The Northman

Lieutenant Colonel R. A. Gillespie
226th (Men of the North) BattalionGillespie

An ardent lover of outdoor life and successful participant in many manly sports, a natural leader of men, understanding thoroughly the life and character of the Western man, the Colonel with his splendid military knowledge, especially in machine gun and musketry, is eminently fitted to command any Canadian Battalion, but particularly one containing so large a percentage of Western men as the 226th.

(226th Overseas Battalion, C.E.F, 1916, 3)

A native of Winnipeg, Robert Alexander Gillespie was born on 24 January 1881. He was a trained druggist and chemist. In 1912, he had helped to organize the 106th Winnipeg Light Infantry. Gillespie joined the 61st Battalion as junior major until he received authorization to raise the 226th from northern Manitoba in November 1915. Dubbed the “Men of the North,” the 226th officers considered their volunteers “physically superior” to the other battalions

Gillespie and his “Men of the North” sailed for England in December 1916. In April 1917, the battalion was disbanded and was absorbed into the 14th Reserve. The former command returned to Canada in 1918 to take over the Winnipeg district depot, which processed discharge of overseas casualties.

226thHis younger brother, John Gillespie, who had enlisted as a lieutenant with the 226th and transferred to the 16th, died of wounds received at Passchendaele in November 1917.

During the 1917 federal election, Gillespie was mentioned as a potential candidate for Winnipeg North, but the nomination went to Dr. Matthew Blake. Gillespie was involved in several sports organizations and was president of the Conservative Club of Manitoba. He unsuccessfully contested Winnipeg South during the 1935 federal election as one of H. H. Stevens’ Reconstruction Party candidates.

He died in Winnipeg on 31 May 1965.

Digitized Service File (LAC):

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