Stripes of Peace

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As we prepare for the second ‘Hazelfest’, a wonderful ‘mini green’ festival on the Hazelhurst estate, beneath the Summerstown Towers, we can look across Wimbledon Road to a house associated with one of our 182 names. The family who lived there one hundred years ago, were that of Albert Lucas, a young man, born at the turn of the twentieth century. He died fighting with the 54th Infantry Brigade, pushing the Germans back in the ferocious last months of the First World War. He was killed in action on 21st September 1918 and is buried in northern France in a village called Templeux-le-Guerard, not far from Cambrai. 28 Wimbledon Road is just one of the locations where we will be placing a special tribute in time for this year’s centenary Armistice Remembrance. Created by members of the local community at various events over the next months, we are calling this exciting initiative ‘Summerstown Stripes of Peace’.

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We intend to round off this final year of commemoration with the most ambitious Summerstown182 Walk ever. It will be a massive Earlsfield-Tooting ‘double circuit’ on Saturday 10th November, passing as many of the homes and locations of the Summerstown182 as possible, telling their stories. Each of these places, marked by a poppy on our map, will be indicated with a simple personalised tribute made over the months before by local people. This will be done through a series of workshops lead by artist Judith Lawton, supported by Big Up Films and the Work and Play Scrapstore. The first of these workshops will be at Hazelfest on Sunday 20th May, other venues are still to be confirmed. Decorative ‘hangings’ created from up-cycled materials made at the workshops will populate the neighbourhood, each being placed at or near the locations where the 182 individuals lived, in the week before Remembrance Sunday. ‘Summerstown Stripes of Peace’ will remind people today of the sacrifices of young men like Albert Lucas who lived here 100 years ago. The emphasis will be on celebrating the coming of peace rather than glorifying war, the colourful element expressing the diversity of people from all over the world who suffered in this conflict.

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There is no photo of Albert or very little knowledge of his family. As far as public records are concerned, Albert Lucas and family are hardly visible. We thank the brilliant local military historian Chris Burge for finding all there is to tell. What little information there is comes mostly from his military records. We can say more about the final few months of his life than all the preceding years. From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records we learn he was named after his father and the family address by the 1920s was 28 Wimbledon Road, just a few doors away from St Mary’s Church. This was given as his next-of-kin address on the documentation associated with his death. His ‘Soldiers who Died in the Great War’ entry says was born in Greenwich, and indicates he enlisted in Wandsworth. He served firstly in the London Regiment, before being transferred to the the 6th Northamptonshires, the same regiment as that of the soldier whose story started our project, William Clay. His entry in the ‘Soldiers’ Effects’ register confirms his father was his sole legatee and the £3 war gratuity equates to someone with less than twelve months service at the time of his death. This implies Albert Lucas was conscripted in the final year of the war.

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Albert’s service papers have not survived, but looking at the casualties in the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment for August 1918 onwards shows a disturbing picture. Albert Lucas appears to have been among a largish group of at least 50 men all transferred from the 10th Londons, 14 of whom would be killed in August and September 1918. All were from various places within London and all were born at the end of 1899. They were all just 18 in 1918 and conscripted in the first two months of that year. Among the few surviving papers of this group are the pension documents of a Private Albert Edward Freeborn, of 82 Fircroft Rd, Upper Tooting. He was wounded on the same day that Albert Lucas was killed. Albert Freeborn had been conscripted on 2nd February, aged 18 years and 1 month. He joined the 6th Northants in the field on 2nd August 1918. The Great War Forum provides details of another 18 year old, Private Eric Richards from Hampstead.
A summary of his movements may well of be almost the same as those of Albert Lucas. ‘On 18th September during an attack against an established German position on a small hill, 27 British soldiers were ordered over the parapet bearing only rifles and facing machine guns. Only three British soldiers survived. A piece of shrapnel hit Eric in the forehead and he lay wounded all day, being carried in after dark. The shrapnel was imbedded in the bone and not removed by the army surgeons’.

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Another 6th Northamptonshire Regiment soldier who Albert Lucas very likely knew, possibly killed the same day, was a Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at Ronnsoy on 18th September in the same attack where Eric Richards was wounded. ‘Three days later, having seen his company through an enemy barrage, he was struck on the head by shrapnel and killed while getting his men under cover from heavy machine gun fire’. He was the only soldier born in Herefordshire to win a Victoria Cross during the First World War.

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Chris believes that Albert Lucas was born at the end of 1899. He is likely to have been conscripted in January 1918 and sent to France in July or by early August, 1918. Only 14 years old when war broke out and 16 when conscription was introduced, Albert Lucas must have thought many times, would the war be won or lost before his turn came? Even when conscripted in 1918, he cannot have expected to serve overseas until he was 19. The German Spring Offensive changed all that. In April 1918 the crisis led to the overseas service age limit being dropped to 18 years and 6 months, as long as a soldier had had six months training. Among the Summerstown182, Albert Lucas has a special place, he was among the last conscripts, maybe even the last conscript, to lose his life in the First World War.

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There is just one other small tantalising glimpse of what may be the early life of Albert Lucas. In the registers of Southfields School, Merton Road, newly opened in 1905, is the name of Albert Lucas, aged five, born 26 December 1899. He was admitted there on 10 October 1905 and its noted that his father was Albert Lucas. Southfields School opened in 1905 and was closed in 1926. The family address is given as 3 Strathville Road, just around the corner and confirmed as the living place of Albert Lucas in the 1907 Wandsworth electoral roll. 587 Garratt Lane may also have been a later childhood home. Southfields School may have been one of a number of schools on the Merton Road site of the current Southfields Academy. Its impossible to know when he came to Summerstown or whether he even lived at 28 Wimbledon Road. Albert’s father, and a Sarah Ann Lucas, possibly a sister, appear in the Wandworth Electoral Register at 28 Wimbledon Road between 1918 and 1928. The address is associated with another of the Summerstown182, Ernest Hayward whose widow Mary Ann lived here for a substantial period of time.

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Join us at Hazelfest when we launch our Summerstown182 ‘Stripes of Peace’ – look out for Judith and help make a tribute to young men like Albert Lucas. The event kicks off in front of Hayesend House at 1pm on Sunday 20th May as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe. There will be artists, performers, musicians, community groups and local residents, all coming together to celebrate artful reuse. There’s even a chance to participate in creating the first permanent street art mural on the estate with artist-in-residence Jayson Singh. In a few months time the streets around St Mary’s Church and the homes of  the Summerstown182 heroes will blaze with colour. As the sun goes down on four years of commemoration, we celebrate the dawn of peace.

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