No. 2862 Sergeant Joseph Lee
Joseph Lee was born in Trentham, Victoria in 1892, the second son of Michael and Margaret Lee, and one of nine children.
Joseph was single and working as a carpenter when he enlisted as a Private in Colac on 9 July 1915, at the age of 23. He was described as being 5 foot 9 inches with fair hair and blue eyes. The address he gave was Werribee, care of his sister. He was assigned to the 22nd Battalion, 6th Reinforcements.
On 27 October 1915, Private Lee left Melbourne on the H.M.A.T Ulysses, bound for Alexandria, Egypt, for training. There, he was allotted to the 57th Battalion, but transferred to the 13th Field Artillery Brigade in March of 1916. In June, he left Egypt bound for Marseilles, France, and from there on to Le Havre and the Western Front.
In mid July 1916, Joseph’s Unit was involved in the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front, the Battle of Fromelles, an attempt to take German trench lines. The attempt was unsuccessful. The Australians came under heavy fire and were forced to withdraw. The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, with almost 2,000 killed. The battle left the Division incapable of offensive action for many months. The following month, Joseph was promoted to Bombardier.
On 20 January 1917, Joseph was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for “conspicuous gallantry in action. He frequently laid and repaired telephone wires under very heavy fire.” In May he was honoured with the French Croix de Guerre, which is awarded to “those soldiers who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.” In August, Joseph received another promotion, to Corporal.
In September 1917, Corporal Lee’s unit participated in the Battle of Polygon Wood, part of the third battle of Ypres. On 1 October, he was wounded in action and admitted to the 8th Field Ambulance Medical Unit. A fortnight later he re-joined his unit, only to be returned to hospital a month later, this time suffering from a fever. Ten days later, he was back with his unit. In November, the brigade left Belgium and returned to French Flanders, where they had a 2-month Christmas break at Montcavrel.
In April 1918, Joseph was promoted again, this time to the rank of Sergeant. During 1918, his unit actively served at Hamel, Amiens, Peronne and in the capture of the Hindenburg Line.
After the war ended, Sergeant Lee left France for England in March 1919, where he was stationed at the No. 2 Command Depot in Weymouth, Dorset. He left England from Plymouth on R.M.S Orontes on 15 May 1919, and disembarked back in Melbourne on 28 June 1919. In September he was discharged from the AIF, as medically unfit (no disability stated).
On his return, Joseph lived in the Werribee District, and was a prominent member of the Werribee Football team, along with his brothers. Three years following his return, Joseph married Margaret Sheedy. They moved to Terang, where Joseph continued his carpentry trade while his health allowed. The couple had two children.
Joseph died on 1 March 1930, aged just 37, at the Caulfield Military Hospital. According to the Werribee Shire Banner, 6 March 1930, p.6. he had been unwell for some time, his illness being “accentuated through the effects of the war.”
Joseph Lee is buried in Werribee Cemetery.
Medals and Entitlements:
- Distinguished Conduct Medal
- Croix du Guerre
- 1914/15 Star Medal
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
National Archives of Australia