Until recently, the well-known first Black officer commissioned into a British army regiment during World War One has been Walter Tull. An orphan who beat all odds to break the color barrier in English football, Tull had also been assumed to be the first Black officer in the army who was killed in action.
But thanks to the discovery of an antique plaque, it is now known that Jamaican-born Euan Lucie-Smith was not only the first Black officer commissioned into the British army but was also the first Black officer killed in action some three years before Tull was.
The plaque, discovered by former Member of the European Parliament James Carver, is inscribed with Lucie-Smith’s name and the words “He Died For Freedom and Honor”.
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This month, it was sold as part of a military memorabilia auction by Piccadilly-based Dix Noonan Web. It was expected to go for £600 ($793) or £800 ($1,000) but the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Museum (Warwickshire) bought it at auction for £10,540 (almost $14,000), 13 times the estimate, BBC reported.
“It represents a first. The first officer from an ethnic background to be commissioned into the British Army, to be commissioned into a British regiment, and sadly to die on the battlefield,” Lt Col John Rice, from the museum, said of the plague that has rewritten British history while highlighting the contributions of Jamaicans to the Great War.
Carver, a collector of military memorabilia, discovered the unique plaque on sale on the open market. He bought it and then decided to research the Jamaican descendant’s military and family background.
Lucie-Smith came from a mixed heritage background. Born at Crossroads, St. Andrew, Jamaica, on December 14, 1889, his mother, Catherine “Katie” Lucie-Smith, was the daughter of influential Black lawyer Samuel Constantine Burke, who fought for the rights of Black communities in Jamaica during the 19th century. Lucie-Smith’s father, who was from a line of eminent white colonial civil servants, was John Barkley Lucie-Smith, the Postmaster of Jamaica.
Lucie-Smith schooled in England, first at Berkhamsted School and then to Eastbourne College before returning to Jamaica, where he was commissioned into the Jamaica Artillery Militia on November 10, 1911. Six weeks after the war began, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the regular force of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, with his name and rank being listed in the London Gazette of November 30, 1914.
Lucie-Smith’s name is believed to have been the only name on this list from the Caribbean, or East and West Africa, The Courier reported. This confirmed that the Jamaican descendant was commissioned two years and eight months before Tull, the report added.
Enlisting and landing in France on March 17, 1915, Lucie-Smith was reported missing after six weeks before he was later confirmed as being killed in action on April 25, 1915, aged 25, during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium, three years before Tull. He was shot through the head, according to a statement by a Pte. F. Jukes, at Suffolk Hall Hospital, Cheltenham.
With no known grave, Lucie-Smith is commemorated on Panel 2 to 3 of the popular Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium. He also has an entry in “Jamaica in the Great War” and is commemorated on the Eastbourne College Memorial and the Berkhassted School Memorial.