Museum acquires nationally significant memorial plaque
In the afternoon of Thursday 12th November 2020, the museum successfully bid at an auction held by Dix Noonan Webb to acquire this nationally significant memorial plaque for Lieutenant Euan Lucie-Smith.
Bidding was swift, but the museum was fortunate, the plaque went for a hammer price of £8,500 (plus commission and VAT).
The memorial plaque is 4.5 inches or 11cms in diameter and made of bronze. The dead mans penny was given by the King to the nearest next of kin to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of men and women who died during the Great War. Each plaque has the name of the fallen individual and the words 'He died for freedom and honour' around the edge. Interestingly due to an admin error on the medals which has been copied on the plaque it says 'Evan' rather than 'Euan'. However, he is the only E Lucie-Smith to die in the conflict.
The plaque is really important; it rewrites World War 1 history and tells a truly remarkable story. Euan Lucie-Smith is now believed to be the first officer from an ethnic minority background to be commissioned into the British Army in World War 1 and the first to die in the conflict. He was commissioned into the 1st Battalion, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, on the 17th September 1914, just 6 weeks after the outbreak of the War. He went to the Front, in France, on the 17th March 1915, and just over a month later, on the 25th April 1915 was killed in action at St Julien during the Second Battle of Ypres. A fellow soldier later said that he had been shot through the head. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium.
Previously it had been thought that Walter Tull had been the first officer from an ethnic minority background to die in the Great War. In fact Euan Lucie-Smith died almost three years before him.
John Rice, Chair of Trustees, said 'I am absolutely thrilled that we have been able to acquire this plaque of national importance and to be able to display it in our regimental museum in Warwick for the benefit of the general public. It will help us to show the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers in our Regiment. Our success is the result of a great deal of hard work in a short space of time by many people, but particularly by Stephanie Bennett, our Curator, who applied for a grant and set about publicising the auction and the need for fundraising, together with Robert Bleasdale, one of our Trustees, who handled the bidding process on our behalf. The fundraising by another one of our Trustees provided us with a substantial financial pot, had the bidding gone higher.'
Stephanie Bennett, Curator, commented 'It is wonderful to have the unique plaque so that visitors can see it at the museum, the spiritual home of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Thank you to everybody that helped with the funds. The museum was very lucky to receive support from many generous people and organisations. Thank you to the Trustees, the Friends of the Museum, the Fusiliers, the Army Museums Ogilby Trust, members of the public who donated and especially to the Arts Council England / V&A Purchase Grant Fund who contributed half of the funds. Without them none of this would have been possible.'
Julia Brettell, National Programmes Lead at the V&A said 'The Purchase Grant Fund is delighted to be able to support the acquisition of this plaque. It is a hugely significant object which lends itself well to telling the story of diversity in the Army during the First World War as well as the commemorative one.'
Euan Lucie-Smith came from a mixed heritage background. He was born at Crossroads, St Andrew, Jamaica on the 14th December 1889. His father was John Barkley Lucie-Smith (Postmaster of Jamaica and a retired Major) and his mother was Catherine Lucie-Smith. His father hailed from a line of distinguished white colonial civil servants. His mother was the daughter of a distinguished mixed race lawyer and politician Samuel Constantine Burke, who campaigned for Jamaican constitutional reform in the late 19th century and for Jamaica to have greater control over her own affairs.
He came from what we would call a traditional 'Officer Class' as he attended two Private schools in England; Berkhamsted School and Eastbourne College. He was commissioned into the Jamaican Artillery Militia on the 10th November 1911.
The plaque shows the contribution of Commonwealth Countries in World War 1 and tells the story of an aspect of regimental history that should not be forgotten. It also has direct links to today and the continued important role played by soldiers from Commonwealth Countries in the current Regiment, the Fusiliers.