LOST AT POZIERES

On May 12 1915, a 21 year old  clerk with the New South Wales shire of Murrumbidgee enlisted in World War I. His name was Eric Richard Conolly. He became a member of the 3rd Battalion A.I.F.

ERIC RICHARD CONOLLY

ERIC RICHARD CONOLLY    (Photo courtesy of David Conolly)

Initially, Private Conolly served at Gallipoli, and was on the Peninsula when the Anzacs made their strategic evacuation in December 1915.  He was then among the first of the Anzacs to be sent to fight on the Western Front in France.  After a period of hospitalization in May 1916  for the unpleasant condition of mumps, he returned to the front line, where he operated a Lewis machine gun.

Towards the end of July, a  fierce battle began for possession of  the village of Pozières.  On July 26, Private Conolly was killed in action. Over a period of six weeks, the three Australian Divisions at Pozières would lose 6,800 men, as many deaths as in the entire eight month campaign at Gallipoli.

The nightmarish landscape at Pozieres after the battle.

The nightmarish landscape at Pozieres after weeks of  battle. (Wikipedia)

Military historian Charles Bean would later write,  ‘The Pozières ridge is more densely sown with Australian blood than any other place on earth.’   Eric’s parents were notified of their son’s death  by cable a few weeks later.

Eric Conolly

 

His grieving parents contacted the military authorities for news of how he died, and where he had been buried. It was not an easy task with war still  raging, but the Australian Red Cross did their best to find answers.  The 3rd battalion’s  Sergeant  Wilson was eventually able to help;

 

Cocoon,Conollyetc 002

 

More information was obtained from one of Eric’s mates, Corporal S.  Gordon, who almost died in the same incident;

Cocoon,Conollyetc 004

 

Like many others who fell during the battle, Eric’s grave near the village of Pozières has never been identified.  However, his name is listed on the beautiful memorial at Villiers-Bretonneux in France.

Villers Bretonne

Villers-Bretonneux Memorial Site.

It also appears on the  Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and on an honour roll in his hometown of Darlington Point, New South Wales.  It is shocking to see how many young men  this rural district  lost in WWI, but it was the same throughout the country. Eric’s first cousin, Lieutenant Charles McKenny Draper, also died at  Pozières, on August 6.

 

Private Eric Conolly

 

May they all rest peacefully.

 

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7 Comments
  1. So sad, Pauline – like so many others, he looks so young and innocent in that pre-war photo. Poor lad.
    Reading this I’ve just gone to my great-uncle’s WW1 diary to check dates and incidents. But his experience of having mates buried by a shell-burst at Pozieres is a few days later. On the 25th July for 2 days and nights he was in support of the action with his section of machine-gunners, and comments that, ‘The 8th Battn is reduced to 300, while the 5th can only muster 150 men…’
    No wonder CEW Bean made his comment about Pozieres – for the Australians it was a hellish place, reduced to grit and ashes by the bombardments, and ‘stinking of death’.
    Going there in more recent times, we found it hard to picture the devastation. But then we stopped for a coffee at a little bar-restaurant on the main street – and the place was full of memorabilia from the war, dug up from the fields around…
    It was clear from our conversation that the locals don’t forget the sacrifice that was made on their behalf. Small comfort, I know, but it’s genuine.

    • Pauline

      Hi Ann, I wrote the piece in great haste, because I wanted to post it on the centenary of Eric Conolly’s death. Only received the photo from David Conolly that morning.My great-uncle Arthur Singleton was also at Pozieres in another battalion, and Eric Conolly’s first cousin died there on August 6. What a dreadful mess it was. Read somewhere that German soldiers were weeping as they mowed down the men. On a more uplifting note, the school in Villers-Bretonneux was built with donations from school children from Victoria and the French pupils still sing Waltzing Matilda every morning.

  2. I have a few personal family members who fought in World War 1 & 2. What I have observed is that in both World Wars, Australian, and perhaps New Zealand soldiers, were the predominant personnel placed in the front line wherever a raging battle was taking place. That’s just an observation; but when I read the numbers of men killed from what was a small population of our nation at the time, in the battle at Pozieres in World War 1, I can’t help but feel that my reckoning may be correct. Private Conolly was so young to die in battle. We should never forget him, and others, for their valor. It’s so sad that many died away from home and their loved ones.

    • Pauline

      Yes Heather, there were some terrible decisions made by military commanders. What a tragedy that the world the men fought for is still in such a mess.

  3. Hi Pauline. I love your website and you have many fantastic posts. I gravitated here & love this. It’s so sad and tragic, as war is, but it’s such a lovely post to have written as we get to see this particular soldier, learn of his name and remember. So important to remember what they did for each of us. Great post & congrats! Best wishes.
    One thing, I think all nations were on the front line at some place or other. I know this to be true from my own research, although it can seem as if it were pinned to one particular country, it was not, and it was the same in WW2. Canadians fought in the air and on the ground with British, American, Australians etc, until both wars were over. I think what you say above is relevant, Pauline – military commanders made a number of horrific mistakes, and WW1 was so awful. “Going over the top” was suicide too. And i agree that it’s tragic that the world today remains in turmoil. Let’s hope that one day there will be peace. Best wishes. 🙂

  4. So sad. Its wonderful that he is remembered with love and gratitude.

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