World War 1 breakthrough: Bombshell antique discovery re-writes British army history

World War 1 breakthrough: Bombshell antique discovery re-writes British army history

The discovery, a plaque for Lieutenant Euan Lucie-Smith of the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, debunks the previous belief that Walter Tull was the first black person to serve in the army. Lt Lucie-Smith was commissioned in 1914, while Mr Tull was deployed as a soldier in May 1917.

The plaque also shows that Lt Lucie-Smith died nearly three years before Walter Tull was killed in action during the First Battle of Bapaume on March 8, 1918.

Lt Lucie-Smith was killed in action on April 25, 1915, at the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium – just six weeks after being deployed.

The antique will be auctioned on November 12 with a guide price of £600-£800.

Dr George Hay, the Chief Historian of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said there is no assurance Lt Lucie-Smith was the first black serviceman or the first to die in the British Army.

However, Dr Hay conceded that Lt Lucie-Smith date of commission was very early.

He said: “The British Army at the time was particularly good at turning a blind eye to the vague rules around [nationality] and there wouldn’t have been any fanfare, so there may be more potential candidates.”

The valuable piece was discovered by James Carver, a former Member of the European Parliament, who is a collector of medals relating to West African soldiers of the Victorian and Edwardian era.

Mr Carver said: “I found it through a dealers site, a medal dealers site, I was just scrolling through and clearly they hadn’t realised the significance of the item.

“His background was quite different to Tull’s – coming from a privileged Jamaican family, he was undoubtedly from the so-called ‘Officer Class’, having attended two English Private Schools.

“To my mind he’s the first black officer.

“Historically what’s interesting about this is he’s from a distinguished family, he went to two public schools in the UK. It’s astonishing but this is history.

“Walter Tull is very special in that he was the first black officer commissioned from the ranks but my argument until I’m proved wrong is that Lucie-Smith was the first commissioned black officer.

“With this month being Black History Month, the timing of this discovery seems all the more poignant.”

Lt Lucie-Smith arrived in France on March 17, 1915 and was declared as missing just over a month later.

His dead in action appears on records, dated April 25 1915.

In a statement, Private F Jukes, at Suffolk Hall Hospital, Cheltenham, said: “Lieut. Lucie-Smith – was told by his servant that he was killed, and had seen him dead. Shot through the head.”

Published at Fri, 23 Oct 2020 03:34:00 +0000