Alfred Ambrose Chew Leete was born in Thorpe Achurch in Northamptonshire on 28th August 1882. His parents, John and Harriet, were farmers. John Leete gave up farming, due to ill health, in 1893 and the family moved to Weston-super-Mare, where Harriet ran a series of boarding houses. Alfred attended Kingsholme School and the School of Science and Art (now Weston College). At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a surveyor in Bristol. He loved drawing and was a self-taught artist. In 1897 the Daily Graphic paid him for a drawing and he went on to make regular contributions to the Bristol Magpie.
In 1899 Alfred Leete moved to London to work as an artist for a printer. He went freelance in 1905, when the magazine Punch published one of his drawings. Over the next few years he contributed cartoons and drawings to the comic Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, the Pall Mall Gazette, Strand Magazine, Tatler, Sketch, The Bystander, Punch and the London Opinion. He specialised in comic illustration, cartoons, posters and advertisements.
In November 1909 Alfred married Edith Jane Webb. Their first child, a daughter called Betty, was born in 1910 but died a few weeks later. Their son Alfred John was born in 1914.
Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. On 5th September 1914 Alfred’s drawing of the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, pointing his finger, featured on the front cover of the London Opinion, with the words “Your Country Needs YOU” beneath the picture. The image was later used by the magazine as an unofficial recruitment poster with the words “Britons [Kitchener] “Wants YOU”, Join Your Country’s Army!”. The magazine also had this image displayed on advertising hoardings in London in the autumn of 1914.
In 1917 the American artist James Montgomery Flagg adapted Alfred’s drawing by substituting Uncle Sam for Lord Kitchener and using the slogan “I Want YOU for U.S. Army”. It also inspired similar posters, which were produced in Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia. In the Second World War Kitchener’s face was replaced by Churchill’s on a recruitment poster for the Australian Imperial Force. Although Alfred Leete’s drawing of Lord Kitchener was never used as an official recruitment poster, it has become one of the most iconic and enduring images of the First World War.
During the First World War Alfred produced several comic cartoons, which made fun of the Germans. In 1916 he joined the Artists’ Rifles. He served with them on the Western Front in France and produced a series of drawings of his experiences there.
In the 1920s Alfred produced illustrations for successful advertising campaigns for companies such as Guinness, Bovril, London Underground, Younger’s Ales and Rowntree’s. He often visited Weston-super-Mare and produced advertisements for local businesses and cartoons about local issues. In 1925 he designed the cover for the Weston-super-Mare Official Guide, which was entitled “Atlantic Breezes”.
Alfred Leete was taken ill on a trip to Italy and he died of a brain haemorrhage at his home in Kensington, London on 17th June 1933. He was buried in Milton Road Cemetery in Weston-super-Mare.