Obituary: Wing Cdr Laddie Lucas

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. His flair, his humour, his understanding of his men and his refusal to give in against the most daunting of odds carried him through this arduous campaign.

He was born Percy Belgrave Lucas in Sandwich Bay, Kent, in 1915. Based in the area were a company of Highlanders who would attract the attention of his young nursemaid by asking after "the wee laddie", a name by which he would be known for the rest of his life.

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 Me 109; 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.

Lucas was educated at Stowe, where he excelled at games. His father had died when he was 11 but his perceptive headmaster J.F. Roxburgh encouraged him to develop his many gifts. Lucas went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1934. He read Economics, captained the golf team, was the top amateur golfer in the 1935 British Open 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.

When he came down from Cambridge, he was interviewed by Beaverbrook for a post on the Sunday Express. Blunt and incisive, Beaverbrook was impressed by Lucas's replies to his questions. He took him to supper that night and asked him the same questions. Lucas gave the same answers and Beaverbrook hired him as a sports writer. That unconventional meeting touched a spark with Lucas; he learnt from Beaverbrook that you had to give young people their chance, encourage them, let them have their head, give them responsibility. In future years, he was to do so again and again. He remained with the Sunday Express until the outbreak of war when he volunteered for the RAF.

Lucas 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 Messerschmidts. 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 80 Me 109s, and for this feat he was awarded a DFC.

In the autumn of 1942 Lucas was assigned as personal assistant to the Duke of Kent, but he felt that his friend Michael Strutt, who already knew the Duke, would be more suited to the post. Strutt duly took it up, and two weeks later both were killed in an air crash. This event haunted Lucas for many years.

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 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.

Also in 1945, encouraged by Beaverbrook, Lucas stood as Conservative candidate for West Fulham, but failed to be elected. He returned to the RAF to see out his commission and came back from France with bottles of champagne in the space where he had stripped out his guns. These were drunk at his wedding in 1946 to Jill Addison, the sister of Douglas Bader's wife, Thelma.

In 1950, Lucas won the seat of Brentford and Chiswick, which he held for nine years. He contributed much to the debate on aviation, but became disillusioned with his government's reluctance to join Europe. In 1959, he left to make a fresh career in commerce.

From 1946, he had worked with the Greyhound Racing Association, which had extensive property holdings including White City Stadium. He became managing director in 1957 and chairman in 1965. He expanded the stadium's use, notably hosting the evangelist Billy Graham's crusade. The firm was badly hit by the property collapse in the Seventies, and, after a difference of opinion with the backers, Lucas took early retirement in 1975.

At the age of 60, he took up his pen again and wrote a compelling autobiography, Five-Up (1978), The Sport of Princes (reflections of a golfer) (1980), and other books including Flying Colours: the epic story of Douglas Bader (1981), Wings of War: airmen of all nations tell their stories 1939-45 (1983), Out of the Blue: the role of luck in air warfare 1917-66 (1985) and Malta - the thorn in Rommel's side (1992). He then wrote three books with his wartime friend and fellow air ace Air Vice-Marshal Johnny Johnson.

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 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; married 1946 Jill Addison (two sons, and one son deceased); died London 20 March 1998.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum