Major General CHT Lucas (CHTL)
CHTL was born into a family with a long line of Quaker ancestors who had spoken truth to power. They were anti-slavery campaigners and well respected in the small market town of Hitchin. He was the fourth child in a boisterous family of ten children. His father was a banker and his mother was vice-chair of the local Red Cross.
Educated at Marlborough, CHTL shone at sport and often struggled to focus on academic subjects until the goal of getting into Sandhurst became the carrot he needed to succeed. Following Sandhurst, CHTL fought in the second Boer War and then served in India, Egypt and the Sudan. It was during this period that he suffered the loss of two fingers in a shooting accident, which he overcame with good humour.
In WW1 CHTL was one of the first soldiers to arrive in France. He organised disembarkation of vast numbers of soldiers and equipment. He enjoyed a challenge and worked hard to solve problems.
During the First Battle of Ypres, CHTL assumed command of his battalion when all senior officers were killed or wounded. So began his meteoric rise through the ranks, partly due to the massive casualties, but also to his outstanding abilities being recognised by those in command.
Gallipoli saw more challenges and promotions. As Lieut. General Sir W.R. Marshall wrote in a reference for CHTL:
“When I, unfortunately had to relinquish command, and the question of my successor arose, the choice fell on Major Lucas, and that without a dissentient voice, though there were many officers senior to him serving with the brigade. I mention this (probably an unique instance of a Brigade Major succeeding to the command of a Brigade) as showing the degree of confidence placed in Major Lucas by his seniors and juniors alike.”
CHTL managed to cope with the slaughter all around by concentrating on the positive events in his life. Mentally war can throw up a ‘sink or swim’ attitude and CHTL was determined to ‘swim’.
Things changed at the Somme 1916. The pools of blood and madness of the survivors hit CHTL hard. He received news that his brother had died at home. He lost many friends at the Somme, including Atty - Colonel A. M. Holdsworth.
CHTL was posted back to England to train new recruits. He used the opportunity to pay his condolences to Atty’s family. He encountered Atty’s, now grown up, funny little sister Poppy. He was immediately smitten and impulsively proposed to her. She, equally impulsively turned him down, fearing that his proposal was based on pity as he could see that she was still grieving for her brother. He regarded this as “one of the worst rebuffs I have ever had in my life”. He continued to pursue her and gradually won her around.
During leave squeezed between the battles of Passchendaele and Cambrai 1917, CHTL married Poppy in Hitchin. On honeymoon in Scotland Poppy taught her new husband to fish.
The newly weds longed for a time when they could settle down and set up home together. After the war ended, CHTL was sent to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation. They had a wonderful couple of months together until CHTL was posted to Ireland in November 1919. Poppy, now pregnant, remained behind.
There had been trouble in Fermoy in County Cork, a British soldier was shot and British troops had rampaged through the streets, causing immense destruction. CHTL was known for dealing with difficult situations and was well-liked and respected by all ranks. He was seen as someone who could calm the situation and restore discipline.
CHTL was frustrated; he didn’t want to be in Ireland. The British government wouldn’t say that they were at war in Ireland, so on his day off he took himself on a fishing trip with a couple of friends...