Eyes brown, Hair dark, Complexion dark
1885 to 1901 Irish-born Roman Catholic family
John Conway was born in the Longford Workhouse to labourer, James Conway and Mary Farrell on 9th April 1885. His brother, Michael, was born in the same workhouse seven years later in August 1892.
By the time of the 1901 Irish census, the Conway family, parents and two sons, were living in St Michael’s Road in Longford. Both John (18) and his father James (60) were listed as labourers while 9-year-old, Michael, was a scholar. Both sons could read and write and their mother, Mary (55) could read only; James could do neither.
1901 to 1913 serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers – Ireland, India
In May 1901, shortly after census night, John joined up with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, known as the Princess Victoria’s Regiment. His family – James, Mary and Michael – are listed as his next of kin, living at 8 St Michael’s Road, Longford.
In the 1911 census both brothers are shown as serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in Quetta in what was then called British India (now Pakistan).
John’s British Army service records (regimental number 7131) show that he signed up for, and completed, twelve years of service with the regiment, principally with their 2nd Battalion. He spent approximately eight of those years serving in British India and his record shows that he was promoted to corporal and sergeant on occasions but reverted to private due to conduct infractions. On his discharge in December 1913, his record was noted as being of very good character and that his future address was Australia.
Jan 1914 – Sep 1914 Australia – Instructional staff Broadmeadows
After discharge, John must have immediately left the sub-continent for Australia as by the end of January 1914 he had signed on to the Australia’s Permanent Military Forces for a five-year period. With his prior experience, he was assigned to the instructional staff based at the main training camp at Broadmeadows, west of Melbourne.
From midnight 1 September 1914, however, he was absent without leave. At 10 am on 7 September he voluntarily surrendered himself at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne. The following day, 8 September 1914, he was discharged as “unfit for the Corp”.
Sep 1914 – Mar 1916 Gallipoli – Wounded in action
On the same day as his discharge from the permanent military forces, John volunteered for the AIF. This gives rise to the suspicion that his going AWOL was a strategy to escape his five-year commitment and give him the chance to go overseas to fight with the imperial force being raised from mid-August of that year.
Another driver for his apparent dereliction of duty may have been a romantic one. Just ten days later on 18 September 1914, John married Lillian Maud Pyers, a 32-year-old barmaid and former music teacher, at St Peters and Pauls church in South Melbourne. On enlistment, John had given his address as the Railway Hotel, South Melbourne and Lillian on their marriage certificate gave her address as Banks Street, South Melbourne. The Railway Hotel is, coincidentally or not, on the corner of Banks and Ferrars Street, so this is possibly where they met.
John was almost immediately promoted to Lance corporal and assigned to the 8th Battalion, one of the first infantry units raised for the AIF. A month later on 19 October 1914 the battalion embarked for overseas on board HMAT A24 Benalla. The picture below shows the well-laden troop ship as it departed the wharf on that date so John would have been aboard when the photo was taken.
After arriving in Egypt, John was promoted to Corporal in February and then Lance Sergeant just weeks before the battalion took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915, as part of the second wave. On 28 April, John was promoted to sergeant and shortly after sustained a serious gunshot wound to the top of the head and scalp. By May 2nd, he was on board the hospital ship HS Delta where he was trephined, and the bullet was removed. John was evacuated to England and to the Graylingwell War Hospital in Chichester where he underwent at least six operations over the next four months to repair the damage done. He was then transferred to the Harefield hospital in September before being invalided home. John left England on 7 November and arrived in Australia on 21 December 1915 where he was placed on the supernumerary list while he recuperated.
Feb 1916 Fit for Duty – Signed up again - 60th Battalion
In February 1916, John was declared fit for duty, the letter being sent to the address Lillian had given as next of kin so we assume that he was able to convalesce at home. This would have brought the time John and Lillian spent together as husband and wife to just over the three-month mark.
John was required to re-attest and was transferred to the newly-raised 60th Battalion, a part of the doubling of the AIF post Gallipoli. Half of its recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 8th Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia. In the first week of March, John was heading back overseas to join the battalion in Egypt.
On 29 May 1916, John was promoted to company sergeant major and shortly after they left Egypt for France. The 60th became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front on 19 July, without the benefit of an introduction to the trenches in a quiet sector. The Battle of Fromelles was a disaster and, in a single day, the battalion was virtually wiped out, suffering 757 casualties. John Conway was one of those missing in action.
July 1916 onwards - Looking for the missing
Evidence from the Red Cross files included statements from fellow members of the 60th Battalion. The following statements clearly showed that Sergeant Major John Conway was killed in action at Fromelles on 19 July 1916:
July 19 (19)16: Witness states he saw Soldier killed by bullet wound at Fleurbaix on the above date was close by him when he fell and was sure he was dead.
He had been wounded in Gallipoli, returned to Australia and came back to France. He was killed in the attack on the German line at Fromelles which failed. I saw him hit and went next day and brought in his waterbottle and steel helmet marked with his initials. He was killed by a shell. He came from Victoria and was an old time-expired N.C.O. in the English army.
I saw his dead body out in No Man's Land at Fleurbaix on 19th. July. He had been shot through the body and was evidently killed outright. I brought his dixie in afterwards. It was riddled with bullets. I also brought in his disc. He used to belong to the 8th. Bn. on the Peninsula. Burial parties were out for two or three nights and his body must have been buried.
Informant states that on the morning of July 20th as he was coming in from No Mans Land near German barbed wire opposite Fromelles, he saw Conway's body lying dead, shot in the stomach. must have died at once. Informant knew Conway well.
Early in September, Lillian contacted her local member of parliament as the newspapers had John listed as missing and she had heard nothing at all. In the final washup, confirmation that John had been killed in action came to Lillian late due to a mix-up with the house number of the Powlett Street address (her parents’ family home in East Melbourne) and the fact that Lillian was away in Warnambool when the authorities finally tracked the correct house number down. The news was given to Lillian’s mother, Catherine Pyers, on 23 September 1916 and she undertook to pass it on to Lillian.
Lillian and John had no children and Lillian never remarried. She was granted a war pension in November 1916 but went on to complete training as a nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital in 1920. She continued nursing for many years, living at the Pyers family home in Mackay Street, Prahan for some years before eventually moving to Cockatoo in the Dandenong Ranges. She died aged 80 in 1962.
John’s brother, Michael Conway
Michael Conway, younger brother of John, was in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and served with John in India, both appearing there in the 1911 census. Michael married Bridget Lally on 19 January 1916 in Longford and family legend has it that they married in the morning and he went to the war in the evening, never to return.
By August 1917, he was a sergeant and he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery on the field. Michael was killed in action on 23 November 1917 at the battle of Cambral, France. His widow, Bridget, lived in the same house until her death and she never remarried.
The similarities in the two brothers’ lives is striking. Both were killed in France in World War 1, both served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, both were married and there were no children of either marriage. Sadly, it appears that both parents outlived their two sons with Mary dying in 1919 and James dying in 1920.
A century later, remembered but still looking for the missing
As part of Longford’s commemoration of the centenary of World War 1, a Longford at War website was set up to include biographical details of Longford people who died during the war and also all those from the county who served in past conflicts. The details of both John and Michael Conway are included but unfortunately organisers could find no relatives of these Conway men when they held their commemorations for those that died in the Great War. The Longford Historical Society also advised that their names have been included on the war memorial on Market Square in Longford.
More recently, on 5 April 2020, the Longford Leader published a plea by a researcher from the Fromelles Association of Australia, searching for any members of John’s family who may be living in Ireland still. [See copy at Link].
In 2008 a mass grave of 250 Australian soldiers was discovered at Fromelles.
John is on a list created by the German Army of men placed into the grave.
So far 166 sets of remains have been identified but John’s remains have yet to be identified
and currently we believe he lies beneath a headstone marked “Known Unto God”.
Seeking to trace family of Longford man who died as an Australian soldier at the Battle of Fromelles 1916
By Longford Leader reporter 5 Apr 2020 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Gloria Tattersell is a Researcher with the Fromelles Association of Australia and she is seeking to trace the family of a Longford man who died as an Australian soldier.
I am writing from Australia and I am seeking help to trace the family of John Conway, who was born in Templemichael, County Longford and who fought and died with the Australian Army in WW1 at the Battle of Fromelles.
John was born in the Workhouse in Co Longford 9 April 1885. John came to Australia in 1914 after serving 12 years in the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
He married in 1914 and fought in the Australian Army in WW1. He died at the Battle of Fromelles in 1916.
John also had a brother Michael who also died (1917 in France during WW1). Michael lived in Longford and married Bridget Lally. Both John and Michael had no children.
We are searching for any family of John’s father, James F Conway and mother Mary Anne Farrell in order to give John a final resting place.
James F Conway was born about 1841 the 3rd child to parents John Conway and Anna Mallon in Temple Michael, Co Longford. James married Mary Anne Farrell 1884.
The 1901 Irish Census shows that they lived in house 8 in St Michael’s Road, Longford. James died 1920 and Mary Anne died 1919.
We know that James had sisters, who remained in Ireland, but equally we are interested in locating any descendants of James F and his wife Mary Ann or James’ father also called John Conway (1804–1879) in Co Longford.
James had two sisters. One was Mary who married John Geraghty/Gerarty in 1875, they had two children - John b 1879 and Mary Ann b 1883.
The other sister, Margaret Conway, married John Harvey in 1865. They had 8 children: Anne b 1866, Mary (1868-1871), Daniel (1879-1910), Ellen b 1872, Michael (1875-1882), Thomas (1877-1956), who married Ellen Shiels, Mary b 1880, who married John Shiels (brother to Ellen Shiels) and John Joseph (1882-1885).
James had a brother Patrick Conway born in 1845 – we have found no further information on Patrick.
If you can help with any information please e-mail Gloria at email@example.com
Gloria Tattersell Sydney, NSW, Australia
Gloria Tattersell is a Researcher with the Fromelles Association of Australia and recently wrote and requested help to trace family of John Conway via his father James F Conway.
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