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.

My Photo
Location: Canberra, ACT, Australia

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Postscript To War

Some years ago a nice little movie was made called “Sliding Doors”. Its thesis was that each of us is confronted during our life with a series of “sliding doors” and the life experience we enjoy, or suffer, is a consequence of which door we pass through. Some of us may simplify the discussion by reference to “forks in the road”, or “choices”. Whichever term we adopt, there is little doubt that we have arrived at any particular point in our lives as a result of the choices we make along the way. (I guess this could result in deep philosophical argument, but lets not get too complicated.)

Similarly, as we travel those roads and make those choices, many of us leave clues, consciously or otherwise, to show that we have passed that way. Sometimes these clues are obscure, making the search difficult for those who follow.

So it is that we must accept the fact that, had Guglielmo Marconi and others not chosen to take the road leading to the invention of the wireless, or an English ploughman not stolen a horse in the late 1820's, this tale may not have been told.

In 1830 William Favell, Ploughman, arrived in Van Diemans Land transported for life for horse theft. He was to die in Hobart in 1842, without ever seeing his family again. However, in 1841 his son arrived and settled in Sydney with his young wife.

Years later, in June 1894 Frank Edward Favell, a descendant of William Favell, was born in Sydney NSW. Prior to WW1, Frank trained as a boilermaker and served in the Militia as a signaler. Upon his enlistment in 1914, Frank was posted to the 1st Division Signal Company and, in late 1914, sailed in the transport ship “Borda” for Egypt.

It is reasonable to surmise that, with his extended signals training, 181 Sapper Frank Favell was one of the more experienced personnel in a small unit, and would therefore be one of only a few trained in wireless operation at that time.

(At the outbreak of the First World War, the use of wireless for military communication was in its infancy. These early wireless sets, also sometimes called “Marconi Sets”, were not like your modern MP3. They were large cumbersome units the size of a medium refrigerator, draped with wires and aerials and attached to other devices required to generate power.)

John Bernard Reilly was born at Candelo, on the NSW South Coast, in 1890. Known as Jack to his family and friends, he was the son of a dairy farmer, although he subsequently chose a career with the NSW Railways.

As his employment required him to change location from time to time, he was in Murrurrundi when he, with thousands of other Australian men, volunteered for military service in August 1914. Arriving in Sydney with a batch of other recruits, he was posted to the 1st Battalion and commenced his training at Randwick. On the 18th of October 1914, the 1st Battalion with 199 Private Jack Reilly sailed in the “Afric” to join that great Armada assembling at Albany for the charge across the Indian Ocean.

Unknown to each other, Jack Reilly and Frank Favell cruised toward mayhem and glory.

Many of those who served during the First World War kept a written record of their thoughts and experiences. The Australian War Memorial is custodian to some of these precious documents, yet many have been lost or, at best, lie undiscovered in dusty collections of family artifacts. Attempts are being made to locate a diary thought to have been left by Frank Favell. However, recently to hand is a copy of a diary kept by Jack Reilly. It is two brief notes in this diary that form the basis for this little tale.

In his entry for November 28, 1914, Jack tells us of a “wireless received”. Again, on January 4, 1915, he mentions that he is “still with Headquarters Signalers training”. Given the small size of the 1st Division Signal Company and the level of technical knowledge required for wireless operation, it seems reasonable to guess that Jack would have met, known and been trained by Frank, amongst others.

At about 6am on the morning of the 25th of April 1915, Frank Favell struggled ashore at ANZAC Cove with No. 2 Section of the 1st Division Signals Company. Their task was to establish and maintain communications. Approximately 90 minutes later, the 1st Battalion, with Jack Reilly's A Company, landed in the same vicinity to commence an herendous four days of chaos and horror.

Jack was seriously wounded during the night of May 19/20 while repelling a massive Turkish counter attack. He was evacuated and subsequently recovered to serve the remainder of the war in England and France. He returned to Australia in 1919, but died at a relatively young age in 1942.

Frank was wounded at Lone Pine in August and was evacuated from Gallipoli shortly after. He eventually returned to Australia and was medically discharged in 1916. Twelve months later he re-enlisted and served in the Middle East, where he was again wounded. Frank lived to a good age, passing away in 1967.

Decades after the end of WW1, in the mid seventies, Anthony (Tony) Favelle (yes, an “e” was added in the 1920s) was born in Gosford NSW. Tony is a direct descendant of the William Favell mentioned above, transported to Van Diemans Land, and thus related to Frank Favell. In the same year Lisa Clements was born in Canberra. Lisa is related, on her mothers side, to Jack Reilly. In 2001, Tony and Lisa were married and their first child, a son, was born in mid 2008.

While we cannot credit Frank and Jack's brief association with Tony and Lisa's marriage, we would not have discovered the connection had Jack Reilly not chosen to put his experiences on paper. Nevertheless, this tale does serve to remind us that our ancestors made certain choices which mapped their lives and provided the foundation for our own.

It is possible some of those “maps” rest uneasily in that pile of old boxes “out back”. Perhaps we should dust them off and take a peak!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home