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 May 1915 to 6 June 1915

1st May: Still resting at the base but expect to return to the firing line this afternoon. Left the base 7pm and returned to firing line.

2nd May: Still in trenches – things a bit quiet – plenty of bullets wizzing about but only an occasional shell. Our trench is on a hill at the top of a deep ravine. The ascent is so steep that we have to climb up on a rope about a hundred yards long. The rest is cut with steps. Went down in the gully this afternoon and made some tea. Met Ted Smith & P. Wise from Tamworth and had a yarn while the billy boiled. I forgot to enter that cousin Pat was wounded in the head last Sunday but not seriously. You can imagine what it was like here the first two days after we landed. When the roll was called there was only four hundred left in the 1st Battalion, that is 6 hundred killed & wounded. Although we had such a hot tome I came through without a scratch. The nearest touch I had was when a bullet penetrated the iron cap of my entrenching tool handle and remained in the wood.

9th May: Still in the firing line. We do 18 hours and then have 24 off, when we can boil our billys & cook our food. We are getting excellent food every day. We get tinned meat & vegetables, bacon, cheese & jam, with biscuits. I am in splendid health, never had such an appetite before. We are holding the Turks back now with ease. In some places our trenches are only 15 yards apart. The Turks have trench overlooking the gully up which our stores are brought & they have snipers picking off our men as they go along. One day they shot 14 stretcher bearers. We also have to go there for water. I have to laugh when I think of it, that every time one has to go for water one has to give the beggars a shot at oneself.

13th May: Light Horse landed yesterday & came up to reinforce us. I suppose they won't like doing infantry work. I saw Tas Bland. Went into trenches 7am. Very quiet so far. Can hear our fleet bombarding the Dardenelles. They shelled our trench. One burst & killed Lance Cpl MacKenzie & wounded another man. One missed Sam Weingott & I by inches and entered the bank on opposite side making a hole 5ft deep & 9 ins in diameter.

14th May: Light Horse in action. Saw Dick Edwards, Ted Weppler & Jim Greenwood. Did 18 hrs in the trenches. Had 6 hrs rest and now in again for 24 hrs. H. Reeve returned from hospital. He had been slightly wounded in the head. Snipers very busy in the gully. Another of our chaps killed in the trenches this afternoon, shot through the head. Brideson was shot by a sniper yesterday afternoon quite close to me. The bullet entered his groin and looked very bad.

Historical Comment

19-20 May 1915

CW Bean leads us into the events of this period:

At Anzac............. the foothold of the invaders was so slight that, in the opinion of the Turkish staff, a trifling success must drive them back to the sea.
“ The position at Anzac,” wrote the chief of the Turkish general staff after the war, “was without parallel in history. The opposing trenches were so close together, and the line of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was very close to the sea. Consequently they were much confined, and would make every effort to enlarge their position.”
For these reasons von Sanders decided, as he himself states, to drive away his enemy from Anzac at least by “one last decisive attack.” Fresh Turkish troops for this offensive became available about the middle of May. “The plan,” writes Kiazim Pasha, “was to attack before day-break, drive the Anzac troops from their trenches, and follow them down to the sea.”
The Turkish troops were to be secretly massed during the night of the 18th, and at 3.30, while it was still dark, were to rush at all points and at the same moment across the narrow space separating the opposing lines. During the night of May 18th the final dispositions were carried out. The actual infantry numbered about 42,000.
“The divisions,” says Kiazim Pasha, “were good. The 2nd and 16th were fresh; the other two had taken part in all the previous fighting.”
On May 18th, for the first time since the Landing, the Turkish rifle-fire at Anzac dwindled, until for minutes together, scarcely a shot was fired. The strange peacefulness of the day was for a long time broken only by the activity of the newly-emplaced Turkish 8-inch howitzer on Chunuk Bair, which regularly threw its heavy shell into Courtney’s Post and the head of Monash Valley.
At 5 p m , however, the enemy opened from all sides the heaviest bombardment yet experienced at Anzac. This storm fell chiefly upon the Australian line from the Pimple northwards to Courtney’s, the shells arriving from south, east, and north. The orderly room of the 2nd Battalion was hit; from a position on Mortar Ridge three guns were fired against the line of the 1st Brigade on MacLaurin’s Hill, their crews and the officers directing them being plainly visible from Scott’s Trench, which they enfiladed at 600 yards range.

So the scene is set for this Turkish attempt to end the stalemate at Anzac. They did succeed in keeping their arrangements secret but there was a strong suspicion amongst the Anzacs at all levels that something was up. Accordingly, the men were stood too at 3am and plans were made for reserves to be ready if needed.

The story of what took place, as we can read in Jack's diary, generally describes what happened all along the line from around 3.30 am until a little after 5am on the 20th. In that short space of time some 10000 Turkish soldiers died. Over the next 24 hours or so the Turkish commanders attempted to renew the attack here and there, but enthusiasm was tempered by the incredible losses.

This attack did lead to a temporary truce on May 24, to allow for the burying of the dead, but Jack had left the field of battle by that time.


19th May: enemy shelling our trenches all day with 8.2 gun (“Jack Johnsons”). It was awful. Some of our chaps were blown to pieces. They made a mess of our trench and we expect an attack tonight.

20th May: the enemy attacked us at 3am and we gave them hell. Charlie Lee & I were together in the firing line and we had the sport of our lives. It was hard to miss them. They came up in swarms like lambs to the slaughter and all was necessary was to hold the rifle & fire. Some of the Turks Charlie & I shot are only 4 or 5 yards from our trench. We shot them down so quickly that the few who were left turned and fled and we shot them before they could get back. One Turk got into our trench & bayoneted two before he was shot. The attack lasted three hours and we slaughtered thousands. They are lying dead in heaps from one end of the firing line to the other (2 miles). Had a narrow escape about 6am. A bullet hit me on the back of the neck and passed through the collar of my coat without doing any harm. Fairly quiet all day. Expect another attack tonight.

9pm: On sentry in the firing line. Saw two Turks creeping up to throw bombs and I shot both of them.

3am: (21 May 1915) Expecting the attack & everybody ready. I am lying on the top of the parapet with bayonet fixed and loaded. When I got hit it felt as if I got hit in the face with a hammer which knocked me off the top into the bottom of the trench and then oblivion. Was only unconcious a few minutes, and was very surprised to find I was not dead. Got on my feet with assistance. They called for stretcher bearers but I said I could walk but I only got a few yards when I fainted from loss of blood. The Doctor patched me up and I went, with a stretcher bearer's assistance, to the field hospital on the beach, where I had my wounds dressed. They gave me some “borrie” and a cigarette. Needless to say I smoked two coming down. I was then put in a boat and taken to the Hospital Ship about 5 miles out. I was glad of a rest as I had no sleep for 2 days and nights. Met Joe Dietze on board. He did not recognise me I was in such a mess. Remained several days waiting for more wounded. Came round by Greek coast to Lemnos Island where we stayed a couple of days and took on more wounded. We were nine days reaching Alexandria. Had a terrible time with my eye which was most painful. Entrained for Cairo. On the way the nurses gave us tea and bread and butter, oranges and cigarettes. Arrived at Heliopolis about 8pm. Taken by motor to the Palace. Was then motored to Luna Park Hospital.

6th June: still in Hospital – doing fine – wounds all fine but have bullet in jaw to be taken out.

This is the last entry in Jack's diary.



Jack appears to have made his last diary entries after the events he was recording. Not surprising considering the somewhat hectic time being experienced at Gallipoli and his subsequent wounds. As a result, his recollection of his last 48 hours at Gallipoli is actually one day ahead of actual events. Jack was wounded, and the action which caused his wounds, on the 20th of May 1915, not the 21st. This is supported by his Service Record, the 1st Battalion War Diary and the commentary of C W Bean, Official Historian.

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