The youngest member of 17th Battalion in France.

Percy George Lee enlisted in 17th Battalion at Heaton Park on 20th February 1915.  He was 14 years old, having been born 2nd March 1900.  Percy lived with his parents Wilfred and Mary at 12 Nelson Terrace, Crumpsall.  Wilfred was employed as a Sugar Boiler and the family were Primitive Methodists.

The first four Companies of the Battalion had been formed in September 1914 and Percy answered the call for further recruits to form a fifth E (Reserve) Company.  He was posted to XX Company, allocated the Regimental Number 9436 and trained under the Command of 2nd Lieutenant Alfred Henry Hillier.

XX Pln, E COy 17th Bttn Photo

XX Pln, E Coy 17th Bttn Photo

17th Battalion had formed as the 2nd City Battalion, in order to attract a Clerks & Warehouseman Battalion.  By January 1915, most of these men had enlisted and the remit for recruitment in E Company was opened up to all fit men aged 18 to 39.  The minimum age for overseas service was 19 years.  At the opposite extreme, Private 9439 Percy Grundy joined XX Platoon, aged 38.

XX Pln, E COy 17th Bttn

XX Pln, E Coy 17th Bttn Roll

In common with a number of other teenagers, Percy answered Lord Kitchener’s call, claiming the age of 19 years and wrote that he was previously employed as a Warehouseman. At 5’ 6 ½” height, Percy as slightly taller than the average height, which must have helped the open minded recruiting Sergeant, he was a suitable recruit.  The Medical Officer also accepted his perceived age and noted Percy had good physical development.

Another young recruit, in XX Platoon of February 1915, was 9450 David Lea.  David was using the Alias Lea, rather than his true name Levy.  David had Russian Jewish parents and he may have needed to change his name as it appears he may not have been a British Citizen, even though he was born in Manchester.  David had previously joined and been discharged from 12th Battalion as being underage.  This process was repeated with 17th Battalion, when he was discharged underage on 17th July 1915.  He then re-enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery on 2nd October, discharged for a third time on 22nd March 1916, aged 16 years 10 1/2 Months.

Following initial training in Manchester the Battalion left for Belton Park near Grantham in April 1915. They moved on to Salisbury Plain at the end of August.  At this stage Percy was transferred to 25th Battalion at Altcar Camp, Hightown, near Liverpool.  Many men from E Company had transferred to A to D by this time and the remaining men joined other Reserve men from 16th, 18th & 19th Battalions to form the new 25th (Reserve) Battalion.  Some of this initial group were more recent recruits and others had missed training due to health complaints.  It is possible the Command had noted Percy’s ‘immaturity’ and provided him with an extended training opportunity. No early health complaint is noted in his Pension Record.

Percy embarked for France on 24th December and will have arrived with a draft from 25th Battalion on 25th December 1915.  He was re-posted to 17th Battalion at this stage, but didn’t initially join the Battalion. After a brief spell at the Infantry Brigade Depot at Etaples, Percy’s draft had joined 2nd Entrenching Battalion on 7th January 1916.  The draft of men joined 17th Battalion in the field on 20th February. The Battalion was defending the trenches in Maricourt – Vaux area, although it is quite likely the draft remained in reserve at Suzanne on their first day at the front.

In the following weeks, Percy and the Battalion spent time in the front line defences and periods in billets in Suzanne.  The attrition of the Western Front took its toll, with losses from sniper fire at the front and German artillery fire repeatedly causing casualties.

The effects of the cold wet trenches also caused sickness to the Battalion. Percy reported sick and was diagnosed with pneumonia on 7th March 1916.  He was admitted to 9th General Hospital at Rouen

Percy was evacuated to England on board Hospital Ship St Patrick on 14th April 1915 and posted to the Manchester Regiment Depot on 15th April 1916.  He was admitted to hospital in Whalley Range, Manchester and stayed there for 56 days until 9th June 1916.  After recovery Percy was re-posted back to 25th Battalion on 20th June 1916.  The medical treatment and records must have created irrefutable evidence of his true age and Percy was discharged at Altcar Camp on 14th July 1916, having made a misstatement as to age on enlistment.  He was 16 years and 4 months old.  Percy’s Military Character was described as Very Good.  His service entitled Percy to the trio of the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory Medals.

Percy returned to the Military on 8th December 1917.  He joined the Royal Flying Corps with Number 317252, aged 17. It is noted that Percy was then 5’ 10 ½”; 4” taller than his previous height in 1914. Percy joined 1 Officer Technical Training Wing and was transferred to the Royal Air Force, when it was formed on 1st April 1918. On 3rd August 1918 Percy was graded as a Flight Cadet.  It appears Percy received his commission, although there is no evidence he had further active service.  Percy was transferred to Reserve on 20th March 1919.

Later in March 1919, Percy resided at the Covent Garden Hotel on The Strand, London. He subsequently lived at 35 Rutland Road, Harrogate.  Percy is noted at residing at 71 Buckingham Road, Cheadle Hulme in 1931 and 1939. He was a Tea Salesman and married to Marjorie Dora Dinsdale.  They had married in Q2 1930.

A Percy George Lee died in Torbay, Devon in Q2 1978, aged 78.

knowlson-men-17-7-1916

Knowlson MEN 17/7/1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

One of the youngest overseas casualties was 18 year old Private 8207 Harold Knowlson.  He had enlisted aged 16 and died of wounds in Maricourt on 3rd July 1916. Eight members of the Battalion were casualties with thr BEF before their 19th Birthdays.

Another young casualties was Private 9327 George Dean.  He had enlisted in E Company on 16th February 1915, aged 17.  George was 18 when he arrived in France and 19 when he was wounded at Montauban.  He died at Fulham Military Hospital on 12th September 1916.

Private 9217 Ernest Sanderson was also 17 years old when he enlisted on 19th January 1915 – christend in December 1897.  Ernest was attached to a munitions factory in Newcastle, transferred to civil employment in Manchester and returned to duty with 25th Battalion on 10th January 1916.  Having passed his 18th Birthday Ernest was still under-age when he was posted to 18th Battalion in France on 24th March 1916.  He was wounded and posted missing assumed dead near Trones Wood on 8th July 1916,  Ernest is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

The youngest known member of the Manchester Regiment was Edward Barnett.  He was still 13 years old when he served in France with 20th Battalion. https://17thmanchesters.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/youngest-manchester-pal-and-his-family/

 

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