b. 07/05/1876 Leicester. d. 02/08/1960 Perth, Australia.
Robert Gee (1876-1960) was born at 29, Metcalf Street, Leicester, on the 7th May 1876, to Robert and Amy Gee (nee Foulds), framework knitters from Anstey, Leicestershire. His father had died a few months before he was born and the young Gee was orphaned when his mother died when he was nine years old and he was placed in Leicester Union Workhouse. Two years later, into Countesthorpe Cottage Homes, on the 5th August 1887, where he was to remain until the 8th March 1890, when he was apprenticed to Mr. Robert Austin, an elderly shoemaker, but the relationship was strained and the two could not get along. Gee was readmitted to the workhouse in March 1892, but left two months later when he was apprenticed to Mr. Joseph Shaw, who had an ornamental and metal iron works business in Aylestone Park, Leicester.
Before Gee had completed his apprenticeship the business closed and Gee, then aged 16, decided to enlist in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars in April 1893, giving a false age and name.
However, six months after enlisting he deserted and enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers the following day. He was accepted and posted to the 2nd Battalion, who were then stationed in the Channel Islands at Guernsey. His past caught up with him less than a year after enlisting and he was imprisoned for six weeks for fraudulent enlistment and had to forfeit the 256 days service he had done with the Royal Fusiliers.
Despite his indiscretions Gee, was posted to the 1st Battalion and he went out to the East Indies from November 1896 until March 1900. He had been promoted to Lance Corporal in January 1896 and whilst in India he was promoted to Corporal on the 20th August 1898. He returned to England in March 1900, and was posted to the newly formed 4th Battalion and was made up to Sergeant on the 1st August and moved with the battalion to Shornecliffe Camp near Folkestone. He married Miss Elizabeth Dixon, of Huntingdon in 1902, and the couple were to have two daughters, Edith and Amy. At the outbreak of the First World War he was serving as Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant at the Regimental Depot in Hounslow, having been posted there in an orderly role following problems with his heart in 1908.
During his time at Hounslow, Gee, who had always been interested in military history, gave lectures on the subject, one of the few NCOs qualified to do so. He had also been initiated into the local Freemason Lodge, but with the coming of the war he was soon on the move again and was posted to Dover to join the 6th (Reserve) Battalion. On the 29th January 1915, he was promoted to WOII, and after being in the Army for almost twenty two years he was discharged on the 20th May 1915. The following day he took up a commission with the regiment and was posted to his old battalion, the 2nd, who were then part of the 86th Brigade, 29th Division. He sailed for Egypt, arriving on the 29th and from there went on to Gallipoli in the August where he served as a Company Commander, and later as Acting Captain. He was involved in an incident on the 26th November, when violent storms flooded trenches at Suvla Bay and several men were drowned and others who managed to escape from the deluge were picked off by Turkish snipers as they scrambled to safety from the water.
Gee left the peninsula in January 1916, and returned to Egypt where he was made an Acting Staff Captain attached to the 86th Brigade in Suez, on the 2nd February, and then o the 13th March he was made Staff Captain at Brigade HQ, and moved with the 29th Division, when it went to France. Despite holding a Staff Captaincy, Gee was still only a Second Lieutenant and he was promoted to Lieutenant on the 21st March 1916. He continued in his role as a Staff Captain, but returned to the battalion in time for the opening day of the Somme battle at Beaumont Hamel, where he was awarded a Military Cross after he exposed himself to enemy fire to encourage his men to attack. He was wounded but refused to leave and continued urging his men forward until he was blown into the air by a shell and was carried out of the line.
Gee was invalided back to England on the 4th July and remained in hospitals and convalescence until he returned to France in February 1917. During his time in England, Gee took the opportunity to learn French and was involved in Masonic life and upon his return to active service he continued to serve as Staff Captain with the 29th Division until he was transferred to the staff of the 86th Brigade on the 25th June. He was involved in the fighting during the Ypres battles of 1917 and was wounded again on the 13th August and was treated at the 88th Field Ambulance and returned to the Brigade on the 31st.
The 86th were heavily involved in the fighting on the Ypres Salient, and they were relieved at Elverdinghe on the 11th October, Gee had a period of leave shortly after the Brigade came out of the trenches and was suffering from neurasthenia as a result of his experiences at Beaumont Hamel the year before. It is not clear what treatment he received or whether he did receive any, but he was back in France the following month when he performed the deed that saw him awarded the VC on the 30th November 1917 at Masnières and Les Rues Vertes, during the Battle of Cambrai.
“An attack by the enemy pierced our line and captured brigade headquarters and ammunition dump. Captain Gee, finding himself a prisoner, killed one of the enemy with his spiked stick and succeeded in escaping. He then organised a party of the brigade staff with which he attacked the enemy fiercely, closely followed by two companies of infantry. By his own personal bravery and prompt action he cleared the locality. Capt. Gee established a defensive flank on the outskirts of the village, then finding that an enemy machine-gun was still in action, with a revolver in each hand, and followed by one man, he rushed and captured the gun, killing eight of the crew. At this time he was wounded, but refused to have his wound dressed until he was satisfied that the defence was organised.” – London Gazette, 11th January 1918
Gee was later Mentioned in Despatches, for the second time, in December for work he had carried out prior to the Cambrai battle, and returned to duty after just three weeks treatment in hospital. Ten days before the citation appeared in the London Gazette he was presented with the VC ribbon by the Commander of the 29th Division, at Brandhoek “B” Camp. On the 12th January, the day after the citation had been published, he was honoured, along with Sherwood-Kelly VC and Spackman VC, by the 86th Brigade at a ceremonial parade.
In the New Year Gee, received a third Mention in Despatches and on the 23rd February 1918, he took his 12 year old daughter Amy, with him when he was presented with his VC by the King at Buckingham Palace. He returned to France soon after but his stay on the Western Front was brief when he became unwell and was admitted to the divisional rest station of the 89th Field Ambulance on the 5th April, and then three days later he was invalided home. Gee never returned to the front and following treatment he was given a civic reception by his home town on the 11th June 1918. He was accompanied to Leicester by his wife Elizabeth, and eldest daughter, Edith, where he was presented with a gold watch and chain and Mrs. Gee was presented with a gold brooch.
Gee was still a serving officer in the Army, and he was appointed as a Temporary Staff Captain to the Tees Garrison, Middlesbrough, where he continued with his lectures on military history and took part in various patriotic rallies in towns and cities throughout the UK. After the war, Gee considered careers in either law or politics and began studying for the Bar, but his wounds prevented him from completing his courses and he went into politics. He first stood for Parliament as a National Democratic Party candidate in the 1918 General Election at Consett, where he finished second. He then stood for Parliament as a Conservative in the 1921 Woolwich East by-election against Ramsay MacDonald. A great deal of attention was given in the campaign to the contrast between Gee as a VC holder and Macdonald as a pacifist who opposed the war. Gee won the seat which he held until the next general election the following year, when he lost to the Labour Party candidate.
He was elected MP for Bosworth at the 1924 general election but he became disillusioned with Parliamentary life and left his constituency without representation in the House of Commons. Because he was reported to have been absent from his political duties for over a year his seat was declared vacant and a by-election was called for in 1927. No reason was given until thirty years after the event when Gee was reported to have said that his wounds were troubling him and although he had every intention of returning to England after visiting Australia, once he had taken up farming his health had improved and he decided to stay.
Gee remained in Australia for the rest of his life, returning to England for the 1956 VC Centenary celebrations as part of the Australian contingent. While in the UK he visited Leicester and was given a warm welcome by the Lord Mayor and made life Vice-President of the Leicester branch of the Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s Association. He was based in London for most of his stay but was able to meet up with several former comrades from the Royal Fusiliers, including former Private Cattermole, who had covered Gee with a Lewis Gun during his VC exploits.
In the late 1950’s, Gee’s health began to deteriorate and he was admitted to the “Home of Peace”, Thomas Street, Subiaco, Perth at the end of January 1960. He died in aged 84, on the 2nd August 1960, and was cremated at the Karrakatta Crematorium.
Gee requested that his VC and other decorations were to be donated to the Royal Fusiliers Museum, and in 1967, his daughter Edith also presented the museum with her father’s service revolver which he had used on the 30th November 1917. Shortly before her death in 1986, Edith encouraged her son Robert Harrison, to donate a casket presented to his grandfather when he received the Freedom of Leicester in 1925, along with his Sam Browne belt to the museum. His VC is still displayed at the Royal Fusiliers Museum in the Tower of London, England.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL FUSILIERS MUSEUM, TOWER OF LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: KARRAKATTA CREMATORIUM, PERTH, AUSTRALIA.
Kevin Brazier – Karrakatta Cemetery Map.
Brian Drummond – Image of the Freemason Memorial, London.
www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Gee VC Stone in Leicester.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Gee VC medal group in the Fusiliers Museum, Tower of London.