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12 August 2015

Armenian: Something Vivien Leigh and her cousin Xan Fielding a British spy had in common

The cousin connection

Vivien Leigh’s life has been examined in minute detail over the years. There are several well written books that cover her life story and a number of biographies have also been written. There is also a great deal available on the internet. My intention here is purely to show and prove her family connection to an Armenian heritage and in particular the Catholic Armenian Yackjee family.

Numerous comments and opinions about Vivien Leigh’s background and family history abound, both in printed form and also on the web. Some say she was Irish Anglo-Indian, some suggest she had a Parsi heritage whilst others say she was from a Bengali background, and some gamely suggest she might have been Armenian and until now no one has been able to put their finger on anything definite. 

I first became aware of the queries regarding Vivien Leigh’s heritage back in 2012, admittedly it was a long time after the biographies written about her were published and the authors who penned her life story will no doubt have in the present day, new and more adhesive documentation to hand that would enhance any future editions.  Fellow family history researchers asked me: “do you think Vivien Leigh is Armenian? Her mother’s name was Yackjee.” I gave it only a cursory glance, and replied that I did not think that Yackjee was an Armenian name.  It certainly did not have the usual Armenian name formation, if anything I also thought it might be Parsi. I gave no further consideration to the question until a few months ago. I was researching an unconnected Armenian name in India, that name was Eyoob.  I have previously written in my blog about the Eyoob name, you can find that entry here.   I happened to be reviewing one of the many estate accounts[1] for Jacob Eyoob dated 1852, (which incidentally was incorrectly indexed under the name of Eyoole,) and a small 4 line statement in those estate accounts caught my eye.

“27 March 1848. To Mr. J.G. Yackjee acct of a draft drawn by the Bombay Agents [whose name was Marcus Joseph] on acct of the annuity [of the] nephew of the deceased who departed this life on the 7 Ultimo from the 1st Decr 1846 until the 6 Ultimo being 14 months and 6 days  @ 7/8 per month…”
There is was again, the name Yakjee. (also spelt Yackjee, Yakchee, Yakjie, Yachee). I decided that because the Yackjee name had come up in my research on the Eyoob family I would follow it up.

Here are my findings.

Why was J.G. Yackjee mentioned in the accounts of Jacob Eyoob? Jacob Eyoob (1770-1842) was a very successful Catholic Armenian merchant with links in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta as well as North Africa and the Middle East. He built up an import/export business over a number of years regularly purchasing goods from Egypt shipping them to India and selling them on, he also shipped Indian goods back to Middle Eastern and North African ports including Egypt.   His trading network was large and complex, and because he was using several Indian ports to ship and receive his goods, it was quite common for these types of merchants to have agents in each port.  Marcus Joseph was his main agent based in Bombay but Eyoob would also have other traders he would rely on, one of those traders was J.G. Yakjee aka Johannes Gabriel Yackjee, who, just like Jacob Eyoob, was also a Catholic Armenian.

Johannes Yackjee can be found on a passenger list of the ship ‘Ann’ sailing from Bushire in Persia (present day Iran) to Calcutta in October 1843.[2] Other Armenians making their way to India were Mrs. Aratoon, Rev. Mr. Carapiet, Rev. Peter Antonee, and Rev. Jacob Gregory were also travelling with him.

The Armenian Church register in Calcutta[3] for 1843 provides evidence that Reverend Peter Anton and Rev. Carapiet had travelled to Calcutta to take their places as the incumbent Armenian clergymen to the community of the city. My own comprehensive list of Armenian clergy who have served inthe Armenian Church in Calcutta since 1793 can be found on my main website.

Rev. Peter Anton’s first recorded baptism in the community came on the 28th November of that year of baby Mariam Owen daughter of Mackertich Sarkies Owen and his wife Anna nee Manuk.

Image from the private digital archive of Liz Chater. Baptism of Mariam Owen by Rev. Petros Anton
With regard to J.G. Yackjee, there is proof that he was indeed an Armenian and this can be seen in a newspaper notice in 1847 in which he and other Armenians offer on behalf of the Armenian community of Calcutta, a small donation to the building of a memorial, the notice was signed by J.G. Yackjee as an Armenian.

An Address of the Armenian inhabitants of Calcutta to His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. P.J. Carew, D.D. Archbishop of Edessa and Vicar Apostolic of Bengal.

My Lord Archbishop. We the undersigned Catholic Armenian inhabitants of Calcutta beg leave to join our humble mite to the subscription set on foot for the O’Connell memorial in India.
We are happy thus to testify our deep respect and honor for the memory of the greatest Champion of civil and religious liberty in modern times, and we regret that our circumstances allows us to send in, only a very small contribution for an object we so cordially approve of.

We have the honor to be
Our Lord Archbishop
Your Grace’s affect. Children in Christ

D. John
J.G. Yackjie.
Calcutta 7th September 1847.

Records with English translations for Armenians in Bushire simply do not exist for this period at the moment, but it is quite likely that Johannes Yackjee (aka Yackjee) was born and married there. So far, tracing his wife Elizabeth and her family has proved impossible. However what I do know is the Armenian community was a close knit unit and it is more than likely they were known to each other, perhaps even cousins (marrying cousins was very common). Were their children born in Bushire or Calcutta? That is anyone’s guess. However, I have thoroughly searched the Armenian Church baptism register in Calcutta and they certainly do not appear in the register entries.

So why was J.G. Yackjee mentioned in the will of Jacob Eyoob of 5th April 1842? It states: “…….To my poor nephew John Joseph Eyoob, I request that my agent at Bombay Mr. Marcus Joseph will continue paying what he is in the receipt of, until such time as he will be able to look round and be enabled to earn a livelihood for himself after which, it may be stopped this will I hope be a stimulus to him, that he may not continue to be a long burden upon the estate of his uncle and exert himself…………..”

The estate accounts of 1852 clearly indicate that John Joseph Eyoob continued to rely on the bequest made in the will of his uncle Jacob Eyoob for his day to day living expenses, and the burden of responsibility for paying such a regular legacy was passed to J.G. Yackjee in Calcutta. He issued the funds and claimed it back from the Bombay agent Joseph Marcus.  However, it can been seen that the accounts also record the death of John Joseph Eyoob (“nephew of the deceased who departed this life on the 7 Ultimo”) and no further payments were made after the 6th February 1848. J.G. Yackjee’s role in the business of the estate was complete.

As already mentioned Eyoob, just like Yackjee was a Catholic Armenian, and someone he could rely upon from his own race and faith of people to trade with. It would appear that Johannes Gabriel Yackjee’s own life was far from easy. An insolvency notice had been served on him in Calcutta in December 1848 at which time he found himself with no option but to apply for relief as an insolvent debtor throwing himself on the mercy of the Calcutta Court.

With a wife and at least two young children to support, it was a desperate time.

 The two children were called Michael John Yackjee born circ 1843 and Pascal John Yackjee born circ 1849. As previously mentioned no birth dates in India can be found, the dates are calculated from their respective marriage records.

British Library: N1-142-175

Michael was the first of the brothers to marry on the 13th November 1872[4] at St. Thomas’s Roman Catholic Church, Calcutta at the age of 29 to Mary Theresa Robinson (second daughter of JW Robinson) who was only 15 years of age at the time. Her father is named as James Wilston Robinson. Michael listed his occupation as Station Master with the I.E. Railway and his father’s name is given as John Gabriel Yackjee, the record only states one witness, that of Abdool Lateef.

Two weeks later at the same church, Pascal John Yackjee also married.  He was aged 23 and his bride was Constance Rosamond Randolph a 23 year old spinster. Like his brother, Pascal also worked for the East India Railway as an Assistant Goods Clerk. Whereas Michael had married by Banns, Pascal married by licence, the ceremony was witnessed by his brother Michael as well as H. Jebb. Pascal and Constance went on to have at least five children.

It can therefore be seen that Vivien Leigh’s grandfather Michael John Yackjee was an Armenian railway worker in Calcutta.

From Street’s Indian and Colonial Mercantile Directory of 1869 J.G. (Johannes Gabriel) Yackjee appears to have turned around his misfortune and is now listed as a merchant in Indigo.

Street's Indian and Colonial Merchantile Directory

Following the earlier insolvency, Vivien’s great grandfather John/Johannes Yackjee went on to become an Armenian indigo merchant. He was in good company, Stephannos Mnatsakan Vardan and his father Manatsakan Sumpat Vardan both originally from Julfa but settlers of Saidabad (approximately 230 kilometers north of Calcutta) built up an impressive indigo business between them. The Yackjee’s and the Vardan’s would certainly have known each other.

It is my belief that there were other siblings of Michael and Pascal. Gabriel Johannes Yackjee can be found listed in the Annual Returns for Patients Treated in Asylum for Europeans. He was admitted into the Asylum on the 24th August 1867 with the disease “mania chronic, cause unknown” and was discharged on the 3rd June 1868. His age was given as 30 years and his occupation was a Clerk with the E.I. Revenue, parentage was noted as East Indian and his birth place simply as Asia. Joseph Peter Yackjee being another sibling who worked for the Board of Revenue in Calcutta.

Here is a detailed review of the family and descendants of Michael John Yackjee, Vivien’s grandfather.

The Yackjee Family Tree

Vivien’s mother, Gertrude Mary nee Yackjee was born in Darjeeling in 1888. Gertrude’s father Michael John Yackjee, formerly a Station Master but at the time of his death a landed proprietor, died when she was only 5 years of age. Agnes Mary, the next surviving sister was 15 years of age and likely to have still been in education at the time of their father’s death and therefore less of a worry to their widowed mother Mary Teresa Yackjee. Gertrude and Agnes’s eldest sister Mary Patricia was 14 years older having been born in 1874, she married in 1894 a year after their father’s death to Percy Feilmann. It was quite a common occurrence within Armenian families in India to take care of a recently bereaved parent, particularly if there were young children to be cared for; India was a harsh place to live if you didn’t have a family support network. It is quite likely that the newly married Mary Patricia Feilmann played a big part in comforting and supporting her recently widowed mother and the young girls. Percy Feilmann had a growing successful business, one that would fund a very lavish lifestyle as the years went on, they were in a position to help and support financially the widowed Mary Yackjee and her young family and I’m in no doubt the Feilmann’s would have played an important role in the survival of the Yackjee family and the young sisters, Agnes and Gertrude.

Gertrude had met Ernest Hartley in Calcutta, but they married in Kensington, London on the 9 April 1912.

Certificate of marriage: courtesy of the publicly available family tree of Andrew J. Millie at, additional notes my own

According to Hugo Vickers biography ‘Vivien Leigh’ Gertrude and Ernest Hartley held “astonishing parties” and Gertrude “had a fair peach-like skin which encourage many in the belief she was Irish”.

Couresty of

Indeed, Gertrude’s mother Mary Teresa Yackjee nee Robinson was indeed Irish, but Armenian blood was also in Gertrude’s veins.

Having returned to India after the wedding Vivian Mary Hartley (later to be known as Vivien Leigh) was born on the 5th November 1913 in Darjeeling.[5] Gertrude went on to have twin baby girls in April 1917[6] but their premature birth meant they survived only a day and they were buried together on the 24 April 1917 at St. Mary’s Church Ootacamund. Consumed with grief, Gertrude was then faced with the death of her mother only 2 weeks after having lost the twin babies. Mary Teresa Yackjee (nee Robinson) also died in Ootacamund on the 5th May 1917[7] from heart failure and was buried at the same church in Ootacamound as the babies. The inscription on her tombstone reads: 

“In loving and undying memory of our darling mother Mary Teresa, widow of the late Michael John Yackjee, who died suddenly of heart failure at Ootacamund, 5 May 1917, born 13 October 1854, aged 58 years 6 months 22 days”  

Vivien’s grandfather Michael John Yackjee had died on the 13th June 1893; he was buried at the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Darjeeling. He had made his will[8] just 2 weeks prior to his death on the 30th May, leaving everything to his wife Mary with legacies to his children.

British Library: L-AG-34-29-138-133

British Library: N2-121-191 record of the deaths of Mary Yackjee and her two premature grandchildren

Vivien Leigh became a well known and celebrated actress.  Her life has been scrutinized and written about by a great many people. It is not my intention to write a biographical review here, but merely try and show to the world she had Armenian ancestry and a heritage from Persia.

Vivien’s mother, Gertrude Hartley nee Yackjee died in London on 9 August 1972[9]

Her estate valued at £54,611 and Probate was granted on the 28 February 1973[10]

Gertrude had out-lived her daughter Vivien who had died in 1967.

A Family Review.

Vivien Leigh’s Armenian and Irish grandparents, Michael John Yackjee [Armenian] and Mary Teresa nee Robinson [Irish] had at least eight children, they were:
Mary Patricia YACKJEE (1874-1932) Alexander ‘Xan’s’ Fielding’s 
Lilian Mary YACKJEE (1876- )
Joseph Michael YACKJEE (1877- )
Agnes Mary YACKJEE (1878-1967)
Francis Stanislaus J. YACKJEE (1880- )
Alice YACKJEE (1882-1882)
Joseph YACKJEE (1883-1884)
Gertrude Mary YACKJEE (1888-1972) Vivien’s Leigh’s mother

Diverting off on a cousin tangent for a moment, I want to touch on the lives of Vivien’s cousins, and one in particular, Alexander Fielding-Wallace aka ‘Xan’ Fielding (above).  Whereas Vivien had loving and devoted parents, her cousin Alexander ‘Xan’ never got to know his parents, his early start in life was beset with tragedy. Knowledge of the cousin connection between Vivien and Alexander has diminished with the passing of time, there are very few who mention his Armenian ancestors or those individuals he had in common with Vivien.

The cousin connection
 ‘Xan’ was officially named and baptised Alexander Percival Feilman Wallace, he was born on the 26th November 1918[11]. Seven days later he was baptised  at the Sacred Heart Church In Ootacamond, India.  In fact Alexander was baptised twice, the second occasion was on the 18 February 1919[12] at the Catholic Church Middleton Street, Calcutta in the name of Fielding-Wallace. I can only speculate about why he was baptised on a second occasion but I cannot help wonder if it was directly connected to the process of becoming a member of the Feilman family and how he eventually ended up using the name of Fielding. This will become clearer a little further on in the blog.

British Library: N2-124-133, first baptism of Alexander Percival Feilman Wallace aka 'Xan' Fielding

Ten days after his baptism, his mother Mary Wallace (nee Feilmann) died on the 13th  December 1918 in Ootacamond from fever.

British Library: N2-124-152, death record of Alexander Wallace's mother Mary Gertrude.

British Library: n1-440-1 second baptism record of Alexander Wallace

The weeks and months that followed on from the death of Mary were to shape the life of Alexander forever.

Alexander’s father Major Alexander James Lumsden Wallace had a deep Scottish heritage. Born in Kirkcaldy in 1889 the name Alexander served four consecutive generations as a Christian name.  A great deal of the Wallace family history can be found on the internet on various genealogy websites including many connecting records on A simply summary is below.

Scottish family tree of Alexander James Lumsden Wallace

Scotland Statutory Births: 442/00 0295. Birth record of Alexander James Lumsden Wallace

 Alexander Senior, for whatever reason, be it grief or the realisation that as young widower and an Army Captain he (later became a Major) was not in a position to bring up such a young baby, appears to relinquish all parental responsibility for the young Alexander.   Ironically, Alexander Wallace (sr) remarried in London in 1925 to Marjorie Evelyn Hime. He retrained as a barrister in 1927 successfully passing the Hilary examination of students of the Inns of Court held in Middle Temple Hall in December 1926. In March 1927 he passed the Easter exams held in Inner Temple Hall, and passed his final Bar exams in December 1928. He and Marjorie can be found living briefly with her parents Walter and Florence Hime in Hampstead in 1929, by then they had a 5 year old little girl,  Margaret Xanne Wallace, she would have been a half sister to Xan.  Alexander and Marjorie’s marriage didn’t last and by the middle of the 1930s they had separated and presumably they divorced. He married for a 3rd time in 1944, passing away on the 19th November 1966 in Hampstead. I can find no evidence that young Alexander had any contact with his father, half sister or two stepmothers.

Alexander James Lumsden Wallace Army Commission record
 After the death of Alexander’s mother Mary Gertrude in 1918, he was effectively scooped up by her Feilmann/Fielding parents and into their still growing family. Suddenly Alexander’s uncles and aunts (brothers and sisters to his mother Mary Gertrude) became his brothers and sisters. According to Hugo Vickers in his biography of Vivien Leigh  “…Xan was raised for eight years in the belief that he was the son of his grandparents…”

It must have been quite a shock to him to find out that the children he thought were brothers and sisters weren’t.

Alexander’s grandparents Percival Maurice David Feilmann and Mary Patricia nee Yackjee were just as keen as Vivien’s parents Ernest Richard Hartley and Gertrude Mary Yackjee to remove themselves from India back to England so they could offer their children and their grandchild the opportunities they would not have access to if they stayed in India.

Perhaps influenced by his grandfather and his uncles (more on them later in the blog), after joining the British Army, ‘Xan’ Fielding went on to become a wartime secret agent, writer and translator as well as serving as a Special Operations Executive in the British Army in Crete, France and the Far East. Lengthy biographical information has been written by author Patrick Leigh Furmor, although Alexander’s Indian Armenian family history has been overlooked.  A blog by Tom Sawford on Patrick Leigh Furmor’s findings with references to Xan fielding can be found here

Alexander ‘Xan’ fielding married twice, his second marriage was to reconnect him with his own Armenian heritage because he married the widow of renowned Armenian artist Arshile Gorky, she was Agnes 'Mougouch' Magruder, her obituary can be read here.

Although Mougouch was not Armenian, her connection to an Armenian, and Alexander’s own Armenian links to India were perhaps a psychological tie to the ancestors of his grandmother. The connection would not have been lost on Xan, but the subtly of it has long gone for the modern-day enquirer searching out his story, but it is one that the Armenian community of today will enjoy and perhaps be a little surprised at too.

 Percy Feilmann’s Anglicising to Fielding

Again, stepping sideways for a moment in this story of Armenian ancestry, and Vivien Leigh and her cousins, I want to turn now to the Feilmann name. Although not directly connected to Vivien Leigh they would have been an enormous support to her mother Gertrude when her own father died.  It goes a little way to explaining how, with some astute forward thinking, Xan’s grandfather Percy Feilmann (Vivien’s uncle) and his family went from being German Jews from Hamburg to accepted members of colonial society in India and England as well as the South of France.  How exactly did Alexander Percival Feilmann Wallace aka ‘Xan’ end up with the surname Fielding and also having his Armenian heritage set aside, just as his cousin Vivien’s Armenian heritage had been?

We have already seen the evidence of Xan being baptised twice, once in the name of his birth father Wallace, and secondly in a subtle shift to the double-barrelled surname of Fielding-Wallace. The name of Feilmann in Calcutta was synonymous with the animal hide and tannery business.[13] Hugo Vickers in his biography of Vivien Leigh described Percival Feilmann as a “box-wallah” i.e. a travelling salesman or merchant.  This is incorrect, in fact Percy was involved with the tanning business, an area his uncle Maurice Feilmann was also involved in. They regularly exported raw hides to Europe, which were then made into shoes, bags, rugs and other items. It was Vivien’s uncle by marriage Ernest Lehmann who had married Vivien’s aunt Agnes (Gertrude’s sister) in 1898 in Darjeeling that was an agent of wooden boxes and chemical remedies.

As  I looked into the Feilmann name and in particular the background of Alexander’s grandfather Percival Feilmann/Fielding I made some fascinating, if a little disturbing discoveries. Firstly, his full name was Percival Maurice David Feilmann[14] born in Hamburg on the 27th September 1864[15] according to the naturalisation document of “doubtful origin”, meaning that although his father John Bernhard Feilmann was born and brought up in Germany, Percy strongly maintained that his father had been naturalised as a British Subject, purely on hearsay no proof was ever remitted to this effect.  Other independent records suggest that the Feilmann’s had a Jewish German family history.  As remarkable as ‘Xan’ was during his lifetime, so indeed was his grandfather. Percy underwent the most unusual step of acquiring naturalisation as a British subject THREE TIMES during his lifetime each with a distinct ruthless calculation to erase anything German from his background. According to official records, the first application was made in India in 1905. Unfortunately there are no copies available of the 1905 certificate, but there are for the other two.

Naturalisation of Percy Feilmann March 1916, note father is listed as German

The next in 1916 and lastly in 1919 he was again granted naturalisation as a British subject.

Percy’s Special Naturalization Certificate was granted in India by the Governor General and he swore Allegiance to His Majesty King George 5th  on the 6th November 1919 when his application was finalised. His naturalization application stated his parents were John aka Julius Bernhard Feilmann and Caroline Farlow, both British subjects. Although Julius is likely to have also been born in Germany he must have also applied for Naturalisation, although I haven’t been able to locate it yet (and having read Percy’s file, I am in some doubt as to whether Julius really was ever a naturalised British citizen). John and Caroline had married in Calcutta in 1855[16] and had at least 8 children, 6 of whom were born in Calcutta, Percy and his sister Alicia were the only 2 who were not.
Naturalisation of Percy Feilmann, November 1919, note father is now listed as British.

 Percy’s Family

Almost all the children of Percy and Mary Patricia (nee Yackjee) were baptised in the name of Feilmann. However, on the 13th February 1920, just 3 months after his third official naturalization as a British Subject, Percy Feilmann changed his name by Deed Poll to Fielding. Subsequent to this Percy then ensured that the names on the baptism record for his children born in India were annotated with the name of Fielding, the note said “by Deed of Poll dated 13 February 1920 the surname “Feilmann” was changed to “Fielding”.

It was an uncomfortable time for Percy and his family in the run up to the 1st World War when he became a figure of suspicion being associated with Germany through his name. However, this calculated move distanced him and his family from his German heritage and embraced all that was British in the colonies at the time. He went to extraordinary lengths to drop his name and origins and even more extraordinary was his ability to deny and distance himself from his late father and the family heritage. Percy robustly claimed that his father was a naturalised British Subject in Hamburg but could not and did not provide any documentary evidence to support this claim.

In correspondence kept at the National Archives at Kew, it shows that Percy Feilmann’s applications were deliberately written to minimise his connection with Germany.  In the 37 page document, government officials in London at the Home Office were incredulous at Percy’s three applications, all of which were successfully granted by the Indian Government, much to the annoyance of Home Office authorities. One of the hand-written comments in the file dated 15 May 1920 states:  

“…Judging from this case, the practice of the Indian Government is different from that of this Department, and a Certificate of Doubt appears to be granted on more slender evidence than would be required by the Home Office.  It seems very doubtful if Feilmann was a British Subject before naturalisation the chances are that he was not. His father may have been born in India of German parents but it is more likely perhaps that the father was naturalised in India and in that case Feilmann having been born in Hamburg was not a British Subject at birth.” The record goes on to say: “…it seems rather ridiculous that the man should be granted another certificate because he has changed his name by Deed Poll…..” it further states: “…Mr. Feilmann has now succeeded in getting a 3rd Certificate of Naturalisation from the Indian Government which omits any reference to his German origin or to his German name. I think we must send a protest to the Indian Government…..” Secretary Shortt wrote “….I cannot think that the issue to Mr. Fielding [previously Feilmann] of two certificates within 6 months and three within four years unfortunate, more especially as the latest certificate, being made out in a new name, conceals the indication of origin which in accordance with established practice the former name coupled with the birthplace the holder gave. It is not the practice of this Department to grant a new certificate merely because the holder of a certificate changes his name.

A further letter from Secretary Shortt in London to Secretary Montagu in India of the 4th June 1920 clearly shows the British Government’s frustration with Percy Feilmann “…I would like to add (without any intention of reopening the case) that I do not fully understand on what grounds there was thought to be a doubt as to the applicant’s British nationality. On the facts stated which do not include any allegation that Mr. Feilmann’s father was born in His Majesty’s Dominions it does not appear how Mr. Feilmann could have been a British subject at the date of his birth in Hamburg.

The Affidavit of Percy Feilmann in support of his 2nd Naturalisation application of 1915 gives a good insight into how he was thinking.

It states that his father, John (aka Julius) Bernhard Feilmann was of German origin and emigrated to India in 1851 where he carried out his business as a hide merchant. John Feilmann traded with German merchants in Hamburg and it was whilst on a trip back to Germany in 1864 that Percy had been born there. Percy insists that his parents were British nationals “and he [Percy] is confirmed in this belief by reason of the fact that he was baptised in the Church of England at Hamburg…” Percy was educated in Germany until he was 16 at a school “for students, of British, French and other nationalities”. Percy went to India from London in 1881 and joined his father’s business as an assistant. He stayed with him until 1888 when he joined a German hide business in Calcutta called Ernsthausen Limited. The affidavit continues on to list the names of Percy’s children and states “to avoid any question arising with regard to the nationality the memorialist and his children, he applied for and obtained from the Government of Bengal a certificate under Act XXX of 1852 of the Governor General of India in Council bearing date the 5th day of January 1905….”

Percy had continuously resided in India for 34 years (with the exception of short furloughs home) and had from his childhood always considered himself a British subject in every respect and even though he had business transactions with merchants in Germany before the war he also had the same with merchants of other nationalities such as French, Italian, Spanish and American. He went on to press the point once again that “he has not, nor ever, had any connection with Germany…” [Apart from the fact he was born and educated there and even at the time of applying for naturalisation was conducting business there!].

In earlier correspondence dated April 1919 between his solicitors, Messrs. Watkins and Company of Calcutta and the Home Office in London they start the process of attempting to get the 3rd naturalisation certificate for Percy by trying to say that the 2nd certificate issued by the Indian Government and finalised by the Home Office contained an error. Apparently that error was the statement that Percy’s father was German rather than British, and that it was no doubt “an oversight” but “one that is likely to cause great harm to our client in his reputation and subject him to contumacy and inconvenience. For instance he would not be allowed at the present time to travel through France as we understand that the French authorities refuse to recognise any German subject who has obtained naturalisation papers through the British or any other authorities. Under the circumstances we request that a fresh certificate may be granted in which the nationality of Mr. Feilman is set out as English and the nationality of his father is also given as English. We would draw attention to the fact that Mr. Feilman has for some years past dropped the final “n” in his name and under the circumstances if you grant this request he will be further obliged if the certificate is issued in the name of Feilman.”

In the 1919 application Percy Feilman in a clear contradiction to his signed and sworn affidavit of 1916 attempted to change his father’s nationality. He had effectively disowned and sold his late father down the river for 30 Rupees – which is what it cost to have the naturalisation certificate endorsed in India.

Xan Fielding would have learnt at the knee of a master manipulator the techniques he would use in later life on how to successfully play one side off against the other during the course of his career. His grandfather had successfully displayed such qualities and had no hesitation in lying and denying his own heritage. Percy cleverly manipulated the Indian Government authorities into granting him three naturalisation certificates just because he didn’t want his father listed as German. The erasure of his origins was the most important fact Percy needed to achieve.   It makes one wonder exactly how he managed to pull off such an unusual act of administrative penmanship and who exactly he was on particularly friendly terms with to achieve such a collection of certificates. They were so readily agreed to in India but were looked upon with suspicion at the Home Office in London.
British Library: n1-236-54 marriage of Percy Feilmann and Mary Yackjee

Percival Maurice David Feilmann and Mary Patricia Yackjee (daughter of Michael John Yackjee and Mary T. Robinson above) married in 1894 at St. Thomas’s Church in Calcutta.[17]

They went on to have at least eight children.

Mary Gertrude FIELDING (1894-1918)
Percival Michael FIELDING (1896- )
Cecil Ernest YACKJEE-FIELDING (1897- )
Aileen or Arleen Marie FIELDING (1899- )
Gerald Claude FIELDING (1903- )
Claude Anthony Karl FIELDING (1904- )
Lawrence Percival FIELDING (1912- )
Patricia Mary FIELDING (1918- )

Percy, ever the creative trader, was open to diversifying his business interests, and  even though his niece Vivien Hartley (Leigh) was a small child there was no way of knowing what a successful career she would have in an area he was about to step into and explore next, Percy dared to venture into the world of cinema in India.

An Emerging Industry But The Wrong Choice Of Partner

Another niece of Percy’s had married Thomas William Radley on the 19th January 1914 in Nairobi, Kenya. Radley, a theatre proprietor met Percy Feilmann (Radley’s wife’s uncle), on a trip to Calcutta in December 1916. At that time Radley ran the Theatre Royal, at 6th Avenue, Nairobi, and once he realised his wife had wealthy relatives he saw a golden opportunity to make some money. Radley spoke of the exciting project he was working on and convinced Percy Feilmann to enter into a cinematograph partnership.[18] During the course of 1917 Percy was cleverly duped into giving Radley in excess of 1 Lakh Rupees towards to opening of a cinema theatre in Lahore. Percy had concerns and was troubled by the way in which Radley operated, but because he was “family” gave him perhaps more lea-way than he would normally have done. At the end of 1917 Radley concocted a story about having to return to Kenya to defend a law suit which could well be decided in his favour by several thousand Pounds. There was indeed a law suit, but he had very little chance of winning. However, before his departure from India in November of that year on the pretence he was on a trip to Kenya for the court case, he ruthlessly emptied the business account held at the Alliance Bank in Lahore of over Rs66,000 and disappeared without a trace, abandoning his wife in India leaving her completely destitute and Percy seriously out of pocket. There never was a cinema being built in Lahore, the plan had actually been rejected by the municipality, Radley had simply strung Percy along. As the months wore on and Radley didn’t return to India, Percy reluctantly reported him to the Police in Lahore. It was the British Police in England (to where Radley had made his way) that extradited Radley back to India. Percy had to endure court proceedings in India that delved into not only his business life but his personal life too.

That court case revealed Percy’s private life and the achilles heal he constantly carried in his German name, it went some way to explaining why he felt compelled to officially change it the following year. Life for Percy and his family was uncomfortable in the lead up to and during WW1 because of his surname. He dropped one of the “n’s” from it about 4 years prior to the outbreak of WW1 which had helped slightly. The Court heard that he had worked for a German hide and tanning company in Calcutta since 1888 called Ernsthausen Limited, the firm exported hides to all parts of the world but its principal dealings were with Germany. At the outbreak of the 1st world war Percy apparently severed all connections with Ernsthausen Limited because it was regarded as a German company.  They too were having trouble being accepted and trusted, and Ernsthausen eventually changed its name to the East India Exports Limited. Having separated away from them Percy went on to start his own hide and tannery company called the Calcutta Produce Company. It was an area of business the family excelled at, Percy’s uncle Maurice B. Feilmann was an experienced hide merchant and he was successful in his own right.

It was reported in the Shoe & Leather Reporter of New York in 1889 that Maurice Feilmann of Maurice Feilmann & Co, goatskin exporters of Calcutta arrived in New York from Europe on the 29th September. Clearly an established business and one that continued to grow. Maurice’s business was going from strength to strength.

Maurice Feilmann & Co Company cancel on a letter from Calcutta to Germany. Images courtesy of

Meanwhile Percy’s brother Ferdinand B. Collins Feilmann was captured as a British subject and kept as a prisoner of war in WW2 at Ruhleben internment camp in Germany.[19] Ferdinand’s son Ferdinand E.B. Feilmann went on to have an exalted career in the British Royal Navy in WW1 and WW2. There is a great deal of military information available for F.E.B. Feilmann and also in recognition of his Jewish ancestry, he has an entry in the Jewish Year Book of 1907[20] as an officer on H.M.S. Thames.  A separate blog should be dedicated his career and achievements because they number far too many to be included here.  F.E.B. Feilmann was another extraordinary war hero and Commander of a British submarine.

As we have already seen, Percy’s allegiance was always to the British and he subsequently went on to offer his assistance to the British Government during the conflict. Perhaps this was a contributing factor to why he had been allowed three naturalisation documents by the Indian Government?

Radley was eventually found guilty in the Court at Lahore of breach of trust and sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment including three months solitary confinement. He was ordered to pay a fine of Rs30,000 or in default to undergo a further one year rigorous imprisonment.

It is unknown what became of Radley’s wife, but certainly his theatre business in Nairobi was no longer a viable concern. Radley seems never to have returned to Kenya, local Government Gazettes regularly placed notices in their publication in his name stating there was unclaimed money in a Kenyan bank account, and they were still advertising the unclaimed money in 1930.

Feilmann to Fielding: How The Family Evolved, America Here We Come!

A study of passenger manifests also throws light on the Feilmann name change in a rather subtle fashion.

On the 17th May 1920, armed with their 3rd Naturalisation Certificate the Fielding family left Calcutta on board the ship SS Santa Cruz  arriving in San Francisco on the 29th June. Travelling in the party were:

Percival Fielding, Mary his wife and their children, Percival aged 23, Aileen aged 21, Gerald aged 17, Claude aged 16, Lawrence aged 7 and Patricia aged 2.  Also travelling with them were two nurses, Jessie Herd and Florence Winterburn.  In addition to the Fielding family was Percy and Mary’s son-in-law Alexander Lumsdaine-Wallace and his 1 year old son Alexander Lumsdaine-Wallace. This is Xan Wallace later to be known as Xan Fielding.

From Page 2 of the passenger list it can be seen that Percival Fielding (snr) and Alexander Wallace (snr) were planning on staying in the USA for 6 months, whilst Mary Fielding, her children, Alexander Wallace her grandchild and the two nurses intended to stay in the USA for a year. The Fielding’s and the Wallace’s were one unit.

Passenger list Page 1
Passenger list Page 2

On the 15th October 1920, only 3 months after arriving in the USA the Fielding family were on the move again, this time from New York to Southampton.  Missing from the travelling party was their eldest son Percival Fielding (more on him later) and their son-in-law Alexander Lumsdaine-Wallace. However, what the passenger manifest does reveal is that Alexander Lumsdaine-Wallace (jr) was then travelling under the name of Alexander Fielding. Remember he had been baptised and named Alexander Percival Feilman Wallace and then a second baptism had him named as Alexander Fielding-Wallace, yet he was on the passenger manifest as Alexander Fielding.  Somewhere between arriving in San Francisco in June and departing from New York in October it was decided that Alexander’s name would change once again.  Whether that happened in an official capacity or not is unknown, but I believe this was the beginning of the process that would lead to Alexander dropping the Wallace name completely. Astutely, His grandfather had once again successfully manipulated the system to suit his own desires; his grandson was going to be as English as he could make him.
Alexander is listed with the surname FIELDING

It is of course very clear now the reason Percy fought so hard to deny his German heritage was to allow him and his family (including his Armenian wife Mary nee Yackjee) to continue to travel freely in and around north America and in particular Europe. He had successfully relocated his entire family to Fabron, Nice in the South of France where he had purchased a large family home (which he subsequently named Chateau Fielding) without raising any suspicions with the French authorities, thus he successfully crossed into the world of accepted society never having to look over his shoulder again.

Chateau Fielding. From the private digital archive of Liz Chater

Percy Fielding and his wife Mary, their children and grandson ‘Xan’ Fielding moved from Calcutta to Chateau Fielding, Nice in 1920.

Percy died at his home Chateau Fielding in the South of France in March 1925. He left a very healthy estate to his wife Mary consisting of a large quantity of shares across commercial areas popular in India such as coal, jute, tea, mining, sugar refining, saw mills, chemicals, oil, iron and steel as well as valuable shares in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.  Percy may have relocated the family to the South of France, but he didn’t cut his ties of investment with India, the dividends helped sustained the family lifestyle in France.

British Library: L-AG-34-29-170-132

After Percy died, Mary put Chateau Fielding up for sale or rent, it was listed in Town and Country Houses & Estates October 1926.

Chateau Fielding advertisement. From the private digital archive of Liz Chater

The house had an impressive specification and stood on a footprint in excess of 36,550 square metres overlooking Nice, with an additional 40,000 square metres being sold separately with the addition of four villas and hundreds of olive trees on it.

Mary died in 1932 at a nursing home in London. It is interesting to note that the 1930 Will[21] of Mary Patricia Fielding (nee Yackjee) was made at Chateau Fielding, indicating that it didn’t sell in the late 1920s even with the impressive advertising feature in up-market publications. As grandmother to the young Alexander  ‘Xan’ fielding, she specifically mentions Alexander in her Will and how she was entrusting her daughter: “…… Aileen sometimes called “Orlene” Marie The Countess Max Armand and my said son Claude Anthony Fielding to be the guardians of my infant children Lawrence Percival Fielding and Patricia May Fielding and also to be the guardians so far as possible or to act as the guardians of my infant grandchild Alexander Fielding Wallace (now generally known as Alexander Wallace Fielding) the only child of my deceased daughter Mary Gertrude Wallace……” He was 12 years old when his grandmother made the Will, by this time he was aware that the young people he thought were siblings actually weren’t.

Xan Fielding Wasn’t the Only Adventurer in the Family

Whereas it has always been thought that Xan was the only military minded individual in the Fielding family he grew up in, it can be seen from the snapshot below that in fact he was surrounded by military influence in the young people he grew up with. The uncles he had thought were brothers, all experiencing service one way or the other, with his uncle, Captain Michael Fielding leading a life not dissimilar to his own.
Fielding brothers in America

 Claude Anthony Karl Fielding aka Paul C. Fielding

Claude aka Paul and his brother Gerald were both aspiring actors and regular travellers. They were visiting their mother Mary at Chateau Fielding in Nice in early 1930 returning to the USA together from Cherbourg to New York on the 26 July 1930.

Mary’s son Claude Anthony Fielding took the young children Patricia and Alexander ‘Xan’ under his wing and one or the other of them can be found in passenger records travelling in his care. For instance, in April 1935 the three of them left London for Las Palmas on the ship ‘Highland Brigade’, only Claude and Patricia made the return journey back to England in June. Claude Anthony Fielding went on to apply for naturalisation in the United States in 1938 listing his occupation as ‘actor and playwright’.

Following in the footsteps of his father, he too changed his name to Paul C. Fielding. The 1940 census shows him living in West Hollywood as a writer-actor in motion pictures. In the biography of Vivien Leigh by Hugo Vickers he states that during a visit to San Francisco Vivien, who stayed at the Fairmont Hotel gave $500 to Paul, “because he had been enduring an awful time”.

Given Paul’s chosen career of writing and the fact that he was closest to the young ‘Xan’ Fielding as well as his guardian in the days after Mary Fielding died, it would be logical to think that Xan is likely to have been influenced by his uncle in exploring and expanding his creative side.
Claude aka Paul Fielding

Paul finally got his naturalisation certificate in 1941 and it stated his full name change: Paul Claude Anthony Farlow Fielding, if ever there was a subtle tip of his hat to acknowledge his grandmother Caroline Farlow, this was it. Her life had predominantly been in India apart from a couple of sojourns to Germany with her husband John Feilmann. The Feilmann’s/Fielding’s could change their name, but they couldn’t change their blood line, and neither could Vivien.
Naturalisation of Paul Claude Anthony Farlow Fielding

Paul didn’t shy away from his duties and signed up to the army in October 1942 to serve his adopted country. His last known address before he died in Los Angeles on the 23 July 1973 was 92651 Laguna Beach, Orange, California.  He was interred on the 27 July 1973 at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. His burial record contains his service details where he was recognised as a Sergeant of the US Army of World War 2.

 Gerald Claude Fielding aka Gerald Fielding

Paul Fielding’s elder brother Gerald Claude also migrated and became a naturalised American citizen.

Gerald's naturalisation application

 He too had served his adopted country but acting was his first passion. In fact Claude and Gerald appeared together in the 1926 film ‘Magician’ directed by Rex Ingram, and again in A Desert Romance ‘The Garden of Allah’ which was filmed in North Africa.

Before his move to America, Gerald was discovered as an actor in his home town Nice, in the South of France. ‘The Charleston Daily’[22] said: “Opinions of picture-goers from all over the United States are being awaited here by Rex Ingram, motion picture director, as a means of determining whether or not he has discovered another Ramon Novarro or screen idol.

Those associates of Ingram who have watched his direction of a lad by the name of Gerald Fielding, feel certain that the discoverer of Rudolph Valentino, Alice Terry, Ramon Novarro, Antonio Moreno, Barbara La Mar and Ivan Petrovitch has struck histrionic “pay dirt” again.

Fielding, now under a long term contract to Rex Ingram, is getting his baptism motion picture bath as Batouch, an Arab guide, in “The Garden of Allah”, a picturization of the Robert Hichens novel which Ingram is producing for Metro-Goldwyn.

Ingram is particularly keen on Fielding and has given him an extensive part in his production.  Fielding is a finely built chap with Valentino-Novarro complexion, dark-skinned, sharp-featured and athletic.

They go on“……..His family is English and lives in Nice, owning the Chateau Fielding. Gerald was born in Darjeeling, India 24 years ago. He was educated in India and later went up to Cambridge University, England. He travelled around the world several times and lived for two years in Detroit. He admits he is totally unexperienced (sic) in anything but catching steamers and trains at the last minute.  He came to Ingram looking for a job at the Nice studios – any kind of job. He got one for $12 a week. He had no acting experience, but his youth enthusiasm showed the alter director what promising material this was. Ingram being Irish and therefore superstitious, recalls that Valentino and Novarro came to him under almost parallel circumstances. He believes “things happen in threes”. Both Fielding and Novarro have D’Artagnan, swash-buckling, irresponsible personalities which make it impossible, even to themselves, to know when they are serious and when they are acting.  The deaths of Valentino and Barbara La Marr leaves gaps that much be filled, Ingram is quite hopeful that he will fill one of them with Gerald Fielding……”.
The Syracuse Herald 25 September 1932

“The fact that Gerald Fielding was born in Darjeeling in the Himalaya mountains in India and spent his early childhood there, had a direct bearing on his debut in pictures in “Garden of Allah” under Rex Ingram.

For the part of an Arab he played in that picture he secured mainly by his mastery of an accent that suited the part. It was really a sort of Indian dialect that he spoke.

Fielding’s raven-black hair and British good looks, which reminded one of Ronald Colman, saw him successfully through a five year contract with Rex Ingram, in which he appeared in all the 28 pictures that Nina Wilcox Putnam wrote. He also made several French pictures among them “Morgan La Sirene” and “La Danseurs Orchide.”[23]
Gerald Fielding in a scene from "The Garden of Allah" set in an oasis in the Algerian desert. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

It seems his knowledge of ‘only catching steamers’ meant Gerald was in the right place at the right time and got a very lucky break into the exciting world of motion pictures. It probably also helped that the Fielding family owned one of the largest houses in Nice and whose local reputation was well known. His “English” good looks [assisted in no small part by his Armenian side] also helped!

Gerald’s acting career took off and he appeared in at least 17 films during his lifetime. In his early days he also became the lover of Rex Ingram’s wife, Alice Terry. His life in films and his associations can be easily picked through on the internet for those who wish to follow his acting in detail.

In June 1931 he starred in “Just a Gigolo” and in June 1932 he signed with Columbia Pictures for “Murder Of The Night Club Lady” which was promoted in “The Flash”.

Gerald married Elizabeth MacLeod in Pasadena California in 1931. She was more commonly known as Barbara MacLeod a young socialite and actress in Pasadena.  The notice of intention to marry was picked up by only one newspaper[24].

They apparently married in secret. Later, at a party they threw to celebrate their ‘engagement’ they announced that they were in fact already married.[25]

Prior to meeting Gerald, Barbara MacLeod (as she was more commonly known) went on a once in a lifetime trip to Europe with her mother Minnie (Minnesota MacLeod nee Schiffman) and sister Janet in 1924. Boarding the ship ‘Tuscania’ on 3 July 1924 their intention was to visit England, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. One wonders whether she might have crossed paths with the young Gerald on this trip.

Gerald and Barbara seem to have had a tumultuous life together and one evening after an argument, Barbara apparently shot and killed herself.[26]

Gerald Fielding in "A Chump at Oxford" 1940.

Photo courtesy of

Gerald’s public profile doesn’t appear to have been affected by this, and he continued to act after the death of his wife. He passed away on the 3rd June 1956 in Los Angeles aged 54.[27]

Percival Michael Julius Fielding aka Michael Fielding

Their eldest brother Percival Michael Julius Fielding was perhaps the one with the greatest personal confidence. He joined the Indian Army and rose quickly through the ranks from a 2nd Lieutenant to Captain in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers in the Supply and Transport Corps.[28] 

He ‘retired’ after WW1 and migrated to America where he also, took naturalisation.

Naturalisation of Percival Michael Fielding

Michael can be found in the society pages as a popular dancing partner to many a young lady in Oakland California in the 1920s. Like his brothers, having taken naturalisation in America he promptly changed his name dropping Percival and Julius and using Michael Farlow as his Christian names. Just like his brother, he was at pains to acknowledge his own grandmother in India. He too dabbled in acting for a while as well as a number of other areas, but he found a niche in after dinner speaking specialising in political analysis and “predicting” world affairs. He did however, often mixed truth with a smattering of the wilder side of his imagination, and very few if any, could or would question his subject matter because he talked with such great confidence, flair and knowledge. A classic example is his apparent gazelle like antics whilst behind Japanese lines with the Karen Guerrillas in Burma, his account of how he exited the war zone is a far cry from the way it was remembered by those he was with. Read on, the story is below.

Having said that, Michael Fielding was a respected, sought after and a popular figure in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s, newspapers are full of notices and articles stating he would be attending and speaking at a dinner or an event.

It is thought that Captain Percival Fielding was the first person to import into America the Afghan Hound dog. A delightful newspaper article gives a rare insight into how and why he did this.

Extract from the Warbash Daily Plain Dealer, 6 May 1922
Here With Afghan Beauty.
Red-Haired Huntress Arrives From Asia in Company of Retired British Army Officer.

When the White Star Liner Adriatic arrived here recently from a tour of Mediterranean ports there was on board one Percival M. Fielding, a retired army captain of London, and Tazidah the beautiful, said a recent issue of the New York Tribune.

It was in the hills of Afghanistan that the Captain first met Tazidah. She was casing a gazelle over the snow covered hills. Her red hair streamed behind her in the breeze. Her easy grace attracted the attention of the captain.

Later he came to know her better. He gave her sweetmeats. From that time on they were inseparable. Before long it was a common sight at the inn to see the captain smoking his pipe with one hand and stroking Tazidah’s lovely red hair with the other.  When the captain left the hills of Afghanistan Tazidah went with him.

Tazidah had unusually large feet, but in her own country no one ever thought of them in any other than an admiring way.  They were hunters, those people, and Tazidah was a huntress.  Her feet were of invaluable service to her in pursuing gazelles.  Being as they were, big and flat, they acted as snowshoes.  They had been big from the day of her birth, and were looked upon by her countrymen as a rare inheritance.

Tazidah stood on deck, rejoicing in the sloppy weather. To be sure, the snow was more diluted than that to which she had been accustomed. But it was snow, and that was the main thing. She yearned for the sight of a gazelle.

Are you going to enter in the dog show?” Someone asked the captain.

“I don’t think so, he replied, “but she’s a rare dog and fast on her feet. Eh? Oh, she’s an Afghan gazelle hound.”

Percival Michael Julius Fielding quickly became known as Captain Michael Fielding and a celebrated speaker and news analyst of military affairs. One of the promotional advertisements for his speaking circuit gives some background detail on him.  A world traveller and radio commentator, note that it states he was born in India of ‘English-Irish parents.’ 

With his father’s flair for manipulating the truth that is of course incorrect, it should say of German-Armenian parents. But that probably wasn’t as catchy a-combination on the speaking circuit after the war.

These are snippet views from Google books, indicating Capt. Michael Fielding lectured in pro-Arab and anti-Jewish views, wholly ironic because he came from a Jewish background, his grandfather was a German Jew from Hamburg. I wonder if he would have had this view point had his father Percy not only distanced himself from his own father but lied and denied about his German roots. Where would Captain Fielding had stood then?

Michael Fielding wrote his own biographical summary of his life for the ever growing and popular speaking tours he carried out. Each time it was published he chose to deny his Jewish-German-Armenian heritage. Reading the summary it is clear he hunted adventure as much as his nephew ‘Xan’ Fielding did yet Michael’s exploits were never to capture the imagination of future historians as much as ‘Xan’s’.

“Born in India of English-Irish parents, Captain Fielding obtained his formal education in India, England and Germany. During this period he travelled extensively over Europe, laying the groundwork for his subsequent wanderings through the Near East, India, Southeast Asia and the South Seas in an exciting career as soldier, newspaperman, globe trotter and adventurer. He knows 27 countries intimately and speaks five languages, including two Indian tongues. In World War I Captain Fielding was a member of the famed Indian army*, attached to that dashing body of Indian border fighters, the “Piffers,” immortalized by Rudyard Kipling. For four years he served in Iraq, followed by three post-war campaigns in the Khyber Pass region of India’s blood-drenched Northwest frontier – the 3rd Afghan War (3 May 1919 - 8 August 1919), the Waziristen campaign (November 1919 – December 1920), and the Mahsud campaign. It was during his Iraquian service that Captain Fielding was associated with the highly secret Sunstar force which marched across Persia on foot to capture Russia’s famous oil centre of Baku after the Russian revolution.

*He joined the Indian Army Reserve of Officers Infantry Branch on 30th December 1915 and resigned his commission on 1 May 1922 with the rank of Captain.
In 1920 Captain Fielding came to the United States and subsequently became a citizen. After trying his hand at cattle ranching and movie making in Hollywood, he returned to France in 1921 as Homme de Confiance to a famous Russian architect. (Apparently he purchased and rebuilt a chateaux in France damaged during the war[29]. I do not think it was his house he was referring to but rather his father’s chateau; he simply alluded to it as being his). Back in the United States a couple of years later he entered the newspaper field and worked for a number of years on the Chicago Daily Journal and the Chicago Tribune as reporter, re-writeman, feature writer and undercover crime investigator during the infamous gang days in the Midwest metropolis. He has also be a public relations adviser to Arab-Riff chieftain, Sheriff Mulay Mohammed Tedjani.

Just prior to our entry into World War II, Captain Fielding joined radio as a political and military analyst. He delivered daily news analysis over the air, eventually being heard over stations WBBM, WIND, WGN and SENR in a total of 16 shows a week.

Then came another of those unexpected calls to adventure which have highlighted the Captain’s life.  Called to India as the official guest of the Indian government in 1945, he was flown behind the Japanese lines in eastern Burma for a visit to the “Black Spider” Karen Guerrillas who were in the process of springing a trap on the Jap army. Cornered by the enemy in the monsoon-sodden jungles along the Burma-Siam border, Captain Fielding was finally rescued on the sixth attempt by a tiny “Cloak and Dagger” Lynsander plane which whisked him to safety in Rangoon.

During this summer Captain Fielding has been in Europe, investigating at first hand the effect of our Marshall Plan aid to western Europe……..”[30]

Photo courtesy of Michael Fielding a journalist with the Army posing with the Karen Levies and the Lysander. Taken in 1945 at Lipeykhi airstrip.

from the book 'Undercover in the Jungle' by John Bowen.

“One day in the early part of July we received a signal that headquarters desired to send a British journalist broadcasting from an American radio station into Karenni and suggested that the Lipeykhi landing strip might be a suitable place for him to visit. From his fastnesses on the opposite bank of the Yunzalin Colonel Howell was not at all enthusiastic about the scheme, but sergeant Rowe and the Karens seemed very excited at the prospect of being interviewed. I signalled Rangoon to the effect that there was at present no Britisher in Lipeykhi and suggesting that if the journalist still wished to come he might land at Lipeykhi and come on up to Mount Plakho the following day. We were always glad when an aeroplane landed at the airstrip as this meant mail and newspapers and also a few small luxuries such as cigarettes and rum. The walk from Lipeykhi to Mount Plakho to say the least of it very severe, particularly in the monsoon season, but I had pictured the journalist as being at the most in his early thirties, and decided that it would do him no harm to get an idea of the conditions under which the guerrillas really lived.

Much to my mortification, however, when he turned up it transpired that he was nearly old enough to be my father. He arrived perched on an elephant just before dusk with an escort of mobile levies under the command of the little Gurkha Surabdhau Rai, after we had given up hope of his ever coming. Earlier in the day Corporal Storrie had been certain that he had heard through the mist an aeroplane circling on the other side of the mountains in the direction of Lipeykhi, but by five o'clock we had decided that he must have been mistaken. Michael Fielding was a bulky figure of a man of over fifty, who must have lived a fairly sedentary life for a number of years. Even on the elephant he must have suffered agonies on his journey, and indeed he was almost too stiff to move when the time came to descend to earth. But he made no word of complaint, and indeed when he had thawed out by the fire and been given a meal he announced that he was very glad he had ‘done it the hard way'

Except for Turrall and the Colonel all the officers were somewhat youthful and for Karens it was probably a very excellent thing to meet such an imposing figure as Michael Fielding. He had started off life as a Regular Indian Army Cavalry Officer in the last war, but after the Armistice he had found life restricted. His father had died shortly afterwards and he had come into money. This had given him the opportunity to leave the Army and emigrate to America where he tried his hand at cattle ranching. From this he graduated to Hollywood where he had lost his fortune. After that he had been a crime reporter in Chicago. That had been in the tough days and he had known Al Capone. Parts of his life must have been hard indeed, but he had made good in the end as a news analyst for the Chicago Broadcasting Station. There, as a Britisher, he was not without political importance, and for this reason he had been able to pull the requisite strings enabling him to get admitted to the guerrilla area in Karenni.

Actually, a better ambassador could not have been chosen. He was, as I have said, a big man with the weight of years upon him and the Karens were very intrigued. For the Britishers it was a break in the monotony of our everyday life to have him with us, and we enjoyed his visit immensely.
That night we received some very dramatic messages from Wilson on the other side of the Yunzalin. His area had been completely overrun with Japanese and he was hiding in the jungle watching them loot his old camp. In the morning De Wanjea and Corporal Storrie took Fielding down to a little range that we had built in an old disused paddy field a little further down the hill and spent a noisy hour throwing grenades and firing various weapons with the levies

In the afternoon Fielding produced a small coloured flag presented to him before setting forth on his journey by the Adventurers' Club of Chicago. In order to be a member of this club it was necessary to have at one time or another hazarded one's life in some dangerous undertaking , and whenever a member embarked on an expedition he was invariably presented with a flag to take with him on his travels. Sometimes, Fielding informed us, the members had not returned to tell the tale, but the flags had always eventually been recovered. We photographed Fielding with the levies and his flag as proof that he had actually visited the guerrilla area, but he told us that most of the members of the Adventurers' Club were of a cynical turn of mind and asked for a certificate to hand in with the flag when he returned.

The whole idea was, as Fielding admitted, very American, but we entered into it with great gusto and wrote him out an impressive looking document couched in very schoolboy language to the effect that: "We the undersigned of the Hyena Guerrilla Organisation entertained Captain Michael Fielding at Guerrilla Headquarters behind the Japanese lines from blank till blank" Michael Fielding was hugely pleased at this and was obviously going to have a rare social success producing it when he got back to Chicago. We all felt that we would have liked to have been his guests that evening, as it would undoubtedly be a big occasion. After it was prepared we put a mass signature onto it in English, Karen, Burmese, and Hindi, and Corporal Storrie inscribed a black spider as symbol of the organization. It was an orgy of schoolboy dramatics but we all rather enjoyed ourselves. In the morning Fielding left early for Lipeykhi by elephant and we were sorry to see him go”

I am no specialist in military careers, particularly Indian military careers, but for those interested it would be worth consulting with the specialist researchers of the Families in British India Society, whose knowledge of Indian military events and records is second to none. Independent research can also be conducted at the British Library in London and the National Archives at Kew.

Disguised as a German speaking Slovenian peasant he went behind the iron curtain in Yugoslavia.

Thornton Courier 1948-1952

American newspapers, time and again dedicated columns of print to his uncanny ability to “predict” the future and what was going to happen in the war. This coupled with his extensive travelling to places that would today put a chill down the spine of ordinary folk,  makes me wonder if he was more like Xan Fielding than it was ever considered. Could Michael Fielding also have been a secret agent too?

As a writer, Michael penned ‘A Pocket Guide to Europe’ in 1959, it was declared a “must have” for the European traveller. His brother Claude aka Paul and their more famous nephew Xan Fielding were of course writers as well. 
New Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan)

Michael married Petronllia Juan in Cook, Illinois in January 1931, they continued to enjoy the travelling lifestyle that Michael had already carved out for himself.

In 1961 he gave a particularly memorable talk to the students of Milwaukee-Downer College. Reported in the college newsletter ‘The Downer Dial’ of 2nd November, it said: “God visited Downer last week in the person of Captain Michael Fielding, a self-made expert on foreign affairs, who brought some most provocative ideas before our student body.” Unfortunately they thought “his pompousness and self-esteem alienated much of the audience, causing them to miss many of his major ideas.”  One student was reported to say: “Gosh did that man make me mad! I spent the whole last half of the assembly trying to figure whether or not he was a communist……”

Michael Fielding, the Indian born son of German and Armenian migrants passed away in Los Angeles on the 30th November 1966.

By the time their mother Mary Patricia Fielding died in London the Armenian and German heritage of her and her husband had been conveniently swept under the colonial rug and the illusion was complete. The children along with Xan were only ever known as Fielding and considered genuinely British before some of them moved to America. Percy’s job was done and Xan’s life was truly British, his life would eventually go beyond anything his German grandfather could ever have imagined.

Their cousin, Vivien Leigh on the whole had very little contact with them even though Paul and Gerald Fielding were also in films, Gerald being more successful and high profile than Paul.  Her own Armenian heritage would slip through the sands of time just as theirs did. 

Vivien’s Armenian grandfather was a humble Station Master on the Indian Railways, her uncle was a Calcutta Post Office clerk, another uncle was a Government official with the Board of Revenue in Calcutta, and her great grandfather was a discharged insolvent who turned his hand to Indigo in the backwaters of the Indian interior. All her Yackjee family were from modest and unassuming Armenian beginnings. The perilous journey her great grandfather took across the sea from Persia to India gave us Vivien Leigh, a woman of captivating sultry good looks who is remembered around the world with great fondness as a fascinating and enchanting actress. Today we find ourselves asking “do you think Vivien Leigh had Armenian blood?”

And my reply is “yes, she certainly did”.
How does Alexander fit into the family?
Family Tree Chart

All family tree charts and diagrams were researched and produced by Liz Chater created using genealogy software.

Sources used:
British Library
California Digital Newspaper Collection
Families in British India Society
Forces War Records
Hong Kong newspapers online
Liz Chater’s Private Archive
London Gazette
National Archives Kew
National Archives of South Africa
Papers Past. New Zealand newspapers online
Singapore newspapers online
Trove. Australian Newspapers online
Various online websites for Vivien Leigh as well as the biography of Vivien Leigh by Hugo Vickers 1988.

My thanks go to Caroline Beveridge for help in sourcing records only available at the British Library when I couldn’t get there.

[1] British Library: L/AG/34/27/150/200
[2] FIBIS. Arrivals from the Bengal Directory 1842-1843
[3] Photographic images of the early baptism register (1793-1859) of the Armenian Church Calcutta are held in the private digital archive of Liz Chater, transcriptions have been donated to FIBIS.
[4] British Library: N1/142/75
[5] British Library N1-392-165
[6] Ibid N2-121-191
[7] Ibid
[8] British Library L-AG-34-29-138-133  of 1893
[9] The Times 11 August 1972
[10] Find A Will. Government Website
[11] British Library N2-124-133
[12] Ibid N1-440-1
[13] Thacker’s Directory 1897
[14] British Library L-AG- 34-29-170-190+191 of 1925
[15] Special Certificate of Naturalization, HO334/249 C675622, National Archives, Kew.
[16] British Library: N1-88-391
[17] British Library N1-236-54
[18]  The Pioneer Mail, August 1919
[19] FO383/25 National Archives, Kew
[20] The Jewish Year Book 5668-9 - 1907
[21] British Library: L/AG/34/29/178/49
[22] The Charleston Daily, Sunday Morning 27th  March 1927
[23] The Syracuse Herald, Sunday Morning 25th September 1932
[24] The Bradford Era 28 August 1931
[25] The Hamilton Daily News 3 September 1931
[26] The Evening Independent, Massillon Ohio 27 May 1940
[27] Almost all the film and biography books and websites that include Gerald Fielding state his date of birth as 1910. This is incorrect, evidence of his date of birth can be found on his naturalisation document as 6th July 1902 above.
[28] Various entries in the London Gazette
[29] The Homewood Flosswood Star 9th January 1942
[30] La Mars Semi Weekly Sentinel, Iowa 30th November 1948