The Great-Uncle Gilla: A Life Taken Too Soon During the First World War

A hundred years ago, a relative of Charles Moore died during the First World War. Standing at that exact location, Charles and his family celebrated their own.

The event took place in Ypres, Belgium where three generations of Charles’ family assembled in Zwarteleen Wood to mark the death of Lieutenant Gillachrist (“Gilla” or “the Gilla”) Moore, his uncle that died as a Royal Sussex Regiment at the young age of 20. Gilla was killed by a German sniper who shot through his heart, and the unfortunate incident happened at that place and at that moment.

According to Charles, his father, son as well as he, bear Gillachrist as a second name to honour the memory of their uncle who died too young. Referring to him as the “great-uncle” he said a majority of the heroes who died during the First World War were uncles and not fathers as they died too young.

Narrating the huge advancement that has been made in recording the dead, Charles said Britain has done a good job in providing facts about every single man that has died during service in the Great War. And according to him, it is the first in the history of mankind. Along with Britain, he says the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Imperial War Museum, as well as the internet have made the records even better.

Since the death of his uncle during the First World War, Charles’ family has held on to Gilla’s possessions that were returned after his death. They were sent in a tin box and included a belt, gun harness, army socks, pipe, watch; the tobacco tin that was given to all the troops by Princess Mary. According to him, the tobacco was unused because it was an early Christmas present and had only just arrived when his uncle was killed. Among Gilla’s possession was also a diary he kept. He wrote on it until a day before he was killed. In the box were also postcards from Gilla’s mother who died of Tuberculosis while he was just a little boy. There were also dance-cards with Mary constantly appearing on them, she was his girlfriend. There was also a 2/6d receipt for Peter, a fox terrier he bought for Mary from the Army and Navy Stores, a hawk’s hood (because he was a lover of birds) and a Catholic book of devotions.

In the box was also a love letter he wrote to Mary immediately after saying goodbye to her. It is assumed he wrote it for her to read in case he dies during the war. While the letter talked about how Gilla wanted to kiss Mary to spite the German Emperor as well as other dreadful stuffs, Mary never had the opportunity to read it because Gilla’s father refused to send it on to her. She (Mary) died in the 80s, The Telegraph reports.

On his uncle’s time as a service man, Charles said his uncles battles did not make so much impact in the history of the First World Waras young man – boy who fought for less than a month before his young life was sniffed out of him. But nevertheless, 15 of his family members travelled down to Belgium to remember him, just like millions of other people across the world are thinking about their own dead relative.

While he sees war as the most uncivilised act of man, he says commemorating it this way and getting to know all the brave men that took part in it – is the mark of extraordinary civilisation.

Charles said when his young uncle went off to war, his grandfather who was Gilla’s brother wrote him a letter with questions such as “I hope you’ll dodge the bullets, but if you don’t it’s a question whether you are much worse off than having pneumonia in 50 or 60 years’ time.”

While Charles said his grandfather’s questions are difficult to answer as no one want to die young, he also said many who grow old without taking part in the First World War end up asking themselves tormenting questions about their own value.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE