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