Charles Knight - Photographer
26 Queen's Road, Aldershot, England
The following partial biographical sketch of the life of John French appeared in the 1907 edition of Celebrities of the British Army:
"Lieutenant-General John Denton Pinkstone French was born in 1852, and entered the Army in 1874. His regimental service was with the 19th Hussars, with whom he served
in the Soudan in 1884-5, winning a mention in Despatches for his behaviour at Abu-Klea. From 1881 to 1884 he was a Yeomanry Adjutant, from 1885 to 1887 an Assistant
Adjutant-General at Army Head- Quarters, and from 1897 to the outbreak of the second Boer war he commanded the Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot.
Such, in outline, was the previous career of the officer appointed a few months ago to the command of the Cavalry Division in South Africa, and to many it might seem that
such a comparatively modest record would hardly justify selection for such an exceedingly important post. But it was well known throughout the Service that French was one
of the foremost Cavalry leaders of the day, and, both at Aldershot and at manoeuvres, he had given repeated demonstrations of his capacity to handle large bodies of mounted
troops with that happy mixture of audacity and sagacity which makes cavalry-leading of the highest sort a rather rare specialty. Young enough to have retained all that is
necessary of fire and vigour and nerve, old enough to be experienced as well as cool and collected in the presence of large and serious complications - which is a very different
thing from merely a " tight corner " in which a small unit is involved - French, in the absence of Sir George Luck, was clearly the man for the cavalry command in South
Africa. But few expected that he would justify his appointment with such completeness and brilliancy as have characterized his work at the three points in the theatre of war at
which he has already, at the time of writing, left his mark.
The first that we heard of General French in South Africa was that he had won, with Sir George White as an interested spectator, the bloody but entirely successful battle of
Elandslaagte. There was, there could not fail to be, a sort of feeling at the time that this victory, won under the eyes of an experienced senior, was not such a triumphant
tribute to the younger general's capacity as it would have been had the operation been a purely independent one. But later events have shown that French requires no
supervision - which indeed Sir George White expressly disclaimed exercising at Elandslaagte - and that he can manoeuvre, if necessary, forces of all arms with perfect ease and
skill in the presence of perhaps the most thoroughly artful enemy in the world.
Escaping from Ladysmith just before the Boer forces closed around it, French was despatched to the line Port Elizabeth - Naauwport - Arundel, and for weeks, by a grand
display of cavalry tactics, kept the Boers constantly "on the go" around Rensburg and Colesberg. His work in this quarter will go down to history as some of the most perfect
work of the kind ever accomplished, and it is a matter of some regret that he should have been prevented, by a summons to yet more important duties, from carrying it to a
logical conclusion. On February 11th French left Modder River with the Cavalry Division. On February 15th he relieved Kimberley, the interval being filled up with a series
of movements of dazzling rapidity and unerring accuracy. We need not expatiate upon this performance, splendid as it has been, for the simple reason that it will probably be
outshone in a few weeks by other and still more brilliant achievements on the part of this heaven-born cavalry general, who never seems to fail to "come off" just at the right
moment and with complete effect."
In 1907 French would be appointed Inspector-General of the Army and in 1912 He became Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
Missing from the above biography is mention of French's rather scandalous reputation of a womanizer. This reputation came to the fore when French figured centrally in the
divorce proceedings of a brother officer with whose wife he had apparently had an affair while on leave.
French's greatest fame came during World War One when we commanded the British Expeditionary Force during the first part of the war. He was at odd with the Secretary of
State for War, Lord Kitchener as well as his own subordinates including Douglas Haig who would ultimately replace him. From 1916 until the end of the war French would hold
the appointment of Commander in Chief of Home Forces.
From 1918 until 1921 he held the appointment of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. During his tenure in Ireland he narrowly avoided assassination in 1919 by members of the Irish
In 1919 he was created Viscount French and in 1921 Earl of Ypres.
French died at London in 1925.