Staff Serjeant Fred Lucas

Image of Staff Serjeant Fred Lucas
Staff Serjeant Fred Lucas

St Saviour’s Church in Herne Hill Road was demolished in 1981 but a memorial tablet survives. It includes the name F LUCAS.

Frederick Lucas was born on 4 September 1879 at Brimington [sic] Road, Peckham. (The street has since disappeared in redevelopment.) Fred was the third of nine children. The 1911 Census shows Fred with his family at 45 Kemerton Road, Herne Hill, and working as an “engineer’s turner”. Fred, who had served in the Second Boer War and then as a police constable, seems to have rejoined the army in 1914, and with his skills and experience went into the Army Ordnance Corps. 

Fred Lucas died on 23 July 1916 during the four and a half months’ attrition known as the Battle of the Somme: a battle that saw more than one million men killed or wounded. He is buried in the Dive Copse British Cemetery.

We were most fortunate that our research trail led to two of Fred’s grandchildren. Stories handed down through Fred’s descendants recount that he worked on the gun known as “Mother”, a 41-ton 9.2 inch howitzer, and that Fred invented a device that reduced the gun’s recoil and also worked on improvements in tank design. It may be that Fred’s Military Medal was awarded in recognition of these achievements. A memoir written by his daughter Grace provides invaluable detail about the family’s life in Herne Hill. Grace remembers her father having his own workshop in a railway arch, working on and even building motor cars. So it was that we found not merely far more detail about Fred’s life than we would have expected, but we were able to see a period of history brought to life through the eyes of a young girl who lived through it. 

Grace’s account of her father’s death in 1916 — and the consequences for her widowed mother — was, no doubt, a story repeated with minor variations in thousands of London homes. It is not “the big picture” but the mundane details of survival that bring home the brutal change of circumstances faced by so many families. 

Grace also remembers lighter moments, such as parties in the family home with music hall entertainers from Fred Karno’s troupe and members of the theatrical Lupino family. She draws a vivid portrait of the arrogant Revd Bayfield Clark and other local figures, such as shopkeepers and the teachers at St Saviour’s primary school. There are descriptions of holiday escapes to Paulerspury in Northamptonshire, Thaxted in Essex and, surprisingly, Vaynor Park, a country estate in Montgomeryshire.

The Herne Hill Society has published “Grace’s Story” and it can be bought online here.

Laurence Marsh

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