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Ancestry 101 / Lee / Charlie

This is Charles Lee, my grandfather, about 1905 or so. The uniform is that of the 2nd Life Guards which was one of the first regiments of the British Army, and part of the Household Cavalry. The original large painting was displayed in the Lee household as my father grew up. As the youngest of the three sons, my father did not inherit the photo (it went to his eldest brother and his slice of the family), but I had a photographic copy made of it and gave it to him one Christmas. That copy now hangs prominently in my house today, and the above image was taken by digital camera.

Charles Lee was born on April 3, 1882 near a tiny village named Orhir, on the main island of the Orkney Islands (Orphir). The birth records record the location as ‘Chambre Findlay’, otherwise known as the Findlay cottage (its the house centered on the map here). In September 2011 Jane and I visited the Orkneys, and this photo was taken of me at the side of the renovated cottage (now used as a vacation rental).

In one of the few notes my father made, he wrote that Charlie left to London when he was only 14 (1896) , started a military career shortly after he arrived, and at the age of 20 joined the Household Cavalry. There are records of his arrival by ship in Halifax in February 1907.

Documentation (Canadian enlistment forms from 1915, in his own hand) states that he served in the Household Cavalry for 5 years (also points out he had tattoos on both forearms). If he joined at 20, that would fit in the time period prior to his emigration.

Where it starts to get confusing is that the 1901 Scottish census lists him on the Orkney Islands (month shy of his 19th birthday, with the occupation of Stone Mason). The same Canadian enlistment form lists another 2 years service with a Scottish regiment (or militia, it is not clear), but if he did leave at 14, he would have to have returned from London to be counted in the census and to serve (I think) in the Scottish regiment. Tales from fathers may stray from the truth, so perhaps the story of his early years may have been a bit enhanced.

The 1911 Canadian census has him living with his wife Hannah (nee McKay, married March 15 of that year) at 3425 Quebec Street in Vancouver. By 1915, when he enlisted for WW1, he was on a farm at 84 62nd avenue east, South Vancouver, and where my father grew up.

He served overseas and did not rejoin his family until 1919. The army records indicate he was ‘invalided to Canada for further medical treatment’. I recall my father saying Charlie had suffered a wound from jumping into a foxhole and impaling himself on the spike of dead german’s helmet. However, the recent digitization of his army records shows that he actually suffered from a “tubercular testicle”, incurred or aggravated on a bicycle during the last month of the war, in France. Less dramatic, perhaps, but still nasty. Not sure if what I was told is what my father believed, or if it was something invented just for me.

In any event, the records indicate he participated in many of significant big battles of the war. His battalion (the 47th BC) ended the war with 899 men killed.

He was made the rank of Major at some stage, and served in the Reserves during WWII, dying on Remembrance Day, November 11, 1944 (as a result of a car accident I believe).  He had always worked for Vancouver City in some capacity, his obituary states he was a Health Inspector at the time of his death.

I only have a couple of photographs that show Charlie. The first was taken sometime in the late 1930’s, showing the entire Lee family (the sons Bert, Rod and Doug in back, two daughters Loraine and Isabel in front)

The second is Charlie and Hannah alone, probably not long before his death. He is wearing a nice tartan tie, as befits his roots…


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