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War of Independence letters 'Ireland's equivalent of WWI British-German football at Christmas'

Captured general 'treated like gentleman'


Prisoner: Brigadier General Cuthbert Lucas is pictured sitting down in this ‘proof of capture’ photograph

Prisoner: Brigadier General Cuthbert Lucas is pictured sitting down in this ‘proof of capture’ photograph

Prisoner: Brigadier General Cuthbert Lucas is pictured sitting down in this ‘proof of capture’ photograph

Amidst the savagery of Ireland's War of Independence, one British army officer captured by the IRA painted a picture of a conflict where compassion and respect were not entirely forgotten.

Brigadier General Cuthbert Henry Tindall Lucas (41) was taken prisoner by an IRA unit on June 26, 1920 while he was engaging in one of his passions - fishing on the River Blackwater in north Cork.

He escaped from his captors the following month - amid indications he was so liked by the IRA volunteers they allowed him to flee to safety rather than risk later being ordered to shoot him.

Cork was one of the hotbeds of IRA activity during the War of Independence with Fermoy having witnessed the first fatal shooting of a soldier during an operation led by General Liam Lynch.

The letters Brig Gen Lucas wrote to his pregnant wife back in England offer a fascinating insight into what life in war-torn Ireland was like for a British 'Tommy'.

Incredibly, some of his letters were written and delivered while in IRA captivity. "My darling - I expect you have heard by now that I have been taken prisoner. Well, old thing, you are not to worry. I am being well looked after . . . but am very bored. I am afraid I shalln't be with you when the event (birth) takes place. But don't worry as I really am alright. I don't know when I shall see you again but will come on directly once let out to cheer you up. I hope I shall be able to write to you regularly," he wrote in his first letter from captivity.

Later, he wrote that he was "really seeing Ireland properly right now".

"The people are very kind - there is lots of good, plain food."

He also said he was being "treated as a gentleman by gentlemen."

The IRA unit holding him treated him with respect - they fed him well, allowed him exercise and even permitted him to take tennis lessons, go salmon fishing and play croquet.

Britain's commanding general in Ireland, Nevil Macready, who had strong family links to Ireland, famously said: "I loathe the country [Ireland] . . . and its people with a depth deeper than the sea and more violent than that which I feel against the Boche."

However, Brig Gen Lucas - who survived the Boer War and World War I - had respect not only for his IRA captors but for the Irish people.

When he returned to his wife, Joan, who was nicknamed 'Poppy', and settled in Stevenage, he always spoke of how "very kind" people in Ireland were towards him.

His letters are now published online by his granddaughter, Ruth Wheeler, who said his story and experiences in Ireland deserve to be remembered.

"Passions were running high at that time, there were terrible things happening in Ireland, and yet in the midst of this, a British general and Irish freedom fighters and their families found a way of bringing a smile to their respective countries' faces, simply by being the best that they could be in the circumstances," Ms Wheeler said.

"The men holding my grandfather were by no means 'soft'. These were very hardened fighters and many had been involved in the killing of British soldiers, RIC officers and others considered 'spies' or collaborators with the enemy.

"If it wasn't for those Irish fighters' humanity and kindness, my family and I would not be here today.

"So I'll forever be grateful that they tolerated my grandfather's passion for whiskey and cards and didn't shoot him as happened to some of the IRA's other military captives. There was something about him that made him 'too nice a guy to shoot'."

The BBC described the letters as the Irish War of Independence equivalent to the Christmas Day football match in World War I between English and German soldiers.

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