One of the most delightful aspects of the Summerstown182 project has been all the connections we have made over the past three years. One of these has been with the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. We’ve been fortunate to visit a couple of times, made some good friends and were delighted when three of the residents, Marjorie, Steve and Ernie attended our Sidney Lewis plaque unveiling last September. Its been great now to discover that a member of a Summerstown182 family was once one of their number.
Lucas family roots were in Ireland and Hugh Lucas was born on the world famous Shankill Road, Belfast in 1833. In November 1854 he joined the British Army in Armagh, just in time for the Crimean War. Irish soldiers made up around a third of the British army in 1854, and it is estimated that over 30,000 of them served in the Crimea. My own Great Grandfather, Robert Simmons was one of them. His twenty one and a half years service entitled Hugh to a pension, along with a red jacket and a place in the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. A long time before that he married Margaret Campbell in Cork in 1859. Three years later Hugh’s soldiering had taken the family to Chatham in Kent where the first of their eleven children, Susan was born. Their third child William Lucas was born in the garrison town of Aldershot in Hampshire on 22nd March 1868. One of the census records pinpoints his birthplace as ‘South Camp’.
On 2nd May 1876 Hugh was discharged and headed to London to start his new civilian life. In 1881 the family were living in Soho and 13 year old William Lucas was working as an errand boy. On 9th September 1888 in Westminster, he married Annie Elizabeth Fallowfield from Marylebone and their first son, William John was born in 1889. They both appear to have worked in some kind of military tailoring. Given his father’s Chelsea Pensioner status, perhaps they were employed at the Royal Hospital? In 1891 they lived at 11 Hopkins Street Westminster with two small sons, William and Edward. This was close to Berwick Street market. Very sadly, tragedy appears to have struck and both boys died in 1893, William was four and Edward three. The 1901 census finds them at 11 Bateman Buildings in the parish of St Anne, Soho. That’s just south of Soho Square, between Greek Street and Frith Street in today’s parlance. There were now four more boys, all under ten; Hugh, Anthony, Albert and Joseph. They must have lived in Hendon for a while as Albert was born there and baptised in Stonebridge on 22nd June 1896. Annie is listed at this time as a shop assistant and tailoress. Sadly though there was more heartache to come when Anthony aged seven died in 1902. Hugh also passed away that year at the age of 69.
Perhaps jolted by these losses, or simply part of the movement of people from overcrowded central London slums to the wide open spaces south of the river, in the early years of the new century the Lucas family relocated. The 1911 census saw them living at 29 Bertal Road in Summerstown. The house is still there, tucked in between the Hazelhurst estate and Lambeth Cemetery. It must have been a delight for the Lucas family to be surrounded by newly-built streets, trees and some room to breathe. William appeared to have made a complete career change and now worked as a silversmith’s porter, the same profession as his 18 year old son Hugh. Albert, now 14 was a brass finisher and errand boy. Eleven year old Joseph was still at school. There were three additional children; Daisy, Rose and George. The two youngest are listed as having been born at 11 Gambole Road, Tooting so we can assume the family had been in this area from 1904 at the latest.
Like his two brothers, Albert joined the army and served first in the East Surrey Regiment before transfering to 1/5th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashires. They was based in Bolton when war broke out in August 1914 and became known locally as ‘the Bolton pals’. In the late autumn of 1917 they found themselves ten miles east of Arras, pitched into a battle which would initially be claimed as a great victory, though soon turned on its head. Haig described the object of the Cambrai operations as the gaining of a ‘local success by a sudden attack at a point where the enemy did not expect it’. With no preliminary bombardment, tanks would be used to break through the German wire, with the infantry following under the cover of smoke barrages. The attack began early in the morning of 20th November 1917 and initial advances were remarkable. Across Britain, Church bells rang out in triumph for the first time in the war. By 22nd November, a halt for rest and reorganisation was made, fatally allowing the Germans to reinforce. After fierce fighting around Bourlon Wood the Germans launched a major counter attack and much of the ground gained in the early attack was lost.
On 30 November 1917, the 55th Division including Albert Lucas and his Bolton pals faced this offensive. The losses for the 1/5 Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashires that day were huge, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission recording at least 87 names. Albert, aged twenty one, would be one of three of the Summerstown182 to perish on the 30th. Alongside Eric Tibbenham from Thurso Street and William Dell from Pevensey Road, his name is carved on the Cambrai Memorial at Louveral. The memorial commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917 and whose graves are not known.
A bit of googling a few years ago took me to the website of the Bolton War Memorials Project and the realisation that Albert’s name is on a memorial in a park in the famous northern town associated with Peter Kay and Nat Lofthouse. I got in touch with project coordinator Jim Robinson who explained how Private Lucas is commemorated in Bolton on the ‘5th Loyals’ Memorial, located by the Chorley New Road entrance to Queen’s Park. He very kindly made a visit and took a close-up photo of Albert’s name. Jim agreed that he could find no other link between Albert and Bolton. It is likely that he never even saw the town, yet for almost a century his name has appeared with almost 1017 others on this memorial. He is not the only one who in answer to some military need, ended up serving in these otherwise predominantly Boltonian units. Two other members of the Summerstown182, Charles Blakeley and Arthur Leicester were in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
In recalling my own family’s First World War involvement, Cambrai is a word we remember with pride. My Great Uncle, Captain Alan Lendrum, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers lead 300 men in a wiring operation and was subsequently awarded the Military Cross. A few years ago we walked the fields near the village of Fontaine-lès-Croisilles where it all happened early in the morning of 20th November 1917. Also fighting near here at that time was our good friend Corporal Edward ‘Tiny’ Ted Foster, back in the front line with his Wandsworth mates and wounded in the hand at Bourlon Wood. For Annie Lucas though Cambrai spelt the beginning of more heartbreak. Having lost two of her boys, young William and Edward thirteen years earlier, history would cruelly repeat itself. Less than six months later, Albert’s younger brother Joseph Frederick Lucas serving in the Gloucestershire Regiment was killed in Flanders. His name is written on the great memorial at Tyne Cot. Annie’s husband William died in 1921. She passed away in 1947 aged 81 having outlived five of her sons.
The house at 29 Bertal Road, Annie’s home for nearly forty years was lived in by the Lucas family until at least the early seventies, possibly later. Albert and Joseph’s brother George lived at the address with his wife Violet and their brother Hugh was next door at No31 until his death in 1970. Hugh Lancelot Lucas born in 1892, got his unusual middle name from Annie’s father. He is present on the absent voters list of 1918, a rifleman in the London Regiment. He probably moved into No31 after he got married in 1927. George died in 1996 aged 89. Both brothers would surely have been aware of Albert’s Bolton connection. No31 Bertal Road is currently for sale and the garage adjoining it is lit up with a dazzling early autumnal blaze of scarlet foliage which must surely be a nod to Albert and Joseph’s Chelsea Pensioner Grandfather.