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Those Who Came After The Original 500


Photo: Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John's Newfoundland
PANL VA-36-16)

Alonzo John Gallishaw, Reg. No. 1369

Alonzo John Gallishaw was probably the only Newfoundlander who served in three armies in World War I (Canadian, British, and American) and was seriously wounded in two of them, on two different fronts.

He was born in St. John’s on 14 November, 1891. His father, John Gregory Gallishaw, was of Jersey descent and a master mariner and harbour pilot until his death in 1904. The family lived on Bannerman Street. The son was educated at St. Patrick’s Hall School where he studied bookkeeping, stenographic typing and perhaps shorthand. He left school in 1905 in his fourteenth year. In the next nine years he led a wandering life and had a number of occupations: auctioneer’s clerk in St. John’s, lumberman in the woods of Notre Dame Bay, bank clerk in Halifax, N. S., personal assistant to several federal Members of Parliament and to Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden in Ottawa, gold miner in South America, worker on ex-president Theodore Roosevelt’s political campaign of 1912 in the United States, and journalist in New York City. In September 1914 he was admitted to Harvard College (the undergraduate division of the university) in Cambridge, Mass., as a Special student to study English literature.

In November he withdrew from Harvard and on the 31st enlisted as a private in the Canadian army in Halifax. He was assigned to the Cyclist Corps of the Second Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force. The cyclists, considered an elite and educated group of soldiers, had the duties of map-reading, reconnaissance and communications as well as fighting when required. After four months of training in Halifax he requested and received a discharge in late March, 1915. His declared reason was to join the Newfoundland forces. He returned to St. John’s immediately and on 3 April enlisted in what was then called the First Newfoundland Regiment. His attestation papers describe him as tall and thin, with brown hair and gray eyes. His next-of-kin was his mother Anastasia Kenny Gallishaw of St. John’s. He gave his previous occupation as “journalist” with an income of $1200.00 yearly. A week later after an examination he was promoted to lance-corporal and put in charge of a section of a platoon. On 22 April he sailed from St. John’s to Halifax on the Stephano with E Company, a draft of reinforcements, and transferred to a C. P. R. liner, the Missanabie, for Liverpool. There followed three months of infantry training at Stobs Camp in Scotland. When in August the First (or active service) Battalion of the regiment was moved to Aldershot camp in England for advanced training, Gallishaw was temporarily transferred from E Company to the regiment’s Pay and Record Office in London as a clerk. Unwilling to miss out on the Gallipoli adventure, he quietly left London and succeeded with the help of friends in smuggling himself on the troop train from Aldershot and then on the troopship Megantic which sailed from Devonport on 21 August. Once safely in the Mediterranean he gave himself up to the Commanding Officer, who was amused by the escapade. He was not punished for his misdemeanor but was put to work in the orderly room, and on reaching Egypt was assigned to B Company as an infantryman.

After two weeks in barracks and camp near Cairo the regiment was sent to Gallipoli and reached the new front at Suvla Bay on 19 September. It was attached to the 88th Brigade of the 29th Division. It was soon in the front lines facing the Turks. Gallishaw suffered like all the men from the heat, flies and poor food, but escaped the worst of the various sicknesses that ravaged the troops. Instead, he was shot in the back by a sniper on 23 October while working on an exposed section of the trenches. The bullet went through both shoulders and for some time his survival was in doubt. After preliminary surgery at a dressing station he was evacuated from Suvla Bay that night on a hospital ship. He spent nearly a month recovering in hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. From there he was shipped in late November to England and spent a month in Wandsworth Hospital in London. During this time the Gallipoli peninsula was evacuated by the Allies. An army medical board on 18 January, 1916 pronounced him unfit for further service and recommended that he spend six months in a convalescent home before returning to St. John’s for discharge. He declined this offer and insisted on being officially released from the army at the regimental depot in Ayr, Scotland. His argument was that he wished to return to his studies without delay. He was not awarded a disability pension although his wound troubled him for years afterwards. He sailed immediately as a civilian on a Canadian liner from Liverpool to Saint John, N. B., and by mid-February was back in Cambridge.

He was received at Harvard as a returning hero and a celebrity. He was invited to give lectures on his Gallipoli experiences to the university students and the public. He was interviewed by several newspapers including the New York Times. That spring and summer he wrote the book Trenching at Gallipoli. The Personal Narrative of a Newfoundlander with the Ill-Fated Dardanelles Expedition, which was published in New York and Toronto in September and received good reviews. He wrote under the name John Gallishaw, having now permanently dropped his first name Alonzo. The book was not particularly critical of the broad strategy of the Dardanelles campaign, although he denounced some aspects of the military organization and leadership. He resumed his studies and also joined the Student Officer Training Corps where he instructed on the war and military tactics. He took part in public meetings and lectures in support of the Allied war effort while the United States was still neutral. With William Lynch, an NCO of the Regular Army, he published in Boston in 1917 a handbook, The Man in the Ranks, to serve as a practical guide for civilians entering the wartime U. S. Army. That year he became a U. S. citizen, and married Eleanor Browne of Cambridge, a teacher.

In January 1918, although he might have claimed exemption from further military service, he enlisted in the United States army and was sent to Officer Training School in Texas. He was shipped overseas in May as a sergeant in the 30th Infantry Division to join the American Expeditionary Force. His regiment, the 120th Infantry, was first posted to Ypres in Belgium, where it was under British command. For a time he was assigned to liaison duties with the British army. He was commissioned as second lieutenant in July and transferred to the 58th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division. That division was engaged in heavy fighting with the retreating Germans on the Marne river in Champagne, east of Paris. Shortly after reaching his new regiment, on 6 August, Gallishaw was severely gassed while serving near the front lines, and was evacuated to a base hospital in Nantes, western France. From there he was sent back to the United States (the ship was torpedoed but did not sink), and spent several months recuperating in hospital in New York until just before the war ended in November. He was discharged from the army shortly before Christmas and returned to Cambridge and Harvard. In addition to several campaign medals he was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries in combat in France. For his service in the Newfoundland Regiment he received the 1914-1915 Star as well as the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

Gallishaw was appointed Assistant Dean at Harvard College for six months in 1919, to aid the integration of returning veterans into student life. Later that year, just after he had resumed his interrupted studies, his health broke down as a delayed result of the gas poisoning and what was then called shell shock. He withdrew from Harvard and lived for the next year in the New Hampshire countryside. Eventually he was awarded a partial disability pension which continued to the end of his life. In 1920 he moved with his growing family to southern California and unsuccessfully tried his hand at chicken farming. Later he studied journalism and English at the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated in 1923. He then returned to Harvard, obtained another bachelor’s degree there, and was a part-time lecturer of English. In 1924 he created his own school, the Cambridge School of Creative Writing, where he taught aspiring authors the craft of fiction writing. He moved the institution (now called the John Gallishaw School for Creative Writing) to New York City around 1927. Some of his students went on to become very successful authors. He was also a theatrical consultant and literary agent. During those years he published three more books, all on the methods of fiction writing he had developed, and they were widely praised. He wrote many articles and a few short stories as well. While living there he was a member of the Newfoundland War Veterans Association of New York. He moved to Hollywood in 1937 on contract to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio to teach its screen writers the techniques of script writing, and later became a freelance consultant in the film industry. Some of his films starred famous actors and actresses.

When the United States entered World War II he was in the Army Officers Reserve. Although over fifty years old he attempted to re-join the army for active service, but was rejected. Instead he volunteered his services as a civilian administrator for the army in 1942-1943, and later worked in an aircraft defence plant in California. One of his three sons was killed in the army in the war. After the war he resumed his consulting and writing, which included several unpublished novels and a film script. In the 1950s he was semi-retired near San Diego and took up yachting; he claimed he had learned the basics of navigation as a boy from his father in St. John’s. He moved permanently to Hawaii about 1958, taught briefly at the University of Hawaii, and owned a motor yacht on which he lived for several years. In 1961 he was invited by Premier J. R. Smallwood to attend the official opening of the new campus of Memorial University in St. John’s in October of that year. It was his first visit to Newfoundland since 1915, and his last. He enjoyed being treated as a native-born celebrity and meeting some of his old school friends. Very likely he met some of his old regimental comrades as well. In his last years his physical health deteriorated. He died on 7 August, 1968 of a pulmonary thrombosis in an army hospital in Honolulu, and is buried with other veterans in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific outside the city.

Few Newfoundlanders saw such a wide range of military experiences in World War I as John Gallishaw. Although most of his published works are little known today, his book on the Gallipoli campaign is still read and admired. He was the only Newfoundland veteran of that campaign to have published a book about his experiences there, and one of the very few Newfoundlanders who wrote books about their service in the first World War. It was reprinted as a paperback volume in 2005, under the revised title Trenching at Gallipoli. A Newfoundland Soldier’s Story of the First World War (DRC Publishers, St. John’s). He also wrote several short stories about life in the Newfoundland Regiment (which he disguised as the “First Colonials”) in Britain and at Gallipoli: “Jake Bolton, 551," published in The Century Magazine, New York., March 1918, and “A Scrap of Paper,” in The Harvard Magazine, Cambridge, 1919. These must be among the few examples of wartime fiction written by members of the regiment.

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