Val ffrench Blake was born in Rawalpindi in 1913, and raised in England following the death of his father during the First World War. After attending Eton and Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the 17th/21st Lancers, eventually taking command of the regiment in Italy in 1944. After the War, he returned to Sandhurst to teach, before leaving the Army to indulge with his wife and family in a life of farming, art and equestrian sports, to name just a few of his many pleasures. During his busy life, he also found time to write. He is the author of A History of the 17th/21st Lancers (Macmillan), The Crimean War (Archon Books) and various books on dressage and equestrianism. He died in March 2011, leaving behind his two sons.
A Twentieth Century Life
If the word polymath is defined as a ‘person of varied learning’ then Val ffrench Blake surely qualifies. In Mainstay he writes with refreshing candour and insight about his family, Eton in the 1920s, Sandhurst and the life of a cavalry officer in 1930s India, and his subsequent participation in WW2 – North Africa (severely wounded) and Italy where, at the young age of 32, he commanded his regiment (awarded the DSO). Val’s post-war life was no less interesting – he helped re-establish a new forward-thinking syllabus at Sandhurst, left the Army to farm, was immensely involved in the horse world, took up picture restoring, was a very competent artist in his own right, and has a life-long love of music as well as mountaineering and country sports.