This afternoon I did one of my Guided Tours of Lewes and took people through the lovely churchyard of St John Sub-Castro. I pointed out some interesting graves but noticed something today that I had no seen before. It was a Memorial Plaque – known as a Death Penny or Widow’s Penny, which had been inserted into the side of a gravestone. This is something I had not seen before. I could just make out the name on the plaque ‘William Lucas’
Wilfred Lucas was born in Lewes in 1888, the third son of John Clay Lucas and Caroline Agnew Lucas ( nee De St Croix ) His father was a Lime and Cement Merchant and the family lived in Castle Precincts, Lewes.
He attended The Kings School, Canterbury from January 1898 to July 1906 during which time he was a member of the school cricket, rugby and ‘fives’ teams. At school it was said that he played all sports and played each with success. Despite his obvious sporting prowess, he was known at school by the nickname ‘Chubby’
On leaving school he worked in Lewes as a Land Agent but also enlisted as a Trooper in the 1st Sussex Yeomanry. In January 1912 he went to Australia to work with his brother William as a fruit farmer, growing vines at a vineyard run by Angove’s , a wine producer at Tea Tree Gully near Adelaide.
As soon as war was declared in August 1914, Wilfred joined the 3rd Battalion of the Australian Light Horse as a Trooper. On 22nd October 1914 he left for Egypt on board the SS Port Lincoln. He saw service in Egypt at both Maadi Camp and Heliopolis.
In April 1915 he returned to England and requested a transfer to the Royal Artillery. This was agreed and he became a Second Lieutenant in the Second reserve of the Special Reserve. In May 1915 he was posted to C Howitzer Battery of the 101st Brigade and in September embarked for France. His unit travelled through France to Marseille from where they sailed to Salonica in Greece. Wilfred retained the nickname ‘Chubby’ and was well liked by his men. A brother officer wrote “he was one of the best liked men in the division” His Chaplain wrote “he was always so cheerful and keen on his work, and always doing something for his men”
At Christmas 1916 Wilfred ‘Chubby’ Lucas was killed by a shell as he walked away from a telephone post. He was buried at the Karasouli Military Cemetery which is close to the border of what is today, Macedonia.
His commanding officer wrote “His loss will be mourned by all who have come in contact with him ad more specially by all the ranks in his Battery. He had endeared himself to the men by his never failing cheerfulness and devotion to duty”. He was 28 years old.
Wilfred is remembered on the Lewes War Memorial, on the King’s School War memorial and also on the Tea Tree Gully War Memorial in Australia.
Back in Lewes, Wilfred’s mother Caroline was sent his metal Next-of-Kin Memorial Plaque. (also known as the Death Penny). Unusually she had this inserted into the grave of his father John, who had died in 1893. Caroline was buried in the same grave in 1928.
Today the Memorial plaque is still (just visible) on the grave at St John Sub-Castro Church, Lewes. A memorial to a cheerful man.
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Dear Kevin, Thank you for these emails, which I find really interesting. Please could you give me some advice about finding out something in my family history ? I have tried several sources, including inter-net, the relevant library etc. but with no luck. My father told me that a distant relative was made a Free Man of Maldon, Essex as a reward for bringing back the news of a victory on the Continent, to the king. To save time, he ( on his horse !) jumped over the toll gate, in order not have to stop to pay the toll. This was a hereditary title, to be passed on from father to eldest son. I’m guessing that this would have been during the Napoleonic Wars. The only reason my cousin doesn’t have this honour now is that my great grand mother wanted her adopted son to become a Free Man instead of her birth son. This was not allowed, so it lapsed. The surname was Appleton and the family were Romanies in that area. This is all I know and would love to be able to verify the story and get more details, but don’t know how to go about it. Would you be able to give me any pointers ? I’d be very grateful, as social history, especially that of my own family, is so interesting, Thanks, Joan Appleton
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