Military History

Medals of the Month | June | Lieutenant General George Leonard Lee, DSO, CMG

By The Cove June 11, 2020

The medals we are looking at this month belonged to Lieutenant General George Leonard Lee, DSO, CMG.

Military Medals

Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George

Distinguished Service Order 

Queen's South Africa Medal with six clasps: Belfast, Diamond Hill, Johannesburg, Driefontein, Paardeberg, Relief of Kimberley.


George Leonard Lee was born on 25 June 1860 at West Maitland, New South Wales. Son of John Lee, draper and later merchant, and his wife, Mary Ann, he was educated at Sauchu House School, West Maitland, and Armidale Grammar School. On leaving school he worked for a while in the family business, John Lee & Sons, West Maitland. He was a well-known sportsman and a capable horseman.

In 1889 he joined the local troop of the New South Wales Lancers as a Trooper and later that year, on 4 October 1889, Lee was commissioned as a Lieutenant. During the maritime strike of 1890, George acted as adjutant of the partially paid cavalry and mounted rifles who were enrolled as special police in Sydney. This force was the first time militia were mobilised in NSW and in Victoria to help break the strike between the Mercantile Marine Officer’s Association and the Steamship Owners’ Association of Victoria. Next year he was sent to England for training and by October 1892 had trained at the Cavalry School, Canterbury, and at the School of Musketry. George also trained for short time with the 20th Hussars at Aldershot.

After returning home he joined the New South Wales Permanent Military Forces in December 1892 as a Captain and from then until June 1902 was adjutant of the New South Wales Lancers. During that time he was also acting staff officer, Mounted Brigade, for over two years, and commandant of the Cavalry School. On 2 January 1896 he married Emma Onus Town at St Ann's Anglican Church, Homebush, Sydney.

On the outbreak of the South African War in October 1899, the New South Wales Lancers mobilised a force to go from Sydney to reinforce their squadron which was deploying to South Africa after training in England. Lee, who was now a Major, was in charge of the force which joined the squadron in South Africa on 6 December. Lee then took command of the Lancer contingent. His unit was involved in operations around Colesberg, the relief of Kimberley, and actions at Paardeberg, Poplar Grove, Driefontein, Zand River, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Diamond Hill and in the Transvaal east of Pretoria. On 26 October 1900, the squadron's year of service ended. For his service in South Africa Lee was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Resuming duty with the Australian Military Forces, Lee was assistant adjutant general and chief staff officer in Victoria in 1902-07. Appointed to the Administrative and Instructional Staff in 1904, he became a Lieutenant Colonel in 1909. He served in New South Wales from June 1907, and was commandant in Tasmania in 1911-12 and in Queensland in 1912-17. After that he was temporarily in command in New South Wales, with the honorary rank of Major General from July 1918 until he was transferred to the retired list on 13 May 1920 as honorary Lieutenant General. He was aide-de-camp to the Governor-General in 1915-20. In 1917 was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG).

In retirement he worked two oyster leases at Port Stephens, New South Wales. Survived by his wife, he died on 13 April 1939 at Burwood.

Lieutenant General Lee kept a diary during his time in South Africa. It is held in the Lancers' Museum, Parramatta, and an online copy can be accessed on this link.





The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

Add new comment

Cove App


Fast access to The Cove anywhere, anytime. Additional feature of receiving notifications for new content.

Reflective Journal


Record your reflections in a structured way to improve your performance.