Sir John French Postcard

Postcards of senior British officers were commonly purchased before the Great War, with many military officers having quasi-celebrity status. Sir John French had become a hero during the Second Boer War winning the battle of Elandslaagte and later the Battle of Klip Drift during the march to relieve Kimberley. Therefore he made an ideal candidate to be immortalized in paper:

French was made a Field Marshal in 1913, so this postcard probably dates from between then and 1915, when his reputation had taken such as knock that he was relieved of command in France.

On August 23, 1914, near Mons, Belgium, French directed the first major engagement of British troops in the war. Although superior German strength forced him to retreat, he had intended merely to cover the withdrawal of the French Fifth Army, and, as a delaying action, the battle was a success. He was criticized, however, for his failure to coordinate the movement of his two corps or even to remain in touch with their commanders. After a costly battle at Le Cateau, France, on August 26, he seemed to lose his nerve and planned to withdraw south of the Seine River and perhaps from France altogether. Lord Kitchener, the British secretary of state for war, induced him to remain in action and to work more closely with the French and Belgian armies.

On October 19, 1914, French ordered his force, increased by that time to three corps, to start a two-branched offensive eastward from Ypres. The British collided with German armies that began an offensive of their own the next day. The bitter resistance of French’s army helped prevent the German forces from advancing, but no movement was made by the Allies either. By November 22 the battle had ended in a stalemate. In 1915 the battles of Neuve-Chapelle (from March 10), Ypres again (from April 22), and Loos (from September 25) also produced no Allied advance. French’s indecisive use of his reserves at Loos led to his removal.

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