In Memoriam: George Gillies

Photograph of George Gillies.
George Gillies

George Gillies died on active service, aged 30, on 15 November 1916.

He was born in Selby in 1887 and attended Bootham School from 1903 to 1905.  George was a Reeve at Bootham (equivalent to a prefect).  His hobby at school was Natural History.  He was a very keen member of the Natural History Society at Bootham and went on to be its President.  There are many mentions of his natural history work in “Bootham” school magazine, including wins in the school Christmas Exhibitions.  He won the Inter-School Diary Competition for Natural History in 1904 and was awarded the Old Scholars Natural History Exhibition prize of £10.  He decided to use part of this working as a student at a marine biological station on the Clyde.

An entry in “Bootham” magazine of July 1916 reports that G. Gillies has joined General Smuts’s force in East Africa.  Later, in March 1917, “Bootham” magazine writes:

“G. GILLIES was serving in German East Africa, and died of dysentery on November 15th. On November 1st he wrote a letter to his grandmother at home. The following sentences reveal the same observant Gillies that we knew at School :—

” However, you will have some idea of the kind of land we are in when I say that hippo, crocodiles, and lions have all been seen or shot not far away. Elephants do come here, too, as I have seen their spoor in a swamp near here; but now, of course, I expect the coming of the troops and noise of the guns have frightened them away. The natives here wear kilts made of grass, and the better class dress more like Arabs— usually in white with a red fez as headgear. Each village seems to have one or more huts built rather better than the usual mud-and-grass affair, and these, I suppose, are the headmen’s dwellings. Some of the doorposts and lintels are of wood and are carved roughly, the same kind of carving being found on wooden utensils. I do not know whether this is due to Arab influence, but at one time, I believe, this was a great slave-trading country, and doubtless they owe much of their religion and habits to them …..Letters come along at intervals, and newspapers; we get tobacco as a ration and matches, and few could think us far removed from civilisation, although I’ve not seen a white woman for over five months, and that one a hospital nurse…… I am in hospital in a large grass hut (Bandar) just recovering from dysentery, and the Bobajee (Indian cook) has just brought in lunch. This, for light diets, consists of a chapattie (flour scone) and soup, with rice as dessert. The Indian Medical Service look well after us; in fact, we have a Battery doctor of our own as well, and I know from my own experience that a lot of the thing’s in the African papers about blunders re quinine, etc., were all rubbish as far as we were concerned. We have always had plenty, and I am thankful to say I have never required much.” “

 The Royal British Legion “Every Man Remembered” website, , tells us that Gunner G Gillies of the South African Field Artillery is buried in the Morogoro Cemetery in Tanzania.

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