1800-1900, — August 21, 2009 13:03 — 0 Comments

Charles Lucas, VC

The ‘Crimea War’ was fought not just on the Russian peninsula but also at sea and especially in the Baltic where the interests of the British and the Russians clashed. 

Aged just twenty years, in 1854 Charles Davis Lucas (born in Druminargal House, Poyntzpass 19 February 1834) was serving as mate aboard HMS Heckla which was helping to blockade the Russian Baltic fleet. The Russians had a fortress on Bomarsund in Aland, dominating the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. 

 

The Heckla – with the Odin and Valorous – attacked the fortress which was defended with some eighty heavy guns. The Heckla was a wooden paddle-ship and Captain Hall edged his vessel as close as possible. Inevitably the Heckla came within range of the heavy guns. Some shells fell short and some overshot their target – but one, with its fuse hissing loudly, landed squarely on the deck of the Helga.

 

The crew raced off in all directions or fell flat to avoid the concussion of the explosion. All but one …

 

With great coolness young Charles Lucas of Poyntzpass lifted the heavy shell and dropped it overboard by one of the bilges. It exploded before hitting the water causing some minor injuries and damage to the vessel, which however remained seaworthy. 

 

Captain Hall promoted Lucas instantly for his bravery, making him Acting Lieutenant. 

 

There was at the time no other recognition but promotion for the likes of Lucas (who was a sailor, not a soldier and was not an officer). This anomaly was highlighted by war correspondents of the time, the first war such people reported on. The cause was taken up in high places. It seems clear then that Charles Lucas’ bravery – widely reported in the press – was the instigation of the creation of the Victoria Cross. Within a year the first medals were struck. When the Queen presented the first 62 recipients at a ceremony in Hyde Park on 26 June 1857, the army and navy members were summoned in order of engagement encounter meriting the award. Lucas was first.

 

Over the following years and decades Lucas shot up the ranks so that he actually reached the rank of Rear Admiral of the Fleet in command of HMS Indus before his retirement. He married the daughter of his first Captain, now Admiral Hall. He died in Kent a few days before the outbreak of the Great War. 

 

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