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French, Sir John

French, Sir John (1852–1925). Soldier. After leading a cavalry division during the second Boer War and serving as chief of the imperial general staff, ‘Johnnie’ French served as the first commander of the British army in France 1914–15. He was ill suited to this role. French was a charismatic cavalryman but he had little understanding of staff work or diplomacy. His relations with his French allies were frosty and his only solution to the stalemate of trench warfare was to call for ever more shells. By May 1915 that recipe did not work, and he tried to find a scapegoat by secretly encouraging The Times and the Daily Mail to blame Kitchener for failing to provide the army with enough shells. French himself barely survived the subsequent scandal and was dismissed in December 1915 following another failure at Loos in September–October 1915. He served 1918–21 as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and was given a peerage in 1922 as 1st earl of Ypres.

David French

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