Xan Fielding – the Armenian cousin of Vivien Leigh

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Running the blog I am very fortunate to have all sorts of people get in touch with me about a whole range of interesting subjects. Few however can be so detailed, well researched and fascinating as Liz Chater’s site which is dedicated to research about the Armenian diaspora to India, and related matters. In this latest article on her website, Liz explores the truth behind Vivien Leigh’s Armenian heritage and then goes on to uncover some fascinating facts about Xan Fielding’s family who also have an Armenian background. Liz has also traced the Anglicisation of his surname from the Germanic Feilmann to Fielding. The following is a series of excerpts from the article on Liz’s site which can be visited here and includes many digital copies of original documents.

From Liz Chater’s website Chater Genealogy

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.

‘Xan’ was officially named and baptised Alexander Percival Feilman Wallace, he was born on the 26th November 1918. 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 1919at 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.

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

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 Scotlandspeople.com.

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.

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.

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.

Feilmann’s Anglicising to Fielding

… 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.

Read the full article with documents here.

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7 thoughts on “Xan Fielding – the Armenian cousin of Vivien Leigh

  1. Katrina Hudson

    Thank you Liz , once again for all your expertise in uncovering this amazing family!
    Xan Wallace Fielding was my mother’s half brother , my grandfather was Alexander James Lumsden Wallace who was Xans Father!
    It is indeed a fancinating story, but also rather sad as either my mother also known as ‘ XANNE’,
    knew of each other’s existance unti lafter Xans death in 1991.

    Reply
  2. Lemora Martin

    Thank you so much! I have read three biographies of Vivien Leigh and each of them gives a different ancestry story, like you describe. I’ve also been over to Liz Chater’s blog and read the entire article. I have wondered about this for years. Does anyone know if Vivien Leigh and Xan Fielding ever actually met each other? Did she and Daphne Fielding ever meet? Also, does Chateau Fielding still exist and who currently owns it? Thank you again to everyone for this wonderful article, and any additional information you can provide.

    Reply
    1. chatergenealogy

      Dear Lemora, I have responded to your question left on my blog page, I have copied my reply here.

      Thank you for your comment. You are correct I did not mention whether Vivien and Xan ever met because I did not follow that particular thread of research.

      I believe that to try and establish whether any meeting did take place, one would have to consult the family archive of both individuals, cross-referencing additional diary or relevant newspaper material with each archive. In addition looking at the local French newspapers for the South of France might shed some information. One could try and match passenger lists, either through newspapers or national archives. It may also be useful to access Xan’s military records to see if he was anywhere near Vivien at any given point.

      Regarding Chateau Fielding, again I did not continue with this thread of research either, my research budget was limited. However, a quick look at google earth and it would appear the area where the house stood has long been redeveloped. Again, I am sure that the French newspapers for the South of France are likely to have written about the Chateau being demolish.

      Certainly there is still information to uncover for future researchers, hopefully my article will be a spring-board for it.

      Reply
  3. Christos Paganakis

    Interesting background about X A , but no actual information regarding his alleged Armenian forbears that I could detect ?

    Reply
    1. chatergenealogy

      Hello Christos, if you look at the blog itself, you will see a family tree chart showing the cousin connection between Vivien Leigh and Alexander Wallace-Fielding aka Xan. This connects them directly to their Armenian grandfather/great grandfather whose own father was a Catholic Armenian who migrated from Persia to India. Perhaps read the original blog rather than the extract posted above. It is clearer when viewing the family tree charts and supporting documentation. Best wishes Liz.

      Reply

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