchener were to cooperate with the French but not to take orders from them, and given that the tiny BEF (about 100,000 men, half of them regulars and half reservists) was Britain’s only army, to avoid undue losses and being exposed to “forward movements where large numbers of French troops are not engaged” until Kitchener had had a chance to discuss the matter with the Cabinet.
Clash with Lanrezac 
The last of the Belgian fortresses at Liege fell on 16 August and most of the remaining Belgian troops were soon besieged in Antwerp, opening up Belgium to the German advance. Previously ardent and bombastic, French became hesitant and cautious, giving different answers about the date when the BEF could be expected to begin operations in the field.
At his meeting with Joffre (16 August) French had been advised to hurry up and join in Lanrezac’s offensive, as he would not wait for him to catch up. French met General Charles Lanrezac, commanding the French Fifth Army on his right, at Rethel (17 August) – they were met by Lanrezac’s Chief of Staff Hely d’Oissel, with the words: “At last you’re here: it’s not a moment too soon. If we are beaten we will owe it to you”. They conferred in private despite the fact that Lanrezac spoke no English and Sir John could speak little French, Wilson being eventually called over to translate. French asked whether the German advance forces spotted at Huy would cross the Meuse River (a reasonable question, as a westward crossing of the Meuse exposed the BEF to encirclement from the west) – his inability to pronounce the name "Huy" caused Lanrezac to exclaim in exasperation that the Germans had probably "come . . . to fish"; French understood the tone but not the meaning, and Wilson tactfully translated that the Germans would indeed cross the river. French informed Lanrezac that his forces would not be ready until 24 August, three days later than promised. The French cavalry under Sordet, which Sir John had previously asked Joffre in vain to be placed under his command, were further north trying to maintain contact with the Belgians. Sir John, concerned that he had only four infantry divisions rather than the planned six, wanted to keep Allenby's cavalry division in reserve, and refused Lanrezac's request that he lend it for reconnaissance in front of the French forces (Lanrezac misunderstood that French intended to use the British cavalry as mounted infantry). French and Lanrezac came away from the meeting with a poor relationship. At the time French wrote in his diary that Lanrezac was “a very capable soldier”, although he claimed otherwise in his memoirs “1914”. Besides their mutual dislike he believed Lanrezac was about to take the offensive, whereas Lanrezac had in fact been forbidden by Joffre to fall back and wanted the BEF moved back further to clear roads for a possible French retreat.
French's personal friend General Grierson, GOC II Corps, had died suddenly on the train near Amiens, and French returned to GHQ on 17 August to find that Kitchener had appointed Lt-General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, in the full knowledge that French disliked him, to command rather than Plumer (French’s choice) or Hamilton (who asked for it).
Spears arrived at GHQ (21 August) and reported to Wilson (French was out visiting Allenby) that Lanrezac did not want to leave his strong position (behind the angle of the Rivers Sambre and Meuse) and “had declaimed at length on the folly of attack”. Holmes believes French was receiving very bad advice from Wilson at this time, in spite of good air and cavalry intelligence of strong German forces. French set out for Lanrezac’s HQ (22 August) but by chance met Spears on the way, who told him that Lanrezac was in no position to attack after losses the previous day, which Sir John did not quite believe, and that Lanrezac was out at a forward command post. Brushing aside Spears' arguments that another meeting with Lanrezac would help, French cancelled his journey and returned to GHQ; relations with Lanrezac had broken down, writes Holmes, because Sir John saw no point in driving for hours, only to be insulted once again in a language he did not quite understand.
French was then visited again over dinner by Spears, who warned him that the BEF was now nine miles ahead of the main French line, with a gap of five miles between the British right and Lanzerac’s left, exposing the BEF to potential encirclement. Spears was accompanied by Macdonogh, who had deduced from air reconnaissance that the BEF was facing three German corps, one of which was moving around the BEF left flank, (only 3 French territorial divisions were to the left of the BEF; Sordet's French cavalry corps was on its way to the British left, but its horses were exhausted). Sir John cancelled the planned advance. Also that evening a request arrived from Lanrezac that the BEF attack the flank of the German forces which were attacking Fifth Army, although he also – contradicting himself – reported that the BEF was still in echelon behind his own left flank, which if true would have made it impossible for the BEF to do as he asked. French thought Lanrezac's request unrealistic, but agreed to hold his current position for another 24 hours.
Despite the events of the previous evening, French had – perhaps under the influence of Henry Wilson – reverted to the belief that an advance might again be possible soon. French’s and Smith-Dorrien’s accounts differ about the conference at 5.30 am on 23 August. French’s account in his memoirs “1914” stated that he had become doubtful of the advance and warned his officers to be ready to attack or retreat, which agrees largely with his own diary at the time, in which he wrote that he had warned Smith-Dorrien that the Mons position might not be tenable. When “1914” was published, Smith-Dorrien claimed that French had been “in excellent form” and had still been planning to advance. However, in his own memoirs Smith-Dorrien admitted that French had talked of either attacking or retreating, although he claimed that it had been he who had warned that the Mons position was untenable. Edmonds in the “Official History” agreed that French had probably been prepared either to attack or to retreat.
French at first believed that the German attacks at Mons were merely trying to “feel” the British position and drove off to Valenciennes to inspect a French brigade. On his return he sent a letter to Lanrezac in which he talked of resuming the attack the following day. Wilson had “calculated” that the BEF was faced only by one German corps and a cavalry division, and was allowed to draw up orders for an attack the next day. Although Macdonogh warned that the BEF was faced by at least two German corps, French did not cancel the planned advance until a message from Joffre (7pm) warned that he was faced by at least three German corps, although he still ordered Smith-Dorrien to try to hold his ground. At midnight Spears arrived with the news, which disgusted Sir John, that Lanrezac was falling back, and the French Third and Fourth Armies were also falling back after being defeated at Virton and Neufchateau. Murray summoned the Corps Chiefs of Staff at around 1 am on 24 August and ordered them to retreat. Even after Mons, French still thought that a deeper Allied thrust into Belgium would have disrupted the German advance.
Von Kluck sent von der Marwitz’s II Cavalry Corps (3 cavalry divisions) around the British west flank to prevent a British retreat on the Channel ports. Sir John French sent a message (24 August), with an unmistakable tone of pique, to Lanrezac, which Spears insisted on writing down, warning that the BEF might have to retreat southwest towards Amiens on its lines of communication, although it is unclear that this would actually have been practicable if the Germans had actually been moving in force around the British left flank. However, Sir John agreed to Joffre's request that the BEF, now numbering 5 divisions as it had been joined by the 4th Infantry Division, would instead fall back on Cambrai if it had to, so that the BEF could still protect the French left flank. Joffre also sent a further two French reserve divisions to the British left flank, the beginning of the redeployment of French forces which would see Manoury’s Sixth Army form around Paris. French considered, but rejected, the option of sheltering the BEF in the fortified town of Maubeuge, partly out of instinct that the Germans were hoping to tempt him into allowing himself to be besieged there and partly because he remembered that Edward Hamley had likened Bazaine allowing himself to be besieged in Metz in 1870 to a shipwrecked man taking hold of the anchor. French himself issued no direct written orders between 11.15pm on 21 August and 8.25pm on 24 August; Terraine argued that this, along with his absence during the battle of Mons (although on the German side von Kluck also played little direct role in the battle), marks the point when he and GHQ began to disengage from active command of the BEF, leaving Smith-Dorrien and Haig in effective control of their corps.
1914: Retreat to the Marne 
Le Cateau 
GHQ moved back from Le Cateau to St Quentin on 25 August. French had a long discussion with Murray and Wilson (25 August) as to whether, the BEF should stand and fight at Le Cateau, a position which had been chosen for both I and II Corps to hold after they had retreated on either side of the Forest of Mormal. II Corps had been harried by German forces as it retreated west of the forest and Wilson and Murray were concerned about the risk of encirclement from the left. Sir John did not agree but wanted to fall back as agreed with Joffre, and hoped that the BEF could pull out of the fight altogether and refit behind the River Oise. Besides concern for his men, he was also worried that he was exposing his small force to the risk of destruction which Kitchener had forbidden. Wilson issued orders to Smith-Dorrien to retreat from Le Cateau the next day.
French was awakened at 2 am on 26 August with news that Haig’s I Corps was under attack at Landrecies, and ordered Smith-Dorrien (3.50 am) to assist him. Smith-Dorrien replied that he was “unable to move a man”. This angered French as he was, at that time, fond of Haig. French was woken from his sleep again at 5 am with the news that Smith-Dorrien had decided to stand and fight at Le Cateau, as the Germans would otherwise be upon him before he had a chance to retreat. Insisting that the exhausted Murray not be woken, French telegraphed back that he still wanted Smith-Dorrien to “make every endeavour” to fall back but that he had “a free hand as to the method”, which Smith-Dorrien took as permission to make a stand. French’s diary and memoirs omit mention of this telegram. Sir John also sent a message to Lanrezac at 5am, asking him to assist Haig (on Smith-Dorrien's right), which he agreed to do, although in the event his help was not needed. On waking properly, French ordered Wilson to telephone Smith-Dorrien and order him to break off as soon as possible. Wilson ended the conversation by saying “Good luck to you. Yours is the first cheerful voice I’ve heard in three days.”
French and his staff believed that the Cavalry Division had been completely destroyed at Le Cateau (it had in fact suffered no more than 15 casualties) and that 5th Division had lost nearly all its guns, destroying II Corps as a fighting unit (in fact units reassembled after the retreat). French later (30 April 1915) told Haig that he should have had Smith-Dorrien court-martialled after Le Cateau. In his memoirs French later claimed that Smith-Dorrien had risked destruction of his corps and lost 14,000 men and 80 guns (actual losses of each were around half of this number). However, it has also been argued that the vigorous defensive action at Le Cateau relieved the pressure and allowed the troops to re-organise, gather up their supplies, and make a fighting withdrawal.
On the morning of 26 August, while the Battle of Le Cateau was in progress, Sir John had a hostile meeting with Joffre and Lanrezac at St Quentin. This meeting, held at Joffre's insistence, was the second and last time Sir John met Lanrezac, who attended only reluctantly. He complained of Lanrezac’s behaviour, to which Lanrezac gave a vague and academic reply. Joffre talked of his Instruction Generale No 2 which talked of a new French Sixth Army forming around Amiens, but although this had been received by GHQ during the night French had not been shown it (Holmes blames Wilson, who had taken charge of the staff as Murray had had a complete collapse). French insisted that he must retreat further, although he agreed to press Kitchener to send the remaining British division (bringing the BEF up to six infantry divisions) to France rather than to Belgium. Joffre stayed for lunch (Lanrezac declined to do so), at which the atmosphere improved as he confessed that he too was dissatisfied with Lanzerac. Joffre was surprised at the “rather excited tone” in which Sir John criticised Lanrezac, unlike his calm demeanour of a few days’ earlier, and came away deeply concerned at the obvious personal friction between French and Lanrezac, but also at Sir John’s reluctance to stand and fight.
The Retreat 
GHQ fell back to Noyon (26 August). Huguet reported to Joffre (10.15pm on 26 August) that the British had been defeated at Le Cateau and would need French protection to recover cohesion; he also reported that although the BEF’s fighting spirit was undaunted, the British Government might order the BEF to retreat to Le Havre. Colonel Brecard, another liaison officer attached to the British staff, reported that two out of the five British divisions were destroyed and that, in Wilson’s view, the BEF would need a week to refit. Sir John warned Huguet that there would be “bitterness and regret” in England over British losses, and Joffre, who had decided to order an attack by Fifth Army to take the pressure off the BEF, visited Sir John at Noyon on 27 August and gave him a message congratulating the BEF for its efforts to protect Fifth Army’s flank. In fact Smith-Dorrien’s staff were making intense efforts to hold II Corps together, although at a meeting (held at 2 am on 27 August, as Smith-Dorrien had found GHQ’s present location with great difficulty) French accused him of being overly optimistic. GHQ moved back to Compiegne on 28 August, although Sir John was able to visit his troops on the march for the first time since the 25th, telling men who were resting on the ground of Joffre’s message.
French refused Haig permission to join in an attack by Lanrezac, who wrote of French’s “bad humour and cowardice”. Even Spears felt Sir John was in the wrong here. The BEF also did not join in Lanrezac’s attack on German Second Army at Guise (29 August). Joffre, who had spent the morning with Lanrezac, was concerned at rumours that the BEF might retreat on the Channel Ports, and visited French in the afternoon, urging him to hold his place in the line and promising that Russian successes would soon allow the Allies to attack. However, French insisted that his forces needed 48 hours of absolute rest, and Murray, whom Joffre noticed had been tugging at French’s tunic throughout this, then showed an intelligence report of the strength of the German forces facing the BEF. After Joffre had departed in bad humour, French received an incorrect report that Fifth Army was falling back behind the Oise and issued orders for the BEF to fall back to Rethondes-Soissons; when he received fresh reports that the French were holding their positions after all he replied that it was too late to cancel his orders. Sir John’s opinion of Lanrezac was so low that he did not believe reports of his success at Guise (29 August) until he had sent Seely to interview the French corps commanders.
The BEF was doing little fighting on 29 August and on 30 August had no contact with the enemy at all, and on that day III Corps (4th Division and 19th Infantry Brigade) became operational under Pulteney. On 31 August the BEF engaged in only a few minor cavalry skirmishes. Losses had indeed been high by Boer War standards, and Sir John, believing them to be greater than they were, and that the Kaiser was making an especial effort to destroy the BEF, believed he was carrying out the “letter and spirit” of Kitchener’s instructions to avoid undue loss without Cabinet authority.
Meeting with Kitchener 
Spears later wrote of French's coolness and calmness on 30 August. However a few hours after a meeting with Joffre, Sir John telegraphed him that the BEF would have to leave the line entirely and retreat behind the Seine for up to ten days to refit, tracing supply from St Nazaire and moving the forward base to Le Mans rather than Amiens. Kitchener heard of these plans from the Inspector-General of Communications, and when he demanded an explanation (Sir John’s previous messages had been optimistic) French sent a long telegram (31 August) saying he had told Joffre that the BEF was unable to remain in the front line and that he wanted the BEF to move back behind the Seine, and that would take eight days if done at a pace which would not fatigue the troops unduly. He also added (contradicting himself somewhat) that he would have preferred Joffre to resume the offensive, but that Joffre was giving the BEF’s inability to join in as a reason for not doing so. He thought that the French Army had “defective higher leading”.
On 31 August Sir John was sent messages asking him not to withdraw by Joffre, who pointed out that the Germans were already shifting forces to the East and President Poincare (relayed via Bertie, the British Ambassador). Kitchener demanded further details, and after showing French’s previous message to the Cabinet telegraphed again warning that it was the manner and length of the retreat which concerned the Cabinet. Sir John then replied that II Corps was “shattered”, that the BEF could not withstand an attack by so much as a single German corps, and that the best solution would be for the French to counterattack and so “close the gap by uniting their inward flanks”, although he agreed to halt at Nanteuil, which he expected the BEF to reach the following day, if the French halted their own retreat. Kitchener, authorised by a midnight meeting of whichever Cabinet Ministers could be found, left for France for a meeting on 1 September.
They met, together with Viviani (French Prime Minister) and Millerand (now French War Minister). Huguet recorded that Kitchener was “calm, balanced, reflective” whilst Sir John was “sour, impetuous, with congested face, sullen and ill-tempered”. On Bertie’s advice Kitchener dropped his intention of inspecting the BEF. They moved to a separate room, and no independent account of the meeting exists. French admitted that Kitchener had taken exception to his tone, and that he had assured him that this was simply in his mind. In his diary Sir John wrote “we had rather a disagreeable time. I think K found he was making a mistake”. In “1914” French later claimed that he had told Kitchener that although he valued his advice he would not tolerate any interference in his executive authority so long as he remained in command, and that they “finally came to an amicable understanding”. Terraine dismisses as absurd Sir John’s later claims that he resented being called away from GHQ (given that no battle was in progress, and that he had played little directing part in either of the two battles fought so far), and that an inspection of the BEF (by Kitchener, Britain’s most celebrated soldier at the time) might have disheartened the men by the implied challenge to French’s authority. Terraine suggests that Sir John was more anxious to prevent Kitchener from inspecting the BEF as he might have seen for himself that they were less “shattered” than he claimed, and that Haig and Smith-Dorrien might have criticised him if given a chance to speak privately to Kitchener. After the meeting Kitchener telegraphed the Cabinet that the BEF would remain in the line, although taking care not to be outflanked, and told French to consider this “an instruction”. French had a friendly exchange of letters with Joffre.
French had been particularly angry that Kitchener had arrived wearing his Field Marshal's uniform. This was how Kitchener normally dressed at the time, but French felt that Kitchener was implying that he was his military superior and not simply a cabinet member. Tuchman argued that French was particularly conscious of this, as he was known for his own quirks of dress. At Asquith’s behest Churchill attempted to act as mediator, exchanging letters with French (4 September), who replied that Kitchener was “a fine organiser but he never was & he never will be a Commander in the field”. By the end of the year French thought that Kitchener had “gone mad” and his hostility had become common knowledge at GHQ and GQG. In “1914” French claimed that Kitchener had come to Paris to try to stop him retreating, which was untrue – it was the manner of the retreat, without consultation with Britain’s allies, which was the problem.
On 1 September, whilst French and Kitchener were meeting, the British fought a small engagement at Néry. The gap between I and II Corps was finally closed for the first time since 25 August, but GHQ had to be evacuated from Dammartin in a hurry under threat from German cavalry, General Macready being left behind in the confusion and General Robertson having to hastily wrap up in newspaper a leg of mutton he had been about to eat.
Marne and Aisne 
French was pleased at the sacking of Lanrezac (3 September), thinking at first that he been arrested, and his Military Secretary reported to the King that “the fat pompous political general” had been sacked. Franchet d’Esperey, Lanzerac's successor, immediately sent a telegram to Sir John signed “Franchet d’Esperey KCVO” promising cooperation.
On return to GHQ, now at Melun, from visits to troops including a talk with Haig who agreed with him that the troops needed rest and replacements (4 Sep) he found his staff had agreed to two plans. Murray had been visited by Gallieni (Military Governor of Paris) and Maunoury (French Sixth Army, and currently under Gallieni’s command) and had drawn up plans for an attack suggested by them. Wilson, on Sir John’s orders, had travelled to meet Franchet d’Esperey and had agreed to the plan which became the basis for Joffre’s Instruction Generale No 6. Gallieni was still planning, with Joffre’s initial agreement, to attack south, not north, of the Marne, so the result of Murray's orders was that the BEF should fall back another day’s march, putting it 15 miles south of where Joffre wanted it to be for his new plan. Sir John at first intended to study the situation before making up his mind.
Joffre sent a copy of his plan to GHQ and asked Millerand to lobby the British Government. Hearing at last that Sir John was willing to cooperate, Joffre arrived for a meeting with French at (2pm on 5 September). He explained his plan to (in French), ending by clasping his hands together tightly enough to hurt them and begging “Monsieur le Maréchal, c’est la France qui vous supplie” ("Field Marshal, France is begging you"). Sir John listened with tears rolling down his reddening cheeks and, unable to find the words in French, replied “Damn it, I can’t explain. Tell him that all that men can do our fellows will do”. When Murray protested that the BEF could not be ready as soon as Joffre hoped, Joffre relied that Sir John’s word was good enough for him. Although Joffre had dealt tactfully with Sir John (he later claimed in his memoirs that his visit to Melun had simply been to congratulate Sir John on his willingness to cooperate), at a time when he sacked three of his own army commanders (including Lanrezac), ten corps commanders, and thirty-eight divisional commanders – Neillands writes that "one cannot help wonder" whether French would not have suffered the same fate had he reported directly to Joffre. Joffre believed at the time that the BEF were technically under his orders and that French’s uncooperativeness was because the British government were too weak to insist that he obey orders. French was conscious that he was Joffre’s senior in rank and had more combat experience.
The BEF advanced to take part in the First Battle of the Marne on the morning of 6 September, Sir John’s mood marred by a telegram from Kitchener urging him to cooperate with Joffre. This was the result of Joffre’s appeal to Millerand, and Joffre repaired the damage by praising the performance of French and the BEF to Kitchener. Sir John initially thought (14 September) that the enemy was only “making a determined stand” on the Aisne. He urged the importance of entrenching wherever possible (23 September) and stressed (25 September) that heavy artillery would be necessary going forward.
1914: Autumn Battles 
Race to the Sea 
After lobbying by Churchill (who had an eye on the Channel Ports) and Wilson, French lobbied Joffre (27 September) for the BEF, which was less heavily gunned and more mobile than a similarly-sized French Army, to disengage and try to move around the Allied left flank, part of the outflanking movements known as the Race to the Sea. Joffre agreed in principle, although he had private doubts about having no French troops between the BEF and the sea and later came to believe that this move had, by using up scarce rail capacity for ten days, prevented him from reinforcing Lille and had allowed the Germans to capture it.
Throughout September and October 1914 French warned Kitchener that his forces were running dangerously short of shells, at one point being rationed to 20 rounds per gun per day. French was impressed by the first 9.2-inch howitzers, but very conscious of German artillery superiority, and wrote to Kitchener (24 September) “Krupp is our most formidable enemy at present”. French took a keen interest in the development of mortars and grenades, although during his time as Commander-in-Chief more were produced at the BEF’s own workshops than in the UK. He also pressed the War Office for more machine guns, believing that a battalion needed at least six or seven (as opposed to 2–4 at the start of the war).
The Germans opened fire on the Antwerp outer forts (28 September) and over the opposition of French and Joffre the British 7th Division was earmarked for Antwerp (1 October) instead of for the BEF. Rawlinson’s force at Antwerp was not placed under Sir John’s command until 9 October, but managed to escape to the southwest the following day. French, who did not get on with Rawlinson, was once again suspicious that Kitchener was attempting to usurp operational control of the BEF.
After a temporary stay in Abbeville for five days, GHQ was established in St Omer (13 October) where it was to remain for the rest of French’s tenure. When asked to help shore up the Belgian line on his left French said (16 October 1914) “he would be d-----d if he would be dictated to by Foch who had better mind his own business”.
First Ypres 
French had thought in mid-October of establishing an “entrenched camp” large enough to hold the entire BEF around Boulogne, but was soon persuaded by Foch and Wilson to move around the German flank towards Roulers, rebuking Rawlinson, his command now numbered IV Corps, for failing to take Menin (18 October). The following day he ordered Rawlinson to move on Menin (SE of Ypres) and Haig’s I Corps to move on Roulers (NE of Ypres), despite reports that there were at least 3 ½ German corps facing Haig. Sir John had believed the Germans were running out of men, but instead the BEF ran into German forces also trying to turn the Allied flank. At a meeting on 21 October Joffre refused (“his face instantly became quite square”) to lend him enough men to construct a fortified camp around Boulogne; Joffre instead ordered a French corps (under d’Urbal, whom French was pleased to find was “the old Murat type of beau sabreur”) to the BEF’s left, and French ordered the BEF to hold its positions.
French at first reported to Kitchener that the German attacks by Fourth and Sixth Armies were their “last card” and the BEF were holding them off. He was unimpressed by Smith-Dorrien telling him (midnight on 25 October) that his Corps “might go during the night”, although he did send reinforcements.
Falkenhayn now ordered a new attack south of Ypres, between Gheluveld and Ploegsteert Wood, by “Army Group Fabeck”. IV Corps was broken up (27 October) and Rawlinson and his staff sent home to supervise the arrival of 8th Division. French still expected to attack, turning the German western flank, on 29 October, and even after the Germans had pressed I Corps hard SE of Ypres that day (he later claimed in "1914" to have realised that the BEF could now do no more than hold its ground, but he in fact issued orders for the flanking attack to go ahead on 30 October). Sir John supervised the arrangement of reinforcements from Smith-Dorrien and Dubois’ French corps to Haig’s and Allenby’s hard pressed forces at Ypres (30 October). Once again, the British planned to counterattack, but French was roused from his sleep (12.30 am on 31 October) by Foch, who warned him that his staff had spotted a gap in the British lines at Hollebeke Chateau; Foch advised him to “hammer away, keep on hammering” and promised to send a further 8 French battalions and 3 batteries. Sir John spent the crisis day of 31 October visiting Allenby and Gough, and was with Haig when they learned that a single battalion of the Worcesters had retaken Gheluveld (“The Worcesters saved the Empire” French later wrote). He then met Foch at the town hall at Ypres to warn him that he had no more reserves apart from “the sentries at his gate” – the next day (1 November) Haig’s I Corps held its ground, with cooks, grooms and drivers pressed into the line, and aided by French counterattacks which drew off German reserves. The line stabilised, although there was a final day of crisis on 11 November.
The fighting at Ypres, the last before major trenching began, destroyed the last of the original BEF. Since the outbreak of war the BEF had suffered 90,000 casualties, 58,000 of them in October and November, compared to an initial infantry strength (the first seven divisions) of 84,000. Of those who had landed in August, an average of one officer and thirty men per battalion remained. French was particularly disturbed at the lack of company commanders, and extremely reluctant to send trained officers and NCOs home to train the New Armies.
Possible Dismissal 
Sir John was unable to get away during the Battle of Ypres to attend the Dunkirk conference (1 November) between Kitchener and Joffre, Foch and Millerand. There Kitchener offered to replace French with Ian Hamilton, but Joffre declined, saying this would be bad for BEF morale and he worked “well and cordially” with Sir John. Foch told Wilson of this (5 November). French sent Captain Freddy Guest to complain to the Prime Minister, who refused to believe it, and both Asquith and Churchill wrote French reassuring letters. French went to see Foch (6 November) to thank him for his “comradeship and loyalty”. This did not stop him writing to Kitchener (15 November) that “au fond, they are a low lot, and one always has to remember the class these French generals come from". French talked of inciting H.A.Gwynne to start a press campaign against Kitchener.
Over lunch (21 November) Haig noted that French looked unwell – French told him he thought he had had a heart attack and had been ordered to rest by his doctors. The King visited France (30 November – 5 December) and passed on his concerns that the Germans were about to invade Britain with 250,000 men, a rumour which French assumed to have been concocted by Kitchener. French’s aides made inquiries – apparently in vain – about an increase in “table money” (expenses for entertaining visiting dignitaries) on top of his official salary of £5,000 per annum.
End of 1914 
In late November and early December the Germans moved forces to the East, and French expected the Russians to defeat them soon. In December he offered limited assistance to French attacks, out of affection for Foch and fear that Joffre would otherwise complain to Kitchener, and despite his concerns that the ground on Smith-Dorrien’s front was too wet. Foch said of French (8 December 1914) “How he likes to cry, this Baby”.
The Foreign Office (9 December) formally asked the French government for the BEF to move to the coast where it could cooperate with the Royal Navy and the Belgian Army, but this was rejected by Millerand on Joffre’s advice, and Foch regarded the plan “with the greatest contempt”, although on a visit to GHQ (11 December) he found Sir John only mildly in favour. A German counterattack (20 December) mauled the Indian Corps, who could not handle the cold, so badly that they had to be pulled into reserve.
French was still dissatisfied with Murray's performance as BEF Chief of Staff, but Asquith and Kitchener (20 December) forbade him to replace Murray with Wilson. The BEF was split into Haig’s First Army (I, IV and Indian Corps) and Smith-Dorrien’s Second Army (II and III Corps and 27th Division), effective 25 December. Allenby’s Cavalry Corps and Rimington’s Indian Cavalry Corps continued to report directly to French.
At the Chantilly Conference (27 December 1914) French agreed with Joffre that the British Cabinet was mad. They discussed the relative merits of shrapnel and high explosive shell, and events on the Eastern Front. Joffre told Sir John of his plans for twin offensives at Arras and Rheims in 1915, the former offensive to be assisted by the BEF, and then a further thrust towards the Rhine from Verdun and Nancy. He agreed that the British could take over line up to the coast but only as further reinforcements arrived, which would not be until much later in 1915.
1915: Neuve Chapelle 
Deployment of the New Armies 
French had hoped to incorporate the Belgian Army into the BEF, but the King of the Belgians vetoed this (2 January). French instead demanded that the New Armies be sent out as battalions and incorporated into existing units (perhaps with battalions combining to form regiments like in continental armies). All the senior commanders agreed that to have the New Armies fighting under their own inexperienced division and corps staff would be folly.
French was further irritated by an “incomprehensible” letter from Kitchener (2 January) stating that no more troops should remain on the Western Front than were necessary to hold the line, and seeking GHQ’s views as to which other theatres British troops should be redeployed. French replied that given sufficient resources he could break the German front, that to attack Turkey would be “to play the German game” and that he preferred an advance into Serbia via Salonika, or preferably an attack to clear the Belgian Coast, and that if Russia collapsed the government would have no choice but to send all available troops to France. French also had Murray hand-deliver a copy of this letter to the Prime Minister, earning French a rebuke from Kitchener for not using the normal channels of communication.
The War Council (7–8 January) discussed French’s demand that 50 Territorial or New Army battalions be sent to France, but in the face of Kitchener’s strong opposition it was agreed instead to examine the possibilities of other fronts. French, having sent Wilson and Murray on ahead to raise support, himself lobbied the War Council (13 January), informing them that he was stockpiling ammunition, expected only 5,000–8,000 casualties in his forthcoming offensive, and that the Germans were short of manpower and would have reached the end of her resources by November 1915. Although he expected Joffre’s offensives in 1915 to be successful, he “relied on the Russians to finish the business”. Kitchener agreed, but the War Council was then swayed by Churchill arguing for an attack on the Dardanelles, and it was agreed to send French only two Territorial Divisions by mid February.
The mooted Flanders Offensive was then cancelled altogether after further lobbying of Kitchener by Joffre and Millerand, who visited England especially to demand that the BEF instead take over more French line. Sir John agreed (15 January), as soon as he was reinforced, to relieve two French corps north of Ypres to allow Joffre to build up French reserves for his own offensive.
Murray was sent off sick for a month (24 January) and French demanded his resignation, despite Murray insisting that he only needed to take a few days off. Robertson replaced him.
Argument with Joffre 
Sir John believed (13 February) that the Russians withdrawals were “only a strategic move” designed to overextend the Germans. He ordered Haig to prepare for an attack at Aubers Ridge, rather than an attack by Smith-Dorrien at Messines-Wytschaete Ridge, as he had more confidence in both Haig and his troops than he had in Smith-Dorrien. GHQ then learned (16 February) that Joffre wanted de Maud’huy’s French Tenth Army to attack at Vimy, with which attack Haig was ordered to coordinate his efforts.
At the War Council (9 February) French learned that the regular 29th Division was to be sent to Salonika rather than to France as he had been promised. Joffre wrote a letter of complaint (19 February) that the BEF might not be carrying out Sir John's promise to take over more line; in reply French summoned the liaison officer Victor Huguet to complain of Joffre’s claims that the British had demanded French participation in the offensive and that they had more men per mile of trench than the French did (much of the French front, as Sir John pointed out, required smaller garrisons as it was of less tactical importance or rougher terrain).
Sir John complained (21 February 1915) that Joffre “treated him like a corporal”, although he thought the French “gloriously brave”. When he had calmed down he sent Robertson and Wilson to smooth things over with Joffre, writing that Joffre’s rude letter had probably been written by “some upstart young French staff officer”. However, Joffre was angered by French’s formal reply (23 February) and thought that he ought to be able to carry out the planned relief as he was receiving the 46th (Territorial) Division. Haig visited de Maud’huy (28 February) and learned that he would be lending only limited artillery support to Haig’s offensive. Joffre told GHQ (7 March) that the offensive must be postponed. Millerand wrote to Kitchener to complain, enclosing another letter of complaint from Joffre. Kitchener (3 March) forwarded both letters to Sir John, along with a letter of complaint of his own (which French described as “might be written by an old woman … silly trash”). Joffre thought French (6 March 1915) a “liar” and “a bad comrade”.
Neuve Chapelle 
French genuinely hoped for a breakthrough at Neuve Chapelle (10–12 March 1915) and personally briefed the cavalry commanders Allenby and Rimington beforehand, although, aware of the effect of modern firepower on cavalry, he cautioned Rimington against getting too close to the enemy. He believed that victory would prove to Kitchener that British efforts should be concentrated on the Western Front, and that it would be merely a prelude to a much larger Battle of Lille. French moved to a forward headquarters at Hazebrouck during the battle.
A renewed attack was planned for 22 March, but French was told by Lt-Gen Maxwell (QuarterMaster General) that sufficient shell was available only for a bombardment half the intensity of Neuve Chapelle, and he was warned by du Cane of defective fuses causing guns to explode (14 March). To some extent the shell shortage was an excuse, as French was also critical of planning errors in First Army’s attack. Kitchener told Asquith (18 March) that French was “not really a scientific soldier; a good capable leader in the field, but without adequate equipment and expert knowledge for the huge task of commanding 450,000 men.”
French's almost daily letters to his mistress in 1915 reveal his wish to see Kitchener sacked, his concern at lack of High Explosive shells, his ambivalent relations with the French (although sympathetic at the political interference which French generals suffered), his anger (shared with many other Western Front generals) at the way scarce men and shells were being sent to Gallipoli, and his belief that the German advance into Russia in 1915 would ultimately fail; he hoped that Germany would sue for peace by the summer of 1915 or spring 1916.
1915: Aubers Ridge and Shells Scandal 
Strategic and Tactical Debates 
Joffre once again (24 March) renewed negotiations for an Anglo-French offensive in Artois, and once again asked Sir John to relieve the two French corps north of Ypres. He agreed to do so by 20 April, prior to another attack by Haig’s First Army. It was still unclear whether or when New Army divisions would be deployed to France.
French was rebuked by the King for an interview with the Havas News Agency (24 March), in which he had warned that the war would be long (Northcliffe warned him that this would encourage "slackers" at home). French wrote to Northcliffe (25 March) thanking him for his view that efforts should be concentrated on the Western Front rather than dissipated to other fronts as Kitchener wanted. French gave an interview to The Times (27 March) calling for more ammunition.
French breakfasted with Kitchener (31 March) who told him that he and Joffre were “on ... trial” over the next five weeks, and that the Allied governments would reinforce other theatres unless they made “substantial advances” and “br(oke) the German line”. There were rumours in both British and French circles, probably baseless, that Kitchener coveted French’s job for himself. French also objected (2 April 1915) to rumours that Joffre was trying to put the BEF under Foch’s command.
A GHQ Memorandum (4 April) on the lessons of Neuve Chapelle emphasised registration of artillery. The French had achieved better results at Vimy by a long and methodical bombardment. French and Kitchener discussed ammunition (14 April). By April 1915 the BEF had grown to 900,000 men in 28 divisions.
Second Ypres 
French continued to be dissatisfied at Smith-Dorrien’s grip on his army and in March was concerned that the rate of sickness was running at three times the rate in Second Army as in First.
The Germans attacked (22 April) ground which Smith-Dorrien had recently taken over from the French, using poison gas, causing some French units to break on the British flank. Sir John spurred on Smith-Dorrien in costly counterattacks, but thought the French had made “a horrible mistake” and “Joffre … really deceived me” in holding the line so thinly. French was angry (26 April 1915) that French troops had broken under German gas attack, commenting that French troops had also failed to hold their positions in the retreat of 1914. Smith-Dorrien suggested withdrawing to the so-called “GHQ Line”. French privately agreed, but was angered that the suggestion came from Smith-Dorrien. Plumer was the given responsibility for the Ypres Salient (27 April).
Aubers Ridge 
On 2 May French, who appears to have persuaded himself that a short sharp bombardment might work once again, assured Kitchener that “the ammunition will be all right”, a declaration which Kitchener passed on to Asquith.
The attack at Aubers Ridge, against stronger German positions, (9 May) failed. French watched the battle from a ruined church and attributed the failure to lack of HE shelling (“it’s simple murder to send infantry against these powerfully fortified entrenchments until they’ve been heavily hammered” he wrote to his mistress). He returned to GHQ to find an order to send shells to Gallipoli, although after protest replacement shells were sent from the UK within days.
Fighting still continued at Ypres, and Sir John was under pressure from Joffre to renew the attack at Aubers Ridge. Although he would have preferred (10 May) to stand on the defensive until more High Explosive was available, he agreed to Joffre’s pressure to take over more French line and renew the attack. Haig also (11 May) favoured a “long methodical bombardment”.
Shells Scandal 
After Aubers Ridge Repington sent a telegram to “The Times” blaming lack of High Explosive shell, which despite being heavily censored by Macdonogh was printed after Brinsley Fitzgerald assured him Sir John would approve. French had, despite Repington’s denial of his prior knowledge at the time, supplied Repington with information, and Fitzgerald and Freddy Guest were sent to London to show the same documents to Lloyd George and the Opposition leaders Bonar Law and Balfour. Repington’s article appeared in “The Times” (14 May 1915). Kitchener wrote to French that day that Repington should not be allowed out with the Army, to which French replied that Repington was a personal friend and he (French) “really ha(d) no time to attend to these matters”.
Another offensive at Festubert began on the night of 15–16 May and dragged on until 27 May. Some ground was gained (1,000 yards over a 3,000 front) and the Germans had to rush in reserves. French was still optimistic that with sufficient High Explosive a breakthrough for cavalry could be achieved. Kitchener, reluctant to deploy the volunteer New Armies to the Western Front, wired French (16 May 1915) that he would send no more reinforcements to France until he was clear the German line could be broken. At the end of May he agreed to send two divisions to keep Joffre happy.
The Shells Scandal contributed to the fall of the Liberal Government. Although French's involvement was widely rumoured, many, including the Prime Minister, refused to believe it. At the time Esher and others thought a clique of people were acting in what they believed to be French's interests; Margot Asquith and Lord Selbourne suspected French's American friend George Moore. French later claimed in “1914” that he had leaked information to Repington to “destroy the apathy of a Government which had brought the Empire to the brink of disaster”. By the time he wrote “1914” he had come to regard Asquith and Haig as responsible for his removal at the end of 1915, but at the time French was still on good terms with Asquith and wrote to him (20 May 1915, the day before the Daily Mail attacked Kitchener) urging him “as a friend” to sack Kitchener. Holmes believes French's object was to bring down Kitchener rather than the whole government.
1915: Loos and Resignation 
Planning Loos 
Joffre often wrote to Kitchener complaining about French. Sidney Clive noted (6 June 1915) that meetings between French and Joffre could be counterproductive as “the former is irritable & the latter silent” and that it was best if their staffs agreed on plans beforehand before putting them before the two generals. French thought French War Minister Millerand “a d-----d socialist little cad” (7 June 1915).
Joffre planned once again for attacks by the BEF and French Tenth Army, combined with another French offensive in Champagne. Cavalry, and infantry in buses, were to be ready to exploit as far as Mons and Namur. He wrote to GHQ (12 June) that the ground at Loos (where a British attack could unite with a French attack on Vimy Ridge) was “particularly favourable”, although Haig reported (23 June) that the planned ground at Loos was unsuitable for an attack. French visited London (23 June) to talk to Kitchener, with Robertson, whose relations with French were breaking down, remaining behind. At a conference at Chantilly (24 June) French and Joffre agreed that further attacks on the Western Front were needed (to do otherwise was “unfair to Russia, Serbia and Italy) and that they should ask their governments to send all available troops to France rather than other fronts.
Asquith had a lengthy discussion (26 June) about the desirability of sacking French. After a “long talk” with Robertson (1 July) the King became convinced that French should be removed. Margot Asquith warned French (2 July) that his aides Freddy Guest and Brinsley Fitzgerald (whom she thought “wonderfully unclever”) were making trouble between himself and Kitchener.
Kitchener also opposed a major British offensive (Calais Conference, 6 July). Sir John expressed his concern that, although a successful attack was possible, his artillery had less than the 17 rounds per day which he deemed necessary. He was initially sceptical of Haig’s reluctance to attack and inspected the ground himself (12 July). Although he felt that the high ground already in British hands would provide good observation, he broadly concurred with Haig’s analysis. Robertson also opposed the attack.
Haig discovered (14 July) that the King had lost confidence in French, and discussed the matter with Kitchener. Wilson noted that relations between French and Robertson were breaking down by the summer, and suspected (correctly) that Robertson was blackening French’s reputation by sending home documents which French had refused to read or sign.
French told Clive (20 July) to inform GQG that ammunition shortage only permitted “holding” attacks and then (25 July) announced that there would be no attack at all. However, after an unsatisfactory meeting with Foch the previous day, he wrote a personal letter to Joffre (28 July) leaving the decision in his hands, although he noted concerns in his diary that night that the French attack at Arras would not be decisive. He also noted (diary, 29 July) that the French were annoyed at British strikes and failure to bring in conscription, and might make a separate peace if Britain did not pull her weight, and may also have agreed to the attack because he had learned that his own job was under threat. Kitchener, who had changed his mind, eventually (19 August) ordered the attack to proceed.
French went sick in September, Robertson acting as Commander-in-Chief BEF. Both GHQ and First Army persuaded themselves that the Loos attack could succeed, perhaps as the use of gas, whose use by the Germans at Second Ypres had been condemned by Sir John, would allow a decisive victory. Sir John decided to keep a strong reserve consisting of the Cavalry Corps, the Indian Cavalry Corps and Haking’s XI Corps, which consisted of the Guards Division and two New Army Divisions (21st and 24th) just arrived in France. French was privately doubtful that a breakthrough would be achieved and was concerned that in the event of failure the government would want to “change the bowler” (letters to Winifred 18 and 21 September). Haig (and Foch) wanted the reserves close to hand to exploit a breakthrough on the first day; French agreed to deploy them closer to the front but still thought they should be committed on the second day (Haig wrote (diary 2 October) “It seems impossible to discuss military problems with an unreasoning brain of this kind”).
Wanting to be closer to the battle, French moved to a forward command post at Lilliers, less than 20 miles behind First Army’s front. He left Robertson and most of his staff behind at GHQ and had no direct telephone link to First Army. Haig’s infantry attacked at 6.30 am on 25 September and he sent an officer by car requesting release of the reserves at 7 am – he did not hear until 10.02 am that the divisions were moving up to the front. French visited Haig between 11 and 11.30 and agreed that Haig could have the reserve, but rather than using the telephone he drove to Haking’s Headquarters and gave the order personally at 12.10 pm. Haig then heard from Haking at 1.20 pm that the reserves were moving forward, but by the time the men, already exhausted from an overnight march in the rain, reached the front line through the chaos of the battlefield they were committed against strengthened German positions the following morning.
Joffre sent a letter of congratulation (26 September) – Clive sensed that Joffre did not really believe the British attack would succeed but wanted it kept going as a diversion from Champagne, although after complaints from Sir John that the French Tenth Army were not doing enough Foch ordered them to take over some line from the British around Loos. Sir John was still keen for a concerted Anglo-French attack, telling Foch (28 September) that a gap could be “rushed” just north of Hill 70, although Foch felt that this would be difficult to coordinate and Haig told him that First Army was not in a position for further attacks at the moment. Charteris wrote that “Sir John French is played out. The show is too big for him and he is despondent.” Even French’s trusted secretary Edward Fitzgerald recorded (5 October 1915) that French’s “sudden moods are weird and marvellous but we never now even have explanations”.
Criticism after Loos 
Haig told Haldane (9 October) that French’s handling of the reserves had lost the battle. Kitchener demanded an explanation (11 October). Haig told Rawlinson (10 and 22 October 1915) he could no longer be loyal to French after Loos. Haig also wrote to GHQ (21 October) claiming that fresh forces could have pushed through with little opposition between 9 am and 11 am.
To French’s annoyance the King arrived in France (21 October) to sample opinion for himself – French met him at Boulogne but was summoned to London for talks with Kitchener and the Dardanelles Committee. Gough and Haking visited the King after tea (24 October) and told him “everyone has lost confidence in the C-in-C” whilst over dinner that evening Haig told the King that French was “a source of great weakness to the Army, and no one had any confidence in him any more”.
Robertson visiting London in early October, had discussed French’s replacement with Murray (now CIGS) and the King. After he returned to France and conferred with Haig, Haig recorded (diary 24 October) “I ha(ve) been more than loyal to French and did my best to stop all criticism of him or his methods … I ha(ve) come to the conclusion that it (i)s not fair to the Empire to retain French in command. Moreover, none of my officers commanding corps had a high opinion of Sir John’s military ability or military views; in fact they had no confidence in him. Robertson quite agreed and left me saying “he knew how to act, and would report to Stamfordham" ”. Robertson thought (24 October) that French’s “mind was never the same for two consecutive minutes” and that his ideas were “reckless and impossible” and that he had poor relations with Joffre.
French’s friends in London reported that Asquith still wanted French to remain in office but Bonar Law was opposed; Wilson claimed that “cordial relations with the French” were Sir John’s trump card and lobbied Carson in his favour. Walter Long reported that French’s dismissal had never been openly discussed by the War Council, but Charles Callwell recorded that Asquith, Grey and Lloyd George were overheard by the waiters discussing it in a railway restaurant car. French himself believed that Kitchener’s departure on a tour of the Mediterranean would save him.
GHQ suggested that according to Haking’s own report the reserves had been held up by “avoidable delay” and pointed out the futility of “pushing reserves through a narrow gap”. Haig denied that there had been any “avoidable delay” and Haking now changed his mind and sent a new report (27 October) blaming the slowness of his troops’ march on their inexperience. French’s despatch was published (2 November) claiming that the reserves had been released at 9.30 am (the telephone log does show a call from GHQ at this time). Haig, who wrote to his wife that the despatch was “full of lies”, demanded amendments and another interview between French and Haig ensued. Even though Charteris doubted that the quicker arrival of the reserves would have made much difference, the dispute revolved around the deployment and release of the reserves, rather than why Haig had demanded their release into a battle he thought already lost. Robertson told the King (27 October) that Haig should replace French.
French’s policies were attacked in the House of Lords (9 November) and again on 16 November when Lord St Davids complained of “the presence of ladies” at GHQ.
Haig sent copies of the relevant orders and a critique of GHQ’s conduct of the battle to his wife, who showed them to Stamfordham (10 November) for the King to see. Robertson was working against French, telling Haig (15 November) that “the first thing is to get you in command”. Asquith discussed the matter with the King and Kitchener (both of whom thought French not up to the job, although Kitchener thought the time not right for a change), and (23 November) Haig and then asked Esher to convey to French in person the news that he must resign, and be given a peerage and the newly-created job of Commander-in-Chief Home Forces. However, French insisted on seeing Asquith again (29 November) at which meeting Asquith told him that he must take the first step and was not being “recalled” (sacked). French’s official critique of Haig’s conduct of Loos finally reached the War Office on 1 December. He wrote to Asquith (2 December) suggesting that Kitchener be removed and replaced by a civilian Secretary of State to avoid friction with the new job of Commander-in-Chief Home Forces, and that he would await Asquith’s decision on this point. He returned to France (3 December), but Asquith had been exchanging further letters with Stamfordham and they agreed that French must now be pressed to quit. Walter Long telephoned French (4 December) and passed on the Prime Minister’s message that he must resign.
Kitchener told Esher (4 December) that the government intended to appoint Robertson Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, but Haig was appointed instead. French's resignation, recommending Robertson as successor, reached Asquith on the morning of 6 December. It was announced in the press on 17 December and took effect at noon on 18 December. French and Haig had an awkward handover meeting (Fitzgerald told Wigram that Haig “never for one moment unbent”), at which French requested that Winston Churchill be given command of a battalion (Haig had no objection). French was cheered onto the boat home by an escort of 19th Hussars.
Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces 
Home Defence 
French returned to England to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Forces in December 1915, and in January 1916, he was created Viscount French of Ypres and of High Lake in the County of Roscommon. Robertson prevented him having the same powers as the old Commander-in-Chief of the British Army or having a seat on the Army Council.
Despite estimates that the Germans could land up to 170,000 men, French thought an invasion unlikely unless the Germans had first won on the Western Front, and favoured fighting on the coast rather than a strong central reserve. He was energetic about inspecting defences, and appealed to Asquith to obtain the services of Arthur Paget and Bruce Hamilton.
Ireland and Easter Rising 
After discussions in February and March 1916 with Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell – who did not believe press talk of an armed Irish uprising but wanted more troops as a deterrent – Friend (Commander-in-Chief, Ireland) and Wimborne (Lord Lieutenant) French said that he could spare only a single cavalry brigade as reinforcements, and later offered an extra reserve infantry brigade, although in the event Friend declined (7 April) to make formal application for the brigade to be sent. French thought little more could be done unless the government changed its assessment of the threat.
French's term of office saw the suppression in 1916 of the Easter Rising, which briefly coincided with a German invasion scare. An intelligence report on 21 April warned of collaboration between the Irish and the Germans, causing French to mutter “I don’t believe a word of it”. French received news of the insurrection at noon on 24 April 1916 (Easter Monday), and at once sent two infantry brigades to Ireland and put other formations on standby – the Admiralty warned that the German fleet was out. Woken at 4 am on 25 April with the news that the Germans were shelling Lowestoft, French ordered the commanders of the two Home Defence Armies to prepare for action and ordered two divisions in the Midlands to be prepared to move to the coast. Later that day he was informed that Macready had been deputed to handle the War Office’s side of the Irish uprising. French rejected Kitchener’s suggestion that he go to Ireland that very evening and take personal command, a decision with which the Prime Minister concurred (despite their previous antagonism, French recorded that Kitchener “expressed no annoyance at my visit to the PM!”). The military authorities reported from Dublin that they had the situation well in hand.
On the evening of 26 April, told that the government had decided to send out a new general to Ireland, French selected Maxwell (who had been military governor of Pretoria) from a shortlist of two. French had already told Asquith that he had ordered the 60th Division to be ready to move, but would not send it without the concurrence of the General Staff.
On 27 April French visited Robertson who agreed with him that to send more troops to Ireland would be “playing the German game”. However, the next day after visits from Midleton (on instructions from Asquith) and Carson French agreed to send three extra battalions, as well as the cavalry brigade from Aldershot which Maxwell now requested. The rebellion was crushed by 29 April. On 3 May Asquith recorded his concerns that the shooting of rebels might antagonise Irish opinion, but French, despite having been advised by John Redmond that Sinn Féin had little support outside Dublin and that the Army should not use more than minimal force, passed on these concerns with the caveat that he would not interfere with Maxwell’s actions. In the opinion of one biographer French’s views had not moved on since his hanging of the Cape Colony Boers, and he bears some responsibility for the shootings.
Animosity with Haig 
French became increasingly critical of Haig’s Western Front Offensives. One biographer writes that “French’s office at Horse Guards became a clearing house for gossip from France”. French was critical of the choice of Rawlinson to command the Somme and in August 1916 Robertson warned Haig that “Winston, French and various “degommed people” are trying to make mischief”.
In October 1916 Lloyd George (then War Secretary) sought French’s advice about recent press criticism of British artillery and discipline, then sent him to France to sound out the opinion of the French generals about why the French had gained ground with fewer losses on the Somme. Foch (CinC French Army Group North) refused to be drawn, although he confessed to Wilson that Haig’s methods invited criticism, and Haig refused to meet him, sending an aide Lt-Col Alan Fletcher, telling him “I would not receive Viscount French in my house. I despise him too much personally for that, but he would receive every attention due to a British Field Marshal”. Haig and Robertson were both concerned that Lloyd George might appoint French CIGS in Robertson’s place. On 25 November 1916 the King summoned French to Buckingham Palace and warned him to stop criticising Haig. In January 1917 French refused an invitation from Derby to dine with Haig, but on 22 June, after pressure from the King, a meeting was arranged for French and Haig to bury the hatchet, at which, by Haig’s account, French confessed that in his bitterness at being removed from command he had “said things then which he was ashamed of now”. Haig, according to his own diary, congratulated him for "speaking out like a man" and they shook hands as they parted, but their rapprochement was short-lived.
Air Defence 
French took on responsibility for air defence, although he agreed with Repington that it was “a damnosa hereditas”. He was frequently lobbied by local groups for better air defences. In January 1917 anti-aircraft guns were reallocated to anti-submarine warfare. After the Gotha raids in July 1917 French was able to make a fuss at the War Cabinet (Robertson complained he could not get a word in edgeways) and show letters he had written urging greater priority for air defence. A War Cabinet sub-committee was set up, nominally chaired by the Prime Minister but effectively run by J.C.Smuts, and French urged that air be treated as a separate department going forward (which eventually became the RAF). More guns and fighter squadrons were provided, and Brigadier E.B. Ashmore was appointed to command London’s air defence, reporting to French.
Advice to War Cabinet 
In July 1917 French asked to advise the War Cabinet, fully aware that this was breaking the monopoly of advice on which Robertson insisted. Lloyd George had French and Wilson to lunch in August, then on 11 October 1917, following the precedent of Asquith’s War Council of August 1914, they were invited to the War Cabinet and invited to give their opinions (a note from Hankey asking French to submit his paper via the CIGS was apparently ignored). French’s paper criticised GHQ's inflated estimates of German casualties compared to War Office figures, pointed out that there was no firm evidence that German losses were commensurate with Allied, and that any further Western Front Offensive “has become more of a “gamble” than anything else we have undertaken” and that any future plans and forecasts by Haig should be most carefully examined. He recommended the “Petain solution” (i.e. standing mainly on the defensive on the Western Front until the Americans arrived in force) and urged the creation of an Allied Supreme War Council. Wilson, who was more amenable to Western front offensives, made some handwritten amendments to French’s paper as well as submitting one of his own.
Hankey met French and Wilson on 24 October and urged them to reconsider, concerned that if Robertson resigned the Conservatives might bring down the government. French refused, saying Haig was “always making the same mistake” and “we shall do no good until we break down the Haig-Robertson ring”. Hankey thought that “there was envy, hatred and malice in the old boy’s heart as he spoke”. Haig regarded French’s paper as “the outcome of a jealous and disappointed mind”.
Manpower Crisis 
Although French was responsible for training, the demands of the Western Front left him very short of fit troops. There were about 1.5 million troops in the UK, but many of these were in hospital, in training, too young (under 19), too old or medically unfit for combat. At the start of 1917 French had a defensive force of 470,000 men, of whom 232,459 (including ten infantry divisions) were “mobile” reserves and 237,894 on beach and anti-aircraft defence. By January 1918 the total had been reduced to 400,979, of whom 190,045 (8 divisions) were “mobile”. In January 1918 Robertson favoured breaking up 4 divisions to send 50,000 reinforcements to France, leaving the remaining 4 divisions consisting mainly of “lads” under 19. There were around 16,000 "mobile" troops in Ireland, not counting the 62,000 or "infantry performing a gendarme role" (in Terraine's description). There were around 600,000 Category “A” men in Britain, of whom in the event 372,000 were sent to France between January and November 1918 when the government were doing all they could to reinforce the BEF – by May 1918 even troops with medical grade of B1 were sent to France.
French’s reputation had recovered (by this time, writes Holmes, “the losses of Loos looked almost nostalgically trivial”) and he had come to be regarded as one of the government’s leading advisers. In the spring of 1918 French wrote Lloyd George a long letter complaining of how Haig had intrigued against him in 1915, including criticising him to his subordinates, and how Haig and Robertson had (allegedly) conspired to gain military supremacy over the civil power. French was pleased at the removal of Robertson and Derby early in 1918, and during the German Spring Offensive urged that Haig be sacked and replaced by Plumer. In May 1918 he again suggested to Wilson (now CIGS) that Haig be appointed his successor as Commander-in-Chief Home Forces.
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 
French noted that Irish divisions could no longer be kept up to strength by voluntary recruitment, and in March 1918, when the Cabinet planned to extend conscription to Ireland, French claimed that “opinion was about evenly divided” on the issue, and thought it would remove “useless and idle youths … between 18 and … 25” and would cause opposition but not “bloodshed”. In the event the threat of Irish conscription provoked great opposition, even from the Catholic Church, and contributed to the growth in support for Sinn Féin.
Lloyd George intended to replace the Lord Lieutenant – normally something of a figurehead position, with real power exercised by the Chief Secretary – with three “Justices”: James Campbell, unionist Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Midleton and French himself. The three men met on 30 April 1918 and jointly demanded immediate conscription and martial law in Ireland. When Lloyd George refused, Campbell declined any further involvement and Lloyd George also dropped Midleton when the latter demanded the right to “advise on policy”. French eventually accepted appointment as sole Lord Lieutenant in May 1918 on condition it was as a “Military Viceroy at the Head of a Quasi-Military Government”. French also arranged for Shaw, his chief of staff at Horse Guards, to replace Mahon as Commander-in-Chief, Ireland and that Irish Command should become a separate command, rather than under Home Forces.
French also set up an Executive Council and a Military Council to which senior officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) were sometimes invited. He also set up an Advisory Council, with the support of the King, Haldane and Carson, which he hoped might contain representatives of all strands of Irish opinion. But in practice its members were all well-connected wealthy men, Sinn Féin were not involved despite Haldane’s hopes and the proposal angered the existing administrators at Dublin Castle. The body provided useful advice on commercial and industrial questions, and advised that Home Rule could work as a federation of separate assemblies in Belfast and Dublin (also French’s view), but ceased to meet regularly after April 1919.
French was convinced that the Sinn Féin leaders had little support amongst the majority of the Irish people. He wanted Home Rule to be implemented, provided the violence was stopped first. In July 1917 he had been pleased to be given a “vociferous” welcome by the women of Cork, but less so in Dublin and Galway. In 1917 he had bought a country house at Drumdoe in Frenchpark, County Roscommon, but in practice was seldom able to visit the place as the situation in Ireland deteriorated.
On the night of 17/18 May 1918 French had Sinn Féin leaders arrested and documents were seized, but even supporters like Repington and Macready were disappointed at the lack of clear evidence of collaboration with the Germans and the flimsy legal grounds for the arrests, which caused endless legal wrangles. Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha escaped arrest and increased their own power in the vacuum created by the arrest of more moderate leaders.
The Irish Volunteers and Sinn Féin were proclaimed “dangerous organisations” in certain areas (3 July 1918), with meetings banned except under permit, and West Cork was declared a Special Military Area in late September. French obtained a cash bonus for Irish policemen, and pressed for them to receive decorations. He also came down hard on senior Irish police officers whom he thought useless, threatening resignation unless the Inspector-General of the RIC, Brigadier-General Joseph Byrne, was removed.
French, who like many generals of his generation believed that the government owed a moral duty to those who had served, urged that a “Comrades of the Great War (Ireland)” be set up to prevent returning Irish war veterans joining the Sinn Féin-dominated “Soldiers’ Federation” – he also recommended that soldiers be given cash and land grants, perhaps in “Soldiers’ Colonies”. This plan was stymied by cash shortage and inter-departmental infighting.
French clashed with the Chief Secretary Edward Shortt over his insistence that he exercise executive authority in Dublin, and when Lloyd George formed a new government in January 1919 Shortt was replaced by the more pliable Ian Macpherson. French was appointed to the British Cabinet (now restored to normal size after the war had ended), but whilst in Ireland liaised with the Cabinet not through the Chief Secretary as would have been usual but through the Colonial Secretary, his friend Walter Long.
French also secured the appointment of Sir William MacMahon as Under-Secretary at Dublin Castle. MacMahon was Roman Catholic, which caused Walter Long and to some extent French himself concerns that this would increase the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy over Irish government. In practice MacMahon was frozen out of decision-making by Macpherson whilst French was ill with pneumonia between February and April 1919, and despite warnings from French of administrative chaos at Dublin Castle it was not until 1920 that the highly able John Anderson was appointed as Joint Under-Secretary with MacMahon.
The shooting dead of two RIC men in an ambush at Soloheadbeg County Tipperary (21 January 1919) caused French to call off tentative talks between Haldane and the recently-elected Irish Dáil (Haldane blamed Walter Long who was opposed to the talks). French and Macpherson wanted Sinn Féin declared illegal and pressed for a free hand to deal with the militants, although the issue received little priority whilst Lloyd George was away at Versailles in the first half of 1919. Sinn Féin was finally declared illegal on 5 July 1919 after District Inspector Hunt was killed in broad daylight, in Thurles (23 June). By October 1919 French was urging the imposition of martial law. By December he was furious at the government’s lack of support (like being asked to “fight with one arm tied up”) and their insistence that the RIC buy army surplus vehicles (the Army was reducing dramatically in size after World War I) on the open market instead of simply being given them.
Shaw was sceptical about the legality of martial law and thought it might be impractical in cities like Dublin and Cork. French was advised that 15 army battalions and 24 cycle units (half a battalion in size) were needed to keep order, but British strength did not reach these levels until the summer of 1920. In November 1919 Irish Command listed its minimum requirement as 25,000 “bayonet strength” – at the time there were just over 37,000 troops in Ireland, many of them non-combatants. Even in January 1920 only 34 battalions were available, rather than the 36 required. This was symptomatic of the Army as a whole, which was trying to meet global commitments whilst demobilising. British military strength in Ireland reached 51 battalions during the martial law period early in 1921.
IRA intimidation caused traditional RIC sources of information to dry up. By late 1919, with French's approval, the RIC was recruiting in England (“Black and Tans ”), then the Auxiliary Division (ex army officers with the powers of police sergeants) from July 1920.
French had been receiving death threats since January 1919, which he believed were a sign that government measures were having an effect. On 19 December 1919 an IRA unit of 11 volunteers, including Seán Treacy, Seamus Robinson, Seán Hogan, Paddy Daly (Leader), Joe Leonard, Martin Savage, and Dan Breen (who later said that the threats were not based on “personal animosity”) sought to ambush French as he returned from Ashtown railway station (he was returning by train from Drumdoe) to the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Savage, Kehoe and Breen were disturbed by an RIC officer as they pushed a hay-cart halfway across the road blocking the path of French's car. He was dragged off the road after one of them lobbed a grenade at him, which did not go off but knocked him unconscious. When the convoy appeared minutes later, the IRA concentrated their attack on the second car on the basis of incorrect intelligence: French was actually in the first car. In the ensuing crossfire Breen was shot in the leg, and Savage killed by a bullet in the neck. French's own bodyguard was wounded, and he was saved in part by the quick thinking of his driver. A grenade, which would almost certainly have killed him, exploded in the back seat of the second car.
The Cabinet agreed that the Irish Government could impose martial law whenever it pleased – although in the event this did not happen for almost another year, by which time executive authority had been returned to London. Suspects could now be interned under DORA 14B on warrants signed by the Chief Secretary and French pressed Macpherson, who had been shocked by the attempted assassination, to intern as many as possible, although he advised against interning politicians like Arthur Griffith “simply for making seditious speeches”.
Final Period 
Political support from London for internment wavered. French opposed the release of hunger strikers under the “Cat and Mouse” Act and wanted them simply left to die, but eventually in April 1920, under pressure from London, hunger strikers were released on parole.
French lost a good deal of executive power as substantial control over Irish affairs was given back to a new Chief Secretary, Hamar Greenwood, in April 1920, with Macready as the new Commander-in-Chief, not Robertson whom French did not want. French again urged the introduction of martial law in Ireland and the use of Ulster Volunteers as peacekeepers in Southern Ireland. Wilson and Macready expected French to be sacked in the spring of 1920. Wilson wrote: “Poor little man he is so weak and pliable and then has such inconsequential gusts of illogical passion. He is an Imperialist, a Democrat, a Home Ruler all at the same time. Poor man.” although Wilson also thought him “brave as a lion”. H.A.L. Fisher thought French in July 1920 “a shadow of his former self and quite useless”. However, his obvious devotion to Ireland and well-advertised intention to live there after independence counted in his favour.
French had supported the use of armoured cars and aircraft in Ireland. Shaw had recommended one air squadron per province (i.e. four) in an “Entrenched Air Camp”, but only one squadron was available and it was unclear exactly what they could do. By June 1920 the military situation had escalated considerably and French suggested that they should be permitted to strafe and bomb freely into areas from which civilians had been removed.
Later life 
French was President of The Ypres League, a veterans society for those who had served at the Ypres Salient. He retired from the British Army in April 1921 and was elevated to the Earldom of Ypres in June 1922.
He was also colonel of the 19th Hussars from 11 March 1902 (retaining this position when French persuaded Wilson to amalgamate them with the 15th to become the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars), colonel of the 1st Battalion, The Cambridgeshire Regiment from 22 April 1909 and colonel-in-chief of the Royal Irish Regiment from 26 March 1913. The Royal Irish Regiment was disbanded along with the four other Southern Irish regiments, in 1922. He was Colonel of the Irish Guards from June 1916.
Stung by press attacks in February 1917 (a Smith-Dorrien interview in the “Weekly Despatch” “How the Old Army Died” and a book “The Retreat from Mons” by Major Corbett-Smith – Smith-Dorrien had worked on the proofs), French published his memoirs “1914”, ghosted by the journalist Lovat Fraser, in April and May 1919. The unauthorised publication of the book technically laid him open to prosecution as he was holding office as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time. The King was angered, and Bonar Law warned French that the government could not defend him if the House of Commons demanded his resignation as Irish Viceroy. Smith-Dorrien as a serving officer was not permitted to reply. Haig, Asquith and Bertie complained of inaccuracies and it was attacked by Sir John Fortescue in the “Quarterly Review” as “one of the most unfortunate books ever written”. Smith-Dorrien, in a private written Statement, called “1914” “mostly a work of fiction and a foolish one too”.
French had hoped to end his days in Ireland. He bought another country house at Hollybrook near Boyle, but in March 1922 Talbot told him bluntly that his presence in Ireland would be unwise and a target for the IRA. Drumdoe was robbed of most of its furniture and pictures early in 1923, for which French received an apology and a promise of an armed guard for the place from Governor-General T.M.Healy. Despite a gift of £50,000 in 1916, and receiving Field Marshal’s half pay, owning two properties in Ireland which he could not use left French again short of money, although he did not improve matters by staying often at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. He left only £8,450 in his will.
French had lived at 94 Lancaster Gate, London, which provided a useful base for his amorous activities, with George Moore, a rich American friend. By the time French retired their friendship had ended – in March 1916 French had had to give evidence in court when Moore was accused by newspapers of being pro-German, and in 1918 Moore seems to have been sympathetic to Sinn Féin. In August 1923 Lord Beauchamp offered him the honorary post of Captain of Deal Castle, which gave him a home in Britain once again.
French died from cancer of the bladder at Deal Castle on 22 May 1925, aged 72. An estimated 7,000 people filed past his coffin during the first two hours it lay in state, many of them veterans of the retreat from Mons. Haig, Robertson, Hamilton and Smith-Dorrien (who had travelled from France to pay his respects to a man with whom he had clashed badly) were pall bearers at his funeral at Westminster Abbey – the first of a major First World War leader. He was buried at Ripple five days after his death.
In 1972 the ownership of French's war diaries was disputed following the bankruptcy of the 3rd Earl of Ypres.
French was a man of hot temper and swings of mood. He would address friends effusively as “dear old boy”, and was a womaniser and often short of money. He wore an unusually long tunic which emphasised his lack of height. He was – at least during the Boer War – idolised by the public and during the First World War was loved by his men in a way that Douglas Haig never was.
Opinions vary as to French’s military abilities. Edward Spears, then a subaltern liaising between French and Lanrezac, later wrote of the former: "You only had to look at him to see that he was a brave, determined man ... I learnt to love and to admire the man who never lost his head, and on whom danger had the effect it has on the wild boar: he would become morose, furious for a time, harsh, but he would face up and never shirk. He knew only one way of dealing with a difficulty, and that was to tackle it ... If he had once lost confidence in a man, justly or unjustly, that man could do no right in his eyes. He was as bad an enemy as he was a good friend ... once he had lost confidence in (Lanrezac) he ignored him and acted as if he and his Army did not exist." Spears also recorded that at a conference with Joffre on 30 August 1914 French, the back of his tunic wet with sweat from riding hard to reach the meeting, was "one of the coolest and calmest people at GHQ". This was at the time when he had decided that the BEF would have to retreat behind the Seine to refit.
French was severely criticised by those close to Haig, including General Sir Hubert Gough, who thought him “an ignorant little fool” and Duff Cooper in Haig's Official Biography. The Official Historian Edmonds he called him “only "un beau sabreur" of the old fashioned sort … a vain, ignorant and vindictive old man with an unsavoury society backing” and claimed that French once borrowed Sir Edward Hamley’s “Operations of War” from the War Office library but could not understand it. Edmonds “magnificently malicious” story may be doubtful as French was known for his reading of military texts as a subaltern, and remembered enough of Hamley’s doctrines not to take shelter in Maubeuge after Mons, although Spears later wrote that had Hamley not employed such a penetrating metaphor it might not have lodged in French’s mind.
Field Marshal Chetwode, reflecting on the hostility between Haig and his former patron French, wrote that “French was a man who loved life, laughter and women … a man who might have done big things in open warfare. He was a lucky general and inspired the greatest confidence in his troops” and that Haig was his opposite in most of these respects. Churchill also contrasted the personalities of French (“a natural soldier”) and Haig. Seely and Esher thought highly of him. Haldane thought he had “been a great Commander-in-Chief, a soldier of the first order, who held the Army as no other could”. Lloyd George praised him, although perhaps as an ally against Haig in 1916–18.
French was also ridiculed by Alan Clark (who called him "a weak-willed man of medium height") in the widely-read The Donkeys (1961). His modern biographer Richard Holmes wrote that “he remains … a discredited man” but “history has dealt too harshly” with him. He argues that French was an emotional man who was deeply moved by casualties and identified too closely with his soldiers, even in August 1914. Holmes quotes with approval John Terraine’s verdict that French was the most distinguished English cavalry leader since Cromwell (), and argues that although he did not achieve victory, his personality inspired the BEF in 1914. This was acknowledged at the time by Smith-Dorrien, who informed the King’s adviser Wigram (6 November 1914) that in situations where other men would have panicked “Sir John is unmoved and invariably does the right thing.” Robertson also acknowledged French's leadership ability, whilst thinking that French's qualities were marred by his “undisciplined intellect and mercurial personality”. Holmes concludes by quoting Churchill’s verdict that “French, in the sacred fire of leadership, was unsurpassed”.
Holmes argues that French had no consistency in his strategic ideas, as was shown at the War Council in August 1914 when he proposed deploying the BEF to Antwerp. Ian Beckett does not wholly agree with Holmes, arguing that French was consistent in December 1914-January 1915 in wanting to promote what he saw as Britain’s strategic interests by deploying Territorial and New Army Divisions in an offensive along the Belgian Coast to seize Zeebrugge, although he also remarks that such plans were not unique to French, as they continued to find favour with Haig in 1916-17, and that French’s hopes for amphibious landings in the Baltic or North Sea had little practicality at this stage.
In his memoirs 1914 French wrote “no previous experience … had led me to anticipate a war of positions. All my thoughts … were concentrated upon a war of movement.” Although French’s memoirs are often unreliable this passage is confirmed by what he wrote to Lt-Gen Edward Hutton in December 1914 that the war had become “a siege ... on a gigantic scale”. Ian Beckett argues that in this respect, and in his recognition of the importance of artillery as early as the Battle of the Aisne in September 1914, French’s tactical views were “marginally more flexible” than those of Haig, who continued to nurse hopes of breakthrough and decisive victory until several years later.
In 1875 French married Isabella Soundy, the daughter of a tradesman. They divorced in 1878 with Isabella as a co-respondent and said to have been paid off by French’s wealthy brother-in-law. The divorce could have ruined his career if widely known.
He married Eleanora Selby-Lowndes – one of seven sisters known as the “Belles of Bletchley” – in 1880; they had two sons and two daughters. Neither his second wife, nor his daughter Essex who died in 1979, were ever aware of his first marriage. French became estranged from his wife (officially, she did not accompany him to Ireland as it was too dangerous) and sons, although from 1922 he re-established relations with his second son Gerald. Gerald French began writing to defend his father’s reputation in the 1930s, and his last publication was “The French-Kitchener Dispute: A Last Word” in 1960. He died in 1970.
Beginning in January 1915 French had an affair with Mrs Winifred Bennett, the wife of a British diplomat and former mistress of one of his own officers, Jack Annesley, who was killed near Ypres in November 1914. French wrote to her almost daily, sometimes signing himself “Peter Pan” and on the eve of Neuve Chapelle he wrote to her “Tomorrow I shall go forward with my war cry of “Winifred””. She was tall and elegant, and the disparity in their heights caused great amusement.
See also 
- Army Manoeuvres of 1913
- Christmas truce
- Gheluvelt Park – a public park in Worcester, which he opened on 17 June 1922
- Saint George's Memorial Church, Ypres
French in popular culture 
At the beginning of the First World War a supporter of French, A.C. Ainger, tried, with little success, to popularise a marching song in honour of French. The words read: "Do you ken John French with his khaki suit His belt and gaiters and stout brown boot Along with his guns and his horse and his foot On the road to Berlin in the morning."
Field Marshal French was played by Laurence Olivier in Richard Attenborough's World War I satire film Oh! What A Lovely War (1969). Ian Beckett writes that French and Wilson are portrayed almost as “a comic duo” in the film. By this time, although Terraine’s Mons: Retreat to Victory (1960), Alan Clark's The Donkeys (1961) and A.J.Smithers The Man Who Disobeyed (a 1970 biography of Smith-Dorrien) kept up some interest in French, he was already becoming a somewhat forgotten figure as popular interest from the 1960s onwards concentrated on the Battle of the Somme, inevitably focussing attention on Douglas Haig.
- Heathcote, p. 130
- "French Family of Frenchpark, and Cloonshanville Priory". French Family Association. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- Bond & Cave 2009, p52
- "John French, 1st Earl of Ypres". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- "FRENCH, Sir John Denton Pinkstone, (1852–1925), 1st Earl of Ypres, Field Marshal". Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
- Wells, p. 148
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- The London Gazette: . 27 February 1874. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 10 March 1874. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 24 August 1880. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 9 November 1880. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 19 April 1881. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 28 August 1883. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Bond & Cave 2009, p53
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- The London Gazette: . 17 September 1895. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 4 May 1897. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
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- Holmes 2004, p.50-1
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- The London Gazette: . 19 April 1901.
- The London Gazette: . 31 October 1902. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 31 October 1902. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 29 July 1902. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 26 September 1902. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Bond & Cave 2009, p59
- articles in “Journal of Strategic Studies” 12(1989) and 16(1993)
- Bond & Cave 2009, p56-7
- The London Gazette: . 28 July 1905. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Bond & Cave 2009, p54
- The London Gazette: . 12 February 1907. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Heathcote, p. 132
- The London Gazette: . 24 December 1907. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 22 June 1909. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 4 July 1911. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Terraine 1960, p31
- Tuchman, p. 198
- Reid 2001, 172–3
- Holmes 2004, p168
- Holmes 2004, p169
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- The London Gazette: . 7 April 1914. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Holmes 2004, p167-9, 192-4
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- Reid 2001, 172
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- Terraine 1960, p33
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- The London Gazette: . 4 August 1914. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Holmes 2004, pp199-201
- Holmes 2004, pp198
- Holmes 2004, pp199
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- Neillands 2006, pp275-6
- Cassar 1985, p. 94
- Tuchman, p. 242-3
- Terraine 1960, p46
- Terraine 1960, p50-1
- Holmes 2004, pp208-11
- Holmes 2004, pp208-9
- Holmes 2004, pp212-5
- Spears 1930, pp136-7
- Terraine 1960, p75
- Terraine 1960, p80
- Holmes 2004, pp215-6
- Holmes 2004, pp216-8
- Terraine 1960, p100
- Holmes 2004, pp218-20
- Terraine 1960, p80, 101-2
- Terraine 1960, p125
- Holmes 2004, pp220-2
- Holmes 2004, pp222-3
- Terraine 1960, p150
- Holmes 2004, pp223-5
- Holmes 2004, p223
- Terraine 1960, p49
- Holmes 2004, pp225-6
- Terraine 1960, p130-1
- Terraine 1960, p146, 148-9
- Holmes 2004, p226
- Holmes 2004, pp227-8
- Terraine 1960, p161, 164
- Holmes 2004, p230
- Terraine 1960, p166
- Holmes 2004, p231
- Terraine 1960, p161, 164, 167
- Holmes 2004, p229
- Terraine 1960, p168
- Holmes 2004, pp231-6
- Terraine 1960, p170, 172-3
- Tuchman, p. 393
- Holmes 2004, pp234-6
- Terraine 1960, p175-6
- Holmes 2004, p237
- Holmes 2004, pp237-8
- Terraine 1960, p186-7
- Holmes 2004, pp238-9
- Terraine 1960, p193
- Neillands 2006, p16
- Holmes 2004, pp202-3
- Holmes 2004, pp240-1
- Holmes 2004, pp241-2
- Holmes 2004, p248
- Holmes 2004, pp256-8
- Holmes 2004, pp242-3
- Holmes 2004, p243
- Jeffery 2006, pp145-6
- Holmes 2004, pp244-6
- Holmes 2004, pp246-7
- Holmes 2004, pp247-8
- Holmes 2004, pp249-53
- Holmes 2004, pp253, 256
- Holmes 2004, pp253-6
- Jeffery 2006, pp139-43
- Holmes 2004, pp258-60
- Holmes 2004, pp260-1
- Holmes 2004, pp266-8
- Holmes 2004, p265
- Holmes 2004, pp253-6, 260–1, 268
- Holmes 2004, pp262-5
- Groot 1988, p.178
- Holmes 2004, pp265
- Holmes 2004, p269
- Holmes 2004, pp269-71
- Holmes 2004, pp272-4
- Holmes 2004, p275
- Holmes 2004, p291
- Holmes 2004, pp278-80
- Holmes 2004, p281
- Holmes 2004, p289-90
- Holmes 2004, pp285
- Holmes 2004, pp285-7, 293
- Holmes 2004, pp283-4
- Holmes 2004, p282-4
- Holmes 2004, p293
- Holmes 2004, pp287-9
- Holmes 2004, p294
- Woodward, 1998, p17
- Holmes 2004, p290
- Walker 2012, p41-2
- Holmes 2004, pp287, 291–2
- Holmes 2004, pp295-7
- Woodward, 1998, p23
- Holmes 2004, pp294-5
- Holmes 2004, p298
- Jeffery 2006, pp150-1, 153
- Holmes 2004, pp255
- Holmes 2004, pp296-8
- Woodward, 1998, p23-4
- Holmes 2004, pp300-2
- Holmes 2004, pp302-5
- Holmes 2004, pp305-6
- Woodward, 1998, p20
- Jeffery 2006, pp153-4
- Holmes 2004, p310
- Holmes 2004, pp307-9
- Holmes 2004, p307
- Woodward 1998, p23
- Holmes 2004 p400
- Holmes 2004, pp309-10
- Holmes 2004, pp306-7
- Holmes 2004, pp310-12
- Holmes 2004, p312
- Holmes 2004 p. 314-7. Holmes writes "War Council" but this may be a confusion with the "War Council" which discussed strategy between August 1914 and May 1915, or the "War Committee", a Cabinet Committee which discussed strategy in 1916.
- Holmes 2004 p. 314-7
- Holmes 2004 p. 321-2
- "Easter Rising". History Learning Site. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- Holmes 2004 p. 323-4
- Holmes 2004 p. 324
- Holmes 2004 p. 324-5
- Heathcote, p. 134
- Holmes 2004 p. 327
- Holmes 2004 p. 327-30
- Holmes 2004 p. 317-21
- Holmes 2004 p. 330-2
- Holmes 2004 p. 332
- Woodward, 1998, pp178-80
- Terraine 1978, pp47-50
- Holmes 2004 p. 328, 333–4, 337
- Holmes 2004 p. 326, 343
- Holmes 2004 p. 334-6
- Holmes 2004 p. 341-3
- Holmes 2004 p. 327, 338–41
- Holmes 2004 p. 340-1
- Holmes 2004 p. 345-6
- Holmes 2004 p. 344-5
- Holmes 2004 p. 340
- Holmes 2004 p. 346-9
- Holmes 2004 p. 348-9
- Holmes 2004 p. 350-1
- Holmes 2004 p. 344, 352–3, 357
- Holmes 2004 p. 352-3
- My Fight For Irish Freedom, Dan Breen, Anvil, 1964. ISBN 0-947962-33-6
- "Remembering Martin Savage". An Phoblacht. Retrieved 17 June 2007.
- Wayne Sugg
- "No Fear!". TIME Magazine. 9 May 1932. Retrieved 17 June 2007.
- Holmes 2004 p. 353-4
- Holmes 2004 p. 354
- Holmes 2004 p. 355-8
- Holmes 2004 p. 351-2
- "The Ypres League – Aftermath". Retrieved 12 February 2012.
- Holmes 2004 p. 362-3
- The London Gazette: . 11 March 1902. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 21 May 1909. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 1 July 1913. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Holmes 2004 p. 359-61
- Bond & Cave 2009, p60
- Holmes 2004 p. 363
- Holmes 2004 p. 336, 348, 363
- Holmes 2004 p. 365-7
- "Ownership of war diaries 'in doubt'". The Times. 29 March 1972.
- Spears 1930, pp73-4, 281
- Holmes 2004 p. 3, 365–7, Reid 2006, p.54
- Terraine 1960, p101-2
- Holmes 2004 p. 2-3, Reid 2006, p.54
- Terraine 1960, p30
- Holmes 2004 pp. 276, 283–4, 365–7
- Holmes 2004 pp. 126, 139-42, 196-8
- Bond & Cave 2009, p55
- Holmes 2004 p. 364
- Holmes 2004 p. 278-80
- A C Ainger, Marching songs for soldiers adapted to well known tunes, London, 1914, Jarrold and sons.
- Bond & Cave 2009, p51-2
Further reading 
Books by French 
- Report of General Sir John French upon his inspection of the Canadian Military Forces. Ottawa, 1910.
- The despatches of Sir John French: I Mons, II the Marne, III The Aisne, IV Flanders. London: Chapman & Hall, 1914.
- The despatches of Lord French...And a complete list of the officers and men mentioned. London: Chapman & Hall, 1917.
- The German and small nations: an interview with Lord French. London: J J Keliher & Co, 1917.
- 1914. London: Constable & Co, 1919.
- Some war diaries, addresses and correspondence. Ed. Maj The Hon Edward Gerald French (son). London: Herbert Jenkins, 1937.
Other books 
- Bond, Brian; Cave, Nigel (2009). Haig – A Reappraisal 70 Years On (essay on Haig and French by Ian Beckett). Pen & Sword. ISBN 184415887 Check
- Cassar, George H. (1985). The Tragedy of Sir John French. University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-241-X.
- Chisholm, Cecil (1915). Sir John French: an authentic biography. London: Herbert Jenkins. ASIN B0084C281A.
- Clark, Alan (1961). The Donkeys: a History of the BEF in 1915. Hutchison and Co. ISBN 978-0712650359.
- De Groot, Gerard (1988). Douglas Haig 1861–1928. Larkfield, Maidstone: Unwin Hyman. ISBN 978-0044401926.
- Dodsworth, Francis (1900). Major General J D P French. London: Soldiers of the Queen Library.
- French, Edward Gerald (son) (1931). The Life of Field Marshal Sir John French, First Earl of Ypres. London: Cassell & Co. ASIN B00089X1NQ.
- French, Edward Gerald (son) (1936). French replies to Haig. London: Hutchinson & Co. ASIN B0035S8600.
- French, Edward Gerald (son) (1960). The Kitchener-French dispute: a last word. Glasgow: William Maclellan. ASIN B0007J0F5E.
- Goldman, Charles Sydney (1902). With General French and the cavalry in South Africa. London: Macmillan and co. ASIN B009LT9QEM.
- Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals 1736–1997. Pen & Sword Books Ltd. ISBN 0-85052-696-5.
- Holmes, Richard (2004). The Little Field Marshal: A Life of Sir John French. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-84614-0.
- Jeffery, Keith (2006). Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820358-2.
- Jerrold, Walter Copeland (1915). Field Marshal Sir John French: the story of his life and battles. London: W A Hammond. ASIN B000866XRU.
- Maydon, John George (1901). French's Cavalry campaign in South Africa. London: C A Pearson. ISBN 978-1290667067.
- Napier, Robert M (1914). Sir John French and Sir John Jellicoe: their lives and careers. London: Patriotic Publishing Co. ASIN B00177Z7XU.
- Neillands, Robin (2006). The Death of Glory: the Western Front 1915. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-6245-7.
- Rae, Archibald (1914). General French and Admiral Jellicoe. London: Collins. ASIN B008V4IRH0.
- Reid, Walter (2006). Architect of Victory: Douglas Haig. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-517-3.
- Spears, Sir Edward (1930 (reprinted 1999)). Liaison 1914. Eyre & Spottiswood. ISBN 978-0304352289.
- Tuchman, Barbara (1962). The Guns of August. Random House. ISBN 978-0345476098.
- Terraine, John (1960). Mons, The Retreat to Victory. Wordsworth Military Library, London. ISBN 1-84022-240-9.
- Terraine, John (1978). To Win a War. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-304-35321-3.
- Walker, Jonathan (2012). The Blue Beast. Power & Passion in the Great War. Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-752465975.
- Wallace, Richard Horatio Edgar (1914). Field Marshal Sir John French and his campaign. London: George Newnes. ASIN B0013I0RPQ.
- Wallace, Richard Horatio Edgar (1914–1915). The standard history of the war, comprising the official despatches from General French and staff, with descriptive narrative. 4 vols. London: George Newnes. ASIN B0008BMCRA.
- Woodward, David R (1998). Field Marshal Sir William Robertson. Westport Connecticut & London: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-95422-6.
- Wells, John (1987). The immortal Warrior Britain’s first and last battleship. Kenneth Mason. p. 148. ISBN 0-85937-333-9.
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