Colonel Sir James Gildea

Military Officer / Philanthropist / Humanitarian

Sir Gildea Military Award
The Times Newspaper
Flag of British Army
St. John Ambulance HQ.

This Military Officer was a C.B. C.V.O, K.C.V.O, G.B.E.  He founded S.S.F.A. during 1885. Col. Gildea wrote a letter to The Times newspaper on behalf of the families of Soldiers and Sailors on active service.[i]

James Gildea was born in Kilmaine, Co. Mayo in 1838. He was son of James, (Gologh & Fort Royal, High Sherriff of Co. Mayo and Grandson of Rev. George, Provost of Tuam.  The Gildea Estate is listed in Landed Estates, (see below 1). He received his education at St. Columba’s College, Dublin also Pembroke College, Cambridge, Great Britain. He was an extremely successful philanthropist. From 1885 to his demise he served as Chairman & Treasurer of his first Foundation. He acted as Organizing Secretary of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nurses from 1890 to 1895. He was Founder and one time Treasurer of St. John’s Ambulance Association. He received a Knighthood during 1902 in the British Commonwealth. [ii]


His chosen career was the military. Gildea wrote a letter of petition to ‘The Times Newspaper.’ [iii]  During the Franco–Prussian War (1870 – 1871) Gildea served with an ambulance unit, he also worked with the National Society for Aid to the Sick & Wounded in war.  Later he raised money for families of those killed in the 1879 Zulu War (1,722 British soldiers killed with 256 wounded) and during the second Afghan war of 1890 (1,630 British soldiers killed or wounded).  James Gildea rose to the rank of Major & Colonel in his chosen career.  He commanded the 6th Militia Battalion at Royal Warwickshire Regiment from 1890 to 1898. [iv]


Gildea founded the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association during 1885, with Princess Alexandra as Founding President (for thirty years) which later was renamed to add Airmen to the title during 1919. This S.S.F.A. that Gildea worked with (without remuneration also refusing a salary of 600 hundred pounds in 1889) had as Honorary Secretary his daughter Kathleen (1866 – 1951) followed by her husband Sir George Edward Wickham Legg for over thirty years. Gildea founded the Royal Homes for Officers’ Widows’ and Daughters’ at Wimbledon, England.  [v]


In the New Years honours list of 1898 Col. James Gildea was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). He was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (C V O) during 1901, was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (K C V O) during 1908.  In the 1920 Civilian War Honours Gildea was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Empire (G B E).  He was the recipient of the King Edward and Queen Alexandra personal Gold Medal.[vi]


Script of letter to the Times – Edition –Monday February 23 1885

 As the Second Expeditionary Force set sail for Egypt Major Gildea wrote a forceful letter to the Times appealing for Funds and Volunteers to look after the Service Families left behind.  Within three months, the charity was born and the then Princess of Wales (the future Queen Alexandra) was appointed President.  By the end of the first year; two hundred and thirty – one Women and four hundred and sixty – six Children had received grants totaling five hundred and fifteen pounds and ten shillings.

Sir,-Ample provision having been made under recent
regulations for the relief of the widows and orphans of
our soldiers and sailors who may be killed or die of disease
or of wounds in war, a further responsibility and duty
now devolves on the country in seeing that the wives and
children of those ordered on active service are not
altogether forgotten, or that the cry of poverty and want
be not added to that of suspense and anxiety. The Government
“Separation,” allowance, together with that stopped
from the pay of the soldier himself, is for his wife 1 s. and
for each child 3 d. per day; whereas no provision whatever
is made for the many respectable women, married with or
without leave, who are not on the strength of the regiment.
For both I would venture to make an earnest appeal, but
especially for the latter, wholly unprovided for, and who
in a somewhat extended experience in the distribution of
former funds, I have invariably found a most deserving class.
I shall be glad to receive subscriptions and to’ hear
from any who would be glad to help in this movement.

All amounts received will be acknowledged in the daily
I have the honour, to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
JAMES GILDEA, Major, late ‘Treasurer and Hon.
Sec. Zulu, Afghan, Bombay, and Indian Patriotic
20, Phillimore•gardeus, W., Feb. 21.

Other Sources

NUIG – Landed Estate Database – Gildea

[i] – James Gildea 

[ii] -James Gildea

[iii] The ‘TIMES,’ MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 1885

[iv] – James Gildea 

[v] – History

[vi] -James Gildea

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