John Lee was born in London in June 1946. He was schooled in Fulham and Hammersmith (St Clement Dane’s Grammar) and spent his whole working life in bookselling and publishing.
He met Celia Breen in 1969 and they were married in 1970
He studied Modern History part-time at Birkbeck College, London, gaining an Upper Second, with the American Revolution as his specialist subject. He stayed on to do an MA in Social and Economic History, because the tutor was none other than Eric Hobsbawm. He later did another MA at King’s College, London in War Studies. It was this that awoke his keen interest in the First World War.
His studies there led to a special interest in the Gallipoli campaign and the life and times of General Sir Ian Hamilton. After ten years research in the Hamilton papers in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, he offered a biography of the general to Macmillan. It was published as “A Soldier’s Life” in hardback in 2000, and in Pan paperback in 2001.
He was then commissioned by Julian Thompson to do a study of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, published as “The Warlords” by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in 2005 in their ‘Great Commanders’ series.
He collaborated with Celia Lee to write and publish “Winston and Jack: The Churchill Brothers” in 2007, and “The Churchills: A Family Portrait” (Palgrave 2009).
Pen and Sword commissioned him to write one of their ‘Campaign Chronicles’ on the Second battle of Ypres, published as “Gas Attacks: Ypres 1915” in 2009.
He is also regularly asked to contribute chapters to collections of essays on the First World War and has seen something like twelve such chapters published. He also reviews books for military journals when asked!
He was invited to join the British Commission for Military History and, for 18 years, was on its Executive Committee as Honorary Treasurer. He also did a four-year stint on the National Council of the Army Records Society. He is an Honorary Research Associate of the Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham, and is a member of the Western Front Association, the Gallipoli Association, the Douglas Haig Fellowship, the American Civil War Round Table (UK), The International Churchill Society (UK) and The Polish Hearth Club (Ognisko Polskie).
He lectures several times a year, mainly to branches of the Western Front Association, and occasionally to the Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum, Birmingham and Wolverhampton Universities and sundry military formations. His talks include a joint venture with Celia Lee on Ian Hamilton and his wife, Jean.
He is also a battlefield tour guide for Holt’s Tours, doing three or four tours a year. These are principally relating to the First World War, but also cover the campaigns of Napoleon, the American Civil War and North-west Europe in 1944. He has also conducted tours with the London Branch WFA, the Imperial War Museum, King’s College London, and various military units.
While his life is totally dominated by military history (see above!), he has wider interests in classical and folk music, in the history of ideas, and particularly in the history of world religions, and in elephants, whose matriarchal society is wholly admirable.
Churchill Conference organised by Dr John M. Mather
John Lee, speaking on “The Full Context of the American Civil War”, at the International Churchill Society Conference, Franklin, Tennessee, March 2018. Organiser Dr John H. Mather, President