Major John Lucas aged 92 (born April 25 1921, died May 24 2013), commanded a company of the Gurkha Rifles on the second Chindit expedition in Burma and won an MC in 1944.
In August 1943, at a high level conference, Major General Orde Wingate won support for his plans to drop long-range penetration groups into Burma behind the Japanese lines. The objective of Special Force, better known as Wingate’s Chindits, was to cut the lines of communication serving the Japanese Army operating against the American-led Chinese forces advancing from the north.
The Chindits were to be supplied by establishing a number of fortified bases, many of which were given the names of well-known cities or streets. These bases were situated in the Mogaung-Bhamo-Indaw triangle, south of Myitkyina, and had to be suitable for turning into airstrips. The Chindits’ usual armament was rifles, Thompson submachine guns, pistols, mortars, grenades and knives. A mule transport company carried their supplies.
In March 1944, 3rd Battalion 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles (3/6 GR), part of 77th Indian Infantry Brigade, was flown into a landing zone named “Broadway”. Many gliders were destroyed and there were considerable casualties but a stronghold was established from which the columns of riflemen were deployed.
In June Lucas, then a lieutenant, was serving with 3/6 GR. In an attack on Natyigon, near Mogaung, he took command of “A” Company after two senior officers had been wounded. When the company was pinned down by machine gunners and snipers who were completely hidden, he led his men forward under heavy fire through thick jungle which reduced visibility to a few yards.
He was wounded in the shoulder and arm but refused to leave his company and continued to press home the attack until ordered by his CO to report to the regimental aid post and hand over to Lieutenant Michael Allmand.
On June 23, Lucas was close by when Allmand jumped out of his trench in the last of a series of prodigious deeds leading attacks on Japanese machine gun posts. Allmand was killed and was awarded a posthumous VC. Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun, also serving with 3/6 GR, won a VC on the same day. Lucas was promoted to major in the field and awarded an MC.
John George Anderson Lucas was born at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, on April 25 1921 and educated at Mayfield School, Sussex. He joined the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry before volunteering for service with the Chindits and moving to 3/6 GR on attachment.
It was in the nature of the Chindits’ operations that they had to strike and move on through the jungle and when they moved it was not possible to carry sick or wounded men. Lucas went down with sand fly fever, a very serious illness, and had to be left in a foxhole with just a gun and a couple of bullets and some water.
He was in a coma but when he regained consciousness a day or two later, he decided to set out alone and try to rejoin his company. After walking for several days, he eventually managed to catch up with the main body of troops. He had been given up for dead and when he suddenly appeared out of the jungle, looking like death, several of his comrades fainted. A few days later, he was back in action at Natyigon.
When he finally returned to India at the end of a dreadful march over hundreds of miles of rough, mountainous terrain, short of food and plagued by heat and insects, he had shed several stone. The results of his privations remained with him for many years.
After the war, he managed JP Lucas & Co, his family’s furnishing business at Aylesbury.
John Lucas married, in 1952, Barbara Thrasher, who survives him with their son and two daughters. A daughter died in infancy. A son predeceased him.