Sir John French - An Authentic Biography
by Cecil Chisholm
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During the fighting on the 24th and 25th the Cavalry became a good deal scattered, but by the early morning of the 26th General Allenby had succeeded in concentrating two brigades to the south of Cambrai.

The 4th Division was placed under the orders of the General Officer Commanding the 2nd Army Corps.

On the 24th the French Cavalry Corps, consisting of three divisions, under General Sordet, had been in billets north of Avesnes. On my way back from Bavai, which was my "Poste de Commandement" during the fighting of the 23rd and 24th, I visited General Sordet, and earnestly requested his co-operation and support. He promised to obtain sanction from his Army Commander to act on my left flank, but said that his horses were too tired to move before the next day. Although he rendered me valuable assistance later on in the course of the retirement, he was unable for the reasons given to afford me any support on the most critical day of all, viz., the 26th.

At daybreak on August 26 it became apparent that the enemy was throwing the bulk of his strength against the left of the position occupied by the 2nd Corps and the 4th Division.

At this time the guns of four German Army Corps were in position against them, and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien reported to me that he judged it impossible to continue his retirement at daybreak (as ordered) in face of such an attack.

I sent him orders to use his utmost endeavours to break off the action and retire at the earliest possible moment, as it was impossible for me to send him any support, the 1st Corps being at the moment incapable of movement.

The French Cavalry Corps, under General Sordet, was coming up on our left rear early in the morning, and I sent an urgent message to him to do his utmost to come up and support the retirement of my left flank; but owing to the fatigue of his horses he found himself unable to intervene in any way.

There had been no time to entrench the position properly, but the troops showed a magnificent front to the terrible fire which confronted them.

The Artillery, although outmatched by at least four to one, made a splendid fight, and inflicted heavy losses on their opponents.

At length it became apparent that, if complete annihilation was to be avoided, a retirement must be attempted; and the order was given to commence it about 3.30 p.m. The movement was covered with the most devoted intrepidity and determination by the Artillery, which had itself suffered heavily, and the fine work done by the Cavalry in the further retreat from the position assisted materially in the final completion of this most difficult and dangerous operation.

Fortunately the enemy had himself suffered too heavily to engage in an energetic pursuit.

I cannot close the brief account of this glorious stand of the British troops without putting on record my deep appreciation of the valuable services rendered by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien.

I say without hesitation that the saving of the left wing of the Army under my command on the morning of the 26th August could never have been accomplished unless a commander of rare and unusual coolness, intrepidity, and determination had been present to personally conduct the operation.

The retreat was continued far into the night of the 26th and through the 27th and 28th, on which date the troops halted on the line Noyon-Chauny-La Fere, having then thrown off the weight of the enemy's pursuit.

On the 27th and 28th I was much indebted to General Sordet and the French Cavalry Division which he commands for materially assisting my retirement and successfully driving back some of the enemy on Cambrai.

General D'Amade also, with the 61st and 62nd French Reserve Divisions, moved down from the neighbourhood of Arras on the enemy's right flank and took much pressure off the rear of the British Forces.

This closes the period covering the heavy fighting which commenced at Mons on Sunday afternoon, August 23, and which really constituted a four days' battle.

At this point, therefore, I propose to close the present despatch.

I deeply deplore the very serious losses which the British Forces have suffered in this great battle; but they were inevitable in view of the fact that the British Army—only two days after a concentration by rail—was called upon to withstand a vigorous attack of five German Army Corps.

It is impossible for me to speak too highly of the skill evinced by the two General Officers commanding Army Corps; the self-sacrificing and devoted exertions of their Staffs; the direction of the troops by Divisional Brigade and Regimental Leaders; the command of the smaller units by their officers; and the magnificent fighting spirit displayed by non-commissioned officers and men.

I wish particularly to bring to your Lordship's notice the admirable work done by the Royal Flying Corps under Sir David Henderson. Their skill, energy, and perseverance have been beyond all praise. They have furnished me with the most complete and accurate information, which has been of incalculable value in the conduct of the operations. Fired at constantly both by friend and foe, and not hesitating to fly in every kind of weather, they have remained undaunted throughout.

Further, by actually fighting in the air, they have succeeded in destroying five of the enemy's machines.

I wish to acknowledge with deep gratitude the incalculable assistance I received from the General and Personal Staffs at Headquarters during this trying period.

Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Murray, Chief of the General Staff; Major-General Wilson, Sub-Chief of the General Staff; and all under them have worked day and night unceasingly with the utmost skill, self-sacrifice and devotion; and the same acknowledgment is due by me to Brigadier-General Hon. W. Lambton, my Military Secretary, and the Personal Staff.

In such operations as I have described the work of the Quartermaster-General is of an extremely onerous nature. Major-General Sir William Robertson has met what appeared to be almost insuperable difficulties with his characteristic energy, skill and determination; and it is largely owing to his exertions that the hardships and sufferings of the troops—inseparable from such operations—were not much greater.

Major-General Sir Nevil Macready, the Adjutant-General, has also been confronted with most onerous and difficult tasks in connection with disciplinary arrangements and the preparation of casualty lists. He has been indefatigable in his exertions to meet the difficult situations which arose.

I have not yet been able to complete the list of officers whose names I desire to bring to your Lordship's notice for services rendered during the period under review; and, as I understand it is of importance that this despatch should no longer be delayed, I propose to forward this list, separately, as soon as I can.

I have the honour to be, Your Lordship's most obedient Servant, (Signed) J.D.P. FRENCH, Field-Marshal, Commander-in-Chief, British Forces in the Field.


Abu Klea, battle of, 17.

Asquith, H.H., 103.

Baden-Powell, Lieut.-General Sir Robert, 26.

Barrow, Col. Percy, 12, 18, 19, 23.

Beresford, Lord Charles: Knocked senseless, 15.

Bernhardi, General von, 33, 127.

Bewicke Copley, General—Admiration of French, 24.

Bloemfontein, 75, 85, 86.

Botha, General, 56.

Buller, Sir Redvers: Relief for the Expedition, 18. Desperate measure, A, 19. Checking the enemy's advance, 20. Tribute to French, 21. His knowledge of French's value, 34. Oppressed by misgivings, 53. Preparing to relieve Ladysmith, 54. Disaster at Colenso, 56.

Butcher Major E.E.A.: Ingenious solution of a difficulty, 62, 63.

Carleton, Colonel, 46, 47, 48, 49.

Cavalry: Test against camels, 12. Distinguishing themselves, 14. Buller's belief in, 21. Enemy's respect for, 22. Cavalry regiments in India, 25. French's, Sir, J., idea of the function of, 26. Opinion of the late Sir Robert Russell, 27. British cavalry reform, 28. Worrying the enemy at Colesberg, 55. Race for De Kiel's Drift, The, 70. Popular idea of cavalry, 106. Use and abuse of, 108. Lesson of the Boer War, 109. French's, Sir J., confidence in, 114. Mounted arm in modern warfare, The, 115.

Chisholme, Colonel Scott, 36, 38.

Colenso, 50, 56.

Colesberg, 33, 55, 59, 62, 64, 84, 127, 134.

Cromer, Lord, 11.

Cronje, General, 56, 68, 69, 73, 73, 79, 80, 81, 82.

Curragh, The, 7, 104.

Delarey, General, 65, 83, 84.

Despard, Mrs., 2, 136.

De Wet, General, 65, 83, 84, 129.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, 99.

"Dumpies," The, 5.

Eccles, Miss, 2.

Elandslaagte, 40, 41, 52, 135.

Ewart, Sir J.S., 101, 103.

Fisher, Colonel, 59.

French, General Sir John: Boyhood, 3. War game, The, 3. 8th Hussars, Gazetted to the, 5. Naval career, Early, 4. Sportsman, As a, 6, 7. Nickname, His, 6. Strategy, Interest in, 8. Marriage, 8. Egypt, Ordered to, 9. Scouting in the desert, 14, 15. Wood, Sir E., First meeting with, 20. Mentioned in Dispatches, 21. Promotion, 23. Reorganisation of cavalry regiments in India, 25. An enforced retirement, 25. Function of cavalry, His idea of the, 26. Effect of his cavalry theory, 27. Appointment at the War Office, 28. Temperament, His, 29. Notable success, A, 30. Promotion to Major-General, 31. Public ignorance of his work, 33. Sketch by Major Arthur Griffiths, 34. Arrival at Ladysmith, 35. Result of a cavalry charge, 36. Difficult enterprise, A, 37. His opportunity, 38. His first victory, 39. Impression of him on the battlefield, An, 40. Secret of his ability, 41. Won a reputation among the Boers, 43. An American journalist's description, 44. Out-manoeuvring the Boers, 49. Leaving Ladysmith, 50. Confounding the critics, 53. Object at Colesberg, 54. Cavalry attack, A, 55. Cheering Christmas greeting, A, 57. Cavalry tactics, His, 58. Brilliant venture, A, 59. Disaster to the Suffolks, The, 60. His remarkable caution, 64. Problem—modern warfare, mastered, A, 65. Ability for doing the right thing, 66. Promise to relieve Kimberley, 67. Greatness of the undertaking, 68, 69. Congratulated by Lords Roberts and Kitchener, 71. Boers routed, 73. French v. The Impossible, 76. Kimberley relieved, 78. Cutting off Cronje's retreat, 80. Escape of De Wet, 84. Narrow escape from death, 82. Sitting for his portrait, 86. Command of the forces in Eastern Transvaal, 89. Imitating the Boers, 91. Releasing Schoeman from jail, 92. Command of the operations in Cape Colony, 93. His modesty, 94. "Shirt-sleeved General, The," 95. Artilleryman's tribute, An, 96. Return from South Africa, 97. Appointed Inspector-General of the forces, 98. His love of efficiency, 99. Appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 99. Gough incident, The, 100, 101. His resignation, 103. Student and an innovator, 107. Objection to extremist views, 110. His value in the present crisis, 118. Man as he is, The, 123. Worship of Napoleon, His, 124, 125. Secret of his popularity, 126. Literary ability, 130. How he regards war, 133.

French, Lady, 8.

French, Commander J.T.W., 2.

Freyne, Lord de, 2.

Gatacre, General: Boer invasion of Cape Colony, 54. Reverse at Stormberg, 56.

Gordon, General, 11.

Griffiths, Major Arthur, 34.

Grimwood, Colonel, 47.

Gough, Brigadier-General, 101, 102.

Haig, Lieut.-General Sir Douglas, 26, 83, 119.

Hamilton, Sir Ian, 37.

Hussars, 19th, 1, 5, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22.

Joffre, General, 2, 119, 137.

Joubert, General, 49.

Khartoum: Besieged, 11. Effort to relieve, 12. Fall of, 18. Release of the Madhi's followers, 19.

Kitchener, Lord, 5, 9, 29, 66, 71, 74. 79, 93, 97, 122, 139.

Kimberley, 53, 54, 68, 75, 77, 78, 100, 101.

Kruger, President, 84.

Ladysmith, 35, 38, 41, 42, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50, 53, 54, 69.

Lambton, Captain Hedworth, 48.

Laycock, Capt. J., 74.

Lombard's Cop, 49.

Luck, Sir George: Opinion of cavalry regiments in India, 25. Instituting cavalry reforms at home, 27.

Mahdi, The, 10, 11, 12, 15.

Mafeking, 53.

Magersfontein, 56, 75, 79.

Methuen, Lord, 53, 67, 75.

Milbanke, Sir John, 50.

Modder River, 69.

"Modern Marlborough, The," 120.

Moltke, Count von, 21.

Morning Post, The, 27.

Nile Expedition, 9.

Paget, General, 101.

Porter, Colonel, 56.

Pretoria, 88, 92.

Relieving Expedition, 18.

Rhodes, Cecil, 67, 68.

Roberts, Earl, 66, 67, 71, 83, 86, 87, 88, 93.

Seely, Colonel, 101, 102.

Selby-Lowndes, Richard William, 8.

Schoeman, General, 56, 58, 92.

Smith-Dorrien, General Sir Horace, 119.

Stead, W.T., 11.

Stewart, General Sir Herbert: Testing the camels, 12. Compelling the guides, 13. Outnumbered by Dervishes, 15. Hasty protection, 17. Last words, His, 18.

Steyn, President, 84.

Stormberg, 56.

Talbot, General, 29, 30.

Warde, Colonel Charles E., 7.

Watson, Lieut.-Colonel A.J., 60, 61, 134.

Wauchope, Major-General, 54.

White, Sir George: French's, Sir. J. colleague in South Africa, 25. Peril at Ladysmith, His, 35. Orders to French, His, 36. Chivalrous reply, A, 38. Attempt to distract the enemy, 41. Difficult retreat, A, 42. Two successful engagements, 45. An optimistic plan, 46. Seriousness of British position, 49. Surrounded in Ladysmith, 53.

Wilford, Colonel, 42.

Wolseley, Lord: Khartoum, Orders to relieve, 11. Flying column, Dispatch of, 12. Wood, Sir Evelyn, 4. First meeting with French, 20. Discovery of French's value, 24.

Yule, General: Retreat from Dundee, 41. His force saved, 42, 45.

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Typographical errors corrected in text:

Page 151: optimisitc replaced by optimistic Page 73: pursut replaced by pursuit

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