Papers of William Lees (1855-fl 1936) of Nottingham relating to the First World War German occupation of Lille, 1914-1936

Scope and Content

The collection includes manuscripts and printed papers, primarily concerning life in Lille, France during the First World War, together with later papers relating to the exhibition of the collection and its tranfer to Nottingham. The collection comprises:

Correspondence between Herbert Mayo Leman and William and Elizabeth Lees, residents of Lille during the occupation, and between Leman and Mr Flack, the librarian of University College Nottingham. 1918-1936 (MS 155/1);

Personal papers of William Lees including his identity card, written statements made by him about scenes that he witnessed, correspondence, official forms and ration cards and other manuscript items. 1914-1918 (MS 155/2);

Printed posters and leaflets in French and German that were found or displayed in Lille by the German occupying force. c.1914-1918 (MS 155/3);

Newspaper cuttings, newspapers and a souvenir programme relating to the occupation and evacuation of Lille and events and personalities associated with it. 1918 (MS 155/4);

Typescript captions and translations to accompany the exhibition of items concerning the occupation and evacuation of Lille, including items in this collection. It is likely that William Lees was responsible for writing the captions. c.1918 (MS 155/5).

Administrative / Biographical History

William Lees was born in 1855. He was a company representative for a Nottingham lace manufacturer. At some point before the outbreak of war in 1914, he moved to Lille in Northern France. He remained in the town for the duration of the war and correspondence in this collection reveals that he was still living there in 1936. During the German occupation of Lille, Lees appears to have been an active observer of the resistance movement, recording details about German activities, and collecting printed ephemera of their stay. Lille was bombarded by German guns during an offensive 10-12 October 1914. Following four years of strict policing, requisitioning goods and accommodation from the inhabitants, and using local factories, the Germans retreated peacefully from Lille in October 1918 as the allies advanced.


The collection has been divided by document type into five series. Within these series, items have been arranged chronologically.

Conditions Governing Access

Accessible to all readers.

Other Finding Aids

This description is the only finding aid available for the collection. Copyright in the description belongs to The University of Nottingham.

Online: Available on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, accessible from the website of Manuscripts and Special Collections.'

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements


Conditions Governing Use

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections (email

Reprographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.

Custodial History

A local solicitor, Herbert Mayo Leman (b. 1870), corresponded with Lees in Lille, and in 1936 arranged for the papers concerning his wartime experiences to come to the University of Nottingham Library.

Geographical Names