William Charles Lee (21 December 1893–10 October 1916†)

This post has been slightly delayed by the patchy wifi in northern Queensland!

William Charles Lee (Lives profile) was born into a ringing family, his father William, uncle John, and grandfather Charles had all been ringers at Foxearth, Essex. He was probably known as Charles as ringing reports often list him only as C Lee. 

Grandfather Charles died in 1889 At which point William moved the short distance to Sudbury in Suffolk with his now widowed mother. Uncle John however took off for London—this was possibly as a result of his ringing connections. He had been the most prolific of the family as a ringer, elected to the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths by 1888, and ringing several peals in Essex and Suffolk, including a long length of 10160 changes of major before making his move to London. 

The 1891 census shows William as a baker in Sudbury, living with his mother. John became a brewer in London. Both married within the next couple of years. John to Frances Nellie (or Nelly) Carter from Bulmer, another Essex village close to both Foxearth and Sudbury. Censuses show she had a brother called Charles Carter who might be the C Carter who rang with both John and William on several occasions. They married at Old St Pancras on 26 December 1891.

William meanwhile married Ellen Anne Making in Sudbury in early 1893 (or the last few weeks of 1892). Charles was born on or about 21 December 1893 (the birth wasn’t registered until the 1st quarter of the following year, but a later quarter peal report for 21 December 1913 indicates that it was rung as birthday compliment to him).

A sister, Daisy Ellen Lee, was born in early 1896 (or the last few weeks of 1895). 

By 1901 the family were living at 1 Croft Road in Sudbury. William’s career in baking doesn’t seem to have worked out as he now recorded as a horseman on a farm, while Ellen is a silk winder and weaver. In 1911 they were at 6 Church Riw, Sudbury.  Charles was now working at a coconut matting factory. His sister as a silk weaver, William still horseman and farm labourer. 

The first report of ringing involving Charles is a touch of Grandsire Triples rung for Pentecost 1912 (26 May). He rang his first peal on 19 January 1913. 

Charles seems to have moved to London later in 1913 and worked for Warner’s Spitalfields Bell Foundry. This was probably through his Uncle John’s connections. John rang at Streatham and Charles seems to have joined him there (possibly living with him and his family too). John and Nellie, their daughter Maude (18) and two boarders, the Mayhew brothers (Suffolk lads too), were living at 132 Elmshurst Mansions, Edgely Road, Clapham. Like William, John’s original career doesn’t seem to have worked out, and he’s now a jobbing gardener. Maude was a shorthand typist (you might wonder what this city office girl made of her country cousin?). The first report of Charles ringing in London is actually at Southgate on 22 June 1913, although the band included his uncle and several other Streatham ringers. 

As well as several quarter peals and peals at Streatham, Lee became involved in the Spitalfields Foundry Guild too—all members were also in the Cumberlands. The first of those was on 23 December 1913, followed by two more on 29 June and 11 July 1914 (all at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch). This also led to Lee attending the cricket match between the Cumberlands and the College Youths on 18 July 1914. He didn’t play in the match, but did sing as part of the entertainment that followed in the evening. Lee’s entry in the Cumberlands’ name book shows that in 1914 he was living in 7 Millbrook Road, Brixton. 

He also rang one peal for the London County Association, at Christ Church, Blackfriars on 19 February 1914.

Lee was not one of those who rushed to join up immediately on the outbreak of war. We can see he went home in late 1914 as he is listed as ringing as part of a memorial to another Sudbury ringer, H Griggs, on 22 November 1914. The war gratuity paid out following his death shows that he had been serving less than a year. The fact that he returned to Sudbury to enlist, and was able to choose to serve in the Suffolk Regiment suggests he joined before conscription came into force, probably as part of the Derby Scheme. Checking the service of those with similar regimental numbers suggests that Lee would have enlisted around 12 December 1915. He may have spent some time on the reserve before being called up, but on the other hand he was young and unmarried, so he may well have been posted immediately.  He would have joined 9th Battalion in France sometime in 1916. 

The battalion were not engaged in any major action on 10 October 1916. The war diary simply records “7 other ranks killed”. Whether he was buried by the explosion of a shell, or initially buried a little way behind the lines, in a grave subsequently lost in later fighting, he is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. I forgot to take a photo of the relevant panel of the memorial when I visited earlier this year, but I later discovered that the Friends of the Suffolk Regiment were doing a tour in September, and they were able to take a couple of photos. 

Once news of his death reached Sudbury, the ringers arranged commemorative ringing. Unfortunately 2 members of the band were injured by a car as they made their way home. Lee’s father was also involved in an accident on the railway line around the same time. It’s not clear exactly how this happened and if it was directly related to his son’s death. 

Lee is listed as a Sudbury ringer on the Central Council roll of honour, a Streatham ringer on the Surrey roll, and is also on the roll recorded in Volume 4 of the Cumberlands’ peal book, and their memorial in St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. He was also among those remembered at the Ringers’ National Memorial Service at St Clement Danes in February 1919.

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