‘Pop’ Lucas to be remembered 75 years after letter from King George.

The 1942 newspaper article from The Daily Telegraph is all that is left of the Kings letter. Photo: Ian Campbell
The 1942 newspaper article from The Daily Telegraph is all that is left of the Kings letter. Photo: Ian Campbell

The Bega Valley is about to recognise the contribution of one local father to World War 2.

A tribute plaque will be dedicated in Bega on Friday, 1 September at 11 am telling the story of Henry ‘Pop’ Lucas and his nine sons that went to war.

The grandson of Henry Lucas, Guy said most families of the time had sons serving, he hopes this new space will prompt opportunities to share that history.

“To farewell nine sons is something extraordinary, perhaps even a world record,” Mr Lucas says.

All nine boys are recognised on the Bega War Memorial – Henry Jnr, Lance, Bill, Rufus, Ronald, Dudley, Cecil, Joseph, and Basil, alongside comrades from around the Bega Valley.

“This plaque in front of the Civic Centre remembers my Pop, who raised all these boys and seven other children on his own when my grandmother Alice died after giving birth,” Mr Lucas says.

It is understood that this is the only group of nine brothers who enlisted to serve in the one conflict anywhere in the British Empire, or the British Commonwealth as we know it today.

“And I understand there is a plaque in the White House in Washington noting six brothers – only six brothers!” Mr Lucas laughs.

This story starts when ‘Pop’ Lucas received a standard letter from the King when Dudley was killed on January 15 1942. That letter read, “We pray that your country’s gratitude for the life so nobly given in its service may bring you a measure of consolation – George.”

“Evidently Pop then said, ‘I’m going to write to the King and Queen,” Mr Lucas says.

“He sent them pictures of all the boys’ which resulted in him ultimately receiving a letter from the King recognising and congratulating the family for what it was doing for the country and for the war effort.”

The original letter was lost in the devastating bushfires of 1952 that swept through the Bega Valley, all that is left is a 1942 newspaper article from The Daily Telegraph detailing the King’s interest in the family.

“It was something special to get a letter from the King in those days, not like today where they churn them out,” Mr Lucas smiles.

“As the eldest son of the eldest brother of those nine Lucas lads who enlisted, along with my cousin Garry, who is the son of the fourth eldest of the sons, Rufus. We are both honoured and delighted to be unveiling this tribute.

“However, it’s truly been a community effort, and we have to thank numerous people for their interest and assistance, including the Bega and Cobargo RSL Sub-branches, Bega Valley Shire Council staff and Mayor, Kristy McBain,” Mr Lucas says.

“And a special thanks must go to local sculptor Tony Dean for designing and overseeing production of the plaque.”

The nine Lucas brothers and their father were just ordinary blokes, doing what many other ordinary Australian families felt was their patriotic duty at the time.

“Most of them were trapping rabbits and stripping wattle bark when they left to join the Australian army,” Mr Lucas says.

Regrettably, Basil and Dudley were both killed Malaya and New Guinea, seven of Henry’s boys returned home.

A simple dedication service will be held with the Lucas Family and local RSL members on Friday, 1 September at 11 am in front of the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre.

*A shout out to local historian Peter Lacey for his help pulling this together.

Disclaimer: Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council. “It’s been a real buzz to help tell and share this story on behalf of the Lucas Family and Bega Valley Shire Council.” – Ian Campbell.

 

Give peace a chance on Anzac Day AKA Lest We Forget

WW2 diggers on the Bega Civic Centre honour roll
WW2 diggers on the Bega Civic Centre honour roll

Rex Kermode has led Anzac Day in Tathra for longer than he can remember. As Rex asked the big crowd at the town’s cenotaph this morning to look eastward at the rising sun, I took up his invitation to reflect on the day.

Those thoughts had started brewing earlier in the week, and now at the dimming of the day, I am left thinking we need to sharpen and update our focus on Anzac Day.

For a long time, the horrors of the Gallipoli campaign and World War 1 and the depravity of World War 2 have rightly been at the center of commemorations on April 25.

But with the veterans of World War 1 now all gone and with the number of veterans from World War 2 shrinking dramatically every year, Anzac Day in the near future will be and needs to be different.

Victorian Anzac commemorations have gone through a somewhat rocky adjustment over the last two years, with the Anzac Day Commemoration Council instructing descendants to march at the back of the parade rather than mixed in with surviving veterans behind battalion banners.

In 2016, Council Chair and Victorian RSL state president Major-General David McLachlan told The Age, “The changes to the marching order reflect the belief that the march is about those who have served.

“Descendants are able to march collectively, after all the veterans,” he said.

The change has been hard to take for some.

Former federal member for Franklin, Harry Quick, son of  Robert Vernon Quick who served with the 7th battalion at Gallipoli and the 58th battalion on the Western Front told The Age, “We should be up there front and centre.”

“These banners have been handed down for the last 80 years and are cherished. There is all this history here and it needs to be recognised,” he said.

In protest, in 2016 and again this year, descendants held their own event before Anzac Day, marching behind battalion banners.

I hope there will always be a place for people to march wearing the medals of their ancestors, but the relevance and meaning of the day will be weakened if that’s all it becomes.

No one is suggesting the veterans and families of WW1 and 2 be forgotten or sidelined, their sacrifice and story carries great weight, but we need to update what we do in the name of our grandfathers and great grandfathers to recognise what’s happening now.

Perhaps the full impact of their stories has been lost in a popularisation and commercialisation of Anzac Day?

Speaking to Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore tonight on ‘The Project’, Retired Captain Chris Thompson-Lang said it was important to know and understand history, but more time needed to be spent thinking about today’s veterans.

“Quite often the general public does focus on veterans that are no longer here and they glorify them,” he told Channel Ten.

“The reality is we’ve got veterans that are my age and younger, with multiple tours, some of us are struggling, some of us are losing that connection to our communities, I think that more could be done to strengthen that and provide help.”

Re-thinking the 'digger'

“More could be done… to provide help.” Capt. (ret.) Chris Thompson-Lang speaks about what ANZAC Day means to him and other veterans.

Posted by The Project on Tuesday, 25 April 2017

 

I think we do a disservice to the memory of WW1 and WW2 veterans by continuing to send Australians to war and by not picking up Cpt Thompson-Langs insights.

Mick Attwill has been attending Tathra Anzac services for 25 years and in recent years has been called on to offer a reflection to the growing crowd. He doesn’t have a strong connection with the defence forces but is passionate about respecting their legacy.

In his Tathra addresses dating back to at least 2011, he has sought to give his audience a more modern context to consider.

“It is not any easy topic to discuss,” he says.

“The idea of promoting peace on Anzac day is a good idea, the problem is how do we as a community promote the idea, and still agree to having a defence force?”

I wonder does our focus on the distant stories of battles 100 years old cloud our ability to rise to the challenge of Mick’s question?

Local Mums and Dads with daughters and sons currently serving in Australia’s Navy, Air Force, Army, Border Force and Customs add to the need for a tweak to Anzac Day.

As do the local ex-servicemen who don’t attend Anzac services at the moment, uncomfortable with the growing nationalistic fervour and platitudes of the day.

The stark evidence presented in various health studies and statistics dealing with veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – more modern conflicts, adds further impetus for change.

According to the Federal Government’s Institute of Health and Welfare between 2001–2014, there were 292 certified suicide deaths among people who have served in the Australian Defence Force since 2001.

The Australian Vietnam Veterans Health Study, says of the 60,000 troops who went to Vietnam, 74.7% are classified as suffering from some form of health impact as a result – physical disability, health problems related to the chemical exposure and psychological trauma.

Studies of Australia’s Gulf War veterans tell the same story.

These people walk among us now and are clearly hurting, how can Anzac Day better meet their needs?

The veterans of WW1 and WW2 might be surprised to hear they still dominate the traditions of April 25.

These are men and women who it is said went to war to protect future generations, they had a real sense of looking after the now and the later.

The challenge to those who stand in respectful silence listening to the bugle sound is to take the memory of those people and turn it into an action for now.

From soldieron.org.au
From soldieron.org.au

Organisations like ‘Soldier On‘ are doing that and trying to give Anzac Day a 2017 perspective by encouraging people to donate money to support ‘our modern-day veterans and their families’.

During its first year in 2012, Soldier On assisted 200 veterans, in 2015, 500 veterans a month were being supported. The organisation is now positioning itself to help thousands more through an expanding network of Reintegration and Recovery Centres.

The stories and evidence of war compel us to encourage peace on Anzac Day and support veterans from all conflicts. How we do that is a rich and deep conversation to start.

And we have made a start – perhaps unknowingly when we say Lest We Forget. Lest meaning – with the intention of preventing something undesirable; to avoid the risk of.