Regiment: 17th ‘Duke of Cambridge’s Own’ Lancers attached Machine Gun Company
Date & place of birth: 19 October 1887 in Sussex Place, London
Date & place of death: 3 April 1918 in Hamel, France aged 30
Francis Charles Lacaita was born in 1887, the only son of Charles Carmichael Lacaita and his wife Mary Annabel née Doyle. His father was a renowned British botanist and Liberal politician and Member of Parliament for Dundee, who had nineteen plant species named after him. His mother was the daughter of the poet Sir Francis Hastings Charles Doyle.
Francis was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford (1907-1910), where he read Chemistry.
By 1911 the family was living at Selham House, Selham and Francis was described in the census as a ‘Student (Military)’. The family employed seven servants, including Fanny Stapley, a kitchen maid. She married James Knight from Rogate in 1913; James was killed at the Battle of Le Transloy in October 1916.
Francis was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the 17th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers in July 1911 and joined the regiment in India. He soon began to take an interest in machine guns.
In 1914 he was sent to France ahead of his comrades to take over new guns, and he remained as Machine Gun Officer with the 17th until early 1916. He then became Second in Command of the newly-formed 10th Machine Gun Squadron, with which he fought in the Battle of the Somme, winning the Military Cross in November 1916 ‘for conspicuous gallantry in action. He reconnoitred a position and brought his machine gun into action in time to cover the infantry advance. He set a fine example of courage and coolness throughout’.
In January 1917 he was given command of the 1st Machine Gun Squadron and on 1 April 1918 he was appointed Acting Divisional Machine Gun Officer.
Death & commemoration
On 3 April he heard that his own squadron, which had been ordered to hold its position at Hamel at all costs, had given way. He found them sheltering in a sunken road, having lost touch with the infantry on their right. He rode off to find that unit and was found later, killed by a shell fragment while he was dismantling an abandoned gun. He was buried where he fell. He was aged 30.
He is commemorated on The Arras Memorial MR.20, the memorial in the Chapel Passage of Balliol College, Oxford, Saint Silas Church, Kentish Town, London, the Selham war memorial and a private memorial in Selham church.
Subsequent family history
Francis’s parents remained living at Selham House and at 29 Wimpole Street, St Marylebone. Francis’s mother died on 28 January 1924 and his father on 17 July 1933.
Francis’s sister, Sidney Guendolen Lacaita, married George Windsor-Clive, son of Lt.-Col. Hon. George Herbert Windsor-Clive and Hon. Gertrude Albertina Trefusis, on 19 November 1912. She died on 5 July 1935.