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Gilbert Lee was born into a Roman Catholic family in Preston, his birth registered in the March quarter of 1895. He was the son of Thomas and Ellen Lee (nee Waddington) and they married in Preston in 1882 and went on to have 14 children, 11 of whom survived;

  • James (1883)
  • Mary (1885)
  • Ellen (1891)
  • Gertrude (1892)
  • Gilbert (1895)*
  • Agnes (1896)
  • Elizabeth (1898)
  • Thomas (1901)
  • Frederick Harold (1903)
  • Francis 1906)
  • Augustine (1907)

In 1901 Gilbert was living with the family at 15 Castleton Road where his father was employed as an `overlooker` in one of the local cotton mills. By 1911 the family, having increased in size, had moved to a slightly larger six roomed property at 346 St. George`s Road in Preston. Gilbert was now employed as a `creeler` and his older siblings were also mill workers, mainly weavers. Mary Lee, one of Gilbert`s older sisters had married Henry Parker in 1908 and they had a son Herbert (1909), both Mary and her son were also living with the family in 1911 but her husband is not listed as being at the property at that time. The other family member missing was Gilbert`s eldest sibling James, he had joined the Royal Field Artillery in time to serve in the 2nd Boer War and in 1911 he was stationed in India.

Gilbert`s WW1 service papers no longer exist but from existing newspaper information we know that he enlisted into the 4th Battalion LNL in early September 1914 and was issued with the service number 2641. Pre-war he had been employed as a cotton piercer at Mr. Smith`s Ribbleton Mill in Preston. The 1/4th Battalion embarked for France on the 4th May 1915 and Gilbert sailed with them as a member of “B” Coy. A week after landing in France the 1/4th Battalion became part of the 154th Brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division.

Towards the end of May 1915 the Battalion had their first experience of the trenches and also incurred their first casualties but on the 15th June 1915 they were ordered to take part in their first major action, attacking enemy positions between Rue d`Overt and Chapelle St. Roch in what would become known later as “the great bayonet charge”.

Extract from the Regimental History

“At 6pm on the 15th June 1915 the attack was launched by the 4th Loyal North Lancashire and the 6th Scottish Rifles. The attack was at first successful; the west end of the German salient was carried, and the attack pushed on to the main German line near the Rue d`Overt, and for a time the third German trench was occupied and held. Unfortunately the attack by the Division on the right of the 51st made little or no progress, and when night fell the 154th Brigade had penetrated the German line on a narrow front, but had both its flanks in the air.

The attack consequently failed, but as stated in the Divisional History “great praise is due to the 154th Infantry Brigade for their advance in the face of heavy artillery and close range rifle fire and machine-gun fire. There is little or no doubt that had the operations on the flanks been successful, they would have had every prospect of holding their gains”.

The Battalion had paid a heavy price, after being relieved what remained of the Battalion assembled at Le Touret where a roll call was taken. After their first general action 431 men had been killed, wounded or posted missing and sadly Private Gilbert Lee`s name was amongst those on the missing list.

After news of the casualties began to reach home, letters started to appear in the local papers, one such letter, sent by an unnamed member of the Chorley contingent of the 1/4th Battalion to his sister appeared in the Lancashire Daily Post, the letter had been written under the date 17th June 1915;

“I have the great pleasure in having the chance to write to you once more after having been in a fierce engagement. You will remember very well what I said when we started this war, that I would never be satisfied until I had killed about three or four Germans. Well, we have been in a bayonet charge and I have succeeded in doing what I wanted.

For a start we had three days bombardment, and while that was going on we were in the trenches, and knew that the bayonet charge had to come off at a certain time. All our men stuck well together till the time came, and then came the worst time I have ever seen in my life. I can`t make you think what things were like. When we started on the charge we were running on dead Germans and killed men as fast as we could go. We were all in good heart that we should come out on top. It was hand-to-hand fighting. I set off with a cool head, and kept it all the time, and landed back safe and sound without a scratch, but I must thank God for it. I will not mention anything about how many we had missing, for you will be able to see the papers. I am getting ready for the war being over. I have seen more than I ever dreamed I should”.

As well as extracts from letters, many photographs of the men who had been either killed, wounded or posted missing also started to appear in the local papers, Gilbert`s family were no exception and they posted the following photograph of their son;

After the war Gilbert`s family received his 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals and they would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

Sadly, Gilbert was one of the many thousands of men who have no known grave and so his name was included on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing. His name was also included on one of the panels on the St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church War Memorial in Preston (pictured below);

*To read more about Festubert including many more personal stories, please click here…..


Gilbert`s elder brother, James Lee, as previously mentioned had served in the 2nd Boer War. For his service he was awarded the Queen`s S.A. Medal together with the Cape Colony, Orange Free State,  Transvaal and South African 1902 & 1902 Clasps. James was also called up for further service as a gunner with the R.F.A. in WW1, joining on the 10th January 1917 with the service number 29000. He embarked for France on the 28th April 1917 and came back to England on the 20th November 1917. He returned to France on the 3rd June 1918 and remained there until the 9th June 1919. He was finally discharged in 1920. For his WW1 service James received the British War and Victory Medals.

Rank: Private
Service No: 2641
Date of Death: 15/06/1915
Age: 20
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, ‘B’ Coy, 1st/4th Bn.

Janet Davis
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