The first AIF chaplain to die after the landings at Anzac Cove, Andrew Gillison was born in Baldernock in Scotland on 7th June, 1868, the son of Rev John Gillison, of the Free Church of Scotland and his wife Jane.

He was educated in Edinburgh – including have studied theology – before serving in ministry in the US, England and Scotland. Having married Isabel Napier in 1895, he came to Australia in 1903 to serve at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Brisbane and, from 1909, at St George’s Church in the Melbourne suburb of East St Kilda.

Andrew Gillison

Andrew Gillison, c 1915. PICTURE: Courtesy Australian War Memorial/P02615.004

While his involvement with the military went back to when he had served in Glasgow where his church was next door to the army barracks, he was appointed a part-time chaplain to the Australian Military Forces on 9th November, 1906, and from 1909 served as chaplain to the Victorian Scottish Regiment.

In October, 1914, he was appointed chaplain-captain to the Australian Imperial Force and applied to serve with the 14th Battalion. The Battalion’s colors were paraded in his church of St George’s shortly before he sailed and consigned there while the Battalion was at war. He sailed on 22nd December that year, arriving in Egypt on 3rd February where he took part in training.

Gillison, then a father of four, landed at Gallipoli on 26th April at about 11pm but was sent back to his ship where he cared for the wounded and conducted eight burials at sea. He returned to Gallipoli the next morning – the 27th April - becoming the second chaplain ashore and took up duties at a dressing station.

His role there over the next four months involved consoling the wounded and burying the dead as well as praying over men of all denominations. He was apparently well loved by the men he served with – one soldier recorded in his diary that Gillison was the bravest man had had known and that “everyone praised his efforts to cheer the men under hardship and when wounded”.

Another, Corporal JW Barr of the 2nd Field Ambulance wrote: “Stained by earth and the blood of fellow men, he was grandly eloquent, his clothes and appearance telling us what he did not. They spoke of Christian ministration while he supported the weakening frame from which the soul was speeding; a Christ-like devotion to his fellow-men that found him near them in their last moments”.

He was involved in a decision to agree to a proposal by the Turks to hold an armistice on 24th May that the huge number of dead lying between the lines in no-man’s land could be buried. He took part in the retrieval of the dead and wrote in his diary that he hoped it may not be his lot again. “I never beheld such a sickening sight in my life.”

Gillison’s death came on 22nd August. War historian Charles Bean records that he was waiting to read the burial service for some men killed the previous day in fighting at Hill 60 when he heard someone groaning nearby – a wounded soldier under attack from ants who lay in no man’s land. With the help of two others – another chaplain, Corporal Pittendrigh, and a private by the name of Wild, he went forward to drag the wounded man back behind the lines but, along with the other chaplain, was severely wounded when a Turkish sniper opened fire. 

Hit by three bullets, Gillison died at the age of 47 (Pittendrigh died of his wounds on 29th August and was buried at sea). Among his last words were “I’m just a servant, going home to my Master.”

Mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished conduct in the field, few could argue with the proposition that he had suffered a hero’s death but according to a tribute on the St George’s Church website “it is not the hero’s death that has proved a lasting inspiration, it was the life of a remarkable man”.

A memorial to Gillison sits at Embarkation Pier, just to the north of Anzac Cove. There is also a memorial to him at St George’s Church, erected, like that in Turkey, by the men of the 14th Battalion.

SOURCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:
• 'Andrew Gillison', Australian Dictionary of Biography
• Their Sacrifice, Bible Society Australia

• 'Embarkation Pier Cemetery', Anzac Site
 Andrew Gillison, The Christian Connection Series

• St George’s Church, East St Kilda
• Lost leaders of ANZACS