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The rush of volunteers to fill the ranks of the Kitchener battalions in the last days of the summer of 1914 created a desperate shortage of N.C.O.s which was met largely by enlisting ex-army regulars. George Lee, then aged 52, a veteran of the Zulu War with 12 years army service in India behind him, was one of the first to offer his services to the Accrington battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. Within a day of enlisting, he was appointed Company Sergeant Major in the Accrington Pals
George was born in the Devonshire village of Widecombe on 11th December 1861. At the age of 16 - a sallow-complexioned youth, 5ft 5in (1.65m) tall with brown eyes and sandy-coloured hair - he left work as a farm labourer to volunteer for army service at Raglan Barracks, Devonport. On 3rd September 1878 he duly joined the ranks of the 32nd Light Infantry Regiment.
It was perhaps the chance to serve overseas that led George to transfer voluntarily to the 24th Regiment less than five months later. On 1st March 1879, he boarded the SS Clyde at Woolwich for passage to South Africa where his regiment had already been heavily involved in the Anglo-Zulu War battles of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift. George himself was present at the concluding battle of the war on 4th July at Ulundi where Zulu forces led by Cetshwayo were decisively beaten. George returned home later in the year, proud to have been awarded the Zulu Medal and Clasp.
An opportunity for service in another corner of the British Empire came as early as December when George transferred again, this time to the 30th Regiment, soon to be re-designated as the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment. On 7th January 1880, 12-years service with his regiment in India began when George embarked on the troopship HMS Serapis at Portsmouth. Starting with his appointment as Lance Corporal early in 1883, a series of promotions took him to the rank of Colour Sergeant by 1st July 1888. The following year, he married Martha Marshall at Calaba, Bombay on 6th March.
Shortly after returning to England from India in 1892, George was appointed drill instructor to the (King's) Liverpool Regiment. Having received the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal in 1897, he was discharged to pension on 25th September 1899 having completed 21 years 23 days service, entitling him to a pension of 2/6 (12½p) per day.
George retired to a house in Westwood Street, Accrington only to re-join the army in July 1900 as temporary drill instructor to the 5th V.B. East Lancashire Regiment. For the additional 40 months of service his pension was increased by the grand sum of 1½d per day!
As an ex-regular army N.C.O., George was welcomed into the ranks of the Accrington Pals in September 1914, despite his 52 years of age. He was promoted to Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant in October and continued to serve with the Pals until - suffering from rheumatism - he was invalided home from France on 25th May 1916. After leaving hospital, he spent short spells with both the 10th and 12th (Reserve) Battalions of the East Lancashire Regiment before being discharged from the army on 10th August.
After the war, George returned to the West Country where he died at Devonport on 4th August 1936.
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