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 - 25 April 1915 to 29 April 1915

Historical Comment
For those who landed on Gallipoli at the commencement of the campaign, the period from 25 – 29 April was one of desperate struggle.

(Morning 25.4.15 1st Btn below Plugges Plateau, ANZAC Cove)
There had been a plan, a grand plan. The plan said that the British and French should land at Cape Helles on the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsular and that the Anzacs should land further north, around Gabe Tepe, about halfway up the coast towards Suvla Bay.
The plan said the the Turk wouldn't have the “ticker” for a serious resistance.

The plan said that the British/French forces would join with the Anzac troops and sweep easily into Constantinople. The plan was wrong.

The plan didn't count on the skill of the German commander of the Turkish forces, General von Sanders.

The plan didn't count on the courage and determination of the Turkish commander facing the Anzacs, Mustafa Kemal, later to become Kemal Attaturk, President of Turkey.

The plan didn't count on the desperate courage of the Turkish soldier, fighting for his homeland.

Finally, the plan didn't count on the Anzacs being dumped, bunched up and confused, on a narrow little cove with steep, gorse covered terrain immediately behind.

And there was no “Plan B”.

The Australian 3rd Brigade was tasked with being the first ashore and providing the covering force. That is, take the high country, secure the beach and hold on until reinforced. The 3rd Brigade was tough, largely made up of miners from Mount Morgan, Broken Hill, Moonta, the WA goldfields and Tasmanian tin mines. They took the heights and secured the beach, but to hold it would require great courage and enormous effort.

The men of Jack's 1st Battalion, waiting with a mixture of excitement and apprehension aboard the Minnewaska, could hear the gunfire and, as the sun rose, saw the figures of 3rd Brigade men silhouetted against the skyline on the heights overlooking the beach.

The 1st Battalion Diary for the 25th of April reads thus:

6.15am Commenced disembarkation
7.40am Landed without loss
8.00am Received orders to send company forward
8.35am B Company ordered forward but were halted
9.30am Received orders to reinforce Col. MacLagan of the 3rd Brigade
10am The whole battalion was thrown into the firing line and worked independently of battalion head quarters."

There are no further entries until the 29th when it is noted that “the battalion was withdrawn from the firing line to rest and reorganise”. It was then that the cost of those first four days become evident to all.

The 1st Battalion roll call on the 29th told the story as a little over 400 of the 973 officers and men who landed were present. Many simply disappeared, blown to fragments of rotting flesh, or lying unburied in no mans land, their scattered and anonymous bones not to be discovered until 1919, if then.

Whoever these men thought they were when they climbed into the landing boats on the 25th, the survivors were very different people four days later.
It Begins
By Laurie Favelle
On our own now, the launches gone,
With sailors bending to the oar.
In silence, with thoughts too deep,
We contemplate the coming chore!
It's a game no longer.
25th April 1915(Sunday): Landed on Gallipoli about 7am under fire and got a hot time. We had to advance and reinforce the 3rd Brigade. When we got to the top of the hill it was like hell. Shrapnel and explosive bullets rained on us like hail. A great many of our chaps were killed and wounded. Two of my best mates, Jim Adams and Bob Burns were severely wounded and I heard since that Bob had died.

29th April: The battle is still raging and the 1st Battalion has been relieved in the trenches and sent back to the base to rest. Had a bathe in the sea and had some tea which has greatly refreshed me. Thank God I am still safe, but I believe we have a hot time ahead yet.

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