World War I Telegrams Between Field Marshall Earl Kitchener & Sir John French - Movement of Troops in France


Interesting series of five World War I typed telegrams between Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, (1850-1916), and Field Marshal Sir John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres, (1852-1925), dated between 17th August 1914 and 20th August 1914, discussing the movement of French, british and German troops in France in the early part of the War:


From. Sir John French
To. Lord Kitchener

I left Paris on Sunday morning (16th) by motor and reached the Headquarters of General Joffre at 12. They are at vitry-le-Francois.

He quite realises the value and importance of adopting a waiting attitude. In the event of a forward movement by the German Corps in the Ardennes and Luxembourg, he is anxious that I should act in echelon on the left of the Fifth French Army, whose dipositions I have given you. The French Cavalry Corps now north of the Sambre will operate on my left front and keep touch with the Belgians.

I spent the night at Rheims and motored this morning to Rethel the Headquarters of General de Lanrezao, commanding the Fifth French Army. I had a long takj with him, and arranged for co-operation in all alternative circumstances. I then came to my Headquarters at this place (Le Cateau) and found everything proceeding satisfactorily and up to time.......

P.S. I am much impressed by what I have seen of the French General Staff. They are very deliberate, calm and confident. There was a total ansence of fuss and confusion, and a determination to give only a just and proper value to any reported successes. So far there has been no conflict of first-rate importance, but there has been enough fighting to justify a hope that the French Artillery are superior to the German......."


From. Lord Kitchener
To. Sir John French

Please let me know the number of French troops now lying west of the line Givet - Namur - Brussels, and where they are in touch with the Belgians.


From. Sir John French
To. Lord Kitchener

Our concentration area amply covered by numerous French troops west of the line mentioned by you."


From. Lord Kitchener
To. Sir John French

The movement of the German right flank, north of the Meuse - which, if you will remember, I mentioned as likely to happen - seems to be defintely developing. Their Second and Tenth Corps, with three Cavalry Divisions, are now north of the Meuse, and are possibly being followed by reserve formations."

"Friday, August 21, 1914

To. Lord Kitchener
From. Sir John French

Thank you for yours of 20th. I fear I may be a little remiss in writing to you, but the situation changes with such rapidity, and false reports are so constant, that i defer sending you my real appreciation till I am fairly sure.

I don't think really serious fighting will commence before Monday (perhaps Sunday, but I don;t think so now). I promise you to write my views at full length to-morrow (Saturday).

Our Cavalry have been nearly in touch with the enemy's cavalry in the neighbourhood of Mons to-day. i was with Allenby up till 6.p.m. I say "nearly" because they were not actually in contact. I think I know the situation thoroughly, and I regard it as quite favourable to us.

Please be content with this till tom-morrow.

We are all fit and well but working at high pressure day and night.

Thank you for thie Fourth Division."

"War Office

August 20, 1914

To. Sir John French

I see the german righ flanking movement is being pressed in force. i do not know what is behind the Second and Tenth Corps - probably reserve formations. You may be in action about Sunday - on the Sambre, I presume. I have accelarated the despatch of a fifth division; as a matter of fact, they follow on as quickly as possible the last of your troops.

I hope you will let me have on Saturday an idea of how your own and the neighbouring French forces are disposed. I think the French ought to reinforce all they cam, so as not to allow penetration between Maubeuge and Lille without considerable resistance. If held there, and you are on their flank, they ought to be in an awkward position. All depends on the French holding on to the south of Namur: that is vital. Best wishes.


Kitchener was a senior British Army officer and colonial administrator who won notoriety for his imperial campaigns, most especially his scorched earth policy against the Boers and his establishment of concentration camps during the Second Boer War, and later played a central role in the early part of the First World War.

Kitchener was credited in 1898 for winning the Battle of Omdurman and securing control of the Sudan for which he was made Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, becoming a qualifying peer and of mid-rank as an Earl. As Chief of Staff (1900–02) in the Second Boer War he played a key role in Lord Roberts' conquest of the Boer Republics, then succeeded Roberts as commander-in-chief – by which time Boer forces had taken to guerrilla fighting and British forces imprisoned Boer civilians in concentration camps. His term as Commander-in-Chief (1902–09) of the Army in India saw him quarrel with another eminent proconsul, the Viceroy Lord Curzon, who eventually resigned. Kitchener then returned to Egypt as British Agent and Consul-General (de facto administrator).

In 1914, at the start of the First World War, Kitchener became Secretary of State for War, a Cabinet Minister. One of the few to foresee a long war, lasting for at least three years, and with the authority to act effectively on that perception, he organised the largest volunteer army that Britain had seen, and oversaw a significant expansion of materials production to fight on the Western Front. Despite having warned of the difficulty of provisioning for a long war, he was blamed for the shortage of shells in the spring of 1915 – one of the events leading to the formation of a coalition government – and stripped of his control over munitions and strategy.

Kitchener was among 737 who died on 5 June 1916 when HMS Hampshire sank having struck a German mine 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of the Orkney Islands, Scotland. He was making his way to Russia to attend negotiations.

French was a senior British Army officer. Born in Kent to an Anglo-Irish family, he saw brief service as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, before becoming a cavalry officer. He achieved rapid promotion and distinguished himself on the Gordon Relief Expedition. French had a considerable reputation as a womaniser throughout his life and his career nearly ended when he was cited in the divorce of a brother officer whilst in India in the early 1890s.

French became a national hero during the Second Boer War. He won the Battle of Elandslaagte near Ladysmith, escaping under fire on the last train as the siege began. He then commanded the Cavalry Division, winning the Battle of Klip Drift during a march to relieve Kimberley. He later conducted Counter-insurgency operations in Cape Colony.

During the Edwardian Period he commanded I Corps at Aldershot, then served as Inspector-General of the Army, before becoming Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS, the professional head of the British Army) in 1912. During this time he helped to prepare the British Army for a possible European War, and was also one of those who insisted, in the so-called “cavalry controversy”, that cavalry still be trained to charge with cold steel rather than just fighting dismounted with firearms. During the Curragh incident he had to resign as CIGS after promising Hubert Gough in writing that the Army would not be used to coerce Ulster Protestants into a Home Rule Ireland.

French’s most important role was as Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) for the first year and a half of the First World War. He had an immediate personality clash with the French General Charles Lanrezac. After the British suffered heavy casualties at the battles of Mons and Le Cateau (where Smith-Dorrien made a stand contrary to his wishes), French wanted to withdraw the BEF from the Allied line to refit and only agreed to take part in the First Battle of the Marne after a private meeting with the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, against whom he bore a grudge thereafter. In May 1915 he leaked information about shell shortages to the press in the hope of engineering Kitchener’s removal. By summer 1915 French’s command was being increasingly criticised in London by Kitchener and other members of the government, and by Haig, Robertson and other senior generals in France. After the Battle of Loos, at which his slow release of XI Corps from reserve was blamed for the failure to achieve a decisive breakthrough on the first day, H. H. Asquith, the British Prime Minister, demanded his resignation. Haig, formerly his trusted subordinate and who had saved him from bankruptcy by lending him a large sum of money in 1899, replaced him.

French was then appointed Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces for 1916–18. This period saw the country running increasingly short of manpower for the Army. Whilst the Third Battle of Ypres was in progress French, as part of Lloyd George’s intrigues to reduce the power of Haig and Robertson, submitted a paper critical of Haig's command record and recommending that there be no further major offensives until the American Expeditionary Force was present in strength. He then became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1918, a position he held throughout much of the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922), during which time he published 1914, an inaccurate and much criticised volume of memoirs.

Size: 25.5 x 20.5 cm approx

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