Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lee, George Leonard (1860–1939)

by P. V. Vernon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

George Leonard Lee (1860-1939), soldier, was born on 25 June 1860 at West Maitland, New South Wales, son of John Lee, draper and later merchant, and his wife, Mary Ann née Eckford. Educated at Sauchu House School, West Maitland, and Armidale Grammar School, he worked for a while in the family business, John Lee & Sons, West Maitland. He was a well-known horseman and sportsman, keen on polo.

On 4 October 1889 Lee was commissioned in the local troop of the New South Wales Lancers and during the maritime strike of 1890 acted as adjutant of the partially paid cavalry and mounted rifles who were enrolled as special police in Sydney. Next year he was sent to England for training and by October 1892 had qualified in an equitation course at the Cavalry School, Canterbury, at an Army Service Corps school and at the School of Musketry, Hythe; he also trained for several months with the 20th Hussars at Aldershot. After returning home he joined the New South Wales Permanent Military Forces in December 1892 as a captain and from then until June 1902 was adjutant of the New South Wales Lancers. The New South Wales Mounted Brigade's book of confidential reports contains laudatory references to him. During that time he was also acting staff officer, Mounted Brigade, for over two years, and commandant of the Cavalry School. On 2 January 1896 he married Emma Onus Town at St Ann's Anglican Church, Homebush, Sydney; they had no children.

On the outbreak of the South African War in October 1899 the New South Wales Lancers mobilized a draft to go from Sydney to reinforce their squadron which was proceeding to the war from England after training there. Lee, now a major, was in charge of the draft which joined the squadron in South Africa on 6 December. Lee then took command of the Lancer contingent from Captain C. F. Cox. His unit, part of Lieutenant-General French's force, was employed in operations around Colesberg, the relief of Kimberley, and actions at Paardeberg, Poplar Grove, Driefontein, Zand River, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Diamond Hill and in the Transvaal east of Pretoria to 26 October 1900 when the squadron's year of service ended. For his work in South Africa Lee was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Resuming duty with the Australian Military Forces, Lee was assistant adjutant general and chief staff officer in Victoria in 1902-07. Appointed to the Administrative and Instructional Staff in 1904, he became a lieutenant-colonel in 1909, having held brevet rank since 1902. He served in New South Wales from June 1907, and was commandant in Tasmania in 1911-12 and in Queensland in 1912-17. After that he was temporarily in command in New South Wales, with the honorary rank of major general from July 1918 until he was transferred to the retired list on 13 May 1920 as honorary lieutenant-general. He was aide-de-camp to the governor-general in 1915-20, and in 1917 was appointed C.M.G.

Warm tributes to Lee's personality and ability include praise of his fine horsemanship, geniality and ripe judgement; there was 'no hypocrisy in his make up' and he would not tolerate it in anyone under him. In retirement he worked two oyster leases at Port Stephens, New South Wales. He was a member of the Union Club, Sydney. Survived by his wife, he died on 13 April 1939 at Burwood and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • London Gazette, 23 Jan 1917
  • Navy, Army, Air and Munitions Journal, 13 Apr 1939
  • diary of Major G. L. Lee, Oct 1899–Feb 1900, and letter book of New South Wales Mounted Brigade, 1894-96 (privately held)
  • newsclippings on G. L. Lee (Army Museum, Victoria Barracks, Paddington, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. V. Vernon, 'Lee, George Leonard (1860–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lee-george-leonard-7146/text12335, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 1 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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