Remembering Ernest Lee, FLS Fellow of the Linnean Society, who died in Flanders on active service on 11th July 1915.
Born in Stanley Cross End, Yorkshire on 11 April 1886, the son of a colliery expert, Ernest Lee was educated at the Burnley Technical Institute, before moving to the Royal College of Science where he studied and published on the ‘morphology of leaf fall’. He worked as a Demonstrator and Assistant Lecturer in Botany, Birkbeck College, London.
Elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in June 1911, by 1913 he had moved to the Department of Agricultural Botany, University of Leeds. Here he joined the University of Leeds OTC Officer Training Corps in September 1914 (see links below).
Ernest Lee married a Fellow Linnean, Miss Helen Stuart Chambers FLS in November 1914, when he was already listed as ‘Officer in HM Forces’ on his wedding certificate. The daughter of a colliery manager, Helen was listed in 1911 as a lecturer at Royal Holloway College, London.
Ernest Lee was quickly gazetted a Second Lieutenant into the 4th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. After training as a Machine Gun officer, he became a Lieutenant and survived three months at the Front before dying on 11 July 1915. He is buried at III D 12, Artillery Wood Cemetery, Ypres, Flanders.
His CWGC headstone and a picture of Ernest Lee can be seen here at ww1. Cemeteries.com – http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/ww1cemeteries/artillerywoodcemetery.htm
Ernest Lee is mentioned on the Western Front Association web pages in an article on the Leeds University OTC http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-people/memorials/1646-the-university-of-leeds-otc-and-roll-of-honour.html which has recently added the following brief biography as part of an online article by David Stowe in 2010.
Lee, Ernest. Lt. 4th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) Date of Death: 11-7-1915. Cemetery-Memorial: Artillery Wood Cemetery. III. D. 12.
Lt. E. Lee was killed by a rifle bullet while supervising the repair of a parapet of his machine-gun emplacement on 10 July. Lee was lecturer in Agricultural Botany in the University for about eighteen months before the beginning of the War.
In that period he managed, by his great gift of energy and organising power to perform, in addition to his departmental duties, a great deal of unobtrusive but extremely valuable work for the University as a whole. Most important of all was his work for the O.T.C. He was only in the contingent about six months but in that period he must have established something like a record in attendance at parades. He revived enthusiasm in musketry to such an extent that many cadets paid not two but ten visits to the range during the summer of 1914.
Lee had persuaded several other members of the staff to join the contingent with him and when Captain Priestley left for France in August 1915, the work of the new conditions caused by the war fell on them. While waiting for his own commission Lee literally slaved at Headquarters. He was responsible for musketry instruction and did an enormous share of the spade work which produced the present system out of an almost hopeless chaos. With his regiment he was equally successful. He was promptly promoted lieutenant and given command of the machine gun section which he served till his death. He had an exceptionally unselfishly disposition; no exertion was too great and no task to trivial if the work was for the welfare and comfort of others.
A few months before he went to France he was married to Miss Helen Stuart Chambers, B.Sc., of 9 Grange Road Sheffield, and those of his friends who knew the great happiness that the union brought him will extend special sympathy to Mrs. Lee in her irreparable loss. He was an Associate of the Royal College of Science and a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.
You can read more in our previous WW1 blogpost about other Lost Fellows of the Linnean Society at: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/lost-fellows-the-linnean-society-roll-of-honour-1914-1918/
It appears likely that his widow Helen Stuart Lee remarried in 1920 to a John Woolfenden Williamson, barrister and carried on as a research assistant at the Botany Department Birkbeck College, joint author of a series of papers on fungi. (Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists Ed Ray Desmond). She has an obituary in Nature, 1934, v 134, 998, having died on 4 December 1934.