General John French

John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres
KP, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCMG, ADC, PC

Sept 28, 1852 to May 22, 1925

John-French
General John French

John French was born in Ripple in Kent, the son of Commander John French a Royal Navy officer. The father died when John French Jr. was only 2 years of age and his fragile mother was confined to a mental home. In 1863 the family moved to London. French joined the navy in 1866 and attended Eastman’s Naval Academy in Portsmouth.

In 1869 he served as a Midshipman on HMS Warrior where it was discovered that he was acrophobic. He therefore transferred to the British Army as a Lieutenant in the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars in 1874. Taking part in the Sudan Expedition in 1884-85, French was quickly promoted, commanding the 19th Hussars in 1889-93 and then being made Assistant Adjutant-General in 1893-97. In 1897 he received command of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade which he exchanged two years later for the 1st Cavalry Brigade and took part in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) where he commanded the troops that relieved the Siege of Kimberly and figured prominently in the Battle of Paardeburg. After the war, French returned to England and was made Commander-in-Chief at Aldershot between 1901 and 1907 after which he was promoted to full general and made Inspector-General of the Army.

In 1911 he was made an ADC General to the King. In 1912 French served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff but resigned following the Curragh Mutiny and was again made Inspector-General of the Army until the outbreak of World War 1. French served as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of the War. He became increasingly indecisive and concerned with preserving his troops rather than aiding the French resulting in increased animosity between him, Lord Kitchener and Sir Douglas Haig.

Finally in December 1915, he was replaced by Haig. French returned home to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces and oversaw the suppression of the Irish uprising in 1916. In 1918 he was appointed Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland.

French retired from the military in April 1921 and the following year was elevated to the Earldom of Ypres.