Laddie Lucas

PB LADDIE LUCAS

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Golfer, Fighter Pilot, Director and M.P.

Percy Belgrave Lucas is older in success and experience than his nickname Laddie would suggest.

MANY able men have the happy facility of firmly closing one compartment of the mind and opening another as occasion demands. This complete absorption in the immediate present would appear to be the touchstone of success. In no man have I seen this gift more pronounced than in Laddie Lucas. All too frequently in post-war years we have heard ol the many men who went to war, achieved success, promotion and great responsibilities at an early age, only to find themselves misfits and unemployable in civilian life. Not so Laddie Lucas. From the day he was demobbed he has never, except in the way of comradeship with fellow-pilots, looked back. He set his course and kept on the beam.” On first meeting the Member for Chis- wick and Brentford there is little trace of the typical fighter pilot debonair, devil- may-care, his service uniform highlighted with a strictly non-regulation muffler, cap at a jaunty angle and flying-boots with a piratical-looking escape knife sticking out of the top. The busy politician who has set out every afternoon from his Berkeley Square home for the House of Commons presents a very different picture in his conventional pin stripe trousers and black jacket, hastily ramming the latest copy of Hansard into a brief-case. But there is still the sense of humour in his keen, far-seeing blue eyes, still that air of quick decision and purpose which must on many an occasion have saved valuable lives. An Active M.P. Leaving for the House, Laddie Lucas has already had behind him a full working day. As a Director of White City Stadium and an Executive of the Greyhound Racing Association he has a crowded business life to attend to as well as his Parliamentary duties. To be able to do justice to both has meant getting up at 6 a.m. and getting in a solid two hours’ work before breakfast the best hours, he says’, of the day. Like all men who get through a double quota of work, Laddie can fall off to sleep at a moment’s notice and wake still fresh. His association with the dogs has, he fears, occasionally lost him a housewife’s vote in those districts where too large a whack of the weekly wage packet follows the hare to oblivion A far more serious problem in his constituency at the moment is the proposed extension of Cromwell Road to link up with the Great West Road, and so avoid the stagnant bottleneck of Chiswick. The artery will carry London’s traffic freely to the West and London Air port. This means rehousing those whose homes have to be demolished and raises many other problems. How much of a Member’s time is taken up by his constituency Every Friday night Lucas holds what he calls his Surgery in the Town Hall, when an)’ of his constituents can off-load their problems. He makes a minimum of a hundred visits a year to Chiswick and Brentford, and so feels justifiably hurt at that perennial type of constituent who, having made no effort to contact him, says Our M.P. My dear, we never see him As a prospective Tory candidate he nursed the constituency for three years before he won the seat with the narrow margin of 800 in 1950 from Francis Noel- Baker. In the 1951 General Election, he increased this margin to 1,500. Previously he had experienced his political baptism in contesting, while still in the R.A.F., the 1945 General Election as Conservative Candidate for West Fulham against Edith Summerskill. In spite of the effort of many of his fellow-officers and men who gave up their leaves to help him in his campaign, he was defeated. Feeling ran high and when Group Captain Reach For The Sky Bader, his wife’s brother- in-law, spoke for him he was howled down and asked what right had he to speak at all. His reply For five years we have fought for the right of free speech was a sad reflection on how soon it is possible for the man in the street to forget what he owes to the Few.” Golfer and Pilot Success came to Laddie Lucas long before, his meteoric career in the R.A.F. At Cambridge he was the University’s number one golf player and captain of the Light Blues. Later, in 1936, he became a member of the Walker Cup Team, of which he became captain in 1949. He started his business career as a sports journalist with the Beaverbrook Press two years before the outbreak of war, and so it was that when he joined up as an A.C.2, and was sent for training to Canada, he never regarded himself as anything more than an amateur airman. To-day, with two D.S.O.s and a couple of D.F.C.s to his credit, he still holds that view. I noticed that he, who has done so much to justify it, never uses his wartime rank of wing-commander. His D.F.C. was won in those desperate days of the Battle of Malta when, as C.O. of 249 Fighter Squadron, he led over 200 sweeps against enemy attacks. Later, on his return to operations in England, he won the D.S.O. for leading his fighter squadron in attacks on shipping and acting as escort to bomber formations. His second D.S.O. wa.. won for leading attacks against enemy communications, many during appalling weather conditions and in face of heavy opposition.” In all, he flew three full operational tours. Laddie for Short It was perhaps with a premonition of his future Parliamentary career that Laddie’s father burdened him with the names of Percy Belgrave, so eminently unsuitable As so often happens when parents misjudge the character of their own child, a more appropriate name, which starts as a nursery joke, sticks, and becomes a substitute. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, stationed near the Lucas home at Sandwich, and a pretty nursemaid were responsible for the name by which he is universally known. As an opening gambit to the comely girl pushing the pram the kilted Highlanders would say Och, and how is the wee laddie to-day And so Laddie he became and remained to his airmen, constituents and friends. This energetic, well-disciplined, alive young man should, with his intelligent wife (always ready to lend an interested and helping hand in the constituency) go far. He has an unashamed sense of mission, an inherited sense of duty to his country, whether it be in a Spitfire or at the hustings. He has to the best of his ability followed his family motto in Standing by the faith of his forefathers.” Whether it be enemy flak or the veteran fish that was once thrown into his open electioneering car Laddie can take it. Above: Percy Belgrave Lucas, M.P. for Brentford and Chiswick, at his home in Berkeley Square. Left Laddie Lucas ended the war with the rank of Wing- Commander, a D.S.O. and Bar, the D.F.C. and the Croix de Guerre.

Reported By: JOHN BUCHANAN DACRE, The Sketch – Wednesday 04 May 1955

Laddie Lucas was a superb wartime fighter pilot, an MP, a world class golfer who captained the Walker Cup team, a successful businessman and a fine writer. The defence of Malta in 1942, in which he commanded 249 Squadron, was perhaps one of his greatest achievements. Often outnumbered 10 to one, his squadron shot down more planes than any other over the skies of Malta.

Laddie Lucas Born Percy Belgrave Lucas in Sandwich Bay, Kent, in 1915, his gift for golf was developed early under the tutelage of his father who was the Secretary and co-founder of Prince’s Golf Club at Sandwich. Laddie, a left-hander, was sinking putts at six and in his teens practised with the champion English golfer Henry Cotton. During the Second World War, in 1944, his intimate knowledge of the course probably saved his life: his Spitfire was hit by an ME109; not at all keen to bale out, he spotted Sandwich Bay at the same moment as his engine died. Gliding in and keeping the clubhouse as a marker, he missed the 2nd, 4th, 12th, 8th and 9th to land belly-up out of bounds just short of the River Store. He recalled being very unhappy at the state of the greens and his continuing inability to hit the 9th fairway.

Crash Landing Site at Prince Golf Club, Sandwich

Astonishingly Laddie was an England Boys International for 4 consecutive seasons (1930, 31, 32 and 33 when he was Captain), between the ages 15 to 18 inclusive. After winning the British Boys’ championship at Carnoustie in 1933, he captained the Pembroke College (Cambridge) golf team in 1934 , was the top amateur golfer in the 1935 British Open at Muirfield and at 19 found himself hailed as the finest left-handed player in the world. After the war, he captained the Walker Cup team in 1947 and 1949. See a photo of the 1949 team, including fellow former RAF golfer, Max McCready, and an American news report of the event.

Lucas volunteered for the RAF at the outbreak of war and became one of the first pilots to learn to fly under the Empire scheme in Canada. He was posted to 66 Squadron in 1941, based in Cornwall. He took his family crest in his cockpit while carrying out strikes against shipping in the Channel. In February 1942 he was posted to Malta, where he joined 249 Squadron. Soon afterwards, at the age of 26, he was given command of it, and forged a fighting unit from many disparate elements – Canadians, Poles, Australians – giving them responsibilities normally reserved for more experienced pilots. Despite several forced landings, Lucas was seldom out of his cockpit. For the next four months, the three squadrons on the island fought off German and Italian bombers, often outnumbered 10 to one and initially flying out-of-date Hurricanes against Kesselring’s vastly superior Messerschmitts. It seemed that Malta was doomed, but reinforcements by sea, including Spitfires, eventually turned the tide.

The other great influence on Lucas’s life, the aviator Douglas Bader, had always believed in attacking out of the sun, with the advantage of height and speed. During the Battle for Malta, Lucas successfully carried out a classic Bader attack on three Italian bombers which were guarded by 8 Me 109s, and for this feat he was awarded a DFC.

In 1943, he took charge of 616 Squadron, then became leader of the Spitfire wing at Coltishall, Norfolk. In 1944 in the Ardennes, he commanded 613 Squadron and was involved in low-level tactical support missions and strikes. In 1944-45 he served as a wg cdr with Tactical Air Force in North-West Europe. In 1945 he was awarded a bar to his DSO (awarded in 1943) for making numerous attacks on enemy communications, often in appalling weather conditions.

His wartime friend and fellow air ace Air Vice-Marshal Johnny Johnson said of him: “I do not think I have ever met a finer Englishman. He had tremendous qualities of goodness, leadership and character. Everything Laddie did he did well.”

Percy Belgrave ‘Laddie’ Lucas, pilot, politician, writer, golfer: born Sandwich Bay, Kent 2 September 1915; DFC 1942; DSO 1943, and bar 1945; MP (Conservative) for Brentford and Chiswick 1950-59; CBE 1981; died London 20 March 1998.

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