The Royal Irish Regiment


Field Marshal Sir John French, KP GCB OM GCVO KCMG


John Denton Pinkstone French son of a naval officer, born 28th Sep 1852 in Ripple Vale, Kent, although his family had strong Irish connections.

He was most famous for his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in the first two years of the First World War. He was also a successful commander of the cavalry division during the South African War of 1900-02. However he was less successful in high command and fell foul of the British Government when he tried to withdraw the BEF. Kitchener had to be sent to castigate him and stiffen his resolve. Later he became over-confident and sent his army into the First Battle of Ypres. He saved Ypres but at Loos he failed to take advantage of their early success. By 1916 he had lost the goodwill of Herbert Asquith and the government and he was replaced by Douglas Haig his bitter rival and critic.

He was put in charge of the army at home and made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1918-21. The country was a bubbling volcano at that time and French, although he was sympathetic to the idea of Home Rule, fell foul of the more militant Irishmen. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in Ireland but was warned against it. In 1921 he resigned from the army and in 1922 he was created 1st Earl of Ypres. He retired to live in London (94 Lancaster Gate) and made frequent visits to Paris. In 1923 he was offered the honorary post of Captain of Deal Castle in Kent where he died of cancer of the bladder on 22nd May 1925. His funeral was at Westminster Abbey; the pall bearers included Haig, William Robertson, Ian Hamilton and Smith-Dorrien, all men who had caused him much grief in his lifetime.

He was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Irish Regiment on 26th March 1913 the day after his predecessor Garnet Wolseley died. He remained in the post until disbandment in 1922.


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by Stephen Luscombe