Page last updated at 01:20 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Family follows soldier's footsteps

By Tom Warren
BBC News, Shropshire

Edgar Lucas
Edgar Lucas signed-up to the British Army in 1917

Visits to World War I battlefields have surged in recent years as more people trace their family history, evidence suggests.

The unexpected discovery of a grandfather's war diary inspired one Shropshire man to trace his entire journey across the Western Front.

For years the diary of World War I soldier Edgar Lucas lay forgotten in a cupboard.

It was only when his grandson Rob was sorting through possessions after the death of his father Dennis that he came across the book, which recorded Pte Lucas's journey across the Western Front.

The find inspired Mr Lucas, of Highley, Shropshire, to visit each of the sites.

A lot of the trenches are still there and the amount of ordnance, bits of bullets and tin hats, it's still lying around in the fields
Rob Lucas

After signing-up in 1917 to the 7th Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) his grandfather, then 18, was posted to Albert, France.

From there he marched to Canal du Nord and then Cambrai. The town lay near the Hindenburg Line - a heavily fortified defensive position occupied by the Germans.

Despite being gassed, Pte Lucas, who was trained as a bomber, survived the Great War and served in the KSLI again during the early years of World War II.

He died aged 52 in 1950.

Rob Lucas
Rob Lucas has visited battlefields every year since 1995

Mr Lucas, 53, a special constable, said the discovery of the diary had inspired him to begin visiting the sites with his wife and children.

The first of these trips, run by the War Research Society, was to Cambrai.

Since then he has been to all the locations recorded in his grandfather's diary and many other battlefields from both world wars, as well as sites in South Africa from the Zulu and Boer wars.

Worst memories

He goes on several trips a year to conflict sites and said he had spent thousands of pounds pursuing his interest.

"It's all been worth it," he said. "At the end of the day if these people hadn't made the ultimate sacrifice I think things in this country would be a lot different."

Mr Lucas said the trips had helped him gain a better understanding of World War I.

Edgar Lucas's route through France
Edgar Lucas moved through France along the Western Front

"A lot of the trenches are still there and the amount of ordnance, bits of bullets and tin hats, it's still lying around in the fields," he said.

"[While visiting sites] I think about what's gone on. In the Delville Wood, for example, there's thousands of people there who were never buried."

Pte Lucas, who died before his grandson's birth, rarely talked about his experiences during World War I, Mr Lucas said.

"But his brother, my great uncle Roland, said [Pte Lucas's] worst memory of the trenches was the mud.

"If you weren't up to your knees you knew you were standing on a body.

"Like a lot of old soldiers my grandfather hardly ever talked about it. Unless you were there you didn't understand.

"You wouldn't know the feelings or the sorts of conditions they were in."



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SEE ALSO
Paper trail to the past
13 Jan 09 |  Magazine
British WWI veteran dies aged 108
12 Jan 09 |  Berkshire
New air route to WW1 battlefield
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