John French was born in Ripple in Kent in 1852.  His father was a commander in the Navy, who died in 1854, and his mother was put into a mental home that same year. John French joined the Navy in 1866 and attended the Naval Academy in Portsmouth. He served as a midshipman on the HMS Warrior in 1969, but transferred to the British Navy in 1874 as a lieutenant. 
Throughout the years, he gradually worked his way up the ranks as he successfully lead troops in battle. In August 1914, he was selected to be Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force. He first argued with the Cabinet that the British forces should go to Belgium at Mons. After the loss at Mons, French became more concerned about his troops and wanted to remove them instead of helping the French. A meeting with Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener convinced him to direct the counter attack at the First Battle of the Marne. French hated how Kitchener thought he was superior to him. 
At the First battle of Mons, John French ordered his troops to retreat, but these orders were ignored by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien. Smith-Dorrien had the troops set up defense and do more of a tactical withdraw. Smith-Dorrien was removed from command for doing this. French took advice from General Plumer to do a similar withdraw to Smith-Dorrien's. They retreated from Germany at Ypres after the German's first use of poison gas. 
John French said, "The effect of the gas was so overwhelming that the whole of the positions occupied by the French divisions were rendered incapable of resistance. It was impossible at first to realize what had actually happened. Fumes and smoke were thrown into a stupor and after an hour the whole position had to be abandoned, together with 50 guns." 
French was still in command during the battles at Neuve Chappelle and Ypres. After several losses the British were moved to a halt near the end of 1915. French was replaced by General Sir Douglas Haig in December 1915.