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Francis Yeats-Brown





The British writer Francis Yeats-Brown wrote books that reflected his experiences as a British Army officer in India and his interest in yoga. His best-known work is the autobiographical Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

Francis Charles Claypon Yeats-Brown was born on 15 August, 1886, in Genoa, Italy, where his father, Montagu Yeats-Brown, was British consul general.  

Francis attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and was decorated (Distinguished Flying Cross) British Government; Major, 17th Bengal Lancers, Indian Army (16 years); Indian Secret Service (4 years); Interpreter for British Government (Indian Division) in Hindustani, Persian, Pushtu, Italian, French and German.   He was special correspondent for The Times and Associate Editor of The Spectator.

Yeats-Brown was captured by the Turks in Mesopotamia shortly before the battle of Ctesiphon, when his reconnaissance plane was damaged trying to land to cut the telegraph to Baghdad.  He and the pilot were taken north and subjected to a mixture of chivalrous kindness or random brutality, depending on who had custody of them. 

Yeats-Brown was a member of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers during the first World War and later made a career as a polo correspondent for The Times and The New York Herald.

A 1935 film based on Yeats-Brown’s best-selling The Lives of a Bengal Lancer starred Gary Cooper and was nominated for six Oscars, for Best picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and for recording and second-unit direction.  Gary Cooper played Lieutenant McGregor, who tries to mediate between a father and son, both officers at the same remote British outpost on the Indian frontier. Cooper dies heroically at the end, and his Victoria Cross is pinned on the saddle of his horse.

Fluent in a number of local languages and reportedly prone to dressing up in native dress and disappearing for days at a time in the native souk, Yeats-Brown, like T. E. Lawrence, performed undercover intelligence work, in his case, in the guise of a middle-class German woman living in Istanbul! Yeats-Brown was, in other words, Lawrence flambé, with a heavy sauce of Rudyard Kipling on top.

Yeats-Brown became involved in right-wing politics during the 1930s. This included membership of the January Club. In articles published in newspapers such as the Sunday Observer he praised General Francisco Franco in Spain and Adolf Hitler in Germany. He claimed that Hitler had cured unemployment in Nazi Germany and had produced a prosperous society.


The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Francis Yeats Brown

ISBN 1590480996



India was one of the most adventurous and romantic places on Earth in the early twentieth century. Though decades of political unrest, and eventual independence from Britain, were only a few years away, India in the early 1910s was a magnet for young men with a longing for adventure.

Such a man was Francis Yeats Brown. Arriving in 1905, Brown soon discovered that life among his chosen regiment, the famed Bengal Lancers, was anything but boring. When he wasn’t practising his military skills, the young cavalryman was riding his various horses in polo matches, or chasing wild boars. Plus there were a million mysteries waiting outside his door to explore, including his forbidden love affair with Masheen, the dancing girl.

Yet in addition to being a skilful soldier and an intrepid traveller, Yeats Brown was a terrific writer. He takes the reader to out-of-the-way corners of the India that once was, but is no more. There he introduces a timeless cast of fakirs, mercenaries, rajas, and rogues. It was normal in the colourful world that Yeats-Brown moved through to have breakfast with an English general, then pass the time of day with a native whose speciality was locating cobras in the bedroom!

Thus “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” remains a charming classic full of delightful descriptions, mystic experiences, and enduring legends from a place and a time now gone forever.


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