(Service number 23167)

Aliases Willie; William Richardson GILLESPIE (birth name)
First Rank Rifleman Last Rank Rifleman


Date 11 April 1894 Place of Birth Waimate, South Island

Enlistment Information

Date 8 February 1916 Age 21 years
Address at Enlistment C/o Mrs Borthwick, Paki Paki
Occupation Labourer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Single
Next of Kin Mrs S. GILLESPIE (mother), North Road, Oamaru
Religion Presbyterian
Medical Information Height 5 feet 7 inches. Weight 148 lbs. Chest measurement 34-37½ inches. Complexion fair. Eyes blue. Hair fair. Sight, hearing & colour vision all normal. Limbs well formed. Full & perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart & lungs normal. No illnesses. Free from hernia, Varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhods, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Vaccinated. Good bodily & mental health. No fits. 'Examined William Gillespie's teeth nothing required.' Fit.

Military Service

Served with NZ Armed Forces Served in Army
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Unit, Squadron, or Ship 4th Reinforcements 4th Battalion, H Company
Date 27 May 1916
Transport Tofua
Embarked From Wellington Destination Devonport, England
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 4th Battalion, B Company

Military Awards

Campaigns Western European
Service Medals British War Medal; Victory Medal
Military Awards

Award Circumstances and Date

No information

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date Reason

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

4 September 1917 - admitted to 10th Stationary Hospital, France - not yet diagnosed, mild; 5 September admitted to hospital at St Omer - VD; 26 August 1918 - Reported wounded, but actually killed in action.

Post-war Occupations


Date 26 August 1918 Age 24 years
Place of Death Bapaume, France (in the field)
Cause Killed in action
Notices Oamaru Mail, 28 September 1918
Memorial or Cemetery Achiet-le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, France
Memorial Reference III. G. 12.
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

William Richardson Gillespie, known as Willie, was born on 11 April 1894 at Waimate, the fourth son of James John and Sarah Gillespie (née Richardson) Gillespie. His parents were married in 1884 in Scotland, where they had two children – Thomas (2 years in 1887) and James Richardson (1 year), before travelling to Melbourne, Australia, in 1887, and then settling in New Zealand by 1889. In fact, they came directly to New Zealand, arriving at Bluff on 16 May by the “Tarawera”. Four more children were born in New Zealand – Jane in 1888, Elizabeth in 1890, Denholm in 1892 at Waimate and the youngest William Richardson in 1894. In March 1897 the family moved from Waimate to Oamaru. Along with some of his siblings William attended Oamaru Middle School, where in 1901 he gained Merit in Preparatory Class V and a 2nd Class attendance award. In 1902 in the Infant Department, he was recognised for regular attendance. Willie’s good school work continued in 1903, with merit in Standard I and a First-class Attendance award. 1904 was a really good year when he was awarded Mr Duncan’s special prize for arithmetic, Merit in Standard II and recognition for first class attendance. Attendance was again first class in 1905 (Standard III) and Mr Duncan’s prize for arithmetic again awarded. An Attendance award was received in 1906 also. At the Schools’ swimming Carnival held in February 1908, Willie, representing Middle school, enjoyed success – staring in the 25 Yards Race for boys under 16 off a one second handicap and finishing second in the Fifth Standard Schools’ Championship. Mr Gillespie died on 26 November 1900 at the Oamaru Hospital, leaving Mrs Gillespie with six children and in need of 'practical sympathy'. Several ladies were taking an interest in the case. Mr Gillespie had been a ranger, the one who impounded cattle and horses for trespassing on the roads. He also collected the dog tax at Papakaio and Awamoko, and at Oamaru, until September 1898 when both his appointments were cancelled.

Enlisting on 8 February 1916 at Trentham, Willam Gillespie declared that his age was not less than twenty years last birthday and would not be more than forty five years next birthday. He was 21 years old. He was then a labourer at Paki Paki, Hawkes Bay, single and Presbyterian. William was of average build - 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 148 pounds, and with a chest measurement of 34-37½ inches. His complexion and hair were fair, his eyes blue. He was in good physical condition, his sight, hearing, colour vision, limbs, heart and lungs being all normal. He was free of all diseases and afflictions, and had been vaccinated. The dentist recorded “Examined William Gillespie’s teeth nothing required”. Picked for the 13th Reinforcements, he left Hastings by express in early February 1916. His nominated next-of-kin was his mother, Mrs S. Gillespie, North Road, Oamaru.

Rifleman Gillespie embarked with the 13th Reinforcements on 27 May 1916, leaving from Wellington and headed for Devonport, England per the “Tofua”. He marched into Sling Camp on 27 July 1916 and left for Active Service in France on 12 August. Soon afterwards he was posted to the Pioneer Battalion. In August 1917 he went to England for two weeks leave. On 4 September 1917 he was admitted to the 10th Stationary Hospital in France, his condition “not yet diagnosed” but mild. The next day he was transferred to the General Hospital at St Omer, with VD, and subsequently to Etaples. He was discharged (VD) to Base Depot France on 18 January 1918, and posted to the Pioneer Battalion. After a brief time with the Auckland Regiment, he was transferred to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, with which he served in the Field until his death.

It was first reported that William Gillespie, of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, was wounded on 26 August 1918, maybe missing, and some 12 days later reported as killed in action on 26 August. Mrs S. Gillespie, North Road, Oamaru, received the standard telegram – “Regret to advise you cable received this day now reports that 23167 W. Gillespie was Killed in Action August 26th. Please accept my sincerest sympathy in the loss which you and New Zealand have suffered. J. Allen, Minister of Defence.” Rifleman William Gillespie, 23167, was indeed killed in action on 26 August 1918 at Bapaume, France, aged 24 years. He was buried at Achiet-le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, France. Mrs Gillespie received notification from the Minister of Defence to this effect on 24 September. The New Zealanders were involved in the Battle of Bapaume which took place at Bapaume, France from 21 August 1918 to 3 September 1918. Bapaume had been occupied by the Germans since early in the war. On 26 August the New Zealanders continued their attempts to encircle Bapaume. The New Zealand Rifle Brigade was targeted by the Germans, and, it appears, William Gillespie was a victim.

Mrs Gillespie may well have contributed regularly to war goods and funds. She died in Oamaru on 27 December 1920, at which time William’s eldest brother, Thomas (Tom) Gillespie living at Waipawa, Hawkes Bay, became William's legal next-of-kin and the recipient of his medals – British War Medal and Victory Medal. William’s sister, Jean Gillespie of Oamaru, received advice that 9 shillings 3 pence cash was found in the effects of the late 23167 William Gillespie. It appears that, on enquiring about his military pay, she was notified that no further military pay could be credited to his account unless she was dependent on it for support and had a case to make. His brother James Richardson Gillespie (born in 1885 in Scotland) also served in World War One, and another brother Denholm (born in 1892 at Waimate) was listed in the Reserve Rolls.

The foundation stone for the Oamaru War Memorial was laid on 14 October 1924, after several arguments regarding the location, whether it should be utilitarian or inspirational, and whether or not names should be engraved on it. It was unveiled on Anzac Day 1926, when a bronze casket containing the names of the district’s soldiers who had served overseas was placed in a locked receptacle. Surely one of those names is William Gillespie. His name was included in a list compiled in June 1919 by the North Otago Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial Committee of the men from North Otago who gave their lives for the Empire. The inscription on the memorial reads “To Our Glorious Dead and Those Who shared Their Service and Sacrifice”, with a quotation from Kipling below -

“From little towns in a far land we came

To save our honour and a world aflame.

By little towns, in a far land, we sleep

And trust those things we won to you to keep.”


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [09 July 2014]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5539 0044859) [11 July 2014 & 09 June 2017]; CWGC [10 July 2014]; Oamaru Mail, 27 November 1900, 6 December 1900, 20 December 1901, 20 December 1902, 24 December 1903, 23 December 1904, 21 December 1905, 20 December 1906, 14 & 25 September 1918, 28 September 1918 [x 2] , 10 June 1919, 28 December 1920, North Otago Times, 7 February 1908, 14 & 26 September 1918, Hastings Standard, 4 February 1916, New Zealand Times, 14 September 1918, Otago Daily Times, 26 September 1918 (Papers Past) [10 July 2014; 18 August 2015; 09 June 2017; 25 & 26 July 2019]; Shipping records ( [10 July 2014]; NZ Birth indexes (DIA historical records) [10 July 2014]; NZ Electoral Rolls ( [17 August 2015]; New Zealand History online [26 July 2019]

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Researched and Written by

Teresa Scott, SC brnach NZSG

Currently Assigned to


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