“The gamest and pluckiest soldier I ever saw.”

In this Veterans Day blog post, Frederick J. Gillis (1893-1988) of the class of 1916 represents all of the Boston College men and women and their families who have sacrificed so much for their country.

subturriundertow1916bost_0053 (1) (1)

Detail of Frederick James Gillis’ Boston College yearbook portrait and description, Sub Turri, Boston, 1916. Click image to see full yearbook page.

Frederick J. Gillis of Dorchester was a member of the Boston College class of 1916. As a Boston Latin student in 1912 he earned a full scholarship to Boston College. In his days at B.C. he was on the staff of both the Stylus and Sub Turri and was active in the debating societies and sodality. President of the Boston College St. Vincent de Paul Society, he visited the hospitalized and encouraged his classmates to do so. The description accompanying his senior portrait in the 1916 Sub Turri, describes him as having the most brilliant, beautiful red hair in the class, and notes his cheerfulness and generous heart.

After graduating from B.C., Gillis earned an M.A. from Catholic University, which was awarded while he was at the Plattsburg Training Camp in N.Y. From there, Lt. Gillis went overseas with the American Expeditionary Force in 1917 and saw action in France. He was wounded twice. He was gassed in May 1918 and was hospitalized, but returned to action in June.  He was wounded by machine gun fire in July and was promoted to First Lieutenant for bravery in action. Shortly after his return to the U.S. in August 1919, he was praised in a speech to the Charitable Irish Society in Boston by his former commanding officer as “the gamest and pluckiest soldier I ever saw.”

Boston College soldiers, somewhere in France. Boston College Photographs, University Archives, John J. Burns Library.

Boston College soldiers, somewhere in France. Boston College Photographs, University Archives, John J. Burns Library.

A contemporary account of Gillis’ heroism was published in the Boston Daily Globe and describes the scene in July, 1919: “While on the left flank of the American sector during the drive it was necessary for Lieut. Gillis with his platoon, known throughout the division as the “Invincibles,” to clean out several German machine gun nests. The lieutenant asked his men if any wanted to join him on a little flanking party and the “Invincibles” to a man went with him when he led his party out…Not until the advance had reached the point set for the day did Lieut. Gillis permit his wounds to be treated, after which he exposed himself to the terrible fire of the enemy while he saw that his wounded men were cared for.”

Postcard sent by Lieutenant Frederick Gillis from France in 1918. Boston College Photographs, University Archives, John J. Burns Library.

Postcard sent by Lieutenant Frederick Gillis from France in 1918. Boston College Photographs, University Archives, John J. Burns Library.

Fred Gillis went on to earn a Master of Foreign Service from Georgetown (1922) and a Ph.D. from Boston College (1930). After several years as a college instructor, he served as Assistant Superintendent of Boston Public Schools from 1935-1960, and ended his career as Superintendent in 1963. He died in 1988 at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in West Roxbury at the age of 95.

  • Shelley Barber, Burns Library
    Reference & Archives Specialist

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
This entry was posted in Archives & Manuscripts, B. C. History, Staff Posts, University Archives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “The gamest and pluckiest soldier I ever saw.”

  1. warren gillis says:

    hey its my great grandfather!

  2. Theresa says:

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post about our grandfather and adding a page to the family history book we have of him.

  3. warren gillis says:

    This is a great website to have so I can allways look back at thisto know who my great grandfather was.

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