Silent Heroes - 199 Sgt John Reilly

A couple of years ago I was shown a photocopy of a handwritten diary detailing some of the 1st World War experiences of a young man from Bega, NSW, John (Jack) Bernard Reilly. This diary is not in the collection of the Australian War Memorial at the time of writing. This is Jack's story.

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Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jack Reilly's War - Preface

For Australia, the First World War commenced with the Australian Government's announcement that it would commit substantial numbers of troops to assist the “mother country”. Tens of thousands of men – mostly young and native born – lined up to enlist within weeks of that announcement.
Ultimately, 1/3 of a million men (and women), from a population of a little over 5 million, enlisted.
In 1914 Australia's military forces were small, with the army largely based on a part time citizen militia. While there were a few who had served in the Boer War some 14 years earlier and some others – mainly officers and senior NCO's – who had served in the British army , the majority of those who enlisted had no military or combat experience.
Those who joined up in 1914 had an expectation that this would be the adventure of a lifetime. They would see the world (normally an impossible dream for most), give the Kaiser a quick thrashing and return home as heroes. Their wildest dreams would not have prepared them for what was to come!
What follows is the story of one of those men – 199 Private (later Sergeant) John Bernard Reilly. While Jack Reilly served throughout the entire war, he has left us his reflections in the form of a diary covering the period from enlistment to early June 1915. These reflections form the basis for our story. However, in order to assist the reader have an enhanced experience of the events described by Jack, I have included historical notes and a small number of photographs from a number of sources. Moreover, as a result of the National Archives of Australia providing WW1 service records in digitised form, Jack's journey to war's end has also been chronicled for the reader's information.
Jack Reilly's War is the first part of The Silent Heroes Project.

Jack's Mates
Throughout his diary, Jack makes mention of many of those with whom he comes into contact. Apart from historical figures such as generals, national leaders, etc, the diary includes the names of 38 other individuals. I have managed to trace the records of 37 of these servicemen and a brief description has been included to lift these characters from the shadows of anonymity. A future volume of The Silent Heroes Project will be dedicated to providing the story of these 37 in more detail.

Historical Twist
Those readers who are students of history, particularly family history, will be well aware of the twists, turns and co-incidences to be discovered. This story is no exception and an interesting twist is described in the final chapter.

Unsolved Mystery
The front cover of Jack's hand written diary shows, after his name, the letters C de G. This is usually the abbreviation for the Croix de Guerre.
The Croix de Guerre was awarded by both the French and Belgium governments and the award was received by many Australian and Empire troops. It could be awarded for a number of reasons, from an award for particular services to acts of bravery or meritorious conduct.
Sadly, I have been unable to trace any record of this award to Jack Reilly. This does not mean he did not receive such an award. It is much more likely that records are incomplete, missorted or mislaid. Perhaps others may be able to solve this mystery.

History's Lesson
A moment's reflection by a student of history will undoubtedly bring to mind the sad fact that the lesson's of history are rarely learned. The vanity of humanity and our perpetual pursuit of that which is possessed by others, under whatever guise, provides the smoke that effectively screens any clarity of vision or effective enlightenment.
The following is a direct quote from Appendix VII from The Official History of The First World War by Charles Bean. Decide for yourselves.

“After the war of 1914-18 there came to the notice of some
Australians the existence in the National Museum at Athens of
a memorial to members of an earlier force which had served its
country in the Dardanelles. On a marble monument are the
names of twenty-eight Athenians, grouped under the names of
their “tribes” (that is of their electoral divisions), as well as of
others who fell at Byzantium (which 750 years later became
Constantinople) and elsewhere. In the Manuel of Greek
Historical Inscriptions (Hicks and Hill, Clarendon Press, Oxford,
England) the editors conjecture that the fighting at the Dardanelles
(or Hellespont) took place in 440 B.C. when the people-or
aristocracy-of Samos revolted against the Athenian democracy,
and the colony of Byzantium also took the opportunity to
revolt. In a sea and land war, in which Pericles and the poet
Sophocles both served as leaders , the Athenians won.”
On a slab of marble across both columns of the monument is an inscription in Ancient Greek.
This has been translated, I believe by the late Christopher
Brennan, as follows:

These by the Dardanelles laid down their shining youth
In battle and won fair renown for their native land,
So that their enemy groaned carrying war’s harvest from the field-
But for themselves they founded a deathless monument of valour.

Another Australian suggested a shortened version to commemorate
others who fell on the same shores 2355 years later:

They gave their shining youth, and raised thereby
Valour’s own monument which cannot die.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have any more details on Norman Byron Fraser who is mentioned??? I have only recently found out he is a relative of mine... and I am trying to track down some info.

September 24, 2011 at 10:41 AM  

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