4th August - Letter to Everilda
My old Everilda,
Will you please on receipt of this at once send a special message somehow to Mother (not by wire but by bicycle or car) and ask Mother to inform Poppy that they are not to worry about me, or wire or write , but to sit still and do nothing till they see me in person, probably early next week. They will hear nothing from me till they see me as all my movements are secret.
Expense of special messenger no object, but not forget to remind me what I owe you.
The letter was addressed to ’Rev Eustace Mills, Walhern Rectory, Stevenage, Herts. England’ ; but the address was not written by CHTL, probably because his former captors were only too familiar with his handwriting. Stamped on the front of the envelope was ‘War Office’ and on the back, ‘GENERAL HEADQUARTERS IRELAND PARKGATE, DUBLIN 4 AUG. 1920’
After the Court of Inquiry was concluded with the verdict being that CHTL was absolved of all blame for his escapade, CHTL was free at last to enjoy some home leave and to meet his son for the first time. It was all still cloak and dagger stuff as there was still the fear that the IRA would try and snatch him back. He didn’t communicate directly with his family as he knew that the IRA could easily intercept his letters and discover his planned movements. So he wrote to his youngest sister Everilda who was married to a clergyman and whose surname wouldn’t be easily connected to the Lucas family.
What a moment that must have been when CHTL reached Cleveland Gardens and there was Poppy waiting for him with young Cutlett at long last able to meet his papa. CHTL arrived in Welwyn in the evening, possibly accompanied by Poppy and Bill, and was warmly greeted by his very relieved family.There was a lot of celebration and CHTL had plenty of amusing tales to tell about his time in captivity, which certainly did ’tickle’ his family.
There was some sadness mixed in with the rejoicing as CHTL’s grandmother, Augusta Carolina Jane Farmer, ńee de Blaquiere, was very ill and died on 14 August 1920 aged 92. No doubt this tough wife of a Canadian pioneer had held on to see her grandson back in one piece with his family and also another great grandson, Bill, enter the world. She could depart this life in peace.
Churchill and the Threatened Court Martial
Looking back at the beginning of July Churchill was ‘purple’ with rage and shouting at Sir Henry Wilson, Moggridge his private secretary and General Sir Charles Harrington that he was going to court martial Lucas as he was so furious that he had ‘allowed’ himself to be captured. He should have resisted - gone down fighting, taking out as many of those Sinn Feinners as he could! What sort of example was Lucas to the lower ranks? The capture of Brig general Lucas had caused Churchill enormous personal embarrassment and made him feel distinctly uncomfortable in Parliament, when his political opponents had a field day. Even his own civil servants were smirking at his fury behind closed doors! (The Military Correspondence of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson 1918-1922 edited by Keith Jeffery Entry 130, 131)
So what happened when Lucas emerged from his months captivity, inconveniently saying that he’d been well treated and not giving Churchill or others in government the excuse to go in hard and wipe his captors out? It was very awkward as the Americans and others around the world were following the story with intense interest. CHTL was a hero in Britain. The troops in Ireland were rioting at a drop of the hat. Lucas was popular with them and with most seniors army officers who were congratulating him on his escape. How could Churchill follow through with his threats and punish this errant Brigadier general?
Strangely Churchill suddenly softened and made a huge turn around in his attitude to Lucas:
What is the position of General Lucas now? I consider that the fact that he escaped from captivity and, secondly, was engaged in an actual fight in which he took part entirely modify the circumstances under which he was taken prisoner; and I do not think that in the circumstances any disciplinary action should be taken against him. He should, in the first instance, be called upon to submit a report of the circumstances of his captivity and escape. He is not, I presume under arrest.
*Adjutant-General to the Forces 1918 to 1922 Lieutenant-General Sir George Macdonogh (a Catholic convert who was distrusted as such!)
Imagine if CHTL had been arrested after escaping from a months captivity and then court-martialled?
Maybe someone reminded Churchill of his time as a captive during the Boer War in November 1899? The 25-year-old Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill who was a fresh faced war reporter and who had successfully negotiated a fee greater than people like Kipling, was travelling in an armoured train travelling between Frere and Chieveley, in the British colony of Natal in South Africa. The Boers had planned an ambush by blocking the track with a large boulder and so stopping the train. There was a fierce battle and Churchill, who was unarmed, hid in a ditch. A Boer found him and was about to shoot him when Churchill surrendered. Churchill’s life was spared and he was taken as a prisoner of war.
After about a month Churchill managed to escape by climbing a 10 foot wall (3.048 metres). He had a gruelling 300 mile journey to freedom. Perhaps Churchill with hindsight thought that he’d been a little harsh on Lucas, who had fought back with Danford unlike Churchill who hadn’t, although to be fair Churchill was a journalist and not a soldier at the time. Both Churchill and Lucas had surrendered when they knew that the alternative would be to be shot. One other thing that they had in common was their love of whiskey!
Whatever the reason Churchill decided that he should just let the matter of a court-martial drop. He could’t stand against the overwhelming wave of public support for the general. A politician has to choose his battles wisely.
Brigadier-General Lucas was a hero in the eyes of the public and a hero should be celebrated and honoured: so, incredibly, CHTL was awarded a C.B. - Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, 'a title and order conferred to British and Commonwealth citizens in recognition of conspicuous service to the Crown'.
For my services in Ireland I was awarded a C.B. (New Year’s Honours List 1921).
Application for the appointment of Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire PARTIC- ULARS OF EXPERIENCE AND TESTIMONIALS OF COLONEL CUTHBERT HENRY TINDALL LUCAS C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. COLONEL COMMANDANT 11TH INFANTRY BRIGADE. 13th November, 1922.
This was extraordinary - what had CHTL done in Ireland to merit this award? One could argue that his service during World War 1 would have easily earned him the honour, but the fact that it was specifically awarded to him for his ’services in Ireland’ throws up many questions. Was this for his seven months work before he was captured? Was it for the way he handled himself in captivity? Was it for the information he gathered on the IRA? Was it for him escaping and becoming a national hero? Or was it compensation as the army didn’t know what to do with him and the public needed to see their hero honoured?
CHTL had secretly longed to become a knight but that was not to be. Although most other army officers of his rank eventually did receive the title of ’Sir’, CHTL’s copy book was blotted enough by the Irish incident to prevent this from happening to him: a C.B. was the best he would have.
CHTL and Poppy attending the award ceremony at Buckingham Palace 1921. Poppy was pregnant again, this time with Bob, but hiding it well.
‘The Most Honourable Order of the Bath’ is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The oddly named award had its roots in a mediaeval ceremony for creating a knight, which included bathing as a symbol of purification.’
It was not just the Lucas family who wanted to hear CHTL’s stories: the whole country was talking about the general and his adventures and wanted to meet the hero of the hour. CHTL suddenly found himself a minor celebrity: invitations to appear at different events started to flood in and he suddenly found that he was in demand everywhere. The invites to go shooting or fishing on large estates were always welcomed by CHTL, but not so the society gatherings that he found himself in demand as a ‘celebrity’ guest to impress the other invitees with and be one up on the ‘Lexington-Smyths’ or who else was trying to outdo everyone.
At first he enjoyed the parties and events but gradually they wore him down and bored him silly. When asked to read the lesson at York Minister, he decided to enliven a dull passage about Abraham by reading the passage using a country bumpkin drawl: his reasoning being that Abraham was a country dweller so therefore a yokel accent would be most suitable. Of course this was just CHTL feeling utterly bored and so was mischievous: he didn’t want a whole series of similar requests so this was a sure way of putting a stop to them. One can only imagine the shock of the great and the good in the congregation at this outrageous performance! Poor Poppy!
The endless stream of invitations to society parties also became hugely tedious. After having to sit amongst dull small-talkers for the umpteenth time, CHTL’s rascally nature once again broke free. He announced to a room of tiresome poseurs that he had a new party game to teach them. The socialites thinking that this was the latest new craze were eager to learn. CHTL asked the ladies to gather at one end of the room and the gentlemen to sit at the opposite end. The gentlemen were the un-churched natives of some godless country and the ladies were the missionaries. CHTL told his eager audience that when he turned off the lights: ‘the heathen were to arise and embrace Christianity’. His prank had the desired effect – the invites to posh parties soon dried up! (As told to Bob by his father)
We have now come to the end of CHTL’s Irish Adventure, we’ve seen him back to Poppy, having narrowly missed an IRA slug and a court martial. In the end a combination of Lucas’ wit, charm and forcefulness along with his ability to side step major disasters, meant that he came out of a situation that could have been disastrous, a national hero. How a captive of the IRA could ever have described his imprisonment as ‘the time of his life’, that he found it ‘interesting and exciting’ and was ‘tickled’ by it, is extraordinary. For a very honest man to say that he ‘was treated as a gentleman by gentlemen’ and that those who looked after him were ‘delightful people’ is breathtaking in the circumstances.
This event was also arguably one of the IRA’s best. Those involved, on the whole, came out showing themselves during this short period to be men of honour and with the ability to show kindness and humanity. It won them support from those looking on -hopefully being kind reached more doubting hearts than the killing did. The propaganda war was definitely won by the IRA. Who could fail to admire an army that treated their captives so well in stark contrast to the way their enemies treated them? The fact that the whole episode caused so much mirth on both sides of the Irish Sea, with people enjoying the humour of it, is unbelievable. If only all conflicts could be like that - a cat and mouse game with no casualties!
The ordinary, non military people who rose to the, often not so welcome, challenge of hosting the captured general, should have their contribution acknowledged and appreciated for their amazing kindness in spite of the fact that they were risking their lives and that of their families. These families and individuals, did their country proud in displaying the best of Irish hospitality and friendliness. Many may have suffered loss and deprivation caused by the nation that CHTL represented, but not one of them (that I’m aware of) was anything but hospitable and considerate of my grandfather and his needs. Their compassion towards my poor grandmother was also much appreciated.
Finally, I have to say that Poppy is the unappreciated heroine throughout this. To think what she went through alongside giving birth to her first child is incredible. I always think that if anyone suffered through this story, it was her (and obviously Colonel Danford, who fortunately recovered). I’m full of admiration for her quiet, selfless fortitude. She’d taken on a lot when she’d married a soldier, but marrying CHTL had an extra level of challenge to it!
Three Additional Posts
This journey for me has been incredible as I’ve uncovered so much about my grandparents. I’m often asked what happened to CHTL after he left Ireland so I want to finish the daily posts with just three more giving an overview of CHTL & Poppy’s life post Ireland. As you can imagine CHTL’s future life and retirement were not necessarily what you’d expect from a typical British Brig general!
Please look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VL5sL3BcDqE&t=3s and if you can spare a little cash, the restoration of Hasting’s farmhouse would be a worthy cause as a place of reconciliation. The Lucas Family are hoping to donate a bench with a plaque inscribed with:
“I was treated as a gentleman by gentlemen.” Brig General CHT Lucas
Hopefully it will be a place to sit and contemplate the story - a good story from the War of Independence that unites two opposing sides in humanity, kindness, a lot of laughter and fun and respect for each other.