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Full Name: John Alexander Lee
Rank Last Held: Private
Forename(s): John Alexander
Surname: Lee
War: World War I, 1914-1918
Serial No.: 16560
Date of Birth: 31 October 1890
Place of Birth: Dunedin, New Zealand
First Known Rank: Private
Occupation before Enlistment: Barman
Next of Kin: Mrs J. Lee (wife), Post-office, Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand
Enlistment Date: 10 March 1916
Age on Enlistment: 26
Military District: Wellington
Body on Embarkation: New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Embarkation Unit: 15th Reinforcements Specialist Machine-Gun Section
Embarkation Date: 26 July 1916
Place of Embarkation: Wellington, New Zealand
Vessel: Waitemata or Ulimaroa
Destination: Devonport, England
Nominal Roll Number: 37
Page on Nominal Roll: 28
Military Awards:
  • Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)
  • War Medal 1914-1919
  • Victory Medal
Award Circumstances:
  • DCM. London Gazette, 14 August 1917. "(MESSINES 7 June 1917)
  • For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During our offensive he showed great dash and coolness in attacking and capturing a machine-gun with its team. Later, when the advance was held up by an enemy post, he skilfully rushed it with two of his comrades, capturing two machine-guns and forty men."
Wounds and Diseases: Shattered arm inflicted 12 April 1918
Discharge Date: 16 August 1919
Reason for Discharge: Discharged due to wounds
Place of Death: Auckland, New Zealand
Date of Death: 13 June 1982
Age at Death: 92
Year of Death: 1982
Biographical Notes:
  • John Alexander Lee was born in Dunedin and was educated at Albany Street School. He worked at a variety of jobs on farms, factories and the Public Works Department, which he joined in 1909. In Who's Who in New Zealand (4th ed) he is recorded as having married Marie E. Guy, daughter of T.B. Guy, in 1919.
  • He served in France with the 1st Wellington Regiment and was awarded the DCM for conspicuous gallantry. In his history of the New Zealand Division (p. 199), Col. H. Stewart records the details of the Wellington company who pushed up the communication trench leading from October Support to Fanny's Farm (near Messines) and had to fight their way. "One man in this company, Pte. J.A. Lee, was prominent for fearless gallantry. He tackled single-handed a machine gun near the Wytschaete road and captured the 4 gunners, and later when the centre company was held up by an enemy post, he worked to its rear and rushed it successfully. In all this struggle the Stokes mortars gave valuable assistance, and here they ejected a machine gun from a concrete emplacement near the Wytschaete road, and silenced with 4 shells another troublesome one at the trench junction near Fanny's Farm. The left company [Wellington] secured 2 machine guns and 40 prisoners."
  • The events which led to his wounding and loosing his left arm took place near Mailly Maillet in April 1918. The history of the Wellington Regiment records the events of April 1918 with the Battalion coping with mud which made the trenches difficult to walk through, cleaning up the trenches and digging a new support line. "On the 9th April, 1st Wellington relieved 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade, in the line, while 2nd Wellington relieved 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade in support. At this time, the enemy was very inactive and our casualties were but slight." Nevertheless it was during this relatively quiet time that Private Lee was injured by a shell.
  • After the war he began a career in politics, contesting the Auckland East by-election in 1921. He served as Member of Parliament for this district from 1922-28. In 1931 he won the Grey Lynn seat, defeated J.S. Fletcher, and was re-elected to this district in 1935 and 1938 polling record majorities for New Zealand on each occasion. He was Parliamentary Under-secretary to the Minister of Finance from 1936-39. An active Labour Party member he was president of the Auckland Labour Party; he served on the executive of the Auckland Returned Services Association (RSA).
  • Amongst his publications were Children of the Poor (1934), The Hunted (1936), Civilian into Soldier (1937), and Socialism in New Zealand (1938).
Postwar Occupation:
  • Politician
  • Justice of the Peace
Archives NZ source: Military personnel file
Further References: Lee, J.A., Soldier, Reed, Wellington, 1976.
Sources Used:
  • Nominal Rolls of New Zealand Expeditionary Force Volume II. Wellington: Govt. Printer, 1917
  • Cunningham, W., Treadwell, C., Hanna, J. (1928). The Wellington Regiment, N.Z.E.F., 1914-1919. Ferguson and Osborn: Wellington, N.Z. Digital copy. NZETC. URL:
  • Stewart, H. (1921). The New Zealand Division 1916-1919 : a popular history based on official records. Auckland, N.Z.: Whitcombe and Tombs. Digital copy URL:
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