The story of John Reilly, RUR, a Dunkirk veteran, later his unit held top German Officers for interrogation


John Reilly
John Reilly

John Reilly was born in Gilford in 1909 at Hill Street, (better known as Keady Row). He was the eldest of seven children of James and Ellen Reilly. He and the rest of the family all attended St John’s Primary School at Castle Hill.

He enlisted with the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1926 at Armagh’s Gough Barracks shortly after leaving school. His Army tour at the early stage of his career was mainly in Europe and Palestine before joining the reserve. At the outbreak of War in September 1939, he was called up for the expeditionary force and sent to France. As history tells us, they didn’t spend very long there and along with 330,000 other troops were taken off the beaches at Dunkirk, in May 1940 and returned to England. During this particular time he was missing for 6 or 7 days and his wife and family back in Gilford feared the worst.

He seldom talked about his experiences through the six years but did recall a funny and sad occasion both at Dunkirk. On the retreat to the beaches passing through various villages and towns he, along with others had filled pillow cases with spoils of war. The consequences of this action was more apparent when they reached the beaches and even in orderly formation moving to the small crafts, it was still every man for himself and the pillow case was dumped.

Also on the outskirts of the town he met a fellow Gilford man Andy Fullerton, manning a machine gun and advised him to get moving. Andy informed him that his section was the rearguard and that he couldn’t leave, that was the last time he was heard of.

On returning to the front, he was promoted to corporal and posted to North Africa with the 8th Army he spent some time there. His section was assigned to the Americans and they eventually moved into Sicily and fought their way up through Italy. He mentioned some famous sites towns and cities in Italy, Rome, Naples, Florence, etc. and the fighting around ‘Monte Cassino’ before entering Germany via Austria. At this particular time in history, the main body of R.U.R. was preparing for the ‘D’ Day landings in Normandy.

In the latter stages of the War in Germany, he was attached to a unit which apprehended and held top German Officers for interrogation. He eventually left the Army in 1946, and had been awarded a total of six decorations, including the Defence Medal, the Africa Star and the Italy Star.

After demobilisation he moved to Liverpool. He had completed a total of twenty years and one month service and would not finish the remaining eleven months, qualifying him for a full pension. His father’s famous quote to him was: ‘You were stupid to join the Army in 1926 and you were even more stupid to leave it in 1946’. He was offered a gratuity and promotion to Sergeant to remain, but declined saying ‘I just had enough’.