18th Jan, 2021

Plaque for first black officer - who fought in Royal Warwickshire Regiment - rewrites history of First World War

Laura Kearns 29th Nov, 2020

THE FUSILIER Museum has acquired a memorial plaque dedicated to the first black officer to fight in the First World War.

The Warwick-based museum successfully bid on a plaque for Lieutenant Euan Lucie-Smith, who fought in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

The auction saw the bronze plaque go for £8,500 and it will now go on display in the museum.

And the museum say its significance is very important as it rewrites British Black History in the First World War and tells a ‘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 the First World War and the first to die in the conflict.

He was commissioned into the 1st Battalion, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in September 1914, just six weeks after the outbreak of the war. He went to the front, in France, in March 1915, and just over a month later, was killed in action at the Second Battle of Ypres.

A fellow soldier later said that he was shot through the head. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium.

Previously it had been thought Walter Tull was the first black officer to be commissioned in May 1917 and the first black officer to be killed in action in March 1918.

But Euan Lucie-Smith died almost three years before.

Museum chair of trustees Lieutenant Col John Rice said: “I am absolutely thrilled 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 showcase 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 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 Simon Hawker, another of our Trustees, provided us with a substantial financial pot, had the bidding gone higher.”

Curator Stephanie Bennett added ‘It is wonderful to have the unique plaque so people can see it and for it to be in 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.”

Euan Lucie-Smith came from a mixed heritage background. He was born at Crossroads, St Andrew, Jamaica, on December 14 1889.

His father John Barkley Lucie-Smith – the postmaster of Jamaica and a retired major – hailed from a line of distinguished white colonial civil servants. Euan’s mother Catherine was a daughter of distinguished ‘coloured’ 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 attended two private schools in England – Berkhamsted School and then Eastbourne College. He was commissioned into the Jamaica Artillery Militia in 1911.

The round plaque shows the contribution of Commonwealth Countries in the First World War.

It is 11cms in diameter and was given by the King to the nearest next of kin to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of men and women who died in the war.

Each plaque has the name of the fallen individual and the words ‘He died for freedom and honour’ around the edge.

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