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, February 7, 2009

For Family History Buffs

Just when I thought this story was done and dusted, when all the bits had tumbled tumbled into place and the time had come to move on, my self-satisfied complacency was jolted from its perch.

Let's Recap.

The hero of our story, Jack Reilly, was born JOHN BERNARD REILLY in 1890 in Candelo NSW. The NSW Births Deaths & Marriages database confirms these details and notes his parents as Peter V & Janet M Reilly. (Peter V Reilly married Janet M E Dansey at Bega NSW in 1888.) There is no evidence of any other John B Reilly being born at Candelo, or anywhere near, at any other time that may be relevant to our little puzzle.

In 1930, the Commonwealth Electoral Roll lists a John Bernard Reilly residing at 16 Shepherd St Darlington NSW (a Sydney suburb). He is described as "retired". Living at the same address is one Arthur James Reilly, Labourer.

Australian War Memorial records identify an Arthur James Reilly, Service No. 3410, embarking for overseas service in 1916 with the 1st Pioneer Battalion, 8th Reinforcements. This record notes Arthur's father as Peter V. Reilly. NSW Births Deaths & Marriages confirms the birth in 1892 of Arthur J Reilly, at Candelo NSW, to Peter V and Janet M Reilly.

On the basis of this evidence, it is reasonable to surmise that the two Reilly boys at Darlington in Sydney are brothers and that the John Bernard Reilly at that address is our Jack. Furthermore, it would seem equally reasonable that the term "retired" could be interpreted to being in receipt of a War Pension, suggesting that Jack had continued to suffer from his experiences during the war.

We have earlier noted Jack's marriage, in 1931, to Rose Kirk (Rose Florence Agnes Kirk). The 1936 Electoral Roll shows their address as Cnr Torrington Rd and Marine Pde, Maroubra NSW (just across the road from Maroubra Beach). Jack is described in this record as a "shopkeeper" and Rose as "home duties".

A Mystery

The website contains a small number of family tree records which show a John B Reilly, born 1890 at Candelo NSW, marrying one Eveline B Campion at Eden NSW in 1906 (NSW Birth Death & Marriage records confirm this marriage, together with the birth of EVELYNE B CAMPION at Eden in 1886 to William E and Margaret Campion).

Subsequently, official records describe the birth of Elsie B Reilly, at Cowra NSW in 1908, to John B and Eveline B Reilly. These records later record the death of Elsie at Broken Hill in 1913. Broken Hill Cemetary archives also note the passing of ELSIE NUALLA RIELLY (note spelling) on the 4th of March 1913 and her internment in the Catholic Section on March the 5th.

It should be noted that, on his enlistment papers in 1914, Jack records his marital status as single and provides his mother's name as next of kin. However, official records note that an Evelline Birch Reilly (father being William E) did not depart from this life until 1958.

Who was this Eveline and what connection does she have to our story about Jack? Was Jack's marriage to Rose of questionable legal status, as is suggested by the evidence and assumptions thus far?

Mystery Solved

At first glance, the fact that there is only one record of the birth of a John B Reilly circa late 1800's, the fact that he was born at Candelo NSW (not far from Eden), the fact of the Reilly/Campion marriage at Eden NSW, and the fact of the birth of Eveline Campion also at Eden, would combine to lead to a reasonable conclusion that this record of events was correct. If such were to be the accepted interpretation, it must be concluded that the marriage of Jack to Rose in 1931 was, in fact, an act of bigamy!

But it always pays to take that extra step and check a little further. That step, in this case, saved Jack from being soundly defamed.

The 1930 Electoral Roll records the enrollment of Evelyn Birch Reilly, Albert St Taree NSW, "home duties". The same Roll records one John Bartholomew Reilly, Albert St Taree NSW, Sergeant of Police.

The 1936 Electoral Roll records the enrollment of Evelyn Birch Reilly, 51 Roscoe St Bondi NSW, "home duties" and John Bartholomew Reilly, 51 Roscoe St Bondi NSW, "no occupation".

NSW archives record the passing of John Bartholomew Reilly in 1966 and note his parents as Daniel and Catherine Reilly. These archives also record the birth of eleven children to Daniel & Catherine Reilly, from 1871 to 1897. Three were born at Camden NSW and the remaining eight at Cowra NSW. Yet there is no record of the marriage of Daniel and Catherine and no record of the birth of John Bartholomew.

It would not be unreasonable to conclude that Daniel & Catherine were married in the UK, presented a son, John Bartholomew, and subsequently migrated to NSW. (There is a record of a Catherine Reilly aged 20 arriving in Sydney in 1867 with her 3 year old son John. It was not unusual for a husband to precede his family in those times.)

It is not the job of this journal to follow the family history of those not connected with our tale. However, it is safe to conclude that we have located the John B Reilly who took the hand of Eveline Campion in marriage in 1906 at Eden. That John B was John Bartholomew Reilly, son of Daniel & Catherine, born about 1864 in the UK.

Our John B Reilly can rest in our memories as continuing, in 1906, to enjoy his youth in the dairy country of Bega as he unwittingly prepared for the horrors to come. We can also take comfort that he was able to find love and companionship in his final years.


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