GILLESPIE, Duncan Thomas
(Service number 6/2630)
|First Rank||Private||Last Rank||Corporal|
|Date||7 May 1891||Place of Birth||Timaru|
|Date||17 April 1915||Age||23 years 11 months|
|Address at Enlistment||Care of T. FRASER, Peel Road, Peel Forest|
|Occupation||Shepherd. Station manager at "Ben McLeod", Mount Peel, Rangitata Gorge|
|Previous Military Experience||Canterbury Regt.|
|Next of Kin||William GILLESPIE (father), Breeze's Road, New Brighton, Christchurch|
|Medical Information||Height 5 feet 11 inches. Weight 173 lbs. Chest 36-39 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. No vaccination mark. 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||Canterbury Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion|
|Campaigns||Egypt; Somme, Western Europe|
|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|
Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses
14 January 1916 he was admitted to N.Z. General Hospital Pont de Kontbek(?), with septic sores; progress satisfactory. 21 September 1916 wounded in the Somme battle. Rejoined Regiment on 22 November. 2 February 1917 he was admitted to Walton on Thames Hospital, with scabies.
|Date||7 June 1917||Age||26 years|
|Place of Death||Belgium|
|Cause||Killed in action|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial, Messines Ridge British Cemetery, Belgium|
|New Zealand Memorials||On Memorial wall, Timaru; Geraldine War Memorial (as T. D.);|
Duncan Thomas Gillespie was born in Timaru on 7 March 1891 and he was the much loved third child of William and Ann (nee Fraser) Gillespie. He had two older siblings, Ida Elizabeth & Hugh Graeme and three younger, Catherine Effie, Robert Fraser and George William. At the time of William and Ann’s marriage, William was working as a shepherd at Bluecliffs Station, but later he worked at Mt Peel Station, Kyeburn and Mt Nessing. William was then shepherd/manager of the Upper Waiau Station and it was there that Duncan attended the Upper Waiau Ferry school. While attending the school Duncan and his sisters Ida and Effie all wrote to the Weekly Press and had letters about their animals and what was happening on the farm and at school published in that paper.
In mid-1906 his father William bought a dairy farm in Breezes Road, New Brighton, where he milked cows for the town supply. Duncan finished his schooling at Central New Brighton school, his last attendance was 16 November 1906.
On leaving school Duncan was a shepherd and drover in the South Canterbury area, where he could indulge his love of horses and dogs and all things country. At the time of his enlistment he recorded his last residence as c/o his uncle Tom Fraser, at Peel Rd, Peel Forest and he was working as a shepherd/manager at Ben McLeod for the Acland Bros of Mt Peel Station.
Duncan’s medical check was done in Timaru on 16 February 1915. He was 5ft 11ins in height with grey eyes and brown hair, teeth described as fair. Duncan joined the 2nd Company, 2nd Battalion (South Canterbury) Canterbury Regiment. Duncan was one of 123 local men, who joined 500 men from further south that already on the train, which left from the Timaru Railway Station in mid-April 1915, en route for the Front. The Mayor spoke at the farewell, wishing them the best of good fortune and complimented them on the manly stand they were so freely taking in going to help to break the sway of one of the greatest despots who had ever lived. He wished them all a safe and speedy return, before the train steamed out of the station to the accompaniment of cheering and good-bye messages.
He was 24 years of age on enlistment at Trentham on 17 April 1915 (the same day as his brother 6/2631 Robert Fraser GILLESPIE also joined the army). There was innoculated for typhoid there before embarking in August. He left NZ with the sixth Reinforcements bound for the Middle East – on the same ship as his brother Robert. From the Egypt Duncan was re-embarked for France on 7 April 1916. A few weeks later he was appointed Lance Corporal on 29 April 1916. Duncan apparently had a very good voice and he often sang to the troops.
Duncan was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in France on 21 September 1916. He rejoined his unit in November following his recovery. Duncan was promoted to Corporal in December 1916, but shortly after was admitted to hospital at Walton-on-Thames in England with illness – sores no doubt contracted due to the field conditions.
It appears that Duncan wrote home to his father during this time:
“My Dear Father, I have received your letter today dated January the 4th . Well Dad I can’t make out why you haven’t had a letter from me since I was wounded, as I have written nearly every week since then this is the 4th letter I have written in hospital.”
“I am getting alright again now and will soon be going back to France, I have had septic poison again the same as I had in Egypt, I will never get properly rid of it out here, a place like Hanmer Springs would be the place plenty of sulphur baths and I haven’t got much chance of getting there.”
“Well Dad I don’t think the war will last much longer and I can tell you I will be glad to see the end of it fighting is not much of a game after all and I have done my share ...”
Duncan again wrote home on 15 April 1917, from Walton-on-Thames, shortly before re-joining his unit”:
“My Dear Father, just a few lines in answer to your letter which I got this morning. I am still in hospital and getting on alright now will soon be going back to the front worse luck. I had septic poison in the arm it was very bad for a while. I have been doing a good bit of flying round of late. We went to Windsor castle one day and was shown all through it is a wonderful place and after we had a good look round we had some supper and Princess Mary was among the ladies waiting on us. And then we went and saw all the horses, I didn’t think much of them, I wouldn’t have given old Dingo that horse I had for any of them.”
“And last Sunday I was at Hampton court palace with a friend of mine, I won’t say what sort of a friend, and we had a look through the Palace and then went to see the deer in a big park. I also was at the wonderful wax works in London it was the greatest place I ever was in, I met a lady there and had quite a good time.”
Duncan wrote home to his mother again on 3 May 1917, from “somewhere in France”:
“My Dear Mother, Just a line to let you know that I have landed back in France after 3 months in England, and I can tell you I done it hard coming back over here it was nearly as bad as leaving home ... I got my photo taken in London and they are very good. I left them with a lady friend of mine and she is going to send two or three to you. I had the time of my life in Blighty the people I left the photos with were very good to me, they showed everything there was worth seeing while I was in hospital and then one of them came to London with me and showed me all round. I haven’t seen Bob yet but will see him in a day or two.”
“Well mother dear I will close with best love to all at home”
Duncan continued to have some issues with illness, before rejoined his unit for a last, and fatal time on 2 June 1917.
Corporal Duncan Thomas Gillespie was reported missing in action at the Battle of Messines on 7 June 1917. A court of enquiry later decided he had been killed in action that day. A fellow soldier of his company, H C Wise, wrote to his family stating” “He was highly respected by his fellow men, he held the rank of Corporal and I can honestly say, that he did his duty splendidly to the last … I beg to convey my deepest sympathy, your loss is hard to bear, but it is nice to know that he is at rest.”
Duncan’s medals were sent to his mother at New Brighton, and the plaque and scroll to his father in 1921. His name is recorded on the memorial at the entrance to the Neve Eglise war cemetery Belgium. It is believed that 30 men of the 2nd Company, 2nd Battalion were killed the same night. Duncan is also remembered on the Roll of Honour at the New Brighton Museum (originally at the Central New Brighton School), the Memorial Wall at the Cenotaph in Timaru, and on the Peel Forest War Memorial.
In 2017 some of Duncan’s family – great nieces and nephews – visited Ypres for the 100th anniversary of his death at Messines, paying tribute to his sacrifice.
Cenotaph Database [08 October 2013]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5539 0044825) [04 April 2014]; CWGC [09 October 2013]; Timaru Herald, 19 April 1915, 4 July 1917, 14 July 1917, 20 July 1917,30 July 1917, Press, 28 July 1917 (Papers Past) [05 November 2013; 14 August 2014; 06 September 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]
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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