If World War I had never happened, I wouldn’t be here. My father, John Dudley Lucie-Smith, met my mother, Mary Frances Maud Chippindall Lushington, when he came from the British colony of Jamaica to fight as a volunteer in the conflict. Without this great upheaval, their paths, pretty certainly, would never have crossed. What follows is not just the story of how they met and married, but of the many geographic and social elements involved. It is also, in a way, the story of a deal, which in some ways worked and which is other ways probably didn’t. To understand why this was the case, one has to know something about the complex history of the English-speaking West Indies – so much of which is involved with slavery and its consequences.
My parents’ backgrounds were in most respects very different, but in one quite important respect the same: both were children of Empire. Dudley Lucie-Smith belonged to a family that settled in Barbados around 1635, shortly after the first English settlement, which took place in 1627. At first they were planters, and their surname was simply ‘Smith’. Family wills from this period give a snapshot of their possessions, which included slaves. For example this, from the will of Francis Smith, Planter, registered on October 20th, 1692:
Item: I give and bequeath unto my son William Smith one moiety or halfe part of all my lands with my Mansion house and other houses and conveniences therto belonging excepting the house or houses wherein he now lives to be delivered immediately after my wife’s decease to him and to his heiress lawfully begotten forever. And alsoe I gibe and bequeath one moiety or halfe part of all my Negroes that I shall dye possesst of (excepting two Negroes by name Moll and Jane which I bequeath as followeth) the aforesaid negroes to be delivered my said son William immediately after my wife’s decease to him and his heires lawfully begotten for ever.
Or this, from the will of Dr. John Lucie Smith, registered nearly a hundred years later, on October 13th, 1772:
It is my will & desire that my Executrix or Executors at the expiration of twelve months after the expiration of twelve months after the death of my mother Elvi Smith do purchase one negro girl of the value of thirty pounds & that they give the said negro girl unto Dorothy Clarke the daughter of Frances Clarke dec’d for her use during her natural life & to her issue lawfully begotten of her body but if she shall die without such issue then the said negro & her increase to return to my heirs for ever.
It will be noticed that by this time the name Lucie had entered the picture, though not yet hyphenated with Smith. The coupling of the two names began very early in the eighteenth century. Victorian Lucie-Smiths liked to claim that they were descended from Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, the magistrate who convicted Shakespeare of poaching, and who is satirized as Mr. Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor. There is not a shred of evidence for this. There was, however, a rich family of planters called Lucie who owned properties in both Barbados and Antigua. The name appears in London Dutch genealogies. Dutch friends of mine claim that it cannot possibly be native Dutch. The best guess seems to be that the Lucies were originally Huguenots, who fled to Amsterdam to escape religious persecution, transited from there to London, and then to the West Indies. At that time the West Indian colonies were a kind of Wild West, where everyone was freer than they were at home – except, of course, for the slaves, kidnapped and brought from Africa.
A turning point came with another Dr. John Lucie Smith, born in 1757. He went to Edinburgh University to study medicine, and there met and married Anna McLaurin, who was the only surviving child of Colonel Euan McLaurin, a leader of the Carolina Loyalists and a descendant of Euan McLaurin, who had been the Young Pretender’s personal physician in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. The McLaurins had a gift for choosing the wrong side. It was this John Lucie Smith who uprooted his family and carried them off to Demerara, now British Guyana. His son became a Doctor of Laws, rather than a Doctor of Medicine, and his grandson followed the same profession, rising with remarkable rapidity to become Solicitor General of British Guyana, aged only twenty-five. He moved from Guyana to become Lord Chief Justice of Jamaica in 1869. He was given a knighthood (KCMG), and produced four sons and six daughters before dying in 1880. He was my great grandfather.
My mother’s ancestry can be summarized more quickly. Her first important ancestor became Chairman of the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century. As a young man, he had served in India under Clive, and survived imprisonment in the Black Hole of Calcutta. In later life, he prospered sufficiently to be given a baronetcy. My mother was descended from his younger son, who became an MP, helped to defend Queen Caroline against George IV’s attempt to divorce her, and was an ally of Wilberforce in working for the abolition of the slave trade. There is a portrait of him by Holman Hunt in the National Portrait Gallery. Some of his children were Victorian intellectuals, whose names can be found in the DNB. Two of them, twin brothers, were enthusiasts for the Positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte, a step towards modern secularism. Comte believed that the only authentic knowledge was knowledge that could be scientifically verified. Positivism seems to have been one of the forces that transformed early Pre-Raphaelitism, often evangelically religious, into the secular worship of beauty that characterized the Aesthetic Movement. One of the twins, Vernon Lushington, was close to the Pre-Raphaelites and responsible for introducing Burne-Jones to Rossetti. After Vernon’s wife died, his three daughters were brought up by Mrs. Leslie Stephen, mother of Virginia Woolf. The eldest daughter, Kitty, provided Woolf with the model for the central figure in her novel Mrs Dalloway. Kitty became the sister-in-law of Violet Milner, wife of the great Imperialist proconsul. One can hardly think of a milieu more apparently remote from that of the nineteenth-century British West Indies.
Yet there was at the same time a web of connections between the families of the East India Company directors and the Caribbean economy. Sir Henry Lushington, elder son of the Chairman Sir Stephen Lushington and inheritor of the title, married Fanny Lewis, sister of the Gothic novelist Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis, who was a major Jamaican plantation owner, When Monk Lewis died, he left his Jamaican estates to Fanny and her sister. Sir Henry, though he never went to Jamaica, was henceforth happy to present himself as an authentic ‘Jamaican planter’. In the nineteenth century members of the Lushington family were dispersed across the globe, but with particularly strong links to British India and the British West Indies.
The Victorian Lushingtons were quite keen to stress that they had not come from nowhere. One day, while researching some quite other topic at the old British Library, before it moved out of its original quarters in the British Museum, I idly plucked a volume entitled The Descendants of Edward I from the open shelves in the Reading Room. It was the kind of book that is only published by subscription. Sure enough the Lushingtons were there, descended from the Plantagenets via a long line of vicars’ wives. An amusing aspect of this, which I more recently discovered, is that Edward I’s wife, to whom he was apparently faithful, was a Spanish princess, descended from the Umayyad Caliphs of Cordoba. I can therefore claim to belong to the family of the Prophet Mohammed.
My grandfather, John Barkley Lucie-Smith, was born in British Guyana. He followed his father into the public service in Jamaica. He rose through the ranks, from clerkship to clerkship, and eventually became Postmaster General, running the island’s postal service. He had three children – a daughter called Dorothy, Dudley (my father) and Dudley’s younger brother Euan, named after his McLaurin ancestors. My father, born in 1885, seems to have entered the colonial service as soon as he was eligible. Euan, born in 1890, was a member of the Jamaican Militia. John Barkley had also served in this. He led a Jamaican continent to Britain for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1896, and was congratulated on the smartness of their turnout.
Despite its long residence in the Caribbean, the family retained strong ties with Britain, still regarded as ‘home’. Both boys were educated as boarders at Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire – a fee-paying public school founded in 1541.
It was into this apparently solidly established world that the war, though physically thousands of miles away in Europe, burst like a thunderclap. War was declared on 28th July 1914. In December of that year, Euan Lucie-Smith went off to Europe to fight, joining the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a lieutenant. He would never come back to Jamaica again. A major family crisis ensued not long after. On May 3rd 1915 John Barkley Lucie-Smith died, just short of his sixty-second birthday, having been in declining health for some time. An obituary in The Gleaner, Jamaica’s chief daily newspaper, mentions both my father, evidently still on the island, and his younger brother Euan, serving abroad. In fact Euan was already dead, killed on April 25th 1915, during the first days of the second Battle of Ypres. His body was never found, and his death was not officially confirmed until 1916. The news that he was missing had clearly not reached Jamaica at the time of his father’s death. He was one of many thousands of British soldiers killed in this battle, but with no known grave. A large number of their names – 11,159 to be precise – are inscribed on a grand classical Memorial to the Missing in the war cemetery at Ploegsteert in Belgium. That of my Uncle Euan can be found there.
Shortly after his father’s death, and after receiving the bad news about his brother, Dudley Lucie-Smith took leave of absence from his civil service job and went to Britain to join the war. He is recorded with the rank of lieutenant on 16th July 1915. He does not appear in Flanders, however, until late in January 1917, serving as an officer in the Royal Artillery. He had a couple of ‘home leaves’ – leaves in the UK – that year. He was hospitalized with measles in February 1918, rejoined his unit after a month, but almost immediately went on leave again, evidently to convalesce. He returned to his unit on 23rd March 1918, but lasted just over a month. He was sent back to London ‘on compassionate grounds’ on 29th April, and told to report to the War Office. The reason seems to have been that he was severely gassed in great German offensive that began on 7th April and lasted until the 29th of the month. His time spent on active service was in fact barely a year.
When he arrived in Britain he became the ADC of an elderly home front general. That general was my mother’s uncle. Without that final desperate German effort my father would never have met her.
Despite the comparative brevity of the time he spent at the front, service in World War I was evidently the central event in the second half of my father’s life. I was not simply that, when demobilized, and even after being removed from the reserve list of officers, he continued to use a military title. There are other signs of this as well. In my childhood, in the house my parents inhabited in the suburbs of Kingston, there was a dark corridor that housed only a bookcase. In that bookcase there were complete sets of the works of Jane Austen and Rudyard Kipling, the yin and yang of British literature, representing on the one hand perfect English gentility, and on the other the adventurous spirit of the Raj. There were also quite a number of histories and personal accounts of the war on the Western Front, full of savage details that terrified me when I began to read them. When I found them, the books were being eaten up by silverfish, and it was clear that nobody had touched them for a long time. It was equally clear, however, that it was my father who had collected them. They would not have interested my mother.
My mother was thirteen years younger than my father. When war broke out, she hadn’t yet reached her seventeenth birthday. Later she became a very young secretary at the War Office. On Armistice Day, she remembered, the secretaries tore up all the documents they could lay hands on, and sprinkled the scraps like confetti on the jubilant crowds below their windows.
She did not have a happy childhood and adolescence. Her Irish mother died when she was only three, of tuberculosis. Her father died when she was ten, of cancer of the throat. She was the youngest child of three – her brothers were both older than she was. Both fought in the war. The elder became the youngest Colonel in the British army (the poet Edward Thomas was killed by falling shrapnel when standing immediately beside him); the younger, after whom I am named, was killed in 1916, dying of wounds in a field hospital near Étaples.
After their father died, none of their relations were prepared to accept all three children as a group. My mother was brought up, at arms’ length, and as a reluctant duty, by her father’s sister, who was married to an eminent KC. Sometime in her teens she contracted polio, which left her with a withered leg.
In later life, she had a penchant for military men with neat little moustaches – the war imprinted her too. The two brief love affairs she had in World War II Jamaica, immediately after my father’s death in 1943, were with men both of whom fitted this description. So did her handsome, hawkish elder brother. My father also fitted the pattern, though he was short, stocky and pleasant-looking rather than handsome. I think she probably fell for him on sight. His apparently glamorous Jamaican background and his status as a ‘wounded’ war hero must have helped. In addition to this, there was the fact that she was extremely self-centred, not to say narcissistic. She was determined to marry, at a moment when young men were in increasingly short supply because of four years of slaughter. Throughout her life, she felt entitled.
After the Armistice my father was demobilized, but not till quite late in 1919. On 10th November he left for Jamaica on S.S. Coronado, arrived on the 23rd, and was released from the army the next day. He immediately began work again in the civil service. And now there comes a twist in the tale. Just days before I began to write this, and more than seventy years after my father’s death, I received confirmation that he had had a son immediately on his return to Jamaica, a half-brother to myself. It is not surprising that, after narrowly surviving the horrors of the war, he felt an urge to procreate. My half-brother too can therefore be thought of as a child of the war. He must have been conceived very soon after my father’s return to Jamaica, and was evidently born towards the end of 1920. His descendants now in Jamaica believe he was born a year earlier, but the record cited above makes this impossible. I do not have his exact birth date.
My half-brother is long gone. If alive, he would now be ninety-three. His mother was a woman of colour, and he was christened Dudley after my father, and throughout his life he used our unusual surname. That is, his parentage was to some extent publicly acknowledged. There seems to be no marriage certificate – but who is to say that one never existed? It is clear that there was a real relationship between his parents. My father was physically vigorous, and he had been leading an independent bachelor existence for nearly ten years before he went to the war. He must have had a sex life of some sort, resumed when he returned. Perhaps Dudley Junior’s mother was ‘the girl he left behind him.’
As far as I can make out, their relationship was the first step across the colour bar in the whole of my father’s family’s long history in the Caribbean. Or, at any rate, in my Jamaican branch of it. There are now Lucie-Smiths in Trinidad, descendants of a younger brother of my grandfather, another West Indian Chief Justice. Out of curiosity, I recently had a full DNA analysis done, possible thanks to recent scientific advances. It showed that I am 42% Northwest European, 14% Ashkenazi Jewish, 12% Steppe Turkic, 9% Basque-Iberian, 8% Finnish, 6% Balto-Slavic, 6% Mediterranean, and 4% Anatolian-Caucasian. In other words, a mongrel like many of us, but one, to my surprise, with no trace of African blood. If I don’t have this, nor did my father.
Many of the other components are a mystery. My father’s mother’s mother was called Peynado (or Piñado), which could be a Sephardic Jewish name but not an Askhenazi one. She came from Curaçao, which, in the mid-nineteenth century, received an influx of Jewish colonists from Venezuela, after an anti-Semitic episode there. Peynado is a common name in Venezuela. The Finnish and Balto-Slavic parts of the mixture, combined with the Ashkenazi Jewish element (perhaps originally from the Lithuanian segment of the Pale of Settlement), hint strongly at connections with the Baltic region, but there are no family legends about that.
The mystery is not just Dudley Junior’s status, but also that his existence was never, till now, mentioned to me, despite the fact that he married and had children, who still live in Jamaica, and who have continued to use our family surname. Certainly not mentioned on any occasion by my mother. She was notoriously indiscreet. My Cousin Terence, my Aunt Dorothy’s son, used to say of her: ‘Poor Mary, wandering about with an armful of bricks, looking for a place to drop them.’ Yet at the same time I have to admit that the idea of ‘parallel’ or alternative families was for many years well established in Jamaican society. Everybody knew about these situations. Nobody discussed them.
To move on his career my father needed a wife, an official visible consort. It wouldn’t have done, in those still colonial days, for him to appear on official occasions with a woman of colour at his side, even though Jamaica was then, as it still is, 90% populated by people of African origin. My mother had a prestigious name, written into the annals of the Raj, and also well known in the West Indies. My father, when he married her, was the governor’s bachelor ADC. He was getting a little old to hold a position of that kind – he was already in his mid-thirties when he returned from the war. He was in any case a conformist. An old friend of my mother’s, widow of a colonial police officer who served in Jamaica, once said, ‘You could always tell when the governor was displeased with you, because then Dudley wouldn’t talk to you.’ It is in addition not impossible, especially if rumours were being spread about his liaison, that he was warned that he ought to regularize his situation. If so, he had a candidate waiting for him in Britain.
UK Incoming Passenger Lists, available on the web, show that my father returned to Britain on 9th July 1922, accompanied by his widowed mother. Outgoing Passenger Lists confirm that he went back to Jamaica in mid-October, just over three months later. I think it was in this period that their decision to marry was made. His bride came to Kingston to wed him in 1923, and within a year after the marriage she miscarried of twins. I was born ten years later. The event seems to have been a surprise to other members of my father’s family, who may not have known about his black son. His sister Dorothy, who never liked her brother much, because he was their tiresome mother’s favourite, told me: ‘We all thought Mary shamed him into it.’ Nevertheless the sisters-in-law were close friends in later life.
Was this marriage, made possible by the World War, a successful one? I think it depends what one means by successful. My mother was marrying into a life-style she could no longer hope for at home – servants, an assured social position, even if this was in a very small, still remote colonial society. In those days it always took two weeks at sea to get there from Britain.
There was also the fact that my father had an expensive hobby – he was a top-class polo player, who got to play with the royals when they paid informal visits to Jamaica. I still have a pair of gold cufflinks, presented to him by the then Duke of Gloucester, which commemorates one such visit. My parents knew – not well, but enough – Lord Louis and Edwina Mountbatten in their most glamorous and raffish phase. They were even invited, when my father was on leave in London, to pay a call on the Mountbattens at their penthouse flat in Park Lane. He continued to play competitive polo right up to the time of his last illness, when he was already in his late fifties.
To subsidize this life style, my mother had a small private income. My father’s salary was probably around £1500 – in today’s terms, worth about £45,000. Enough, in a cheap location, to sustain a household that employed a cook, a parlour maid, a nanny and a garden boy, plus a woman who came in to scrub floors and do washing. Off site, there were two polo ponies and a groom. Perhaps there were contributions to a second household as well.
My father was absent, most of the time, from the life of the household. When he and my mother were together, it was at the endless round of cocktail parties that took up most evenings in a society where there was no television, only amateur theatre, one big cinema and one nightclub. The Daily Gleaner, still Jamaica’s chief newspaper, carried many reports during the inter-war years of social events attended by ‘Captain and Mrs. Lucie-Smith’. In fact, as official documents plainly show, my father never got beyond the rank of lieutenant during his war service. There is no record of even an acting captaincy. He was still a lieutenant when he was removed from the army reserve list – something not finally gazetted until 1923. Perhaps the promotion in nominal rank was linked to his role as the governor’s ADC, taken on when he returned to Jamaica.
When I got up, my father had already gone to his office. By the time he returned home I had been put to bed. Saturdays were sacred to polo. I can’t remember what usually happened on Sunday. I went to Sunday school I think, but it made not the slightest impression on me. My parents were not religious and seldom went to church.
In the daytimes my mother ran around with her ‘girl friends’ – women from the same coterie, but I suspect ‘faster’ and more adventurous than she. She once told me reproachfully – a joke, but one with a slight edge – that my unplanned arrival had ‘spoiled a perfectly good season.’ For the group, the best part of any season, I think, was the regular arrival in Kingston harbour of some Royal Naval vessel, and with it a contingent of young naval officers to entertain. When World War II came, my mother immediately took a part time job. In early childhood, I was essentially brought up by servants, whom I knew much better than I knew my parents. And I was sent to boarding school at the age of eight.
Did my father, amidst his busy round of work, sport and socializing, manage to sustain a relationship with his second family? I suspect that he did. Somewhat disloyally, I once asked the police officer’s widow, by then our lodger in London, if my mother made my father feel as claustrophobic as she now sometimes did me. She looked at me sharply and said, ‘Well we did always wonder why he spent so long at the office.’ I thought then that he might have spent time after normal office hours negotiating with the leaders of the Jamaican political parties then beginning to struggle for independence. This event was still some decades away, but was heralded by violent riots in Kingston in 1938. My father certainly knew these leaders better than did any of his nominal masters. He understood their milieu, since he had grown up in it.
Now, perhaps, I am starting to think he spent some of this time in a different way. I was sometimes told later, by friends of his own generation, that he ‘adored children’. Circumstances kept him away from me, and I have very few memories of him. Sharing a bath, and seeing his penis bobbing in the soapy water. Being playfully chased round the lunch table, urged on with a flapping table napkin. The strong smell of sweat, cigarette smoke and liniment in his dressing room. Perhaps he had more relaxed playtimes with his older son than he ever managed with me. Those would have been in the earlier years of his marriage, before my belated birth. When I was born, Dudley Junior was already in his teens.
What was my mother’s verdict on her relationship with my father, after he died in 1943 of lung cancer, which was maybe partly an inheritance from that gas-attack long ago, though he was also a heavy smoker? I suspect she construed his death as another desertion, having felt deserted as a child by the early death of her parents.
When cancer was diagnosed he went – and she accompanied him – to the United States for treatment. I was parked at King’s House, as the guest of the governor, whose children were my friends. Then my father came home to die. Term had started and I was back in boarding school – I was not let out to say goodbye. Nor did I go to the funeral. At ten years old, I was considered to be too young. This decision doesn’t seem to me strange. What does seem to me odd is that I was never shown his grave. I still don’t know where it is.
After his death, my mother never mentioned him. She had never identified with Jamaica. We left for ‘home’ as soon as we could after the war ended. Certainly there would have been no real place for her in post-war Jamaican society, as a single middle-aged white woman, of impeccably British ancestry. During the remaining war years, and certainly after it, there was no ‘Your father would have thought …’ Or ‘Your father would have said …’ She kept a photograph of him, smart in his WWI uniform, on a shelf in her London bedroom. That was it. The ghosts of the West Indian past claimed him. Jostling among them no doubt were the wraiths of some of his slave-owning ancestors. In his secret other life, history came full circle.
As for me, I am child of the war in more senses than one. It is not just that my parents would never have met if the catastrophe hadn’t thrown them together. It is also that I am the offspring of two individuals who were, in their very different but nevertheless complementary ways, typical representatives of the great story of Empire – a story that the war brought to an abrupt conclusion, though it took the British nation sometime to realize the fact. Parts of the British establishment haven’t realized it yet. Now aged eighty-one, I am one of the last representatives of a fast vanishing aboriginal tribe. By blood and upbringing, though not perhaps in spirit, a genuine imperialist. There are not many of us left who can make such a claim. The war put paid to all that.