Val ffrench Blake

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Robert Lifford Valentine "Val" ffrench Blake (3 March 1913-11 March 2011) was an English Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army, cattle- and horse breeder, and author.


Early life[edit]

Robert Lifford Valentine ffrench Blake, known as Val, was born on 3 March 1913 in Rawalpindi, India.[1][2][3] He was a descendant of the Tribes of Galway. His father was Major St. John Lucius O'Brien Acheson ffrench Blake (1889-1917), who was killed at the First Battle of Gaza, and his mother, Doris Kathleen Tweedie.[1][2] He went to Eton College, a boarding-school in Eton, Berkshire, where he was an Oppidan Scholar, and graduated from the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, Berkshire.[1][2]

Military career[edit]

During the Second World War, he served with the 17th/21st Lancers in India and North Africa.[2] However, after he was shot in the neck and arms by a sniper in November 1942, he was sent back to England to heal.[2] He then worked at RAC Tactical School in Oxford and studied at the Staff College, Camberley.[2] At the age of thirty-two, he was appointed Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General (AA&QMG) to the 6th Armoured Division.[2] He was then posted to the newly established Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he served as Chief Instructor of Old College and co-wrote the Military Syllabus for an 18-month course.[2][3] Meanwhile, he became a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order in 1945.[1] However, in 1949, he retired from the British Army as Lieutenant-Colonel.[1][2]

Country life[edit]

Later, he moved to a farm in Cornwall, where he raised Ayrshire cattle.[2] After being introduced to dressage by Polish cavalryman Captain Stefan Skupinski, he bred horses to sell them for eventing, showjumping and dressage.[2] He also wrote several books, including: one about dressage, another one about the Crimean War, and a memoir. He taught children how to shoot woodcock, snipe or pheasant.[2] He also became a professional painting restorer, copying Old Master.[2]

In 2010, he asked his publisher to give him the royalties he was overdue from the sales of his 1972 book Dressage for Beginners in the United States.[4]

Personal life[edit]

He married Grania Bryde Curran.[1] They had two sons:

  • Neil St. John ffrench Blake (born 1940).[1]
  • Anthony O'Brien ffrench Blake (born 1942).[1]

They resided at Midgham Park Farm in Woolhampton, Berkshire.[1] He spent his last years in a nursing home in Nether Wallop, Hampshire.[4]


  • Dressage for Beginners (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972).
  • The Early Training of the Horse (Seeley, 1978).
  • Elementary Dressage (Frederick Warne Publishers, 1984).
  • The Crimean War (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books, 2006).
  • Mainstay of the Altos: A Twentieth Century Life (London: Bene Factum Publishing, 2011).