CE­CIL GILLE­SPIE

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS -

He claimed that he was 17. But though he was tall for his age, Ce­cil Gille­spie was still just a 16-year-old Toronto high-school stu­dent when he en­listed in April, 1916. His par­ents, David, a black­smith, and Louella, a tea-shop owner, didn’t find out about his ruse un­til af­ter their only son had left for Eu­rope, in the same con­voy that car­ried James and Ed­ward Tyo. By Christ­mas, as part of the 78th Bat­tal­ion, Pri­vate Gille­spie was in the field, where, he later told his chil­dren, large rats would crawl over him as he tried to sleep at night.

At 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917, Pte. Gille­spie and the other men of his bat­tal­ion emerged from tun­nels and dugouts and at­tacked the Ger­man lines at Vimy. Fight­ing bay­o­net to bay­o­net with a Ger­man, he plunged his weapon so deeply into the body of his foe that he had to fire his ri­fle in or­der to ex­cise the blade.

Back in Canada, his mother was writ­ing to prime min­is­ter Sir Robert Bor­den in an ef­fort to get her son home. Ul­ti­mately, au­thor­i­ties checked the pri­vate’s birth cer­tifi­cate, and in Oc­to­ber he was re­turned to Eng­land and dis­charged. A note in his record read: “In­el­i­gi­ble. Un­der Age. Dis­charged at the re­quest of his par­ents.” He also had to re­im­burse $20 he had been over­paid.

He later be­came an ac­coun­tant who shared lit­tle with his fam­ily about his wartime ex­pe­ri­ences. “He didn’t want to bur­den them,” says Eliane Labendz, of Toronto, who mar­ried Mr. Gille­spie’s youngest son, Don. Or, per­haps, bur­den him­self. He once told Don that he couldn’t help think­ing that, in an­other time, an­other place, he and the young Ger­man he had killed could have been friends.

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