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Joseph Gillis (1892-1917)

Jewish man from Sunderland served in the Yorkshire Hussars

Joseph Gillis was born in Sunderland. Two different birth dates are given for him on school registration forms: 10 July 1892 and 10 August 1892. He was the youngest child of Charles Gillis, with four older brothers and one older sister. His mother’s name appears differently on various records, possibly Sarah or Sadie. Both Joseph’s parents were born in Russia. Their children’s birth places show the family spent time living in Germany before moving to Sunderland. Joseph’s older brother Lionel was born in Sunderland so the family must have moved to Sunderland by 1888. The 1891 census suggests they had travelled to Sunderland with Charles’ mother Rachel and two of Charles’ nephews. Charles and his family became naturalised British citizens on 8 September 1891.

The 1901 census suggests the family were living at both 4 and 5 Egerton Street, Sunderland. Charles was working as a general dealer in cloth and two of his sons were hawkers. By 1911 the family had moved to 23 Foyle Street, Sunderland. At this time all the men in the family were working in the family home furnishing business; Charles and his three eldest sons as dealers and Joseph as a shop assistant. The business appears to have been successful because their house had nine rooms and they also employed a domestic servant. Joseph’s father Charles died in 1914.

Joseph enlisted into the army in Sunderland. He served in the 4th Battalion Yorkshire Hussars, also known as the Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ Own. He served as a private with the service numbers 8515 and 235140. He was killed in action on 23 April 1917 and was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal for his service.

He is remembered on the Arras Memorial in Pas de Calais, France and locally on memorials in Sunderland. One of these memorials is a brass plaque now housed at the Jewish Military Museum in London. This plaque was originally unveiled by the Mayor of Sunderland at Moor Street Synagogue, Sunderland in 1922. It was moved to Ryhope Road Synagogue, upon the closure of which it was transferred to London. The inscription on the plaque reads: “In honoured memory of the undermentioned members of the Sunderland Jewish Community who made the Supreme Sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918.” This plaque was originally accompanied by the British Jewry Book of Honour with the names of the fallen inscribed.

Civil Parish: Sunderland

Birth date: 1892

Death date: 23-Apr-1917

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: 5 Egerton Street (1901 census)
23 Foyle Street, Sunderland (1911 census)
7 Rectory Street, Sunderland (Address of mother at time of Joseph’s death)

Education: Cowan Terrace Council School
Bede Higher Grade school

Religion: Jewish

Employment: Shop Assistant – Furniture (1911 census)

Family: Parents: Charles Gillis, S Gillis
Siblings: David Gillis, Esther Gillis, Solomon Gillis, Charles Gillis, Lionel Gillis, C Gillis

Military service:

4th Battalion, Yorkshire Hussars (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ Own)
Service Numbers 8515, 235140

Medal(s): Victory Medal
British War Medal

Memorial(s): Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
Book of Remembrance, Holy Trinity church, Sunderland
Brass plaque, Jewish Military Museum, London

Gender: Male

Contributed by Sam - Durham University Intern | Fiona Johnson