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GENERAL JOHN FRENCH, HERO in the BOER WAR [SOUTH AFRICA]

This Boer War recruitment publicity postcard with ‘General French War South Africa’ has a portrait of the general on a medal, shows British flags, a crown and crossed swords, plus an inscription ‘We Conquer Step by Step”. It is postmarked with a partial squared circle ALDGATE/ 2/ JY 30/ 00/ S.(A). There is an additional faint circular cancel confirming the JY 30/00 date.

The message dated 28th July 1900 reads in part: “As a young Colonial, and one interested in the South African War, you will be well acquainted with some of the many Heroes who are still fighting there. The few Portrait Cards sent to you are worth keeping for the sake of the Commanders they represent. Is it you or your Brother who is anxious to go out to Africa? We are immensely proud of your Soldiers who have been helping us. (I wish some one I knew, wants to go there)”. The card is labeled Series 23 c, it is obviously British in design, and the writer sounds British also (Figure 1).

A soldier from 1874, French became a public figure with his successful leadership of the British cavalry, when he held the rank of Lieutenant General, against the Boers in the South African war (1899-1902). More specifically, he was the liberator of the town of Kimberley, Far North Cape (shown by the green arrow),one of the sites of the 3 great sieges of the war, on 15th February 1900 (Figure 2).

John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st earl of Ypres, was born in September 28, 1852, Ripple Vale, Kent, the son of a naval captain and he died May 22, 1925, in Deal, Kent. He joined the Royal Navy in 1866, but transferred to the army in 1874. As a Field Marshal he commanded the British Army on the western front from August 1914 when WWI began until December 17, 1915, when he resigned under pressure. The battles fought under his direction at Ypres, Belgium (whence the name of his earldom, conferred in 1922), are remembered chiefly for the large numbers of British casualties, namely 110,000 dead in the first 2 battles of Ypres. He was considered unable to adapt himself to unfamiliar conditions of war, or to work harmoniously with the British government, his own subordinates, and the French and Belgian generals with whom he was supposed to cooperate (Figure 3).

French was commander in chief in the UK and then lord lieutenant in Ireland (1918-21). The Life of Field Marshall Sir John French (1931) was written by his second son, Edward Gerald French. The Earldom of Ypres was created in 1922 for Field Marshal Sir John French, who had previously been created Viscount French (1916). Upon the death of the third Earl without heirs, the dignity became extinct.

This card was just one of the many memorabilia associated with French, such as his picture on plates, autographs and papers, and this is a letter he signed, soon after his promotion to Field Marshall, when at the War Office, Whitehall, on 17th July 1913, sent to the Vicomte Louis de la Paneuse, Military Attaché, French Embassy, London (Figure 4).


 
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