Lady Luck plays such an important role in helping keep the genealogist on their toes, don’t you think? There she is with those tantalising titbits of information that could go either way – ‘one day, just one day’, you pray ‘just smile on me!’ and then it happens, your turn to punch the air and exclaim ‘Yes!’
Lady Luck played a big part in my investigations into Archie Lee, my great great uncle. I was told that he had died during the First World War but could I heck as like find anything about him on the Commonwealth War Graves site. I left this research – as you do, for a little while and then discovered that Ancestry had a number of service records on-line and as I have a very good friend with a subscription I asked her if she wouldn’t mind just having a quick look round for me and lo and behold there was indeed something to be found. I dropped everything – children, food, housework, you know the usual and went to investigate further, this was my moment; I then discovered 114 pages of Archie Lee’s military history. When you consider that around 60 per cent of the service records for the soldiers who fought in World War One were destroyed during a German bombing raid on the War Office in London in September 1940 this was indeed a small but significant miracle.
Much to my amazement Archie’s life did not end in ‘some foreign field’ (Rupert Brooke) as I’d been led to believe but in Clinton, British Columbia, Canada on the 3 May 1949.
Archie’s army career started on the 30 May 1904 in Mansfield when he became a driver in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). He served for three years and was stationed in Brighton when on the 29 May 1907 he ended his ‘service’ and was transferred to the Army Reservist Corp.
But this was just the beginning; it seems that Archie was not happy with his lot in the small mining town of Kirkby in Nottinghamshire because he then emigrated to Canada, where he met and married Isabel Stirrup on the 4 September 1911 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It makes me wonder what exactly did happen to make Archie leave England bearing in mind the extract below from a letter written by Thomas Lee – Archie’s father:-
“… in regard to my son Archie Lee’s marriage I can only say that he wrote home and told us of his marriage in Canada and that she wrote to me calling him her Husband after he had been called up but it is nearly two years since I heard from her and I honesty say that I don’t know her address in Canada never heard what her maiden name was never told the date of marriage nor place…”
As a Reservist, Archie received his ‘call-up papers’ in Canada and quickly made the long voyage back to England where he found himself serving in the 69th Battery, Royal Field Artillery 28 Division, British Expeditionary Force.
He was initially posted to France on the 24 November 1914 then, almost a year later on the 17 November 1915 he was posted to Salonika with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force where he remained until the end of the war.
Archie’s ‘stay’ in Salonika was shall we say, not without its challenges. On 10 May 1916 it is reported that Archie fractured his left leg; It could have been worse, I thought but on further reading it seems that Archie was a little accident prone, or was it that the bullet with his name on it had yet to be fired – because on the 23 May 1916 he fractured his right tibia.
All was well with Archie (as well as it can be in the middle of a world war) until May 1919 when he became ill with influenza, copies of telegrams sent home to Archie’s parents must have been worrying to say the least:-
“Regret to inform you 34013 Dr Lee is dangerously ill at 79 General Hospital Taranto Italy suffering from Influenza”
Archie was eventually returned home and discharged from his duty on the 13 August 1919 due to ‘medical unfitness, effects of influenza followed by bronchitis‘.
In a letter written by Isabel to her brother Richard, Archie’s arrival home and what happened next are described:
“Archie arrived home on the 20th September. He is very sick and has been in the Hospital 2 weeks. The doctor thinks he has got consumption. I think it is a shame the government discharged him without a pension. He will not be able to work for a long time – if he ever works at all.”
I have contacted the Library and Archives Canada and they were very helpful, there is, I understand a further 20 pages or so of information in their records but as yet I have not requested them.
I would really like to trace Archie’s two sons Walter (born: 1907) and Albert L (born: 1913) and have put feelers out in the Clinton district of British Columbia but so far Lady Luck has not yet heard my silent prayers … …