Lionel Kenneth Lee

Rank: Sergeant
Service Number: 171
Unit: 11th Australian Light Horse Regiment
Date of Death: 5 April 1919
Cemetery: Ismalia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt

Lionel Lee, who fought at Gallipoli and rode in the famous charge of the light horse in the Battle of Beersheba, was the last soldier from the Granite Belt to die in World War I. Together with his brother Charles, he is remembered with honour on both the Stanthorpe and Tenterfield War Memorials. Lionel and Charles were the sons of Charles Alfred Lee and his wife Clara Jane. Charles senior held the seat of Tenterfield in the NSW Legislative Assembly between 1884 and 1920. Lionel, one of the first men to enlist from the Granite Belt, died of typhus in April 1919 while in Egypt waiting to be shipped back to Australia. His brother, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Lee, had died of the effects of shellshock while at home in Tenterfield five months earlier.

Lee, Lionel

Lionel was born in Tenterfield on 30 October 1882, one of six sons and four daughters born to Charles and Clara Lee. He went to school in Tenterfield and spent the greater part of his life in the district. Lionel was working as a tin miner and cattle dealer before enlisting in Stanthorpe on 13 January 1915, aged 32 years. He and his brother Charles were co-owners of the Beverley Tin Mining Syndicate at Stanthorpe.

Upon enlistment, Lionel already had significant military experience having served as a corporal in the Tenterfield Squadron of the NSW Mounted Rifles between 1899 and 1903. It appears that Lionel had left Australia to live in South Africa as he served as a trooper in the South African Light Horse at Johannesburg, Transvaal, 1908-10. His brother Charles lived in South Africa at the same time, working for a large gold mining company.

Following his enlistment, Lionel joined “A“ Squadron of the 11th Light Horse Regiment with the rank of private. The 11th Light Horse Regiment was formed in February 1915 and consisted of “A” and “B” Squadrons from Queensland and “C” Squadron from South Australia. According to Ernest Hammond in his book, History of the Eleventh Light Horse Regiment:

The men were subjected to a severe test in riding – military style – under the critical eyes of the new Commander [Lieutenant Colonel William Grant] and his Adjutant, both of whom were shrewd judges of men and horses, and quite a large number of applicants were sent back to camp to join the infantry. Those who passed the test were drafted to a new camp at Fraser’s Paddock. (Hammond 1942, 1)

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Together with “A” and  “C” Squadrons, Lionel left Brisbane on active service aboard HMAT Medic on 2 June. Following a stopover in Sydney, the Medic was continuing its voyage when it was ordered to proceed to Adelaide where the regiment’s horses were offloaded. Unknown to Lionel, he was to sail to Egypt and join the fighting at Gallipoli as an infantryman.

The 11th Light Horse Regiment arrived at Suez, Egypt, on 22 July, and travelled by train to Cairo and onto its camp at Heliopolis where they trained in the desert to fight as dismounted infantry. On 24 August, the regiment was ordered to Alexandria from which it would sail for Gallipoli. Lionel landed at Anzac Cove on the night of 28 August and made his way to Rest Gully. The regiment was divided into three sections with “A” Squadron being attached to the 2nd Light Horse Regiment then fighting in the frontline at Pope’s Hill. Lionel was promoted to Lance Corporal and fought with the 2nd Light Horse at Pope’s Hill, the Old No.3 Outpost, Destroyer Hill and Camel Hump.  On the night of 19 December, “A” Squadron and the 2nd Light Horse, their ranks now depleted by illness and casualties, left the frontline trenches to be evacuated to Egypt. Lionel, recently promoted to corporal, disembarked in Alexandria from HT Ionian on Boxing Day 1915.

The 11th Light Horse was reformed and Lionel rejoined his old regiment on 22 February 1916. At the time, he was a patient in the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital at Heliopolis suffering severe dental problems. His brother Charles joined the 11th Light Horse Regiment the same day.

The 11th Light Horse moved to a new training camp at Tel-el-Kebir where Lionel was admitted again to hospital, now suffering from appendicitis. He was discharged on 6 May and joined the regiment in its move to the defend the Suez Canal. The regiment took up a frontline position, 13km from the Suez Canal, at the Serapeum Railhead, where it was in range of enemy aerial bombing.

On 3 August, a German-led Ottoman force launched an offensive on the Allied positions at Romani.  Corporal Frank Curran from Tenterfield was killed in this action. Lionel and the 11th Light Horse joined the attack against the retiring enemy troops. “B” Squadron, under the command of Major Charles Lee, and the 11th Light Horse, together with the other units of the Desert Column, pursued the enemy across the Sinai for 12 days. In this action, the 11th Light Horse suffered significant casualties: five men killed, 12 wounded, and one man missing. (Hammond 1942, 47)

Major Charles Lee left the 11th Light Horse to take up command of the 4th Camel Regiment in September. Following an attack on the Ottoman stronghold at Maghara, the 11th Light Horse moved back to the Serapeum Railhead where it undertook desert patrol duty. Lionel was promoted to sergeant on 4 November but was admitted to hospital two weeks later. He spent seven days in the No. 14 Australian General Hospital, near Cairo, suffering from a foreign body injury to his right foot.

On the evening of 18 April 1917, the 11th Light Horse joined the attack on Gaza by the Imperial Mounted Division and three divisions of British infantry. In the face of heavy fire by Turkish field guns and entrenched machine gun positions, the 11th Light Horse reached the enemy trenches but a general order to withdraw was issued. As the 11th Light Horse retired, Majors Bailey and Loynes, the commanding officers of “C” and “A” Squadrons, were severely wounded. In the Second Battle of Gaza, casualties for the 11th Light Horse were 11 killed, 52 wounded, and one man missing. (Hammond 1942, 71)

On 7 July, Lionel was admitted to the Citadel Military Hospital in Cairo where he remained for two weeks. He spent a further two weeks recovering at the Convalescent Depot at Abbassia where upon discharge, he was posted to the 4th Light Horse Training Regiment. Lionel rejoined the 11th Light Horse on 19 September.

The 11th Light Horse moved from its base at Tel el Fara on 28 October, in preparation for the Battle of Beersheba. Three days later, the Allied attack on Beersheba had stalled, and General Chauvel decided that only a cavalry charge would save the day. The 11th Light Horse, as part of the 4th Australian Brigade, led the charge.

At 4:30, the first line of Australian horsemen went over the ridge at a trot which soon developed into a hard gallop, as the troopers, with bayonets flashing in their hands, warmed to the occasion and spurred their mounts onward. A second and third line followed at intervals of 300 yards, and, ere long, the great plain echoed to the beat of a thousand horses.  The spectacle of Light Horsemen, with bayonets in their hands, charging infantrymen in strongly entrenched positions, was something quite unique in the history of warfare in any period, and the boldness of the charge and its unparalleled success, fired the imagination of the British peoples. The newspapers in England, Australia and America flashed the news around the world in bold headlines. (Hammond 1942, 81-82)

Lionel survived the Battle of Beersheba, and the further battles fought by the 11th Light Horse, as it joined the pursuit of the retreating Ottoman forces through Sheria, Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, Bethlehem, and northwards from Damascus. The 11th Light Horse fought as far as Homs and was in camp at Tripoli when news of the Armistice was received. 

In March 1919, Lionel was stationed at Moascar, Egypt, waiting to be shipped back to Australia. On his A.I.F. Demobilisation Form he wrote:

Since embarkation the deaths of my Mother & Brother have taken place and I am an interested party in both Estates, which owing to my absence on Active Service, cannot be attended until my return.

Upon his return to Australia, Lionel planned to live in Stanthorpe and resume his work with the Beverley Tin Mining Syndicate.

On 29 March, before he could sail from Egypt, Lionel was admitted to hospital suffering from gallstones. Two days later he was listed as dangerously ill with cholecystitis. Sergeant Lionel Kenneth Lee died of typhus at the 26th Stationary Hospital, Ismailia, on 5 April 1919. He was buried by Chaplain A.F. Day in the Ismailia Cemetery the same day.

Lionel’s death was reported in the Casino and Kyogle Courier on 12 April 1919:

When the Great War broke out he was one of the first to enlist. For four years he was in khaki, going right through the Gallipoli and Palestine campaign. It is particularly sad to think that he came through the furnace of war scathless to fall a victim to the dreaded typhus fever. Only last month his father received a very cheery letter from him stating that he was well, but felt worn out, and was endeavoring to get home leave. The letter stated that he was then in Tripoli, and he expressed the hope that it would not be long before he returned to Tenterfield with the stirring story of the little-known campaign amongst the deserts of Northwest Africa.

References

Ernest W. Hammond. (1942). History of the 11th Light Horse Regiment. Fourth Light Horse Brigade. Australian Imperial Forces. War 1914-1919. 1st edition. Brisbane. William Brooks & Co.

Photographs

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Image No.702692-19150710-s0023-005, p.23 of The Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to the Queenslander, 10 July, 1915.

Australian War Memorial Collection P05380.001 : “The Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba”.

Ismalia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt : The War Graves Photographic Project.

Tenterfield War Memorial.

Australian War Memorial Collection C00059 : Group Portrait of Australian Soldiers Outside “Mrs Murphy’s Pub” at the Serapeum Railhead, January 1916.