GILLESPIE, Robert Fraser
(Service number 6/2631)
|First Rank||Private||Last Rank|
|Date||7 May 1896||Place of Birth||Hanmer Springs (Amuri)|
|Date||17 April 1915||Age||19 years 9 months|
|Address at Enlistment||Tripp Station, Orari Gorge, Woodbury|
|Previous Military Experience||Senior Cadets - exempt|
|Next of Kin||William GILLESPIE (father), Breeze's Road, New Brighton, Christchurch|
|Medical Information||Height 5 feet 10 inches. Weight 150 lbs. Chest measurement 34-36 inches. Complexion fair. Eyes grey. Hair brown. Sight and hearing both good. Colour vision correct. Limbs and chest well formed. Full movement of joints. Heart and lungs normal. Teeth fair. free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Not vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects.|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in||Army|
|Body on Embarkation||6th Reinforcements|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||Canterbury Infantry Battalion|
|Date||14 August 1915|
|Transport||Willochra or Tofua|
|Embarked From||Wellington||Destination||Suez, Egypt|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With|
|Service Medals||1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal|
Award Circumstances and Date
Prisoner of War Information
|Date of Capture|
|Where Captured and by Whom|
|Actions Prior to Capture|
|PoW Serial Number|
|Date||17 September 1919||Reason||Termination of period of engagement|
Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses
17 August 1916 admitted to No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station (Rouen). 30 October 1916 admitted to 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, again sick. 13 June 1917 reported woundedin France. 12 October 1917 (2nd occasion) severely wounded in the right leg; admitted to the Military Hospital, Tooting. Progress was fair. Transferred to Convalescent Depot at Hornchurch on 8 December 1917. Later progressing favourably. 20 September 1918 admitted to the Military Hospital at Tidworth, suffering from influenza.
Shepherd; farm manager
|Date||20 January 1978||Age||81 years|
|Place of Death||Cromwell|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Alexandra Cemetery, Otago|
|Memorial Reference||F Blk, Lot R/4, Plot 0040|
|New Zealand Memorials|
Robert (Bob) Fraser Gillespie was born on 7 May 1896 at Amuri, Hanmer Springs, Canterbury. His parents were William and Ann (nee Fraser) Gillespie. Bob had four older siblings, Ida, Hugh (died aged 16yrs), Duncan and Catherine (Effie) and one younger George. When Bob was born the family lived at Upper Waiau Station where his father was manager.
Bob began his schooling at the Upper Waiau Ferry School and continued at Central New Brighton from mid-1906, when his father purchased a dairy farm in Breezes Road, New Brighton. Bob enjoyed his school years, and he especially liked poetry and in later years wrote some of his own. He won numerous swimming medals while at New Brighton School. The races were held in the river not far from their Breezes Road home. The story goes that in one race Bob started heading the wrong way and on discovering his mistake turned around and still won the race. On leaving school Bob carried on the family tradition and became a shepherd in the South Canterbury area.
Bob enlisted on 17 April 1915, the same day as his brother Duncan Thomas 6/2630. At the time of enlistment he was shepherding at Tripp Station, Orari Gorge, Woodbury. His employer was the Tripp Estate. He listed his father William, Breezes Road, Christchurch as next of kin.
Robert was 5ft 10 inches tall and weighed 150lbs, complexion fair, eyes grey, hair brown, teeth fair. He attested at Trentham on 17 April 1915 ranked Private, joining the 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment. At the time of enlistment Robert would have been 18 years and 11months of age, but he had listed his birth year as 1895, instead of 1896. He had married Emily (nee Brown who came to NZ in 1913 on the ship ‘Ionic’ from Broseley in Shropshire) on the 9 of August 1915.
Bob embarked on Troop ship No 27 SS Willochra from Wellington on the 14th August 1915, for Egypt, disembarking at Suez on 19 September. He joined his battalion, Ismailia, on 30 December 1915. He was recorded as being in the Machine Gun section as a driver on 18 January 1916. Bob re-embarked for France on 16 April 1916,
Bob wrote home to his sister Ida from France, dated 29 October 1916, commenting on his brother Duncan’s experiences:
“… Poor old Dunc, I do not know where he is in England perhaps, I hope he does not come back as there is nothing to look forward to out here, I’ll bet he has seen all the scrapping that he wants to as he was all through the hardest fighting, and I don’t mind admitting it I’ve seen enough after coming through the lot – it will do me and I’m not greedy.”
He went on to mention friends who had been affected:
“My mate Bill Cordy my mate at Tripp Settlement wounded in Egypt and shell shock also it’s a terrible thing this shock no memory can’t speak and no sense or reason whatever but of course one has got to be very close to a burst to get that bad but I’ve seen men with it, of course they are lucky in a way that they were not blown to pieces, sometimes there is absolutely nothing of a man left if a shell gets him fair and the parson reads the service over the shell hole. Of course you will think this awful but its nothing to us every day seen on the ------- but we are in a much quieter place at present and I think myself darn lucky to have a whole skin.”
He finished by commenting:
“I expect George wants to come away, but keep him away as long as ever you can as he is better at home.”
Bob transferred to 2nd Battalion on 6 March 1917. He was appointed Lance Corporal on 18 March 1917. A few months later he was wounded in France on 13 June (at Messines?). He rejoined his unit on 21 June 1917 - his brother Duncan Thomas had been killed at Messines on 7 June. Robert was again wounded in action on 12 October 1917 at Passchendaele – a wound that ended of his active service. On 19 October Bob embarked for the Military hospital at Tooting Beck, London. After six months convalescing, on 9 April 1918, he was attached to the 3rd Reserve Battalion Canterbury Regiment at Sling camp. There he was a physical training and bayonet fight instructor until he returned to NZ on the troop ship No 275, SS Port Hacking, from Liverpool on 4 July 1919. He arrived in NZ on 20 August 1919 and was discharged on 17 September 1919 after 4 years and 7 days abroad. He was only 23 years of age. He received the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service. He is remembered on the Central New Brighton School Roll of Honour, along with his brother Duncan. The knee wound that saw the end of his active service, caused him to limp for the remainder of his life.
Bob began work again at Tripp Station. His daughter Ida Catherine Fern was born while he was overseas and on return three more children arrived in quick succession: Dora Avery born 27 May 1920, Duncan William Arthur born 30 April 1921 and June Amelia Maisie born 12 June 1922. He had a small holding at Tripp Settlement and this children attended the Tripp Settlement School while he was still working for the Tripp Estate. He was for a time Chairman of the School Committee.
Later he shifted to Albury Park, to work for Basil Shaw, a farm cadet who used to visit their home at Tripp Settlement. The family then moved to Rocky Point, Hakataramea, in the 1930s. Robert’s brother George had been at Rocky Point and then Haka Station. Robert and his brother were very close and when George moved to Balfour in 1938 to manage Ben Callum Station, he saw that a manager was required for Glenure Estate, Balfour. He told Robert to apply for the job, and hence the family moved to Balfour. The Glenure homestead was a lovely two storied wooden house with a verandah across the front with great views across the Waimea plains. They spent many happy years there. He was a member of the RSA, (President for many years), Lumsden Lodge (Grand Master), was a JP and a Captain in the Home Guard. He was also approached to stand for Parliament, but declined. When Glenure Estate was broken up for returned soldiers after the WWII he went to manage ‘Wilden’, near Herriot, then later moved to ‘Highbury’ near Ranfurly as manager.
Bob was a keen follower of rugby and loved horse racing. While at Highbury the Didham stables at Wingatui would send their horses to be ridden on the hill country and Robert and Amy would take them back before the racing season began. Bob and Amy retired to 83 Ventry Street, Alexandra. Bob was a keen gardener. They made some great friends in Alexander, among them the Hobbs and the Marshalls and they enjoyed card evenings and both were very good lawn bowlers and competition took them all over the region. Their last residence was 23C Bringans Street and Amy lived there until her death in 1982. Bob had died on the 20th of January 1978 at the age of 81 years, after spending the last 2 years of his life in ‘Ripponburn’ Home, Cromwell.
Bob’s grandchildren recall their grandfather as a lovely, kind and gentle man who loved life, his wife Amy (he called her Ma) and family dearly. He had a good sense of humour and he related really well to young people. He never spoke of his war experiences, but he did mention the Belgian mud - knee deep or worse in places. He carried in his wallet a letter written by his brother Duncan, who was killed in 1917.
Cenotaph Database [16 October 2013]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5539 0044856) [04 September 2014]; ; "New Zealand, Central Otago, Cemetery Gravestones, 1861-2009," index and images, FamilySearch [20 October 2013]; Press, 1 December 1917, North Otago Times, 4 December 1917, Timaru Herald, 30 June 1917 (Papers Past) [20 October 2013; 10 July 2014]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) [October 2013]; School Admission Registers (Canterbury Branch NZSG) [October 2013]; NZ Electoral Rolls (ancestry.com.au) [October 2013]
- Robert Fraser Gillespie - biography by C Palliser (pdf, 1.7 MB updated 13-Nov-2018)
- NCO training notebook(?) - Robert F Gillespie, 1918 (South Canterbury Museum 2015/024.01) (pdf, 5.1 MB updated 04-Feb-2019)
Researched and Written by
Teresa Scott (SC branch NZSG); Claire Palliser; Tony Rippin, South Canterbury Museum
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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License unless otherwise stated.
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