Pte James Thomas LEE 1894-1916
Ancestry.com, shared 22 Feb 2013 by LeeinPerth

James Thomas LEE

Regimental Number
Known As
War Service
Egypt, Western Front
Prior Military Service
12 Jul 1915 at Blackboy Hill, WA
18 Nov 1915 from Adelaide, SA, on the HMAT A2 Geelong
Next of Kin
Father - Edward James Lee, Cartmeticup via Katanning, Western Australia
Date & Place of Birth
06 Nov 1894, Cartmeticup via Katanning, WA
Frances Alice (nee BRADBURY) and Edward James LEE
Marital Status
One of nine siblings – six girls and three boys
Physical Description
5 feet 6 inches, 140 pounds (167.6cm, 63.5kg)
Eyes brown, Hair dark brown, Complexion dark
Roman Catholic
Killed in Action, 20 Jul 1916, Fromelles, France - aged 21
Place of Burial
No known grave
V.C. Corner, (Panel 5), Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France
Positively Identified

James Thomas Lee of Cartmeticup, WA

Can you help locate James?

In 2008 a mass grave was found at Fromelles, a grave the Germans dug for 250 (Australian) bodies they recovered shortly after the battle. 168 of these soldiers have been identified and given proper burials and recognition through finding family DNA donors. 82 soldiers remain unknown (2022) and some identifications are still possible. We just need to find DNA donors.

James Thomas Lee was last seen on the 20th July 1916. Eyewitnesses, including his friend Horace Smith, stated that they saw him buried near Fleurbaix. The family even went so far as to write a memorial for his gravestone in the early 1920’s, however by 1922 no grave was ever located.

With his 32nd Battalion, James was positioned near where the Germans collected soldiers who were later buried at Pheasant Wood. There is a chance he might be identified, but we need help. We are still searching for suitable family DNA donors.

If you know anything of James’ contacts here in Australia or his relatives from Western Australia on the maternal line. We would love to hear from you.

See the DNA box at the end of James’ story for what we do know about his family.

With thanks to Grant Lee for help in writing this story.

The Lee family in Cartmeticup, WA

James Thomas Lee, known as Jim or Jimmy, was born in 1894 in Katanning, Western Australia, the 2nd child of Edward Lee and Frances Bradbury. Edward was a sailor who made his way to Western Australia in the 1880s and then moved to the Katanning area and worked as a sandalwood cutter.

With the decline in the sandalwood trade, Edward Lee took advantage of the new land policy and selected a block of land. He and Frances raised a large family (six daughters and three sons) and, with the new school at Cartmeticup opening in 1901 nearby, they did not have far to walk to school. The Lee children were part of the first 29 children enrolled.

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The Lee family homestead
source Ancestry.com, shared 22 Feb 2013 by LeeinPerth
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Jim Lee in his younger days
source Ancestry.com, shared 22 Feb 2013 by LeeinPerth

According to family history, Jim worked as a farm labourer around Katanning for several years until his enlistment.

Edward (senior) passed away in 1933 and Frances in 1947. Eventually, the family departed the district - with the exception of Edward (junior) (known as Eddie or Ted) who lived on the farm until the 1940s.

Enlistment with the AIF

Two of the three Lee brothers enlisted with the AIF – Jim at age 20 and Eddie at 17 (but claiming to be 18). The youngest brother, Richard born in 1901, was too young.

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The brothers, Private 5880 Edward H. LEE 1898-1971 and Private 982 James LEE 1894-1916. Edward served with the 27th Battalion while James was with the 32nd Battalion.

Jim enlisted on 12 July 1915 at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia with two friends English-born 977 Sid (Sydney) Lacey and another Katanning local, 1053 Horace Bernard Smith. The three mates were assigned to 32nd Battalion, C Company.

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Farewell at Moojebing (near Katanning) for local recruits including Horace Smith, Syd Lacey and Jim Lee.

Jim, Sid and Horace embarked from Adelaide, South Australia in November 1915 aboard HMAT A2 Geelong arriving in Egypt in December 1915. They spent six months in Egypt, desert training, guarding military sites and the Canal, and seeing the sights of Egypt. No doubt the three young man, all in their early 20s, did the camel journey to the Pyramids and Sphynx.

Only one of the three mates would survive the Battle of Fromelles.

Embarked for France in June 1916

The 32nd Battalion left Egypt in June 1916 and on 14 July they moved to billets at Fleurbaix in preparation for an assault on the German lines. The British High Command formulated a plan with the intention of attacking at Fromelles, anticipating that this attack would draw German troops away from the Somme offensive. Part of the plan was directed at a well defended position known as the Sugar Loaf salient. This position encroached into no man’s land, putting the German defenders in an advantageous position to cover no man’s land if an assault took place.

The plan was to use the Australian 5th Division (which included 15th, 14th and 8th Brigades) along with the British 61st Division. The 31st and 32nd Battalions, as part of the 8th Brigade, participated in the attack on the extreme left flank of the assault. They had to cover about 100 metres across no man’s land to reach the German trenches. A seven-hour artillery bombardment was to precede the attack which was set to begin at 6pm on 19th July 1916.

The 32nd Battalion and 31st Battalion were to form the first and second waves of the attack and were in position in the trenches. Even before the attack commenced, the Australians had already suffered severe casualties from the German artillery and also from the inexperienced Australian artillery who lacked the skill to provide cover for the battalions.

With the commencement of the attack, the flank of the 8th Brigade came under further artillery bombardment causing additional casualties and forcing the third and fourth waves of the attack to be combined. This reduced the strength of the Australian attack who, by now, were suffering heavily from the German machine gunners who had recovered from the preliminary artillery bombardment. With continued enfilading German machine gun fire into the Australians, the 32nd and 31st Battalions were able to capture a small section of the German trenches. However, with no follow up support and continued German counter attacks, the Australians were forced to withdraw leaving many of their casualties in the German trenches. Jim and his friend Sid were among them.

Killed in action

Private 916 Henry Coulson, 32nd Battalion, gave evidence that:

”This boy was killed in the main attack on July 19th at Fleurbaix and buried in a Military Cemetery at Fleurbaix. The grave was marked by a cross.”

AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – 982 LEE, James Thomas, page 2
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Henry Coulson was wounded at Fromelles with a gunshot wound to his wrist. He eventually returned to Australia in 1919.
source AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – 982 LEE, James Thomas, page 2

The second statement was from Jim’s friend 1053, Sergeant Horace Smith on 29 June 1917:

'I have seen his grave at Fleurbaix cemetery with cross, name and number on. I had his pocket book and other effects which show that he must have been riddled with M.G. (machine gun) bullets. I have written to his Mother and sent his things on and have heard from her. He lived at Cartmeticup within 8 miles of my home and I know all his people. He was X (platoon).'

AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – 982 LEE, James Thomas, page 3

Both Coulson and Smith stated that they had been writing to Jim’s mother with what details they knew as to Jim’s fate and where they thought he was buried. Knowing with some certainty the fate of their son must have been some comfort to the Lee family.

Horace Smith had lost both his good mates as Private Sid Lacey was also missing, with no reports of him being seen at all, nor being a prisoner of war. His parents in Buckinghamshire were notified in October 1916 that Sid had been killed in action so there must have been some evidence at the time but no details appear on his Australian records.

Horace served the remainder of the war with the 32nd Battalion, eventually promoted to lieutenant. He was also awarded the Military Cross for gallantry and devotion to duty in the field, specifically near Fontaine-les-Cappy on 27-29 August 1918.

The Lee family at home

By September 1916, the Lee family knew of 21-year-old Jim’s death and were mourning his loss. The notices below appeared shortly after they had confirmation of the news and the family - grandparents, parents and siblings - continued to place memorial notices in local newspapers each year until at least the mid-1930s. He was deeply missed.

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Notice placed by his immediate family in October 1916. Note that a 4th brother (P. Lee) is listed in the family notice; he has not been identified to date.

When his younger sister, Annie, married a few months after Jim died, celebrations were subdued in his memory, acknowledging that the family was still in mourning. The celebrations also prayed for the health of their brother Eddie who was en route for Europe for active service.

Jim’s brother, Eddie, adding a year to his age and claiming to be 18, enlisted in May 1916 as part of 27th Battalion, service number 5880. He served on the western front, suffering trench fever in 1917. He was wounded in action in June 1918 and returned to Australia in September 1918.

Having had news from eyewitnesses who had seen Jim’s grave, the family wrote a number of times to the army about the memorial inscription for his headstone and seeking a photo of his grave. Sadly, the army eventually wrote to advise that they had no details of his final burial place.

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One of the letters seeking to write a memorial for Jim’s grave.
source NAA: B2455, LEE, James Thomas – First AIF Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920 – page 26
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The family were finally notified in 1922 that no grave had been registered for Jim.
source NAA: B2455, LEE, James Thomas – First AIF Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920 – page 23

Eventually, the family received his identity disc as well as his military service medals and memorial scroll and plaque. Jim’s name was also included on panel 5 of V.C. Corner, Australian Cemetery and Memorial at Fromelles, France and he is remembered at:

  • The Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Canberra, ACT
  • Katanning War Memorial, Katanning, WA
  • Katanning & District Honour Roll, Katanning, WA
  • Woodanilling War Memorial, Woodanilling, WA
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Woodanilling War Memorial

Help us identify Jim Lee

As described at the beginning of this story, it is possible that Jim is one of the yet to be identified soldiers from the mass grave dug by the Germans. We have some donors but still need DNA donors to test for a match.

If you know anything of James’ family or his friends’ contacts, we would like to hear from you.

DNA is still being sought for family connections to

SoldierJames Thomas LEE, 1894, Katanning, WA
ParentsEdward James LEE and Frances Alice BRADBURY, Katanning, WA
PaternalEdward LEE and unknown, Bricklayer, England
MaternalHenry BRADBURY and Mary Jane BLACKMORE, Katanning, WA

The Fromelles Association would love to hear from you

Fromelles Association of Australia


The Fromelles Association welcomes all contact regarding this soldier.
(Contact: royce@fromelles.info or geoffrey@fromelles.info).
We also urge any family members to contact and register with the Australian Army
(Contact: army.uwc@defence.gov.au or phone 1800 019 090).


The Fromelles Association maintains this web site, purely by donations received.
If you are able, please contribute to the upkeep of this resource.
(Contact: bill@fromelles.info ).