John Lowrey and Billy Lee MM, two miners in the 5th Battalion Border Regiment
In the summer of 1939 John Lowrey (full name 'John Lawson Stephenson Lowrey') and Billy Lee (full name 'William Harker Lee') were two young West Cumbrian coal miners and like many of their other pals also served in the 5th Battalion (T.A.) The Border Regiment. John's Service No was 3599260 and Billy's was 3599849. While the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment were away at Summer Camp at Halton near Lancaster (Lancashire) developments on the European mainland led to the outbreak of the Second World War. A few months later John Lowrey, Billy Lee and their pals in the 5th Border formed part of the B.E.F who went over to the Continent to face the Germans as their forbears had done a generation earlier.
After the German breakthrough on the Western Front in June 1940 and the Allied troops fell back towards the bridgehead at Dunkirk, the 5th Battalion the Border Regiment were among those assigned to check the German advance as long as possible. Those serving in 5th Border who managed to get out from the Dunkirk Beaches were among the last to do so. John Lowrey was one of those who managed to get evacuated, while Billy Lee was not. Billy was severely wounded from shrapnel and four machine gun bullets in his legs. While the battle was still going on, Billy Lee was helped on to a First Aid lorry by his mate John Lowrey so he could be taken to hospital. Unfortunately the First Aid lorry travelled about 1/4 mile when it ran into the Germans and all the men taken prisoner.
After recovering from his wounds, Billy Lee was taken to a Prisoner of War camp. Not wishing to remain prisoner, Billy and another POW managed to steal a key from the guard room and escape from the camp. Billy and his mate eventually walked from Germany to the Occupied Low Countries, into France - where they were helped by members of a French Resistance network- and eventually crossed the Pyrenees into neutral Spain. It is believed they carried with them important information for the Allied cause. Upon reaching Spain, Billy and his mate were initially interned, but after two months they were released and eventually made it back to Britain. On 4 March 1941 the award of the Military Medal for 3599849 Private William Harker Lee, Border Regiment was announced in the 'London Gazette'. William Harker Lee MM was subsequently presented with the Military Medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
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