Joe Lee’s 22 years service in the Army

Continuing to remember Copeland’s military personal this month Joe Lee talked to Robert Haile about his 22 years service around the world – this is the first of a two-part feature as Joe’s life was so amazing we didn’t want to leave anything out.

Long Service Medal: Joe Lee receiving his medal after 18 years service

“BEFORE joining the army I had not travelled further than Blackpool and only been out of Cumberland three times.”

This comes from a man who can count Kenya and Malaya as places he has been posted to.

Mr. Lee started his National Service by going to Oswestry, then Rhyl for Basic Training then Trade training.

Following his completion of his training he was then sent to Woolwich Arsenal the Royal Artillery Depot were he was given a posting to Hong Kong to join the 42nd Field Regiment Royal Artillery stationed in the new territories inland from Kowloon.

Reminiscing about the journey to Hong Kong that was to be by Troopship and take 28 days.

Mr. Lee said: “During the voyage I took part in a boxing show, the ring set up on the cargo hold, the sea was beautifully calm and flying fish were jumping all over the place it was fantastic.”

While stationed out in the Far East Mr. Lee met Derrick Clemence, who was in the unit in front of him during a roadblock.

It was another first as, “We did an exercise which involve the Gurkhas. I’d just read about them but to see them first hand, very impressive.” he said.

The 42nd Field Regiment had been in Hong Kong some time when I joined them in early 1955, the regiment was posted back to Crickhowell near Abergavenny in Wales.

Not long after arriving in Crickhowell, I volunteered to join the 33rd Parachute Field Regiment Royal Artillery stationed in Aldershot.

Seven of us volunteered in total and I was put in charge for the journey to Aldershot, “We each were given a lunch pack, which consisted of two cheese sandwiches, one apple, one orange and me being in charge of the party received an envelope with written on it; 3p x 7 = 21p signed by the pay master.

“We went to the buffet car and found tea was 4p per cup. I showed the barman my envelope and he bust out laughing but said we could have the tea and if we wanted another later it was ok. It wouldn’t happen today. He’d been a National Serviceman himself.”

In this period Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal, leading to what would be termed the Suez Crisis, Mr. Lee started training for Suez which was extremely hard.

The Regiment moved to Nicosia in Cyprus prior to Suez, to continue the training the Regiment was given the task of finding Col. Grivas and his terrorists.

Mr. Lee’s thoughts on this were “It was apparently very successful. The regiments spirits were high ready for the off.”

When the time came for Suez he set sail from Famagusta in Tank Landing Craft as they had 25 pounder guns.

A memory from the conflict that has stayed with Mr. Lee, he explained: “When we were two or three miles from Port Said we stopped while the Navy and Air Force bombarded the coast. The Navy just fired over the top of us, while the planes flew in.

“While in Egypt I was given the job of driving the Liaison Officer, one time we had to go on a minesweeper and I went with him, we had been camping for a while then so a table and terrific food was great.” He recalled, with a smile.

With the Suez Crisis over we sailed back to Southampton and leave was planned not before Mr. Lee would see another familiar face.

He said: “When we were waiting to disembarking I noticed the military policeman at the bottom of the stairs was John “Knuckle” Holmes.”

Mr. Lee has been a boxer throughout and before national service now with leave over and back at Aldershot he started training for the Regimental Boxing Championships.

“I was training in the gym when Billy High came in, I knew him and he came over, I told him when I was boxing and he came to support me. He was the loudest in the the hall. He said to me him shouting did it for me, I’d won the lightweight Championship.” He said.

Shortly afterwards I was demobbed and that was the end of his National Service.

That was not to be the end of Mr. Lee’s time in the army, he added: “I decided to re-enlist and go into the REME.”

As a new recruit Mr. Lee had to go to the Training Battalion for Basic Training and to be kitted out at Blandford in Dorset, because he had previous service he didn’t need basic training just kitted out.

Mr. Lee was sent to the 4th Battalion in Bordon for Trade Training while there he played rugby and one of our matches was against Alan William’s unit.

Smiling, he recalled: “He help them thrash us.”

Finishing at Bordon he was sent to 1st Company Royal Army Service Corp at Colchester while there Mr. Lee joined the Colchester ABC and boxed all over the South East.

The memories from this time show conflict was never far away, he said: “One of my bouts was an open air show with celebrity Freddie Mills another was as a select for Essex verses Beds, Bucks and Herts which was on a Saturday afternoon Grandstand Show, unfortunately Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we the 1st Coy RASC Air Portable had to go to Kenya to replace the East African Brigade who went to Kuwait to support their forces.”

Mr Lee’s journey didn’t end in Kenya – oh no, Joe had many more adventures during his 22 years service and you can read them in the next issue of Egremont 2Day.