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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jack's Diary - 1 April 1915 to 24 April 1915

1st April: Reviewed by Sir Ian Hamilton.

3rd April: All leave stopped. Went to Cairo to get money from the bank. Had a tight squeeze to get through on a crook pass. Also had a job to get money owing to not having my identification disc with me. Left camp at 6pm to entrain for destination unknown. Arrived Alexandria 5am. Went aboard “Minnewaska”. Rumoured we are going to Dardenelles. Loading goods all day. J. Cairns and I got out and went up town. Got back about an hour before we left the wharf and anchored in mid stream.

10th April: Left 6am and steamed into Mediteranian Sea. Weather a bit choppy.

11th April: Bit of a swell on. Feel a bit sick. Making straight for Dardenelles where we are to land and take Constantinople.

12th April: Arrived at Lemnos Island where we remain awaiting orders. Greeks came alongside selling fruit which was very acceptable.
14th April: Still anchored in harbour of Ladros. Great fleet of troopships, man of wars, submarines, etc in port awaiting orders.
Went ashore at Lemnos today in ships boat and marched through Greek village. Very picturesque and clean, a contrast to arab villages we been accustomed to see. Saw a number of humped cattle. Had lunch ashore and then returned to Minnewaska. Met Tom Whiteley from Bega and Colin Hall from Attunga aboard.
(1st Btn boat drill Lemnos Harbour.umpCAPJKK9P)
17th April: Went ashore today and had a good walk around island. It is very pretty country. The hills are very green and covered with pretty wild flowers. Everewhere are green fields of wheat and growing thickly between the stalks are beautiful red poppies.
We marched through the village of Madros. The houses are built of stone with tiled roof are very close together but look clean and picturesque and remind me of picture I have seen of a Swiss village. There are soldiers everywhere, English, French and Australians. The Harbour is a fine sight from the hills being almost crammed with troopships, man of wars, submarines, etc. we return to the ship about 3pm. Our chaps captured a Turk spy yesterday and brought him aboard.

18th April (Sunday): General Birdwood spoke a few words to us. He is a fine stamp of a man and one couldn't help but like him. A seaplane flew around the harbour this afternoon. It was a fine sight.
Historical Comment
General Birdwood clearly understood that the Australian soldier was different in attitude to his English counterpart and, therefore, needed to be handled differently.
Chapter 7 of Beans “History” describes some of the qualities of General Birdwood.

"From the first day when, strolling round the Zoological Gardens at Gizeh, he found many an Australian youngster gazing at the cages, he chatted simply to them, chaffed them, and treated them not as professional soldiers, but as the natural human beings they always were. Moreover he never made the mistake of setting before them low or selfish ideals. His appeal to them from first to last was based upon the highest and most honourable grounds. Sometimes he asked too much of them, but he always asked it for a worthy reason-the general good for which the allies were fighting. And that was always the way to appeal to the Australian. Birdwood was ambitious, but he was a man of intense uprightness. If he realised that a thing was wrong, nothing would induce him to do it. Above all he possessed the quality, which went straight to the heart of Australians, that of extreme personal bravery.
All these attributes made Birdwood a rare leader-undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders of men possessed by the British Army during the war. Though of good general sense and ability, he was probably not outstanding as a tactician, nor had he the cast of mind peculiar to an organiser. His delight was to be out in the field among his men, cheering them by his talk, feeling the pulse of them. He would come back from the front apparently far more interested in the spirits and condition of the men than in the tactical situation. Indeed the importance which he attached to small things was constantly a puzzle to outsiders. He wrote personally to every officer who was decorated, and his correspondence with anxious or distressed relations in Australia was enormous. When addressing the men, he constantly concluded, with a smile : “And, mind, whatever you do, write regularly to your mothers and wives and sweethearts because, if you don't, they will write to me.’’

24th April: Left Harbour of Ladros 5am. Anchored north of Lemnos Island. Expect to land on Gallipoli Peninsula tomorrow morning.

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