Today, Middlesex County Cricket Club are playing their first home game of the season at Lord’s. Harry Lee was a professional player for the club from 1911 and had a remarkable war – as a cricketer and a soldier.
Henry William Lee was born in Marylebone, Middlesex in 1890. He joined the ground staff at Lord’s in 1906 and became a professional for Middlesex in 1911 (a rare genuine local for the county team). He underperformed in his first years playing for them and his break-through innings was rather badly timed, coming in a match two weeks into the Great War. In the second innings against Nottinghamshire he came out and scored 139 runs as an opening batsman, alongside JW Hearne and EH Hendren (the latter of whom also scored a century).
The timing was not great as the war ended the county championship for a few years. Lee went off and joined the Kensingtons – 13th Battalion, The London Regiment – and went to France with them in early 1915. That May he was serving in D Company when the battalion attacked the German lines at Aubers Ridge. Lee was one of nearly 500 casualties the unit suffered in the attack – almost the entire strength of the battalion.
Harry Lee was shot in the leg and lay out in no-man’s land for three days before being taken prisoner by the Germans. In hospital he began to recover but exaggerated the extent of his wounds in an attempt to be repatriated to the UK, which he was in October 1915. Despite his exaggerations, Lee’ wounds were quite severe, including a shortened left leg that he was told would prevent him soldiering or playing cricket again. He was discharged from the army in December 1915 and went to work at the War Office.
Having played a few matches for the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) and others, Lee was invited to go to India as a cricket coach for the Maharaja of Cooch Bahar along with fellow batsman Middlesex Frank Tarrant. At the last minute, Lee changed his journey booking from the Nyanza to the Nagoya, which was a stroke of luck as the Nyanza was torpedoed before it even reached the Mediterranean. The Nagoya made it safely to India, although its convoy was attacked and one ship sunk.
In the first of his first-class matches in India, Lee took a ludicrously good 5 wickets for 11 runs against Lord Willingdon’s XI in Bombay/Mumbai (playing for the Maharaja’s own XI). In November 1918 he played for England against India,(this was not a Test match as India were not yet a Test nation) – he only scored 8 and 9 and took 4 for 177 in this drawn match, which had 12 players on each side for some reason.
Lee returned to the UK and to Middlesex for the new cricket season in 1919, in which he scored over 1000 runs including four centuries. The following year, Middlesex won the county championship, clinching it with a thrilling final match against Surrey at the Oval – Lee and CKL Skeet made an opening partnership of 208, both of them scoring centuries.
He continued to play professional cricket until 1934 and played in one Test match in South Africa, when he was roped in during the tour while he was in the country anyway coaching. Due to some confusion over whether he had officially been given permission to leave work to play for England meant that he was not given a tour cap and blazer. In all, he played 437 first-class matches, with a batting average of 29.95 and 401 wickets to his name.
The highs and lows of Harry Lee’s war were extreme: from his first great Middlesex innings, through his severe wounding at the front, to his perilous journey to India and playing for England. He was lucky that his wounds did not in fact rule out playing cricket as the best years of his career were ahead still to come.
A wonderfully detailed Wikipedia page about him: