Column heading from the 1918 Free Press announced a very justifiable reason for featuring Sergeant Tom Lee. Plus an incredible military record proudly inherited by Mrs Bett Abbott fondly recalling grandad with memorabilia for a double veteran.
For all British servicemen below commissioned officer rank, a WWI Distinguished Conduct Medal recognised one of the oldest gallantry awards. They came second only to a Victoria Cross. The London Gazette firstly announced a basic listing for all recognised DCM recipients, which found this entry dated 22th October 1917.
This identification reflects promoted rank throughout WWI records. Likewise used to personalise actual medals around the edge. A DCM obversely portrays King George V, reverse just clearly stating "FOR DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT IN THE FIELD".
The London Gazette dated 25th January 1918 then reports reason why Serjeant Lee was nominated for, and duly granted by the reigning King this elite award. But that, along with presentation uniquely held later that year in the Huthwaite Drill Hall only marked end of a long and brave military career. Retirement years were then made more comfortable by moving in with a Renshaw family. They gladly repayed same care that Tom once offered an abandoned child. And its through being raised as his son that offers fuller story of Serjeant Tom Lee DCM, beginning with his birth.
Certificate of Birth registered at Mansfield comes under sub district of Sutton-in-Ashfield. This identifies Reuben Lee as father, a typical coal miner no doubt employed by New Hucknall Colliery. Mothers maiden name identifies the former Miss Sarah Hurt, with her X marking confirmation they lived at time in this simply called Hucknall. What this interestingly proves is their sons full name was given Sam Thomas Lee, who was actually born in Hucknall Huthwaite on 1st March 1882. These are the facts he would personally choose to later alter in order to prematurely enlist aged just 17 years 3 months.
We learn a little more about family through four pages detailing early military service. This opens under title SHORT SERVICE, defining a minimum "(7 years with the Colours, and 5 years in the Reserve, or,..)" changes for long serving the Colours while beyond the seas. Stamped to join The Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regt.), this is the original Attestation offered by Thomas Lee from enlistment 9th June 1899.
Page 4 identifies next of kin to be father Reuben Lee and one sister named Elizabeth. Addresses not known following loss of mother Sarah. A second sister called Liza is however clearly addressed at 14 Albert Street, Bulwell, later identified neighbouring an uncle William Knock. Altogether it suggests how relocation was shared by her brother Sam, because the young man calling himself Thomas thereafter, claimed to be a collier from the Basford Parish when joining The Derbyshire Regiment of Robin Hood Rifles. Dropping first name perhaps eluded checks regarding forged age, accepting 18 years 3 months.
Passed medical fit on 12th June 1899, sheet 2 further describes Private 6265 Thomas Lee of the 1st Battalion with fresh complexion, grey eyes, black hair, measuring 127 lbs standing 5' 8¼". Sporting an almost obligatory mustache in these later photographs adds a dashing touch to the uniformed veteran.
In fact it was only a few months after recruiting that his active service began abroad, because on 11th October 1899 a second Boer War broke out in South Africa. This major conflict continued into 1902. February 12th in final year of battle is when Pte Tom Lee was severely wounded in his right shoulder. He luckily made full recovery, and chose to extend period of service still carrying a scarred flesh wound. At the end of that conflict he is dutifully awarded a campaign medal called a Queens South African.
Private Lee elected and is permitted to extend service with the Colours for another 8 years dating from 1st April 1904. Granted Class I Service pay of 6d per diem, this daily allowance increased to 7d just a few months later. A January 1907 posting apparently sends him to Malta. After 3 months training, thats where on 13th May he achieved this Mounted Infantry Certificate.
Military experiences and personal details are further confirmed by updated hand written entries found in a titled Soldiers Small Book. Despite pocket sized dimensions, there are over 50 pages containing rules, penalties and instructions ranging from button cleaning to when and exactly how to salute officers. Battle field survival tips even includes several recipe's, utilising resourceful ways for cooking plus washing.
Thomas Lee was eventually "Discharged on the termination of first period of engagement" dated 8 June 1911. Relevant paperwork records knowledge of 1908 marriage, although the certificate clearly offers profession of Blacksmith. It is therefore presumed his last three years are spent in civilian work while still held on reserve. And its a correctly aged 26 year old bachelor who wed 25 year old Annie Sarah Gillott on 1st August at Nottingham Registry Office. Both held a Cornbuckle Street address, so there's a good chance they met as neighbours.
Mr Lee brought his wife to Huthwaite, where they claimed a now past address at 4 Pilsworth Yard. They never had children of their own, but did take pity on several Renshaw children. Their mother heartlessly left the youngsters behind to care for themselves. Other families took in Wilfred, Mable and John, while their toddler brother Harry became homed and raised by Tom and Annie Lee. Unofficial adoption meant they all kept their Renshaw surname, although heir to this Lee memorabilia was often called Harry Lee.
When Britain entered the Great War, Tom quickly re-enlisted for duty 9th November 1914. Rejoining his old Sherwood Foresters Regiment while relatively still young at 32, time served infantry experience as a veteran soldier of the Boer War qualified promotion from Private 6285 to 4th Battalion Sergeant 18659.
Although there's little record spanning WWI service, his leather strapped whistle offered one lasting momento. This reads makers stamp AD Courcy & Co 1916. A Victory Medal is of course amongst a prized collection from "THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILISATION 1914-1919". Topped however by the aforementioned much rarer Distinguished Medal of Conduct awarded in Huthwaite to a double veteran.
Accompanying that prestigious medal is a typed letter dated 16 September 1918, quoting extract published in the London Gazette. Its additionally found published 28th January 1918 by the Edinburgh Gazette, echoed in the Notts Free Press:-
His majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to the undermentioned Non-Commissioned Officer for act of Gallantry and Devotion to Duty in the Field:-
18659 Sjt. T. Lee, Notts & Derby. R. (Alfreton).
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When all his officers had become casualties he took command of the company, and exhibited very high qualities of leadership, initiative and courage. Although three times counter-attacked, and twice left unsupported with his flank in the air, he so intelligently anticipated the enemy's movements that he was able to maintain his position and inflict very severe casualties upon them. He personally accounted for several of the enemy, and was the first to charge into the enemy strong point, at which his company commander was wounded, and from which a machine gun, two officers and forty other ranks were collected. He set a splendid example throughout.
Discharge certificate and final demob paper dated 9th January 1919 recognises a retired soldier. Tom eventually lost his wife, but retained a grateful and devoted adopted son. Harry Renshaw proved eager to repay the kindness bestowed him by Mr and Mrs Lee, by starting work as a teenager at New Hucknall Colliery. Later married to Mary, they set up their own family home at 76 Blackwell Road with a daughter. Miss Bett Renshaw also knew my neighbouring Elliott family, when her home offered caring comfort in elderly retirement lastly to the distinguished soldier she proudly remembers knowing as grandad Lee.
Mr and Mrs Abbott want to retain ownership of these priceless heirlooms, but are willing to loan them to a museum or for sharing historic documentary media viewing.
Written 12 Feb 14 Revised 20 Feb 14 © by Gary Elliott