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 24, 2009

Jack's Diary - 2 November 1914 to 14 November 1914

2nd November: Sea a bit rough boat rolling. Three Mess orderlies slipped down stairs with dishes of stew. A lot of us were gathered at the foot of the stairs waiting and cheering in anticipation of more orderlies coming to grief. Half way down one fell and threw stew all over us.

3rd November: High seas and rain.

4th November: Sea very calm, weather hot. Commence sleeping up on deck.

5th November: Orient liner Osterley passed us about 6.30pm crowded with passengers. Gave & received another ovation.

8th November: Private Kendall buried from the Euripides.

9th November: Late King Edwards Birthday the day on which fresh laurels were added to Australia, Viz. The capture & destruction of the German cruiser Emden by HMAS Sydney, one of our escort. The Emden during the night had passed within 6 miles of our line.
The Sydney set off and engaged her near Cocos Island & the Emden had to run ashore to prevent sinking.
The Sydney pursued capture & then sank the Emden's collier. Our casualties were 4 killed & 20 wounded. Emden's were 200 killed & wounded. Emden fired 1400 shots. Great exhultation on board transports – nearing the Equator.
Historical Comment
Entry from CW Bean's Official History reads:

“The news had come at 9.30 from the Sydney, then not far beyond the horizon, that she had sighted the enemy’s ship, and that it was steaming northward. As this northerly course might bring the enemy across the convoy’s track, Captain Silver had ordered the Ibuki and Melbourne to place themselves between the transports and the point where the enemy’s cruiser then was. At 10.45 a further wireless message arrived from the Sydney : “Am briskly engaging enemy.” At I 1.10 came the signal : “Emden beached and done for.” Although most of those in the transports were fairly certain that the enemy must be the Emden, this was the first definite information of the fact. The news spread quickly round the ships. The relief that this destroyer of British merchant ships had been scotched, and the pride that an Australian ship had done it, were intense. The parades were half interrupted: attention wandered; where a subaltern continued to lecture, a ripple of conversation persisted through the rear ranks. An order from General Bridges broke off work and gave the troops a half holiday.”

10th November: Heat terrible cannot stay below decks. Several affected with heat stroke.
Historical Comment
1st Battalion War Diary entry for this day, “Issued special notice as to precautions against sun stroke.”

11th November: Boxing & wrestling sports on board.

13th November: Adams and Lomas had a fight. Adams got a black eye. Crossed the line at 8am. No parades. Large canvas bath erected for the purpose of christening those who had not crossed the line. We had a great time on deck thowing wet towell at one another. Jack Moir threw a dish of water over an officer. We also nearly drowned a sergeant. He was very indignant, but the more he expostulated the more wet towels & buckets of water he got & eventually he had to run.

14th November: Major Dawson's birthday celebrated by A Coy. The Major treated us to cake & beer. Lance Corp. Churchill proposed the health of the Major who responded & we all wished him many happy returns. Sighted coast of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at 1pm.

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