Alfred was born on 25 May 1886, the son of James and Maria Anne Wood. As was common at the time, Lee appears to have been a long-standing family name which was used as a middle name. However, by 1914, the entry in Kelly’s Directory suggests that the family may have effected to use the surname Lee-Wood. James Lee Wood and Maria Anne Pemberton had married in the West Derby area of Lancashire in the late spring of 1869.
Alfred spent most of his life in the Clifton area of what is now Salford where it is thought the family was in business. His older brother, Percy had been born 1871 and he was later noted as working at the Head Offices of the Clifton & Kersley Coal Compmnay which owned two collieries and several coal depots. This presumed to be the family business.
He attended a public school in Southport and lived with his maiden aunt Bessie at 99 Windsor Road in the town. Also resident was a 54 year old man, Stephen L Wood, who was a Company Secretary. He was, presumably, Alfred’s uncle. In the late 1890s, James and Maria are thought to have moved to Bramhall taking up residence in a large house called “Arundel”. James is thought to have died not long after moving to the area.
After finishing school, Alfred went on to study at Manchester University graduating with a B.Sc. He then joined the Lancashire Dynamo and Motor Company, Trafford Park and, for a time, had been the Company’s representative in India. When War was declared, Alfred was quick to enlist and was, almost immediately, selected to become an officer. By October 1914, he had been commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th Battalion – the First “Salford Pals” Battalion. He was soon promoted to Captain and took command of the Battalion’s “A” Company. The Battalion left for France in November 1915.
His enlistment papers showed him to be just under 5’ 9” tall and weighed 143 pounds. His medical examination before he was commissioned noted that he was “Fit in all respects – he has occasionally a very slight stammer which does not affect him at all in giving orders at drill.”
Alfred would be killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The men had trained hard for their assault and spent the latter half of June resting near the village of Warloy-Baillon. By the night of 30th, they had moved to assembly trenches 300 yards west of the village of Thiepval that would be their objective next morning. “A” Company would lead the Battalion attack on the right, supported by “B” Company. “C” would lead on the left supported by “D”. Shortly before the 7.30am, “zero hour”, the men advanced just behind the artillery barrage until they were only 100 yards from the enemy. The Regimental History records that, at zero, they advanced – each company on a two platoon frontage.
“But when the barrage lifted from the German front line, the attackers came under very heavy machine gun fire. Five officers were hit almost at once and a large proportion of the Battalion became casualties crossing No Man’s Land. Some, however, succeeded in reaching the German trench and, at 8.30am, a report reached Divisional HQ that the Battalion had captured the enemy front line. What happened after that has never been clearly established. But there were grounds for believing that some parties of the leading Companies pushed on and succeeded in entering the village……The belief that troops were in the village was strongly held throughout the day by all the commanders concerned and resulted in repeated efforts being made by the 16th Battalion and others to get in to them and make good the positions they had reached.”
Mopping up of the captured German front line now started but “the enemy had by now emerged from their deep and untouched dug-outs and re-occupied the trenches. They quickly overcame the mopping up parties and when the supporting Companies advanced falsely secure in the belief that “A” and “C” Companies had pushed further up, they were met with such heavy fire they were held up. All later attempts by parties or individuals to get forward resulted merely in them being killed or wounded. By 9am, it was evident that any further efforts in this direction would only cause useless waste of life.” Of the 24 officers and 600 men who had attacked, only about 150 were still at duty in the evening. The remainder were dead, wounded or missing.
One of the wounded was Alfred’s orderly. His name is not known but his account, given from a military hospital in the Manchester area was published in the Cheshire Daily Echo on 14 July. Although parts of it are clearly a first hand account, other aspects appear to be based on speculation and rumour. For example, the story of German machine-gunners chained to their guns is one of the enduring myths of the War and one for which absolutely no evidence has ever been produced. The other most unlikely aspect of the account is that of German machine guns being “hidden” behind wounded Germans. In fact, the German machine gun emplacements were well planned and defended and had no need of subterfuge.
“On the morning of the attack at 6.30 our guns began a fierce bombardment which lasted for an hour. A few minutes before 7.30 the captain was standing below the parapet calmly smoking a cigarette and glancing occasionally at his wrist watch. At 7.30 sharp he leapt over the parapet followed by his men. A perfect hail of bullets was coming from all quarters and when we had gone about fifty yards the captain was hit on the head and I was hit on the arm. However, we did not stop, and a little further on the captain received a second bullet at the side of the head, causing a nasty gash. Almost at the same moment, I was shot through the leg. Turning to me the captain said, “Are you badly hit?” and I replied “Yes, sir. I can’t go on this time.” He then ordered me to try and get back to our trench and I begged him to go with me, as he was badly wounded, but he replied “No, I will get that machine gunner.” This gun was causing great losses amongst his men. Finally the gun was taken and it was found that the gunner was chained to his machine and was wearing the iron cross. A murderous fire was coming from other machine guns, the whereabouts of which could not be located until it was discovered that they were hidden behind wounded Germans on stretchers, which were being used as a cover. I heard the captain reached the third line of German trenches before receiving his third and fatal wound. When I last saw the captain he was lying in our trench and the colonel was with him. He was a brave officer and one of the best. Amongst the men he was known as the “Gaffer” and they would have followed him anywhere.”
The Gaffer’s body was never recovered and identified.