Service number: 35597
Regiment / Service: Royal Field Artillery
Family information: Son of William and Charlotte Lee
William's Medal Index Card (Mic) indicates that he was first enrolled into the Royal Field Artillery - service number 35597 - and was a driver.
Then, at some stage he was then transferred to the Royal Garrison Artillery – service number 202686 – as a Gunner.
The Royal Regiment of Artillery at the time of the Great War comprised three elements:
The Royal Horse Artillery: armed with light, mobile, horsedrawn guns that in theory provided firepower in support of the cavalry and in practice supplemented the Royal Field Artillery.
The Royal Field Artillery: the most numerous arm of the artillery, the horse-drawn RFA was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line and was reasonably mobile. It was organised into brigades.
The Royal Garrison Artillery: developed from fortress-based artillery located on British coasts. From 1914 when the army possessed very little heavy artillery it grew into a very large component of the British forces. It was armed with heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the front line and had immense destructive power.
However, the symbol X adjacent to the rank of Dvr (Driver) indicates he saw most of his service with the RFA. Including that for which he was awarded the 1914 – 15 Star - by entering a 'theatre of war' i.e. the Balkans on 1/6/1915.
He was posted to 460 Howitzer Battery. At the beginning of the First World War the main support weapon for the British Army was the long-barrelled field gun. However, it soon became clear there was a great demand for howitzers to be used under cover or against hidden targets. These fired heavy shells on a high trajectory through a short barrel and were the best type of artillery gun to employ against fortifications.
The Mark 1 howitzer was first produced just before the start of World War One in July 1914 and it was rushed into production and reached France in October 1914. 450 of these artillery guns were built between 1914 and 1918 and each weighed 15 tons, fired a 131 kg shell of high explosives, could fire this weight shell 9,198 meters, took 36 hours to dismantle and three specially built carriages to move it.
The Balkans is synonymous with the ill-fated Gallipoli battle and this was a subject covered by William in one of his poems - see later.
We can follow William's locations through the various entries in his hand written 'accounts'. These indicate that he was paid in Woolwich on 8 May 1915. This was obviously before departing for the Balkans and following entries were noted as being 'In the field'. The stay in the Balkans seems to have been mercifully short as on August 20th 1915 the entry shows his location as Troodos, which is in Cyprus. This would have been a convenient stopping of place on the way to Egypt as the following entries make it clear that was their next stop. Sidi Bishr 16 December 1925, Alexandria 22 December 1915, Suez 18 March 1916.
By 24 April 1916 it would appear that they were in France as his accounts show he was being paid in francs. Again, William composed a poem called 'The Fatal wooden Track' which seems to be based on his experiences as a 'Driver' taking ammunition to the front in the area around Ypres. (See later). This continued until 28 November 1917 when payment was made in lires which suggests he was in Italy.
On 24 April 1919 William was finally discharged. His Mic shows he was given Class Z status which meant that his discharge was subject to the continuation of the cessation of hostilities and that he could be recalled at short notice.
For information about William's family before the War, please see the account of Harry Insley Lee (William's brother).
After the war, on 11 April 1920 William enlisted in the Royal Navy for a period of 12 years. His Naval record gives some interesting personal information. On enlisting William was said to be a 'Fireman' by occupation. He was 5ft 7½ inches tall with a 37½ inch chest, had dark hair, grey eyes, a fresh complexion and no distinguishing marks or scars.
William's rank was that of Stoker and he first served on Vivid ll. This was actually a land based training establishment at Devonport. From there he boarded HMS Tiger. The details on his record are brief but again William kept a daily diary that provides much of interest as in the following details.
6 January 1921 - joined crew of HMS Tiger at Devonport.
13 January - HMS Tiger left Plymouth for Portland.
18 January - joined convoy with HMS Hood, repulse, revenge and 15 destroyers but had to pull into Plymouth because seas too rough for destroyers.
19 January - left Plymouth
20 January - entered bay of Biscay and too part in a dummy submarine attack.
22 January docked in Vigo (Spain) and got paid.
7 February - left Vigo with Hood and Repulse
9 February - arrived Gibraltar
Much of the time on board was spent doing 'chores' such as cleaning furnaces, behind boilers, tubes, bilges, trimming coal, ditching ashes etc. However, it was not all work. William regularly went to church on Sundays and on one occasion went on a trip with 'the Chaplain's party to Santiago, 15 miles by train, went round cathedral".
On another day he went to a 'concert on the foc'sle deck entitled "It's all Rot"'".
Although initially enrolled for 12 years it seems his naval career was cut short as he was invalided out on 4 May 1921.
Up to that point his conduct and character had been very good.
The Diary from 1921, is inscribed at the front "To Cliffe, from Emie"- Cliffe (abbreviation of Dunnicliffe) was the name William used and Emie was Emily Hasemen who he went on to marry on 2 October 1922 in Buckland Kent , as Emily was from Dover. They do not appear to have had children.
William's original Death certificate confirms that he ided of bronchitis and cardiac problems on 19 October 1969 in Manor Park Hospital, Derby. It shows his occupation as retired storeman at an Ordnance Depot.
His address at that time was 195 Station Road, Melbourne, Derbyshire which was in the area his mother Charlotte had originally come from.
William's notebook and diary
These offer a fascinating insight into the service of a WW1 soldier and are testament to the raw courage they displayed and also to the 'trench humour' that no doubt helped to keep them sane. However, these pages are also a lasting tribute to the creativity of one man - the writer. William's notes are a mixture of creativity via his poetry and orderliness as demonstrated in his day by day records, especially his accounts.
Space dictates that all the pages cannot be reproduced here but it has been hard to determine which to omit. In order to include as much of the detail as possible and conserve space some has been reproduced as text.
The accompanying photograph shows a page from his notebook giving the beginning of his version of the Ten Commandments.
It continues on the next page with these words:
..allowing mercy unto thousands by letting their letters go first who obey my commandments.
3. Thou shalt not use profane language unless under extraordinary circumstances such as seeing they mate shot or getting petrol in thy tea.
4. Remember the soldier's week consists of seven days, six days shalt thou labour and the seventh thou shalt do all the odd jobs.
5. Honour they King and country, keep thy rifle well oiled and shoot straight, that thy days may be long in the land which the enemy giveth thee.
6. Thou shalt not steal thy comrade's kit.
7. Thou shalt not kill time.
8. Thou shalt not adulterate they mess tin by using it as a shaving mug
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy comrade, preserve silence on his outgoings and incomings.
10. Thou shalt not covet they Corporal's post, nor thy Sergeant's, nor thy Sergeant Major's, but by duty and perseverance thou shalt rise to the rank of Field Marshall.
William kept a list of names and addresses in his notebook. Often they are crossed out meaning that the address has changed or, in more unfortunate circumstances, that the addressee had perished.
They also give some vital clues such as the fact that Brother Harry was in Cawnpore, India at one stage
Other examples are included in the account referring to Harry.
The Gallipoli landing – a poem
The accompanying image shows the beginning of a poem that William wrote about the Gallipoli landing. It continues:
When the 29th Division went through that Valley of Death.
It was death by fire and water
On leaving the "River Clyde",
But the 29th Division the enemy defied.
We stormed the village on the right,
Took trenches one by one,
We forced the heights of Jed-al-Bahr,
And captured many a gun.
A blood red day was brewing
But to the trenches still we clung.
I shall never forget that day,
When we made the bounders run.
We made them do the Turkey Trot across the open plain,
We gave them the jip and then a dip and drove them back again.
I fill this glass up to the brim with good old English beer,
I drink to the health of the boys who fought that day and knew no fear.
And when I hear the sound of guns
And the clamour of war and din,
I shall never forget Gallipoli and the struggles we were in.
The Fatal Wooden Track
Another poem by William ends with these words:
Tis vivid in our memory as here we try to tell,
There is no place to compare it, not even that place called Hell.
So oft is it a driver's duty, of the columns further back,
To carry ammunition along that fatal track.
And when they get the order, to be ready sharp at nine,
You will see the drivers mounted and ready for the line.
But still it is their duty as everyone should know,
And though death should await them,forward they will go.
For our guns are always calling for shells both night and day,
And as they near the place, Sir, they think of home and pray,
To God in Heaven to bring them safely back,
And give them strength and courage when once they are on the track.
Tis now they need that courage as they gallop up that track,
The shells may fall like hail, Sir, there is no turning back.
Tho' tragic in its splendour is the scene that meets the eye,
The bravest and the best, Sir, have gone there, alas, to die.
Tis a scene of sterling courage most awful to behold,
And the bravest man amongst them felt his very blood run cold.