Monday, August 27, 2007

John Lowrey and Billy Lee MM, two miners in the 5th Battalion Border Regiment

3599260 Private John L.S. Lowrey, 5th Battalion The Border Regiment at Halton Summer Camp, Lancaster in 1939.

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.


[For further information about John Lowrey and Billy Lee MM click on 'Comments' below]

1 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information about John Lowrey and William Harker Lee MM:

At the end of World War Two, John Lowrey and Billy Lee MM were released from the army and went back to work in coal mines in West Cumberland. John went to work at Haig Pit, Whitehaven and in 1947 Billy went to work at William Pit, Whitehaven.

On 15 August 1947 Billy Lee MM was one of 107 men trapped underground in the William Pit when it exploded. John Lowrey, who had previously worked as a miner at the William Pit before WW2 was a member of one of the Haig Pit rescue teams who went to assist in the rescue of the trapped men. As it turned out, only 3 of those trapped walked out alive, which meant rescue teams were actually more involved in the grim task of recovering the bodies of the 104 men who did not make it. One of the first John helped carry out of the mine was his good pal Billy Lee MM. For the second time - the first being at Dunkirk - John Lowrey lifted Billy Lee MM on to the back of a lorry to be driven away.

My good friend John Lowrey was most insistent that if I was going to write about his pal Billy I must refer to him with the 'MM' after the name. Having learned of the wartime story of William Harker Lee MM I could do nothing less than ensure John's request is complied with. The Military Medal is only a small recognition of someone who must have been a truly courageous man and, as John says "A great guy".

John Lowrey and another good friend of mine, Ray Devlin, talked about William Harker Lee MM on the BBC Radio Cumbria documentary programme about the William Pit tragedy. Most of the information I have about Billy Lee MM comes from either John Lowrey or Ray Devlin, so I would like to thank them for sharing it. Billy Lee MM had been released from the army for only 10 weeks, and had only recently been married when he lost his life at the all too early age of 27. He left a young widow, Julia (no children) and other relatives and friends who suffered a tragic loss on a warm August afternoon in 1947.

Monday, 27 August, 2007  

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