Tag Archives: grandfather

Dec 3rd, 1915

William Harold Gillespie
Height — 5’7”
Chest Measurement — 36” (Range of expansion — 4”)
Apparent age — 20 years, 7 months
Next of kin — Mrs William Gillespie (Mother)
Religious denomination — Church of England
Declaration date — Dec 3rd, 1915
Regimental Number — 700033

signature of recruit

 

 

 

 

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The Battle Ships are Fine

Portsmouth Harbour from the Ramparts

Postcard #4 – Portsmouth Harbour – dated Croydon June 28th, 1914

Dear Ray,
I’ve been in the dockyards. It is a very nice place to go to see some nights. The battle ships (sic) are fine. Well I guess you will have my letter by this time I have many to write, Solong (sic) with love, H

One small sentence written on the last postcard from Harold’s trip abroad is probably the most interesting of all. He wrote the postcard the same day Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated in Sarajevo, an event we now view as the catalyst for the start of the war. I wondered how things were seen at the time, whether Harold and Walter might have had any inkling of what was so close on the horizon.

Manchester Evening News – Monday 29 June 1914 Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Manchester Evening News – Monday 29 June 1914
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Many of Britain’s historic papers are locked behind paywalls but the Daily Telegraph has digitised and released its WWI archival papers. Its June 29th, 1914 edition has a whole series of articles detailing the Archduke’s assassination (see pp 11-16).

I also found an article from the Manchester Evening News available on the British Library’s newspapers site. Both reports fail to grasp the ramifications of  the Duke’s death.

Back in Canada the assassination was also in papers such as The Globe.  There was no interpretation of the events there either, only details.

Media coverage of the Archduke’s death continued for most of the week, but looking through the papers is is obvious that there were plenty of other things happening, other events that might be as just as interesting and relevant to two young men abroad.

The suffragette movement was gaining media attention for their increasingly radical actions, the Irish Home Rule Bill was back in the House of Lords,  Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition received a generous donation from Sir James Caird (see p. 13). On the same day as the assassination, there was also news of a commercial liner, the SS California running aground off the coast of Ireland on its way from New York to Liverpool. There was even mention of a heatwave (p.11) during the last week of their time abroad.

It seems the average man (like Harold and Walter) may not have been aware of what was to come. But as I continue to dig through the digitised papers and news of the time, I notice there is a constant atmosphere of military/naval activity. Portsmouth (the Royal Navy’s main harbour) in particular seems abuzz. Some of the details that grab my attention are:

And what about the battleships Harold wrote home about?

They may have seen some battleships in the dockyards being outfitted or repaired. It is just as likely they saw ships from the Grand Fleet arriving in harbour. The King had called for an assembly of the Grand Fleet at Portsmouth (see p. 11).  Over 200 ships assembled at Spithead for review from July 16th – 20th, just a fortnight after Harold and Walter sailed for home.

Grand Fleet for the King's Review July 18th 1914. Available public domain

Grand Fleet for the King’s Review July 18th 1914. Available public domain

The fleet would remain in near Portsmouth until late July when they would be ordered North in readiness for war.

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The days leading up to the declaration of war against Germany were interesting times and it is possible to get a clear idea of the news, the emotion and atmosphere from sites online. BBC Radio has a series of podcasts: 1914: Day by Day and there are many newspapers now digitised and online such as the Daily Telegraph. The papers are especially useful for zeroing in on local areas, to see how the news was reported to small towns, rural areas and big cities.

Reading papers from 100 years ago can be a frustrating experience. Front page news hadn’t taken off as a concept in many publications (altho’ Canada’s Globe seemed to grasp the concept) so you may have to wade through a dozen pages of advertising first to get to the news.

 

 

 

 

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All Aboard the RMS Cedric

The closing of Altorado appears to have been providential. Without a ministry to tend to, the spring of 1914 becomes a chance for Walter to return to England to visit family and friends and an opportunity for Harold to travel with him.

The years between 1910 and 1914 are filled with significant events for Harold’s family; his parents take several trips, his older sister Edna marries (in 1912) and the following year, she and her husband have a baby (the first of the next generation). In April of 1914, Harold turns eighteen.

Harold, photo taken in 1914.

Harold, photo taken in 1914. Back stamped ‘US Postcard’

Perhaps the trip was in celebration of his coming of age. Whatever the motivation, his parents could not have asked for a better travelling companion for him – Walter is a minister, he is someone older and more experienced in travel and he has respectable connections on the other side of the ocean.

There’s no trace of the letters that must have criss-crossed the prairie in 1913, but plans were made and tickets were purchased. In late April 1914, the young men travel to New York City where they board the RMS Cedric and sail third class to England. They land in Liverpool on May 1st, 1914.

RMS Cedric passenger list 1914

RMS Cedric passenger list 1914

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There is a postcard of the R.M.S. Cedric in Harold’s collection and it is possible to gain some basic details from the ship’s manifest so I couldn’t resist straying a little to find out more about this White Star ocean liner and the voyage. After all, it is only two years since the Titanic disaster and Harold and Walter are recorded as travelling Third Class (isn’t that the same as steerage?) I wondered how much had changed for transatlantic travellers in the two years since and how much had not.

RMS Cedric postcard 1914

RMS Cedric postcard 1914. Note the old style sailing ship being pushed out of the picture.

R.M.S. Cedric was the second of the White Star Line’s ‘Big 4 ships built by Harland  and Wolff (the same company that built Titanic). New York – Liverpool was her regular run until the war broke out then she, like so many others, was refitted for carrying troops. It could carry just under 3000 passengers, 2300 of whom would travel in Third Class accommodation. The voyage took five days.

One of the first things I found online is a site with brochures depicting the interiors of the Big Four. The interior of Third Class on the Cedric doesn’t look too bad (you’ll need to scroll down to the photos in the linked site).

Thankfully there were also changes in Maritime  regulations and practices including:

  • provision of enough life boats for everyone on board
  • trained staff and designated roles for emergency situations
  • improved reporting procedures and protocols
  • improved communication equipment
  • improved hull construction and testing regulations
  • a binding agreement  (between participating countries) for Ships’ Masters to respond to distress signals

The first International Conference for the Safety of Life at Sea met and signed the agreement bring about these changes in January 1914.

Less formally, but perhaps more importantly was the change in the competitive culture of the commercial lines in making the crossing. Transatlantic crossing times increased slightly after the Titanic disaster.

Harold and Walter arrive safely and in style.

 

 

 

Harold’s Friend Travels to Tame the West

 

From "The Church on the Prairie" (1910)

From “The Church on the Prairie” (1910)

The story goes that Walter was a minister who came from St. Aidan’s Church in West Herrington, England to Canada. I haven’t found anything to confirm that yet; what I have found is that Walter was born in Brighton in 1884 and lived in Croydon. His father was a boot-maker, Walter was his only son and an only brother to three sisters. He sailed to Canada in Sept, 1910 soon after the two original Anglican mission groups were raised for Western Canada. At that time, Walter wasn’t a clergyman; he was a layman and listed himself as a student on the ship’s register.

Harold at 18 1913

Harold in the Winter of 1913

I think the Gillespie’s were his family away from home in this new country. As he travelled West to his Mission House in Southern Alberta, Walter regularly sent the Harold and his brothers letters and picture postcards full of brotherly concern and encouragement.

In one card, he was glad to hear that Harold had returned to school after the harvest to continue his studies; he reminisced about the fun they had had skating the previous winter and hoped they could do it again someday, he mentioned his best suit had gone missing and that he was travelling on a stubborn horse.

Big Chief Mountain near Cardston

In another, he tells Harold he’s keen to hear of his mother’s travels but won’t be able to meet up with her on her return journey from British Columbia, he is simply too far away from the railway. He promises to write again next month. The photo on one card shows a dusty, one-street frontier town and on another, a flat-topped mountain.

Both postcards came from Cardston, Alberta.

Mainstreet Cardston

 

 

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It’s fascinating to read some of the handbooks these missionaries were given to prepare them for their life in the West. They pulled no punches — it was going to be a tough job.

It is even more fascinating when you discover an actual photo.

After months of searching through archives and local histories online, I find Walter T H Cripps in a digital collection from the Glenbow Museum Archives.

Image No: NA-1687-43 Title: Anglican clergymen in southern Alberta. Date: [ca. 1914] Remarks: Back Row: Extreme left: Canon S.H. Middleton. Front Row: (hand to eyes), Mr. Cripps. [Used in conjunction with script of talk on Anglican missions in Western Canada.

Reproduced with permission Glenbow Archives. Image No: NA-1687-43
Title: Anglican clergymen in southern Alberta. Date: [ca. 1914]
Remarks: Back Row: Extreme left: Canon S.H. Middleton. Middle row, second: Rev Canon Mowat, Front Row: (hand to eyes), Mr. Cripps. [Used in conjunction with script of talk on Anglican missions in Western Canada.

 There he is in the front row. This friend of grandfather’s, this man who will change the course of our family history.
He sits cross-legged on the grass, looking inquisitive, perhaps a little uncertain, one elbow propped on his knee, his hand shading his eyes so he can meet the camera’s lens. All the other clergymen squint into the sun, their lips pursed, brows wrinkled; serious and somewhat pained. The men are positioned at the front corner of a rough timber building. In the background, there is a wide dirt road; one commercial building peeks over the shoulder of a young clergyman, two telephone poles rise up and out of the frame. Everything is still so new.
There is no indication if this was a special occasion or a regular quarterly get-together. It may have been taken for fund-raising purposes (it was later included in a lantern show to raise funds).
Whatever the reason for the photo, Walter was remembered by someone in the community. They identified him in the photo, recorded it in the archives, what extraordinary luck.

 

 

War was a game the boys played

Playing Soldier circa 1907

Postcard: Star Series: published by G.D.&D. London. Shared on Flickr Creative Commons by Pellethepoet

When I was growing up, war was a game the boys played. It was filled with arguments over who was dead and who was not, who was in charge, who was good, who was bad. The boys played in the mud of an eroded ditch on the far side of the school playground – they called it The Trenches. They played in the rain and in the snow. They used sticks, clumps of dirt and their imaginations to make their Howitzers, MK-III’s and grenades. They seemed endlessly fascinated and engaged in it.

The girls were sometimes invited to play as nurses, or if you were lucky (in some eyes), they let you be a medic. Nurses hovered on the sidelines ready to comfort the soldiers. The medic’s job was to help lever boys out of the knee-deep silt then go back to rescue their rubber boots from being sucked down as dozens of boys squelched around in the muck.

As I grew into adulthood, it was easy to  tune out in history classes at university, change the channel when war movies came on, and ignore news stories as wars erupted overseas. It was all unpleasant and I was disinterested and untouched —

 Bang!Bang!
“You’re dead! You have to fall down, I shot you”
“No, I got you first!”

I’m older now and wiser — I watch the news, I’m a teacher librarian, I’m interested in History — and now there is a gap. I have questions and I want to document my learning and my research as I look for answers. That’s why I started this blog.

It’s been 100 years since the Great War. My grandfather – like nearly every other young man from the Dominion of Canada – went off to fight. I don’t know how and I don’t understand why and I’d like to make some sense of it all.

I never knew my grandfather— he died before I was born. And that’s the other reason for taking this research journey. I hope that as I piece together information from ‘out there’ with what’s been passed down in the  family, I will get a sense of who he was.