This Day In History

1918 Battle of the Selle. In a carefully-planned attack, rehearsed over 5 days, 5th East Lancashires mount a remarkably successful night assault near Briastre. They move off at 2 a.m., in a heavy downpour which lasted throughout the engagement, to the sound of the Regimental March being played by the battalion band. Met by heavy machine-gun fire and an artillery barrage which causes 50 casualties, they charge through with a yell and are on their final objective well before the 7 a.m. deadline set, taking 300 prisoners in the process. Casualties are 2 officers and 13 men dead, and 6 officers and 109 men wounded. Some 22 German dead were counted on the battalion front. Study of the ground the next day shows that the battalion had gone through no fewer than 6 defensive belts, including a very strongly-held railway embankment, before reaching its final objective. The 300 prisoners were ‘of far better physique and appearance’ than any of the enemy previously encountered, and turn out to be picked troops. They said that they were members of Kaiser Wilhelm’ bodyguard; that they had never before known defeat; and that they had been sent to hold the line at all costs.
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Colour Serjeant John Lucas VC

John Lucas VC

John Lucas VC

John Lucas was born in Clashganny, Myshall Parish, Bagnalstown, Co. Carlow, Ireland, in 1826.

In 1861 he was about 35 years old and serving in New Zealand as a Colour Sergeant in the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot, later to become the 1st Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment. The Regiment was engaged in the First Taranaki War, against the Maori, at Waitara on the North Island.

On the 18th of March he was acting as Sergeant of a party employed as skirmishers to the right of No. 7 Redoubt, and close to the Huirangi Bush, facing the left of the positions occupied by the Maori. According to the citation for his Victoria Cross:-

At about 4 o’clock, a very heavy and well-directed fire was suddenly opened upon them from the Bush, and the high ground on the left. Three men being wounded simultaneously, two of them mortally, assistance was called for in order to have them carried to the rear: a file was immediately sent, but had scarcely arrived, when one of them fell, and Lieutenant Rees was wounded at the same time. Colour-Serjeant Lucas, under heavy fire from Maori warriors, who were not more than thirty yards distant, immediately ran up to the assistance of this Officer, and sent one man with him to the rear. He then took charge of the arms belonging to the killed and wounded men, and maintained his position until the arrival of supports under Lieutenants Gibson and Whelan.

As a result of his action, John Lucas received  the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to the Regiment which became the South Lancashire Regiment.

By then promoted to Sergeant Major, he was invested with the VC at a full parade of all British troops in the area, at Ellerslie Racecourse, Auckland, New Zealand, on 2 October 1862.

John Lucas died at his home in Dublin on 29 February 1892, aged 66. He is buried there in St. James churchyard, James Street. For decades his grave was lost, allegedly because it was obliterated and the headstone destroyed by the IRA in the 1920’s.  

St James’s Church is now the Pearse Lyons Distillery. In 2017, during restoration work in the churchyard, the fragments of the headstone were rediscovered.  Repaired and renovated, it has been re-erected as closely as could be ascertained to it’s original position. 

John Lucas’s headstone in St James’s Churchyard, Dublin. Photo courtesy of Patrick Hugh Lynch


His  Victoria Cross is in the proud possession of the Lancashire Infantry Museum.