John Alexander Lee was born in Dunedin and was educated at Albany Street School. He worked at a variety of jobs on farms, factories and the Public Works Department, which he joined in 1909. In Who's Who in New Zealand (4th ed) he is recorded as having married Marie E. Guy, daughter of T.B. Guy, in 1919.
He served in France with the 1st Wellington Regiment and was awarded the DCM for conspicuous gallantry. In his history of the New Zealand Division (p. 199), Col. H. Stewart records the details of the Wellington company who pushed up the communication trench leading from October Support to Fanny's Farm (near Messines) and had to fight their way. "One man in this company, Pte. J.A. Lee, was prominent for fearless gallantry. He tackled single-handed a machine gun near the Wytschaete road and captured the 4 gunners, and later when the centre company was held up by an enemy post, he worked to its rear and rushed it successfully. In all this struggle the Stokes mortars gave valuable assistance, and here they ejected a machine gun from a concrete emplacement near the Wytschaete road, and silenced with 4 shells another troublesome one at the trench junction near Fanny's Farm. The left company [Wellington] secured 2 machine guns and 40 prisoners."
The events which led to his wounding and loosing his left arm took place near Mailly Maillet in April 1918. The history of the Wellington Regiment records the events of April 1918 with the Battalion coping with mud which made the trenches difficult to walk through, cleaning up the trenches and digging a new support line. "On the 9th April, 1st Wellington relieved 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade, in the line, while 2nd Wellington relieved 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade in support. At this time, the enemy was very inactive and our casualties were but slight." Nevertheless it was during this relatively quiet time that Private Lee was injured by a shell.
After the war he began a career in politics, contesting the Auckland East by-election in 1921. He served as Member of Parliament for this district from 1922-28. In 1931 he won the Grey Lynn seat, defeated J.S. Fletcher, and was re-elected to this district in 1935 and 1938 polling record majorities for New Zealand on each occasion. He was Parliamentary Under-secretary to the Minister of Finance from 1936-39. An active Labour Party member he was president of the Auckland Labour Party; he served on the executive of the Auckland Returned Services Association (RSA).
Amongst his publications were Children of the Poor (1934), The Hunted (1936), Civilian into Soldier (1937), and Socialism in New Zealand (1938).
Enlisted with rank of private and posted to G Company, 14th Reinforcements, Trentham Camp, Upper Hutt, 10 March 1916. Transferred to Specialist Company (Signals), 15th Reinforcements, 31 May 1916. Proceeded overseas from Wellington on board HMNZT 'Ulimaroa', 29 July 1916.
Disembarked Devonport, England, marched into Sling Camp and taken on strength 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Auckland-Wellington Infantry Regiment, 28 September 1916.
Struck off strength 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Auckland-Wellington Infantry Regiment, Sling camp, and proceeded overseas to France, 7 January 1917; disembarked and marched in to New Zealand Infantry and General Base Depot, Etaples, France, 9 January 1917. Taken on strength, 1st Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment, and posted to 9th (Hawke's Bay) Company, in the field, France, 5 February 1917.
Attached New Zealand Wing Reinforcement Camp, France, 30 September 1917. Marched out on leave, 24 October 1917; rejoined battalion, 11 November 1917.
Admitted to 11th Casualty Clearing Station, 26 December 1917 (influenza); discharged from hospital and rejoined battalion, 8 January 1918.
Detached to 3rd Canadian Tunneling Company, 13 January 1918; ceased detachment and rejoined battalion, 18 January 1918.
Wounded in action and admitted to No 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance, 12 April 1918 (gun shot wound, left hand); transferred to 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital, 13 April, 1918 (amputation of left hand mid-forearm carried out); transferred to No 11 Stationary Hospital, Rouen, 14 April 1918; evacuated from France to England on board HMHS 'Grantilly Castle', 17 April 1917; admitted to No 1 New Zealand General Hospital, Brockenhurst, England, 19 April 1918; transferred to No 2 New Zealand General Hospital, Walton-on-Thames, 18 May 1918; discharged from No 2 New Zealand General Hospital, 9 October 1918. Supplied and fitted with McKay artificial limb, 22 April 1919.
Struck off strength of Wellington Infantry Regiment, posted to Educational Department, NZEF Headquarters, and promoted to rank of Temporary Sergeant, 10 May 1919.
Commenced return to New Zealand from Southampton, England, on board HMNZHS 'Marama', 9 June 1919.
Disembarked in Auckland, New Zealand, 19 July 1919. Discharged as permanently unfit for war service on account of wounds received in action, 16 August 1919.
Medals: Distinguished Conduct Medal, British War Medal, Victory Medal
Present address (as listed in New Zealand. Army (1920). List of the names of all ex-members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, suffering permanent disability from 20% to 100%): 57 Franklin Road, Auckland AWMM