Band of brothers

FAMILIES throughout Australia have made sacrifices during conflicts from the Boer War to both world wars and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many gave their lives for their country while others fought in theatres of war around the world.

But it could be said that none, either in Australia or any other country, contributed like the Lucas family from Brogo did in World War 2.

There are many older people around Bega who remember the nine brothers who joined up and went to war.

Indeed, many of their descendants still live in the area.

With Anzac Day on Sunday, it is worth retelling their story.

Long-time family friend and distant relative, 83-year-old Kevin Umback of Wolumla, spoke this week of his memories of the sons of Henry Lucas.

When Henry’s wife Alice died in 1929 while giving birth to her youngest child, Henry moved from Bega and reared his 15 children through the years of the Great Depression of the 1930s in a disused dairy on the Brogo River.

The children had a three-mile walk to the Brogo North School across country and across the river.

When the river was too high or too cold, it was a 10-mile walk by road.

Mr Umback said the family lived mainly on rabbits, pumpkins and potatoes.

“Every time you went to the house there would be a four-gallon kerosene tin hanging above the fire,” he said.

“There’d be rabbits everywhere and when they wanted a feed they’d just grab one out.”

Jack, one of the sons, once said a luxury was to have home-made butter on toast on your birthday.

The family earned a meagre living from trapping rabbits in the winter and stripping wattle bark, which was used for tanning leather, in the summer.

There were 10 boys and four girls in the family with the youngest son, Harold, dying from pneumonia while very young.

Mr Umback said he “knew all the boys pretty well” and while they were “a bit wild they were all good at heart”.

They were “tough fighting fellas” according to Mr Umback and within the first year of the war, nine of the 10 boys had enlisted.

The youngest, Christopher, was too young to even try, but four of them, Dudley, Cecil, Jack and Vasil were all under the legal age when they enlisted, Jack and Vasil were only 16.

Bill and Ron (Don) served in the Middle East and later with the 2-1 Field Guard Regiment in New Guinea.

Rufus was with the 3rd Battalion on the Kokoda Trail and in later New Guinea campaigns.

Dudley enlisted three times, being rejected twice because of a childhood injury.

He was killed in action with the 8th Division in Malaya.

Cecil (Jim) and Vasil (Babe) saw service in the Middle East with the 2-3rd Battalion, 6 Division and in Greece and Crete with the 7th Division. Jack saw action at El Alamein and in New Guinea campaigns with the 2-4th L.A.A. Regiment, 9th Division.

Henry, junior and Lance served in the Darwin area.

Mr Umback said Babe first tried to enlist when he was 15 but Henry went after him and brought him back.

That didn’t deter Babe and he tried again, this time successfully by changing his name to Basil.

He celebrated his 16th birthday in Palestine and in a letter home he wrote: “Come and get me now Pop”.

He later served in New Guinea where he was wounded and taken to a Military Dressing Station in Soputa, awaiting evacuation in Port Moresby.

According to records, the MDS was clearly marked with Red Cross signs but a Japanese reconnaissance plane buzzed the area, strafing the hospital tents containing many patients too badly wounded or sick to take cover.

Babe was hit by two bullets and died in his stretcher.

He was just 18 and is buried in the Bomana War Cemetery.

When news was received of his death, King George VI wrote a letter of sympathy to Henry.

The Lucas family is now spread far and wide, but there are many members still in the region, especially Bega.

Geoffrey (Hedley) Lucas lives in Bega and said his family is extremely proud of their heritage and the way they fought for their country.

“I always march on Anzac Day and so do a lot of the nephews, cousins and other members of our family – all descendants of those brothers,” he said.

“It makes us all very proud.”

Henry (H) Lucas agreed and said he could well remember going with his father rabbit trapping and stripping wattle bark.

“We all still love rabbits but don’t get to eat them much any more.”

Rufus, the only brother still alive, lives in Nowra with his wife Molly.

Married in 1941, the couple will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary next year.

The 93-year-old Rufus is in very good health apart from suffering from dementia.

Molly, 87, said this week she was seven months pregnant with their first child when Rufus decided to join up.

“He was the only one left out of the brothers that hadn’t joined up,” Molly remembered.

“We lived in Towamba and all the other young blokes in the area were joining up so Rufe said he had to go as well.

“I will admit that it didn’t make me feel so good.”

But Rufus survived the war and returned to Molly.

The couple raised a family of four and has enjoyed a “wonderful life”.

• Kevin Umback served in the 20th Field Ambulance during the war and later in Japan for 18 months when the war ended.

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