John (Jack) LEE MM

LEE, John

Service Number: 4534
Enlisted: 5 August 1915, Enlisted Melbourne 16th Birthday Broadmeadows
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 14th Infantry Battalion
Born: Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia , 11 August 1899
Home Town: Warrnambool, Warrnambool, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Boundary Rider
Died: Lung disease, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia , 24 July 1982, aged 82 years
Cemetery: Fawkner Memorial Park Cemetery, Victoria
Cremated 28th July 1982
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World War 1 Service

5 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion, Enlisted Melbourne 16th Birthday Broadmeadows
18 Feb 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '11' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Ballarat embarkation_ship_number: A70 public_note: ''
18 Feb 1916: Involvement Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion
8 Jun 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion, Embarked Alexandria Disembarked Marseilles 14 June 1916
7 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières
11 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion, Mouquet Farm
11 Apr 1917: Imprisoned Bullecourt (First), Captured at Reincourt. Eventually held at Remount Depot in Quartes, Tournai, Belgium.
11 Apr 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion, Bullecourt (First), Gunshot wound lower leg
5 Nov 1917: Imprisoned Escaped from Quartes,Tournai,Belgium 5 November 1917. Crossed border into Holland 25 November 1917
13 Jun 1918: Discharged AIF WW1, Private, SN 4534, 14th Infantry Battalion, Discharged Melbourne
5 May 1919: Honoured Military Medal, Escaped POW (22 Australians received this award for escaping captivity - Supplement to the London Gazette, 30 January 1920)

First Victorian Escaped POW of WW1

John (Jack) Lee enlisted on 5th August 1915 (he would turn 16 the following week). He embarked for France via Egypt in February 1916 as part of the 14th Battalion (Jacka's Mob) on HMAT Ballarat. He arrived in France (Marseille) in June 1916 in time to see action on the Somme including Pozieres. On 11 April 1917 he was part of the unsuccessful 1st battle of Bullecourt and was subsequently captured by the German forces and made a prisoner of war. After initially being forced to bury German dead behind the front line and unload supply trains, around June he was transported to Quartes near Tournai in Belgium to work in a recount depot caring for horses returning from the German frontline. They were interred in school building surrounded by electrified barb wire.
On 5th November 1917 along with 940 Lance Corporal Frederick Abraham William Cleave Peachey (whom he had become close friends with), Private Macintosh of 17th AIF and an Englishman, they escaped from prison camp with the intention of walking to Holland. After the first night they argued about the direction to take and so Jack and Peachey (who had a small postcard with a map of Belgium) split from the others. Macintosh and the Englishman were subsequently recaptured.
Traveling at night and hiding during the day, they slowly made their way north. They ate whatever they could find in the fields. Their intention was to bypass Brussels but miscalculation of their route they were forced to walk through Brussels disguised as farm workers and were fortunately ignored by the German forces occupying the city. They reached the border on 25 November where they needed to deal with a German sentry and an electrified fence before crossing into Holland where they were greeted by the local police.
They were transferred to England on 30th November but before docking their ship hit a mine and began to sink, however they managed to disembark without injury.
For their exploits both Jack and Peachey received Military Medals. As escaped prisoners of war, both were given the option to rejoin their regiments or to return to Australia and be discharged, Peachey chose the former and Jack the later. Jack returned to Australia in April 1918, was soon discharged and returned to Warrnambool. As a strapping young 18 year old walking the streets of Warrnambool he suffered the ire of the local womenfolk who deemed it appropriate to present him with a white feather, his subsequent reaction ensured it was a one off.
It is believed that he was the first Victorian to successfully escape from a German prisoner of war camp.

Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography contributed by Adrian Jones

Father John Lee, M.S.C.
— first Australian Sacred Heart Father to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination — his five brothers and two sisters, with their respective families, recently tendered him a dinner. They were Messrs. R. H., E. H., D. G., A. F. and H. J. Lee and Mesdames A. E. Courtenay and A. Drover.
A large number of relatives and friends was present, some coining from country districts. The Rev. Father Bernard Courtenay, CM., of Ashneld, a nephew of Father Lee, presided at the function, and the Rev. Father A. J. Breen, M.S.C, pastor of Randwick, was present at the function, held at 'Alexis,' Kingsford. .
The toast to the jubilarian was proposed by Mr. R. .W. Lee and supported by Mr. L. J. Courtenay. Father Lee's numerous works in different parts, including Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Darwin and New Zealand were recalled. Father Lee was a chaplain in World War I. and saw active service near the front line in France. Father Lee, in reply, thanked his relatives, and expressed his pleasure that there was in the family a priest of the next generation, Father Bernard Courtenay, while in the third generation was Brother Peter Malone, a student at the Columban Seminary, Wahroonga, to carry on the good work. Mr. D.G. Lee, on behalf of the family, presented Father Lee with a. wallet of notes.

Catholic Weekly Thursday 23 December 1954 page 3

Service at Cathedral.

The Administrator (Rev. C. Thompson) has arranged for the celebration on Anzac Day of Requiem Mass at St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral at 9 a.m.,Tuesday, April 25.
Rev. John Lee, M.S.C., will preach the occasional sermon. Father Lee was a Chaplain in the A.I.F., and enlisted from South Australia. He is stationed temporarily at Spalding. Special music will be rendered by the Cathedral Choir.

Southern Cross Thursday 13 April 1933


Biography contributed by Garry Lee

John (Jack) Lee was born in Warrnambool, Victoria on 11th August 1899, the fourth child of Thomas Dunstan Lee. Not a great scholar he left school as soon as he could and by the time World War 1 had begun was working as a boundary rider. His eldest brother Tom, then resident in England was to soon join the British Expeditionary Force and with the subsequent Australian involvement at Gallipoli, Jack was itching for his chance to go to war and to see the world, but he needed to convince his father to let him go. By 5th August (now nearly 16 and his cousin Eugene Victor Lee having enlisted two weeks earlier) Jack's father relented and he was at last finally permitted to enlist and join his cousin. His 16th birthday celebrated at Broadmeadows.

Following initial training at Broadmeadows he embarked for France via Egypt on HMAT Ballarat in February 1916.

Whilst training in Alexandria, Eugene was wounded and so the cousins were split up. Eugene would eventually join the 30th Battalion where he was again wounded within a month of landing in France. He was repatriated to London for treatment before rejoining the 30th, he would eventually be killed in action on 18 May 1917 (his billet in Vaulx was hit by a German shell and he and a companion were killed whilst playing cards).

Jack would go to France and join the 14th Battalion (Jacka's Mob) and would reach the frontline during the 14th's engagement of the famous battles of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm coincidentally 'celebrating' his 17th Birthday at this time. More frontline action would follow - front trench, reserve trench and rest camp in a cycle until April 1917 when the 14th was again involved in another famous battle, the inflated 1st Battle of Bullecourt. 

The Australians at Bullecourt were to attack the Hindenburg Line to support/divert an adjoining British attack. Australians would for the first time use tanks in battle. Artillery would blast no man's land to destroy the German wires, the infantry would follow the tanks and take the German frontline - at least that was the plan. Unfortunately the artillery failed to cut the wires, the tanks were too slow and cumbersome, they either didn't arrive in time, broke down, or were easily immobilized by the Germans. The Australians reached their objective but were without follow up support and were soon surrounded. Jack and almost 1200 other Australians was captured that day, 11th April 1917. (2nd  Bullecourt would successfully achieve the objectives in May with virtually no impact on the ongoing battle on the Somme, apart from 10,000 Australian casualties).

Initially held a Brebieres, France just behind the German lines they were put to work digging trenches and gunpits, and burying German dead, all the while being subject to Allied shelling that on occasions killed Australian prisoners. After several months of this Jack was transferred to Quartes, Tournai, Belgium to work in a remount depot caring for German horses returning from the front lines. Conditions were slightly better not the least that they were further from the frontline and so they were no longer subject to Allied shelling. The prison camp was in primary school surrounded by electrified wire. Jack and Lance Corporal Frederick Peachey of the 17th Battalion had become friends at Brebieres and together they began to plan a means of escape from the camp. Jack would 'celebrate' his 18th birthday in Quartes (he was now old enough to enlist).

On 5th November 1917, after the final headcount of the night, Jack and Peachey, a Private Macintosh of the 17th and an Englishman took there chance to escape using a piece of rubber to negotiate the electrified fence. They would walk all night in the direction they believed to be north towards Holland. Come morning, they would disagree about the direction they should travel in, Peachey had a postcard with a map of Belgium that he had obtained from a Quartes local and he and Jack would head in one direction, Macintosh and the Englishman would choose an alternate route which unfortunately lead to their recapture the following day.

Jack and Peachey as much as possible would hide during the day and travel at night. Their first objectives, apart from avoiding recapture, was food and clothes. They managed to 'obtain' clothes from nearby farms to at least look like locals, for food they lived of whatever they could find, mostly eating from crops in the fields, primarily turnips. They slowly worked there way north, as they approached Brussels they planned to bypass it but due to fog their effort to avoid it found them actually circling the city and finding themselves back where they had started. They then decided to take their chances by walking through the city, joining a group of locals pushing coal carts they passed several German sentries without being and exited the city .

By 25th November they had reached the Dutch border but still had to negotiate an electrified fence guarded by German sentries. They dealt with the closest sentry and used their trusty piece of rubber to negotiate the fence and were soon meet by the Dutch police, having covered around 230 kms in 25 days. It is believed that Jack was the first Victorian to escape from a German prisoner of war camp.

Having their first decent meal and wash for three weeks, they were soon reclothed and moved to Rotterdam for embarkation to London. On 30th November they left for London but their adventure was not over, their ship would hit a mine in the Thames opposite Gravesend where they would be forced to disembark.

Escaped prisoners of war were granted two months leave before being given the option of being discharged or rejoining their units. During his leave Jack sought out his brother Tom who was serving in the British Expeditionary Force, as a result Tom requested to be transferred to the Australian forces - a request that was granted, however soon after Tom, in his new Australian uniform was arrested by the British Military Police as a deserter (a charge that would result in execution by firing squad) fortunately Jack presence helped convince the authorities that all was well and Tom continued as an Australian soldier although still enlisted with the BEF.

After his two months leave Jack elected to return to Australia and seek his discharge. He was to leave Weymouth on 5th April 1918 for Australia and would be discharged on 13th June 1918. Shortly after returning to Warrnambool, Jack, in his 'civvies' was approached by some of the more conscientious female citizens of the city and presented with a white feather (an accusation of cowardice for not being away fighting the war) - His reaction ensured that this was a one off. Jack would have his 19th Birthday at home in Warrnambool, this time he could celebrate ( perhaps subdued as the war was still going).

Life in Warrnambool would involve living on the family farm at Western Reserve on the outskirts of the city and working at his father's butcher shop in Liebig Street. He would be involved in community sports being part of a champion tug-o-war team with several of his brothers and winning several rowing championships with Colin Watson (the Brownlow Medalist) - he would say that he was only any good at sports where you went backwards. He would marry Frannie (Frances Charlotte) Murphy in 1924 and soon have two sons Kevin and Brian.

The family would move to Melbourne (Moonee Ponds) in the early 1940s where Jack would continue to work as a butcher until he retired at 65. Throughout his life he would never attend an Anzac Day march or any Battalion reunions or join the RSL as he never wanted to relive his wartime experiences or glorify war. Jack would pass away at Repatriation Hospital Heidelberg in 1982.