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Fate of the French Generals, 1792-1837

In 1837 the French Ministry of War published figures on the number of generals who had died from causes other than old age or disease since 1792. The outbreak of the “War of the French Revolution” in that year had touched off nearly a quarter century of major conflicts which did not end until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. And while the three decades that followed saw no major wars, they did see French troops involved in interventions or colonial wars in Spain, Belgium, Senegal, Greece, and particularly North Africa

During these conflicts, nearly 300 French generals died violently while on active service. Most deaths, of course, were due to combat, an occupational hazard, especially in those days. But some of the others were quite unusual.

  • 170 were killed in action
  • 55 died of wounds
  • 20 were executed, most by the Revolutionary Regime during the “Terror” for real or imagined acts of treason, like losing a battle, but some were shot by the Restoration regimes, notably Marshals Michel Ney and Joachim Murat, in 1815
  • 13 were murdered, most famously Jean Baptiste Kléber, killed by an Egyptian in 1800, and Marshal Guillaume Brune, slain by a Royalist mob in 1815
  • 14 committed suicide, notably Louis Alexandre Berthier, Napoleon’s great chief-of-staff, during the “Hundred Days’ in 1815
  • 9 died due to accidents, such as Marshal Józef Antoni Poniatowski, who drowned in 1813 during the Battle of Leipzig, though arguably that was combat-related 

Note, by the way, that the widely circulated statement that the Republic executed “680 generals” appears to be incorrect

For some reason, figures for the number of generals who died of disease or just unknown natural causes were not reported. This seems curious, as losses could sometimes be heavy; reportedly, during the “Sainte Domingue Expedition” of 1801-1803, 25 generals perished of fever, including Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc, the husband of Napoleon’s sister Pauline.

Counting those killed outright and those who died of wounds, 225 of the 281 -- 80 percent – of the French generals who died violently in this period did so as a result of combat

 

Sir Pertab Singh & The Prince of Wales

Pertab Singh (1845-1922), one of the most notable Indian princes during the height of British Raj, was quite a character. A younger son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, he was in his own right Maharaja of Idar (1902-1911), in what is now Gujarat, in western India, which he abdicated to his nephew, having no son of his own of princely rank, and three times served as regent of Jodhpur after the death of his brother and the latter’s successor. Eventually the holder of three knighthoods, Sir Pertab was an enthusiastic supporter of British rule. Commissioned an officer in the Jodhpur Army, one of the princely forces that supported the British Indian Army, Sir Pertab served in the field during the Second Afghan War (1878-1880), earning a mention in dispatches, fought gallantly in the Tirah Campaign on the Northwest Frontier (1897-1898), during which he was severely wounded, and earned a promotion to colonel. In 1900 he commanded the Jodhpur contingent during the Boxer Rebellion, and was promoted to major-general in 1902. 

In 1907, a British officer serving in Jodhpur died, and when no fourth Christian of appropriate rank was found to assist at his burial, Sir Pertab voluntarily served as a pall bearer. , Brahmin priests claimed that he had thus broken caste, and demanded that he undergo a purification, to which he replied “I will do nothing of the sort, the deceased and I belong to the highest caste of all, that of a soldier.” 

Sir Pertab believed that “a soldier’s death, wherever won, is the best and greatest gift of life,” and so, when World War I broke out, though pushing 70, volunteered for service. He led the Jodhpur Imperial Service Troops, essentially a brigade of two lancer regiments and a medical detachment, on the Western Front in the Indian Corps (1914-1915), and later in the Sinai and Palestine (1917-1918). The Jodhpur Lancers took a prominent role in the capture of Haifa (September 23, 1918), where Sir Pertab told them, "You can go forward and be killed by the enemy’s bullets, or you can fall back and be executed by me." Two of his sons and a nephew served with the lancers, and one son was killed at Haifa, an operation still commemorated annually in the Indian Army. Sir Pertab emerged from the war as a lieutenant-general and Knight Commander of the Bath. 

During the course of his long and faithful service to the British Empire, Sir Pertab became a personal friend to Queen Victoria, her son Edward VII, and the latter’s son George V. So when, in 1921, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), toured India, he quite naturally looked up the old family friend. 

Sir Pertab took the young prince pig sticking, a favorite sport among the Indian horsey set, and one at which he was quite adept. The prince, although an accomplished polo player, was much less experienced in the pig sticking business, and made a careless mistake; He dismounted during the hunt, before the pig had been killed, which could have cost him dearly. 

At that, Sir Pertab told him, “I know you are the Prince of Wales, and you know that you are the Prince of Wales, but the pig doesn’t know you are the Prince of Wales.” 


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