PERCIVAL CECIL LUCAS, who was also known by the nickname of ‘Spud’, was born in 1891 at Bridgewater, in country Victoria. The ninth born of eleven children, Percy had a lovable personality, and was highly thought of by everyone who knew him.
After leaving school, he worked locally as a Grocer at Jenkins Store, where he was very popular with the customers. Most of them preferred to be served by him, and would go to the extent of ‘window shopping’, while they waited for him to be free.
He dabbled in amateur theatre, and in 1911 played the ‘Clerk of Courts’ in a local production of the farce ‘Black Justice’. Together with three of his brothers, he was a member of the Bridgewater Brass Band, of which he was also a committee member in early 1916.
Standing 5ft 7in, with a fresh complexion, black hair and blue eyes, Percy was 24 years old when he joined the A.I.F as a Private, no. 2443. The third of four brothers to go to war, he enlisted on the 20th of June 1916, exactly a year and a day after his brother Norm [59th Bn], and almost a year and a half after their older brother Jack [2nd MGC]. Three of Percy’s home-town mates, Bob, Tom and Gordon, also fellow members of the Bridgewater Brass Band joined with him that same day. After a few months training at the Broadmeadows Camp, they embarked with the 5th Reinforcements of the 57th Battalion, on the 25th September on the A9 Shropshire. Sailing with them, but in different battalions, were three other Bridgewater boys, and one of their chief amusements on board was the medicine ball, which also proved great exercise.
The Shropshire landed at Plymouth on the 10th of November, and Percy & his mates were marched in to the 15th Training Battalion at Wool, arriving on the 21st.
Percy proceeded overseas to France on the 30th December, traveling on the SS Princess Clementine, and marched into the Base Depot at Etaples on New Years Eve. Returning with him to France, was his younger brother Norm who had been in hospital in England. When Percy finally linked up with the 57th Bn on the 7th February 1917, Norm was still with him, having transferred from his previous unit.
Europe was in the midst of its coldest winter for over twenty years, and Percy’s first experience in the trenches was amongst the frozen earth and snow on the Somme. His battalion were entrenched east of Gueudecourt, and no longer hampered by mud they began to carry out frequent raids on the enemy. In March the thaw began, and the Germans fell back towards the Hindenburg Line, with Percy’s battalion amongst those in pursuit.
The night of the 17th March saw the 57th camped amongst the smoking ruins of Bapaume, and a week later they were holding the village of Beaumetz. A spell from the line had them back at Mametz by the 20th April. Here they enjoyed Anzac Day sports, followed by football matches and a concert. The concert possibly included Percy, Norm & their three mates as performers, because in early 1918 it was noted in their home-town local paper, that the boys were keeping up their musical practice playing with the 57th Bn Band.
If Percy spent his war playing with the band, then it’s possible that he wouldn’t have partaken in a lot of the fighting, but was perhaps involved in stretcher-bearing and other duties. But even so we can follow the battalion, as he would have.
In May 1917 they took part in the 2nd Battle of Bullecourt, where they suffered severe bombardment on the 11th, and by the end of that month they were moved back to Beugny for a rest.
Percy’s mate Gordon may not have felt it at the time, but he was the lucky one of the Bridgewater boys, because in September his war was over and he was steaming home with severe bronchitis. Meanwhile, Percy’s battalion was taking part in the Battle of Polygon Wood. On the evening of the 26th, they were just preparing to relieve the 58th Bn, when they were caught in a heavy barrage in Glencourse Wood. It knocked them about severely, but the remnants managed to make it to the front line, which they then held, along with the 60th. The following evening they were relieved and made their way back to the Chateau Segard.
In October they were detailed for patrols and work parties that saw them making endless trips under continuous bombardment, through the death & destruction of the Menin Rd, Hell Fire Cnr and Black Watch Track. November began their four-month ordeal in the Messines Sector, where they spent much of their time dodging Minenwerfers.
It was February 1918 when Percy returned to England for his first lot of leave, a period of just over two weeks, a week of this leave overlapping with the leave of his brother Norm. He rejoined his unit at the front, east of Messines on the 8th of March 1918.
Towards the end of March they moved south to the Corbie area, and by the 24th April when the Germans captured Villers-Bretonneux, the 57th along with the rest of their brigade were dug in around the town. The following day, Anzac Day, in a brilliant counter-attack, they helped to recapture it. Their next month was spent in reserve, followed by salvage operations in June. They then moved to the front line in the Dernancourt area, returning to Villers-Bretonnuex in the August, where they took part in the Battle of Amiens on the 8th.
Late August, early September they found themselves hindered by marshland, gas & shell fire as they tried to take their part in the attack on Peronne. Once Peronne was secured, the men were allowed to rest, and were supplied with new clothes & their boots repaired. More football matches took place, the 57th unfortunately losing their matches to both the 58th & 60th Bns, and following the church service on Sunday the 15th Sept, the Regimental Band provided some musical entertainment.
A couple of weeks later they followed in the wake of the Americans, and helped breech the Hindenburg Line in their attack at Bellicourt. At 2 o’clock on the morning of the 2nd October 1918, the 57th Bn, along with the rest of their Division were relieved by the 2nd Div. They never saw the line again.
Percy and Norm, and their mate Bob, were granted two weeks leave in the U.K. from the 22nd of November to the 6th of December. England, like the rest of the world, was suffering from the flu epidemic and Percy was not to be spared. On his last day of leave he was admitted to the 1st Australian Auxillary Hospital at Harefield in Middlesex, and Norm and Bob returned to their unit without him. Two days later Percy was reported to be seriously ill with bronchial pneumonia, and he passed away at 1am on the morning of the 10th December 1918. A month had passed since the armistice, and after seeing out the war unscathed, Percy would not be going home.
His brothers, Jack & Roy [ASC] had been granted leave but were unable to reach England until the 14th. The funeral, which appears to have been originally scheduled for the 13th, was held over to the 18th, and they were able to attend, along with a small number of Patients and Hospital Staff. Percy was buried in the Australian Section of the Harefield Parish (St Mary’s) Churchyard in Grave No. 94. It was a military funeral with a Headquarters Firing Party and a Bugler in attendance, officiated over by the Hospital Chaplain, Rev. A. P. Bladen. The wreath was supplied by Charles Billyard-Leake, the Australian owner of the ‘Harefield Park’ estate, which he’d generously offered to the Defence Department for use as a hospital. Although Church of England by faith, Percy almost ended up with the Star of David on his headstone, but luckily a vigilant officer at Base Records realized the error before it was set in stone.
Back home in Bridgewater when the news of his death was received, the flag at the local Mechanics Institute was dropped to half-mast in his honour, and many tears were shed amongst family and friends.
Percy had never married, but in the January of 1919, a Miss Ina Stout of the Junction Hotel in Arnold, sent a letter to the authorities requesting a photo of his grave, which they forwarded to her. She also inserted a death notice in the local paper, concluding with the simple but heart-felt words, ‘So sadly missed’. Family lore says that before the war she had been spending time with both Percy and his brother Jack. She sent them both a photo of the group she hung around with, with her face smudged out. When they met up overseas and realised they both had a copy of the same photo, they compared notes and got one hell of a shock to discover they'd both been 'doing a line' with Ina. [pronounced eye-na]
When Percy's War Medals were issued, his parents were both deceased, his mother having died when he was 14 & his father dying 8 months after him. As his eldest brother's whereabouts were unknown at the time, the medals were forwarded to his 2nd eldest brother, William. His name is engraved on his parent’s grave at the Bridgewater Cemetery.
A little over two years after his death, Percy was remembered in his land of rest, when on Anzac Day 1921, he was visited by the children from Harefield School. This saw the beginning of an annual pilgrimage, in which they place flowers on the graves of the 111 Anzacs & the Australian Nurse buried in St Mary’s Church Cemetery. The ceremony, still carried on today, ensures that Percy is well remembered in the land of his ancestors, as well as his land of birth.