The Quiet Hero!

100 years ago on 4 October 1917, a quite gentleman, who left his home in Salford to help others, did just that in his usual unassuming way and became a hero many miles away in the battlefields of Belgium.

I’m talking of a brave 28 year old fiery blue eyed, redheaded private standing over 5’10” tall, who volunteered within 5 weeks of the start of the Great War with the sole purpose of helping those who who he knew would suffer on the front line. He didn’t join to fight, although no doubt he did, but his concern was for his colleagues. That young man was Private Harry Gee, my granddad, or Morgadden as he was known to his grandchildren!

Having initially worked in the family textile business in Piccadilly, Manchester, Harry was working as waiter in 1914. Quite what happened to the family business is still speculation and for another day!

Harry Gee DCM - c1966

Signing on in Manchester on 2 September 1914, Harry set off to join the Kings Own Scottish Borderers in Berwick. Why KOSB we will probably never know but by the New Year he was promoted to Lance Corporal and in July 1915 he was posted to France with the 7th Battalion ‘A’ Company. He was injured by gunshot fire in the right wrist and thigh on 25 September 1915 the first day of the Battle of Loos (a major battle in its own right and in the history of the regiment where the 7th Battalion lost 2/3 of it number). Before he could be repatriated he was wounded in the left ankle the following day! For someone who was to tend the wounded he was doing his best to find out how it felt to be a casualty himself!

He returned to England to recover at Wharncliffe War Hospital in Sheffield where he was also treated for hemorrhoids, as if life wasn’t bad enough!
Quite what he was up to in 1916 is unclear after he joined the 9th Battalion in January and then the 3rd Battalion in September. By May 1917, Harry knew that he was about to be posted again to France and this is where we find out that perhaps he wasn’t the perfect soldier that we thought. I can only guess that he was concerned that this time he may not come back and so he wanted to see his girlfriend, my grandma, Bertha. So Harry took off, without permission on 1st May 1917 and legged it from Edinburgh down to Salford to see is beloved, returning 9:30pm on 7th May. For his absence without leave he was fined 7 days pay and was demoted to Private. He remained a Private from the rest of his service and despite his later bravery.

Posted to the 2nd Battalion, ‘B’ Company, on his return to barracks he left for France and Belgium. By October the battalion had fought many a battle and on 3 October 1917, as the rain poured down soaking the battlefield and filling shell holes deep in water and under constant heavy artillery fire, preparations were put in place for the assault on Poulderhoek Chateau, woods and spur. Given the number of casualties in these battles, Harry would have been kept busy tending the wounded and dying.

6am on 4 October was “Zero hour” for the assault with the Battalion to be in position by 5am. However at 4:45am the enemy put down a very heavy barrage from the British front line to the British support trenches, in preparation for their own attack. Despite the barrage and the heavy casualties the Battalion got to their positions, albeit not quite as organised as planned. ‘C’ + ‘D’ Companies led with ‘B’ Company (Harry’s Company) in support. At 6am bang on time the Battalion artillery opened with “a marvellous attack” and the two front line companies went over the top.


It was still dark and there was a heavy ground mist. The men had to cross a swamp which also hindered their advance. All the heavy rain didn’t help conditions. Several officers from each of the companies were killed and in the heavy counter attack by the Germans, there were a large number of the first wave of men killed too. The support company was heavily hindered by a unit of Germans to the left which moved across left to right and led to the Battalion losing direction. Nevertheless small units did reach the castle but had to retire under heavy fire.


With the significant assistance of the support company the Ridge was secured. The battle continued and all NCOs were killed or wounded. The enemy counterattacked at 3pm, 5;45pm and 12:45am on 5th. During 5th Oct, except for 1 hour, the enemy shelled the British continuously and there were heavy casualties, mainly wounded.

Polderhoek Chateau

Polderhoek Chateau and terrain

Rations had arrived at 11am which cheered the men who had been through a very trying ordeal and had repulsed enemy counterattacks by Lewis Gun and rifle fire. They had been practically under fire and an abominably heavy one since the evening of the 2nd.
The Battalion was eventually relieved on 6 October by the 1st Norfolk Regiment by 4:25am 

4 officers had been killed and 7 wounded and 1 missing
40 other ranks were killed, 323 wounded and 65 missing
Only 90 survived unwounded.......including Harry who was one of the lucky ones! 

The commanding officer described “the gallantry shown and their tenacity was shown by the numbers the enemy killed and the numbers of counterattacks beaten off,”

Certificate Awarded to Private Harry Gee DCM by the County Borough of Salford - This certificate has gone missing and we would love to be reunited with it if anyone knows its whereabouts 

One of those who showed extreme bravery was one Private 15159 Harry Gee who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (in those days second only to the Victoria Cross for ordinary ranks). A man whose role was to tend the many wounded not just over those days of the battle for Polderhoek but also through 4 long years. 

I can say no more than to quote his commanding officers citation in support of the award.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when attending to the wounded during the operations at Polderhoek on October 4/5th 1917. This man worked unceasingly for 48 hours without regard for personal safety tending the wounded under extremely heavy artillery, machine gun and rifle fire in practically open ground. His conduct is worthy of the highest praise”  Lt Colonel Furber, Commanding Officer

The abridged London Gazette Citation 

But the war hadn’t ended for Harry, he retained the rank of Private but with a DCM! He was soon posted to Italy on 11 December 1917 then back to France in April 1918. He took official leave to marry his girlfriend Bertha on 25 July 1918 before returning to France.

Harry suffered mild gas poisoning in the Second Battle of Bapaume on 26 August 1918 and so he was repatriated to the UK to Middlesex War Hospital then convalesce at Woldingham suffering from damage to his eyes, head and throat as a result of the gas.

On Armistice Day 11 November 1918 Harry was posted to the 3rd Battalion before being transferred to the Army Reserve on 21 Feb 1919.
It was only on 8 May 1919 that Harry received a financial gratuity for his bravery - £20! About £1,000 in today’s money, not that he wanted anything for his bravery.
Harry was finally de-mobbed on 31 March 1920, just 2 days after the birth of my dad his only child Lawrence! 

There are other chapters to Harry’s life, not all good by any means and he lived alone for a long time. He also suffered all his life from the wounds he received in the Great War. The doctors wanted to remove his leg but he wouldn’t let them and he suffered for the rest of his days. That was Morgadden! 

He fell out with his sister Hilda way back when and despite them living within a short distance, they would never meet or speak. As family feuds were eventually, at least in part put aside, my sister and I had the pleasure of having a wonderful granddad or ‘Morgadden’ as we called him. He was a great, softly spoken gentle man. And one of life’s true gentlemen although he lived very humbly in Falcon Street in Weaste in a two up two down for many years before he passed away in 1969 at the ripe old age of 80! 

Harry grew up at 22 Weaste Road in Salford, which was a property well suited to his father’s position owning his own textile business in Piccadilly in the heart of Manchester. But something went wrong with that business and his parents moved to 47 Lune Street sometime before 1911. Harry’s father was Arthur Edward Gee and his mother Sarah Ellen Gee (nee Ledsham) and Harry had a younger brother Charles Ledsham Gee (Charlie) and an older sister, Hilda. By 1911, Hilda had left the family home to work in service at Kersal House in Higher Broughton, the home of Henry Somerset, the managing director of a cotton and calico packing company.

By the time war broke out Harry had also moved out to live in Moston, Manchester, where my dad was born in 1920. My grandmother, Bertha died of TB in 1923. Quite when Harry moved back into Salford I can’t say, but by 1938 he was living with his sister, her husband and my dad at 69 Edward Avenue in Salford. So did Harry play a bigger part in bringing up my dad than I had been led to believe?

Harry and Hilda’s parents were still living at 47 Lune Street in 1938, next door to their other son, Charlie who lived at 49! Harry’s mother died in 1942. At some point during the war, Harry’s father moved from Lune Street into the next street, to live at 58 Falcon Street. Arthur died in 1946 and it appears that if Harry wasn’t already living there with his dad, he moved into Falcon Street, where he lived until his own death in 1969.

So why did Harry and his sister fall out and why did the feud last until Harry’s death?

We may never know the full story but as I have pieced together this story it strikes me that all was probably fine until the 2nd World War. After all, Harry appears to have been living with his sister in 1938. It may have only been after their father (and mother?) had moved from Lune Street into Falcon Street that was the start. Did Hilda object to how Harry, who was their father’s executor, disputed the way Harry dealt with their father’s estate. In today’s money that was £82,000, so not an insignificant amount. Harry continued to live at 58 Falcon Street for another 20 odd years. If Hilda felt she should have had more money then it wouldn’t be the first time people have fallen out over such things.
But for now all this is just speculation. 

Despite the feud, Harry, came back to my dad after my sister was born, although as a family we neve met with Harry and Hilda at the same time. My sister and I would visit both and both would visit us at our home, but they were never there together. We would visit Auntie Hilda and dad would nip off to see Harry and me and my sister would sometimes go with him.

To me, who knew Morgadden as a child he cut a fairly lonely figure.  As far as I knew my dad was about the only family member to see him regularly and I had no real knowledge of his life in Falcon Street.  To me he spent most of his days in the back kitchen with his budgie. We passed through the front room but never stopped and sat there.  That's the way it was, the front parlour was for special occasions only! 

He was always immaculately dressed when I saw him.  Always a tie and suit, a silk scarf and leather gloves and a cane walking stick.  At 5'10" to me as a child he was a tall man that I looked up to in more ways that one.  Taller than my dad too.  Now I'm 6' but still looking up to him!  I've still got his scarf, gloves and walking stick!

Falcon Street - 58 where Harry lived is circled

I have since found out through Facebook that whilst he lived alone he wasn't as isolated as I had thought. His brother, Charlie, visited him regularly. I only met Charlie once when by chance we bumped into him in Eccles market when I was with my dad.

I heard a rumour that in his day Harry was a bit of a ladies man in his youth.  I don't know if that's true but I do know that in his latter years some on his lady neighbours took it in turns to do his shopping and make sure he was ok.  One neighbour, Maureen Rowland who was a child at the time described Falcon Street as "rough & ready. A typical Salford street! No one had to lock the doors and everyone pulled together".   

And Rose Hill (known in the street as Auntie Rose), Mary Rowlands, Elsie Lacy and Bella Ennis all did his shopping and kids like Maureen Rowland went to the corner shop for him.  The following memory shared by Maureen shows just how much Harry was loved and respected by his friends and neighbours and how he was far from the lonely figure that I had assumed that he was. 

"I had the pleasure of knowing your Grandad.  We lived facing him in Falcon St. The nicest, kindest man you could ever meet. He gave us sweets as children.  He was the streets Uncle Harry. The whole street mourned his passing.  A True Gentleman" Maureen Rowland

I’m so proud of my granddad for being a lovely granddad. Proud to have known him for the first 12 years of my life but enormously proud of what he did (but didn’t talk about) in such atrocious, horrendous conditions all those years ago.  So proud that he was known by everyone as Uncle Harry!

My Granddad…..the Quiet Hero!

Harry Gee DCM - 1889 - 1969