We have received a note from Ben Guiden, the great nephew of Corporal Edward O’Reilly, who served with E Company 2 LIR in Tunisia and Italy and was killed near Cassino in the early afternoon of 16th May 1944, alongside his platoon commander on that day, Sergeant Edward Mayo MM.
In his note to us, Ben explained:
“I know very little about his life directly before the outbreak of war although I do know that Edward was born on 9th February 1920 in Mullaghbawn, Arva, County Cavan, Ireland. His parents were John Reilly and Bridget Brady. Edward ‘s family name was actually ‘Reilly’ and it wasn’t until he enlisted that his surname started to be documented as ‘O’Reilly’. He was the son of a farmer and the third youngest of eight children – he was the youngest son. I would imagine he worked extensively on the farm being one of only two sons. As he was so young when he enlisted, he never married. I was only 7 when my grandmother passed away, so I never asked her about him and I didn’t even know about him then. I’m told my Nana had his Military Medal in her house and am also told that she mentioned Edward from time to time. They were very close in age.”
It seems that Edward, with army number 7014328, joined up in Northern Ireland in 1939 as a volunteer at the age of 19 or 20 and served with 2 LIR throughout the Irish Brigade’s campaigns in Tunisia, Sicily and along the Adriatic coast of mainland Italy. It was during the final day of fighting for the brigade in Sicily near Maletto that his remarkable actions, as a Lance Corporal with No 8 Platoon in E Company, led to the award of the Military Medal which was confirmed later in the year:
“This NCO was with a leading section on the attack on Sperina on 12 Aug ’43. His section was earlier held up by enemy snipers, MGs and Mortars. Using great skill and in spite of continual sniping and MG fire, this NCO stalked an enemy post and single-handedly cleared it and took ten prisoners. He then forced two of his prisoners to dismantle an MG in a second post which he had also cleared.
This action was instrumental in allowing the remainder of his Platoon to move forward and reach their objective. L/Cpl O’Reilly set a fine example throughout the day and his skill and daring are deserving of recognition. I recommend the immediate award of the MM.”
On the fateful day of 16th May 1944, E Company 2 LIR, led by Major Mervyn Davies, formed one of the spearheads of the Irish Brigade’s advance and attack on the German strongpoints at Sinagoga, about 5 miles south of the town of Cassino. After some bitter fighting, the Gustav Line was successfully pierced by the London Irish Rifles and it was while the men were withdrawing for rest that a nebelwerfer strike killed both Edward O’Reilly and Eddie Mayo.
Major Davies would later write about these events:
“I returned to the company’s position in the wood as a dreadful Nebelwerfer stonk arrived. This killed two of the best men in the company: Sergeant Mayo MM and Corporal O’Reilly MM.”
Lt Colonel John Horsfall, 2 LIR’s commander at Sinagoga, also recalled that:
“E Company’s experience at Sinagoga was little better. Both of Mervyn’s subalterns were hit at the beginning of the attack and a dozen others of his men went down as it ended. Among them were Sergeant Mayo and Corporal O’Reilly who died in the assault – both distinguished veterans and both with the Military Medal.”
Edward O’Reilly is buried at Cassino CWGC cemetery alongside over four thousand other men with four thousand more named on the Memorial Panels and we regularly visit to pay our respects to all our father’s comrades and friends.
Further testimonial to the memory of Corporal O’Reilly and Sergeant Mayo came from our own father, CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan, when he wrote 65 years later about the events near Cassino. He had brought food up to E Company on the morning of 16th May 1944, prior to their assault on Sinagoga and what had happened that day was described to him later by some of those who had been present.
“There was a sombre mood that night among the battalion’s survivors. Major Davies, his voice breaking with emotion, described the morning’s events. E Company had reached its objective to the left of Sinagoga. Mayo ordered his men to dig in to prepare for German retaliation. After making his own slit trench, Mayo urged his riflemen to dig faster. He returned to his meagre redoubt with Corporal O’Reilly. There was the sudden scream of Nebelwerfer mortars. One howled towards Mayo’s trench and exploded. He and O’Reilly were instantly killed.”
Ben Guiden concluded his note by telling us:
“My grandmother’s name was Susan. She was the next child born after Edward – three years younger than him and would move to Dublin where she met my Granddad. I was up in Mullaghbawn, Arva, County Cavan a few weeks ago to see where all the Reilly family lived. Mullaghbawn is all farms and family homes now and it’s changed quite a bit since Edward’s days with much bigger houses aplenty in the area. If I ever come across any other information, e.g. from family members’ stories, I will let you know.”
77 years after the momentous events at Sinagoga, we remember Edward O’Reilly with great affection and will continue to do so.