John Robert LEE

John Robert LEE

Lieutenant J. R. Lee (Sydney Mail, 3/3/1920)

Lieutenant J. R. Lee (Sydney Mail, 3/3/1920)

Per his military service record (Lieutenant) John Robert Lee was born at Lancaster, Durham, England. He gave his age as 29 years and 11 months, his marital status as single, and his occupation as water engineer. His description on his medical was height 5 feet 11 ½ inches tall, weight 10 stone 7 lbs., with a dark complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. His religious denomination was Methodist. He claimed to have previous military service with the Gilgandra Rifle Club. He completed his medical on the 7th October 1915 at Gilgandra, and was attested by Captain Nicholas at Gilgandra on the 9th October 1915.

On the Coo-ee March Private Lee was made an acting Quarter Master Sergeant in the travelling committee of control appointed for the Coo-ee March at Stuart Town, with Major Wynne as chairman, Captain Hitchen, Mr H. T. Blacket, and Acting Sergeant Stephens as Secretary, during a visit by A. H. Miller (Secretary), and C. H. Richards and P. J. MacManus, from the Gilgandra Recruiting Committee.[1] In this role he was a recruiting speaker on the march.[2] He gave many of the recruiting speeches on the march from Gilgandra to Sydney.

John Robert Lee had been brought to Australia by the Methodist Home Missionary Society in 1911, and he was sent initially to Leeton, where he established the first Methodist church in that town.[3]  The Rev. J. R. Lee had been appointed a probationary clergyman at Gilgandra in 1913, but following his transfer elsewhere after this 12 month appointment, he had resigned from the ministry to take up farming near Gilgandra in 1914, where he remained a lay preacher, before joining the Coo-ee March.[4]

The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate reported on ‘his powerful recruiting speech’ at Dubbo:

‘He said that the “Coo-ees” were deeply sensible of the warm-hearted receptions they had been accorded so far, and they hoped that there would be hundreds of them by the time they reached Sydney. They hoped this idea of Captain Hitchen’s would be an inspiration to the young men all along the route. Personally, he was glad to do what he could to get Australia to realise the seriousness of the situation and the obligation of service… “The  ‘Coo-ees’ are after men,” cried Mr. Lee, “and we want you. There never was a time when your country more needed you. I hope every young man will realise the position as Hitchen’s ‘Coo-ees’ realise it…”. [5]

After completing the Coo-ee March he went to Liverpool Camp as reinforcement for the 13th Battalion.

Sergeant-Major Lee was a recruiting campaigner for the State Recruiting Committee on the ‘Wallabies’ and ‘North Coaster’ recruiting marches in December 1915 and January 1916.[6]

He applied for a commission in the Australian Imperial Forces on 10th July 1916, after completing a course at the Officer Training School at Duntroon on 20th June 1916.

He was appointed 2nd Lieutenant, and was posted to the 17th Reinforcements for the 24th Battalion on 25th July 1916.

On his embarkation roll his rank was 2nd Lieutenant, and his address at time of enrolment was Gilgandra, N.S.W., and his next of kin is listed as his mother, J. Sanders, Oliver Ford, Conrett, Durham, England.

2nd Lieutenant Lee departed Sydney on the HMAT A8 Argyllshire on 31st October 1916 with the 17th reinforcements for the 24th Battalion, bound for England.  He disembarked at Devonport on 10th January 1917.

He was taken on strength of 24th Battalion in France on 23rd March 1917.

He was transferred to the 21st Battalion in France on 2nd April 1917.

He wrote in a letter dated 15th April 1917 to the editor of the Gilgandra Weekly:

“… when I joined the battalion (21st) about two months ago they had had a fair innings for a time and were due for a spell. Nevertheless, was able to join in the trot on the heels of the Hun through Bapaume and villages near by. Began to think by the rate Fritz was falling back that we had started on that long last route march to Berlin, only it was a little bit different to that good old Western trail from Gilgandra to the sea…”.[7]

He was promoted to Lieutenant on 17th May 1917.

Lieutenant Lee attended the General Headquarters Gun School from 3rd to 8th September 1917.

He went on leave to England on 20th October 1917, and returned from leave on 3rd November 1917.

Lieutenant Lee injured his knee on 23rd November 1917, whilst the Battalion was training undertaking a football match at Locre, Belgium.

On 25th November he was admitted to the 14th General Hospital at Boulogne in France.

On 30th November 1917 Lieutenant Lee was evacuated to England on H.S. St. David, and admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital with a dislocation of his right knee.

On 12th March 1918 he began his return to Australia on the troopship Kenilworth Castle.

He arrived in Sydney on the HMAT Kanowna on 24th May 1918.

His appointment was terminated on 22nd June 1918.

[1] ‘Our soldiers’, The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, 26 October 1915, p. 2,

[2] ‘Sergt-Major J. R. Lee’, The Blue Mountain Echo, 19 November 1915, p. 3,

[3] ‘Personal’, Spectator and Methodist Chronicle, 19 November 1915, p. 1618,

[4] ‘The Gilgandra March’, The Methodist, 20 November 1915, p. 7,

[5] ‘The “Coo-ees” arrival in Dubbo’, The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, 15 October 1915, p. 5,

[6] ‘Route Marches’, The Sun, 26 November 1915, p. 8, ; ‘The Marches. Wallabies start’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 1915, p. 10, ; ‘The Federal Elections’, Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser,  28 November 1918, p. 7,

[7] ‘Lieutenant J. R. Lee’, Gilgandra Weekly,  22 June 1917, p. 22,


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