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John Lee - suggestions please.

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John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby Ashbee » Mon May 15, 2017 12:22 pm

John Lee is my 2xggrandfather. At the end of his long life (1864-1956) he gave an interview that was published in the London Transport staff magazine. In it he says he 'served six years with the Army horse transport before joining the LGOC in 1887' and was 'twice recalled to the colours and served throughout the Boer war and the 1914-1918 war'. He also recounts 'one of his adventures in South Africa was being 'captured' by an Irish regiment which took him for a Boer spy and threatened to shoot him. He was without uniform after taking part in an arduous campaign and he lost his unit while on a secret cross-country march. After a month in a prisoner of war cage, however, his identity was established beyond doubt.' Sounds like there ought to be some information to discover about this chap, I thought!

Despite my best efforts I've not been able to confirm any of this information or pinpoint an army service record for him. In fact, I can't find any confirming evidence for John Lee prior to 1894 when his first child was born. I discovered via the 1939 census his actual birth date was 18 April 1864 but can't find a birth registered, baptism or census records for 1871, 1881 or 1891. He married in 1899 and the marriage cert shows his father is John Lee. His daughter's baptism in 1900 shows he was a 'reservist' and the 1901 and 1911 census states he was born in Isleworth. All interesting but unhelpful facts.

There is one John Lee on the 1881 census, aged 18, born London, Middlesex, a Private RMLI, unmarried at South Barracks, Royal Marine Walmer Kent but how does that link with 'army horse transport'?

John would have been 50 in 1914 - isn't that too old to be called up? I always thought he could have been part of the effort to get soldiers to the front by the LGOC as he was a long-serving omnibus driver but there are no records of John Lee at London Transport apart from the article. As for the Boer War, well, he suddenly got married in 1899 which might have been prompted by his being recalled to the army but he was at home for the 1901 census.

I've very little military research experience but have poured over the online Army records without luck. Does any of this ring bells or make sense to anyone? Are there any avenues I should pursue? Or perhaps I should just consider it a little bit of story telling by an old man in his 90s? Your ideas and help would be much appreciated.
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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby AdrianB38 » Mon May 15, 2017 1:17 pm

Hmm. It is always important to think critically about stories but usually there is at the very least a core of truth. What one has to do is think what the guy might have meant by some words rather than our initial, probably over-simplified, reaction to them.

Re WW1 - don't assume that the only role for Army soldiers was (a) in combat or even (b) in theatres of war. I've just been dealing with a guy born about 1871, so slightly younger than John Lee. He (and his eldest son) were both in the Army during WW1. To begin with, he was in Special Reserve battalions employed on garrison duty in the Merseyside area, protecting the dock facilities, etc., and then he was transferred into the Agricultural Companies of the Labour Corps. These assisted farmers in the UK and by November 1918 there were 75,000 soldiers in these companies. My chap was a waggoner, so he was a good choice to be involved with horses in agriculture. This sort of stuff could be exactly what John Lee did. Unfortunately, as this was in the UK, he would not have been issued with any campaign medals for this service so that's one potential source off your list.

The unfortunate fact as well, is that a soldier returning to service during WW1, will probably (not definitely) have had all their records bundled up and filed together in the WW1 papers. This would particularly apply if someone had been a reservist all that time as your John Lee might have been, because then all the papers would have been easily to hand. And you probably know by now that between 2/3 and 3/4 of WW1 soldiers' papers went up in flames during WW2 when a storage facility was hit by incendiaries. So that's what probably happened to his papers if he did serve during WW1 (as seems likely to me).

Re the (2nd) Boer War - while Ancestry have the Medal Rolls for the South African campaign medals, the problem there is that (under normal circumstances) they contain nothing to identify someone if you don't already know their unit and number.

"Army horse transport" - my instinctive reaction to this is "Army Service Corps" - however, again, being wary of over-simplifying, other possibilities might include soldiers in the artillery involved with transporting ammunition and supplies.

NB - I very much doubt that anyone in the RMLI (Marines) would ever describe themselves as being in the Army, so it's unlikely to be that guy.

So basically, you may feel that apart from being inclined to believe him, in terms of research, "We're all doooomed, Cap'n Mainwaring". Better you understand the pitfalls than assume it's your fault for not finding anything. The one thing that I would suggest is that you see if he's in the Absent Voters Lists created in late 1918 onwards. Essentially these (which are not the ordinary Electoral Registers) list those guys with "postal" votes and include name, unit and number, from which it may be possible to squeeze more information about where and when he served. The AVLs are on FindMyPast but their survival rate is patchy - and there's no guarantee that your guy actually signed up for a vote. But you certainly need to investigate that, though you do need to work out where he lived (to identify him when you see him) and in which constituency.

Best of luck - you may identify him - stranger things have happened.
Adrian
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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby Ashbee » Mon May 15, 2017 3:35 pm

Thanks, Adrian

It's good to have someone cast their eye over my knotty problem. At least I can abandon the 1881 census chappy now. And it's also good to be reminded that so many records were lost/destroyed so that I can let myself off the hook for not finding something. I didn't know about the Absent Voters list and I'll certainly take a look with fingers crossed.

Thanks again.
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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby ianbee » Mon May 15, 2017 4:03 pm

If in 1911 he is the John Lee, born Isleworth, wife Caroline, living 110 Alexander Road, Islington, then he is still listed there on the autumn 1919 electoral register. It does not say that he is an absent voter. I'm not sure if the 1918, spring 1919 registers for Islington North are online.
But there are no AVLs for Islington on findmypast.
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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby ianbee » Mon May 15, 2017 4:13 pm

Who are the two older children from 1901, Arthur Lee, 16 (Arthur Charles in 1911), and Ethel Lee, 14?
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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby AdrianB38 » Mon May 15, 2017 4:26 pm

It occurs to me that there is another possibility for "serving" in WW1. There was an equivalent to the Home Guard called (roughly) the Volunteer Force. If someone served in that as well as the Army, then it might all get bundled up in conversation as "service". I know nothing about VF records other than to suspect that the reason I know nothing is because they are few and far between.

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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby Ashbee » Mon May 15, 2017 4:52 pm

Hi Ianbee

The two older children are stepchildren from Caroline's first marriage. From 1894 he is always at home so my idea of him serving abroad might be wrong and as you say, his service might have taken another form. But how to explain the story of being taken prisoner? I must admit there are inconsistencies throughout the interview - he claims to have joined the LGOC in 1887 but he is working for the Post Office in 1894 according to his daughter's birth certificate. I take this as an old man's forgetfulness as it was sixty years earlier and probably not very memorable, or, as someone suggested, the LT staff writer happily skipping over irrelevant details!

As you have seen the 1911 census entry for 110 Alexandra Road can I ask your thoughts about the pencilled annotation that 'family boards together'? I don't know who the Morgans are (yet) although John Lee's granddaughter later married a Morgan so I'm open to there being a connection. However, in past census any connection is marked as appropriate. I've never seen that before...have you?
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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby JaneyH » Mon May 15, 2017 5:07 pm

I can't help you with anything directly, but I can suggest another avenue that may help. The story of your ancestor's exploits in the 2nd Boer War may be worth following up on the Victorian Wars Forum at http://www.victorianwars.com/ It may just ring some bells with the people there.

I had some very useful assistance there on uniform identification last year which then enabled me to make another post here ... which led me to some brilliant records.

Good luck!




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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby Ashbee » Mon May 15, 2017 5:18 pm

Thanks JaneyH, I'll give them a go...every little bit helps! :lol:
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Re: John Lee - suggestions please.

Postby MoVidger » Tue May 16, 2017 3:49 pm

You may have already seen this 1891 census record for The Barracks, Fulwood, Lancashire:

Piece 3448 / Folio 159 / Page 13
John H. Lee (age 25)
Where born: London
Rank: Corporal
1st Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment

The chap above is probably a red herring, but it's interesting to note that the 1st Battalion RSR fought at the Battle of Doornkop in May 1900 during the Second Boer War.
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