Sgt Lewis McGee, V.C., 1888-1917
This page is dedicated to the memory of my relative, Lewis McGee, awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery and leadership in the battle of Broodseinde 4 October 1917, killed in action 12 October 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium.
Lewis McGee was born in Ross, Tasmania on 13 May 1888, 11th and youngest child of John and Mary (nee Green) McGee. A fourth-generation Australian, he is descended from James McGee, who arrived in 1830, and John Presnell, who arrived in 1821 and built the White Hart Inn half-way between Hobart and Launceston on the Midlands Highway.
In real life, Lewis was an engine driver for the Tasmanian Department of Railways, and lived at Avoca, near Campbelltown, with his wife and daughter. He enlisted on 1 March 1916 at the age of 27, and served with Tasmania's 40th Battalion in France and Belgium from November 1916, including in the battle of Messines in June 1917. C E W Bean, the Official Historian, noted his valour in his diary and noted he was recommended for VC and commission.
Sergeant McGee, acting Company Sergeant Major, was killed in action during the second battle of Passchendaele, at Augustus Wood on the morning of the 12th October 1917. He was 29 years old. He is buried at Tyne Cot cemetery nearby.
Over 6,000 Australians were killed in battle in October 1917.
Lest we forget.
Lewis McGee's Death Date
In the photograph below left, provided by Anthony Staunton, Lewis' headstone in Tyne Cot cemetery shows his death date incorrectly as 13th October 1917. This mistake was repeated in several places, including databases kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in London and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. This was despite the evidence of his Citation, of the official history by C E W Bean, and of the 40th Battalion War Diary, all of which record his death date as 12 October 1917.
At my request, Anthony, a scholar of Australian Victorian Cross awards, researched the anomaly and found the error originated in Sergeant McGee's Army Record, held by the National Archives of Australia. Army Form B2090A, filed at ANZAC Section GHQ on 28 November 1917, reported that Sergeant McGee had been killed in action on 13th October and cited a report by the 40th Battalion CO, which appears not to have survived. From there, as in many bureaucratic processes, the error has propagated throughout his Army record and into the databases.
Anthony submitted his research to the Office of Australian War Graves and ultimately to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. As a result of his efforts, the CWGC database is now correct, and the CWGC has erected a completely new headstone on the grave at Tyne Cot cemetery. The photograph on the right, of the new headstone, was very kindly taken and sent to me by Danny Dedobbelaere, of Belgium.
I provided Anthony's research to the Australian War Memorial, and the AWM database has now been amended. So an old wrong has been righted.
In 1984 Sergeant McGee's medals, death plaque and photograph were purchased at auction by the Tasmanian State Government. They are held in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, just 76 km from Ross where Lewis was born.
For more photos, see the AWM photograph database.
© 2001 Patricia Downes
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