THE dedication of the paving stone to Fred Luke VC at Lockerley last week gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk to relations and service personnel who knew him.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross, one of three in the action, for saving the guns of 37 Battery, Royal Artillery at the battle of Le Cateau on August 26, 1914.
Mr Luke was called out of the line to be presented his medal by King George V in the field near Bethune, France on December 1, 1914, the first that he knew about the award. On handing him the medal, the King told him to be careful not to lose the medal in the mud.
He went on to serve throughout the war but joined the RAF Regiment in 1941, serving until 1945. He was the oldest serving holder of the VC of the Royal Artillery until his death in 1983.
His grandson, Barry, now 57, remembers visiting his grandfather in Scotland. “He never spoke to us about his medal,” he said.
“We knew he went off to visit places with the army, but we never really knew anything about it. One day we were allowed into the front room where his medals were kept to see them – all he said was ‘this is my medal’ and that was it.”
“One day Victor comic had granddad on the front page, so I wrote to them and they sent me a ten shilling postal order, which was great. He never made a thing about it. Even though we had seen the photos, he was just our granddad.”
John Bearfoot, who commanded 37 Bty from 1979-81, remembers Mr Luke visiting the battery in Germany. “Because he had served in the RAF, they also regarded him as ‘their VC’ and gave him VIP treatment with a staff car to bring him to the barracks, something he hated.
“He presented prizes at the sports day and after the event he sat round with the gunners and spoke about his experiences.
“He was never happier than when he was with soldiers.”
Mike Watson, another 37 Battery veteran, remembers Mr Luke as “one of nature’s gentlemen, who mixed freely and charmingly with everyone, whether they were a general or a gunner”.
He said: “He regarded his VC as being awarded to himself on behalf of the Battery and flatly refused to take any advantage from it. Although entitled to first class travel he always went second class, saying ‘first is for officers’.”
It was fitting that the commemoration stone was unveiled by Sarah Houghton from Lockerley, who is 18, the same age as Mr Luke when he won the VC.
Lockerley can be proud of their famous son and the wonderful commemoration service that they gave him.