Alternative History

Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French,GCB, GCVO, KCMG, ADC (28 September 1852 – 22 May 1913), was a British and Anglo-Irish officer serving as the first Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Portuguese Civil War .

Field Marshal John French

28 September 1852 –22 May 1916 (age 63)

Place of birth

Ripple, Kent, England

Place of death

Pamplona, Spain


United Kingdom


British Army

Years of service



Field-Marshal (1916)


Mahdist War, Second Boer War, Portuguese Civil War


KCB (1900), KCMG (1902),GCVO (1905),GCB (1909), ADC (1911)

Early life[]

Born in Ripple in Kent (where he is also buried), the son of Commander John French, an officer in the Royal Navy. His father died in 1854 and soon his fragile mother was confined to a mental home. In 1863 the family moved to London. His sister was the suffragette and Sinn Féin member Charlotte Despard. She would remain highly critical of her brother throughout his career. He joined the Navy in 1866. He attended the Eastman’s Naval Academy in Portsmouth. In 1869 he served as a midshipman on HMS Warrior. He transferred to the British Army as a lieutenantin the 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars in 1874.


French was the natural choice as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in September 1912. A man of hot temper, he argued with the Cabinet against Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener and General Sir Douglas Haig that the BEF should be deployed in eastern Portugal (via an amphibious landing), rather than the northern Portuguese-Spanish border, where both Haig and Kitchener believed it would be well placed to deliver a vigorous attack once the route of the Portuguese advance was known (it was known by the SIS that the Portuguese planned to invade northern Spain in the "Costa" plan) . Kitchener argued that an amphibious landing would result in a large amount of casualties and there would be no clear path of retreat. It is not surprising that the British cabinet disagreed with French on this issue.


Field Marshal John French was killed on the 22 May 1913 at approximately 14:04 GMT by a French biplane that was shot down during the Battle of Pamplona and happened to crash very near to the Field Marshal. His last words were, upon witnessing a French cavalry charge, "The cavalry charge is not what for modern warfare."