‘The bravest man’ I ever knew

Chaplain Andrew Gillison was praised in one soldier’s war diary as ‘the bravest man’ he ever knew. Dearly loved by the Gallipoli soldiers for whom he gave his life, his memorial still stands at Embarkation Pier at Gallipoli.

Andrew Gillison was born in 1868 in Scotland where he became a Presbyterian minister, serving in several churches in Scotland and the USA before working for the Presbyterian Church in Australia in 1903.

His church in Glasgow had been next door to the army barracks and he took a particular interest in ministry to soldiers. He became a part-time chaplain to the Australian Military Forces in 1906. When war was declared in 1914, Gillison made the decision to enlist immediately and was appointed chaplain the same year.

He was attached to the 14th Battalion and based aboard ship off the beaches at Gallipoli.

On 25 April 1905, there were far too many dead to ferry back to the ships and too many lonely wounded lying in pain and waiting further treatment. The officers knew the importance of funerals. No soldier wanted to go into danger thinking that they or their body would be abandoned. The officers understood that the chaplains were needed to comfort the injured and that they also had a role in encouraging the soldiers. Gillison was allowed to go ashore the next morning, 27 April, the second chaplain to do so. He was 47 years old.

He immediately attached himself to the dressing station, the first place to which the casualties were brought, consoling the wounded and burying the dead. Chaplain Gillison conducted funerals under cover of darkness, beginning at 11pm and finishing when possible before first light. One soldier wrote in his diary that Gillison was the bravest man he ever knew and that “everyone praised his efforts to cheer the men under hardship and when wounded.”

Gillison was involved in the decision to agree to the armistice on 24th May 1915, proposed by the Turks, to bury the huge number of dead lying between the Turkish and ANZAC lines. He was one of those who went over to retrieve the dead.

He wrote later in his diary: “Our dead were the result of the first day’s advance. I never beheld such a sickening sight in my life, and hope it may not be my lot again.” But he carried the dead in and buried hundreds in shallow massed graves.

He was leading a burial service over yet more bodies when he heard groaning in the scrub above them on the ridge. The men crawled up to the top from where they could see a wounded soldier, covered in ants. They crawled out to the wounded man and started to drag him back over the ridge. Suddenly they were in the sights of a Turkish sniper. Crawling backwards, a bullet hit Gillison in the shoulder and exited through his chest. He died in agony three hours later.

Chaplain Gillison’s body was laid out with ceremonial care. He was buried near the pier, a small cross marking his grave. This was not enough for the men of the 14th Battalion who did not want his final resting place to be lost or forgotten and they erected a more lasting memorial. When they finally left on 18 December, they filed past his grave as they walked onto the pier. His memorial still sits at the head of Embarkation Pier today.

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