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Lucas, Leonard Cuthbert (1894–1978)

by P. J. Greville

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Leonard Cuthbert Lucas (1894-1978), by unknown photographer

Leonard Cuthbert Lucas (1894-1978), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P02721.005

Leonard Cuthbert Lucas (1894-1978), soldier, architect and public servant, was born on 6 November 1894 at Townsville, Queensland, eldest son of Robert Lucas, a sawmill manager from Ireland, and his Scottish-born wife Thomasina, née Cuthbert. Leonard attended state school at Charters Towers and became a senior cadet. He tried his hand at canecutting and journalism while studying engineering at the local school of mines. Joining the 2nd Infantry Regiment (Kennedy Battalion) in 1912, he progressed rapidly through the ranks to second lieutenant.

On the outbreak of World War I Lucas was sent with his unit to Thursday Island in August 1914. Taking 'unofficial leave', he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 9 March 1915 and was posted to the 18th Battalion as a signaller. In June he was promoted sergeant and sailed for Egypt. On 20 August he landed at Gallipoli. Wounded in that month, he was evacuated with jaundice in October. He was commissioned in Egypt in February 1916 and embarked for France in March. For his work as battalion signals officer on the Somme in August, he was mentioned in dispatches.

In February 1917 Lucas was transferred to the 2nd Divisional Signal Company as lieutenant. On 3 May, during an attack on the Hindenburg line, he repaired telephone wires while under heavy artillery fire and won the Military Cross. Wounded again in November, he was hospitalized in England before he returned to France in April 1918. He was promoted captain in June. At St John's parish church, Glasgow, Scotland, on 28 March 1919 he married his cousin Whilhemina Shields, a 19-year-old typist. Lucas furthered his technical education through an attachment to Bridgman & Bridgman, architects and surveyors, at Torquay, England. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 14 March 1920. Employed that year as an assistant in the office of the architect H. J. Brownlee in Sydney, and as a draughtsman with the Commonwealth War Service Homes Commission from 1922, he was registered as an architect on 26 June 1923.

Lucas had resumed his Militia service in 1921. He rose to lieutenant colonel (1933) and commanded the engineers of the 1st Division in 1933-39. The Department of the Interior posted him to Darwin in 1939 to supervise the construction of Larrakeyah Barracks. He was appointed to the 7th Military District headquarters staff in August and took up full-time duty in the following month. On 4 April 1940 he joined the A.I.F. as commander, Royal Australian Engineers, 6th Division, and sailed for the Middle East; his men served throughout the 1941 campaigns in Libya, Greece and Crete. Lucas was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership in Libya.

After helping to garrison Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from March 1942, he arrived home in May. As temporary brigadier, he was deputy engineer-in-chief (1942-45) at Land Headquarters and Advanced L.H.Q., and travelled extensively in the South-West Pacific Area. In 1945 he commanded the 1st R.A.E. Training Centre, Kapooka, New South Wales. He co-authored a booklet, The Royal Australian Engineers—Lessons from The War 1939-45. Demobilized in November, he held the office of (honorary) colonel commandant, R.A.E., in 1955-60 and maintained a keen interest in the corps. Following a term (1946-50) as Commonwealth director of works in the Northern Territory—where he was an official member (1948) of the Legislative Council—Lucas transferred to Western Australia. In 1953 he was seconded to take charge of construction of the atomic test site at Emu, South Australia; for this work he was appointed O.B.E. (1954). He retired in 1957.

A short, slight, energetic man, genuine and fair-minded, 'Luke' was 'brimful of bush humour, with twinkling blue eyes and steel-wire moustaches'. He wrote a pamphlet, Man Management, which summarized his vast experience in thirty-two pithy commandments, among them, 'Have a plan but don't let it choke you', and 'Don't piss in pockets—they leak'. He was fond of quoting the Bible, and enjoyed fishing, sketching and water-colour painting. Survived by his daughter and one of his two sons, Lucas died on 3 September 1978 at St Leonards, Sydney, and was cremated. His son John served as an officer in the R.A.E.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Beadell, Blast the Bush (Adel, 1967)
  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers 1919 to 1945 (Canb, 1982)
  • D. O. Magee, Sappers at the A-Bomb Tests (Syd, 1994)
  • Sapper, vol 1, no 6, 1974, p 4, vol 2, no 2, Dec 1978, p 34.

Citation details

P. J. Greville, 'Lucas, Leonard Cuthbert (1894–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lucas-leonard-cuthbert-10867/text19289, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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