Posted by: michaeldaybath | February 22, 2017

Captain Aubrey Reilly, 69th Punjabis

In the north transept of Bath Abbey is a tablet memorial to Captain Aubrey S. T. Reilly of the 69th Punjabis, who died at Sannaiyat in Mesopotamia on the 22nd February 1917, while attached to the 92nd Punjabis. At the end of 1916, the 92nd Punjabis were part of 19th Brigade in the Indian 7th Meerut Division. The 7th Division was in turn part of General Frederick Stanley Maude’s Tigris Force in Mesopotamia, in current day Iraq.

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Memorial for Captain Aubrey Reilly, Bath Abbey (Somerset)

Sannaiyat was a Turkish defensive position on the River Tigris east of Kut Al Amara. It has been described by one military historian as the one strong position between Baghdad and Basra: “so long as it was held there could be no breakthrough to the capital” [1]. The position had already been fought over as part of unsuccessful attempts to relieve the siege of Kut in April 1916, but by February 1917 Sannaiyat stood in the way of General Maude’s advance on Baghdad. The general’s despatch issued after the campaign noted that [2]:

The successive lines at Sannaiyat, which had been consistently strengthened for nearly a year, barred the way on a narrow front to an advance on our part along the left bank, whilst north of Sannaiyat the Suwaikieh Marsh and the Marsh of Jessan rendered the Turks immune from attack from the north. On the other hand we had, by the application of constant pressure to the vicinity of Shumran, where the enemy’s battle line and communications met, compelled him so to weaken and expand his front that his attenuated forces were found to present vulnerable points if these could be ascertained. The moment then seemed ripe to cross the river and commence conclusions with the enemy on the left bank. To effect this it was important that his attention should be engaged about Sannaiyat and along the river line between Sannaiyat and Kut, whilst the main stroke was being prepared and delivered as far west as possible.

The plan, therefore, was for operations at Sannaiyat to draw attention away from an attempted crossing of the Tigris at the Shumran Bend. Sannaiyat was attacked on the 17th February, but heavy rain then intervened and delayed operations for a little while. The attack resumed on the 22nd February, when 19th Brigade of 7th Division (including the 92nd Punjabis) took a leading position in the attack [3].

The plan was for the 19th Brigade to take the first two lines. As soon as they were consolidated the 28th Brigade was to come up level with them while the 21st Brigade came up from reserve to our old front line.

The attack on Sannaiyat was planned for 0600 hours, but was later postponed to 1000. The assault battalions from the 19th Brigade were the 92nd Punjabis and the brigade’s British unit, the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.  The outcome was described in General Maude’s despatch, which paid due tribute to the role of the Seaforths [4]:

On the 22nd the Seaforths and a Punjabi battalion [the 92nd Punjabis] assaulted Sannaiyat, with the same objective as on the 17th. The enemy were again taken by surprise, and our losses were slight. A series of counter-attacks followed, and the first three were repulsed without difficulty. The fourth drove back our left, but the Punjabis, reinforced by an Indian Rifle battalion [the 125th Rifles] and assisted by the fire of the Seaforths, who were still holding the Turkish trenches on the right front, re-established their position. Two more counter-attacks which followed were defeated. As soon as the captured position had been consolidated two frontier force regiments assaulted the trenches still held by the enemy in prolongation of and to the north of those already occupied by us. A counter-attack forced our right back temporarily, but the situation was restored by the arrival of reinforcements, and by nightfall we were in secure occupation of the first two lines of Sannaiyat. The brilliant tenacity of the Seaforths throughout this day deserves special mention.

While the Sannaiyat operations continued, feint attacks at Magasis and Kut over the night of the 22nd/23rd February, preceded the main crossing of the Tigris at Shumran on the 23rd. Kut fell shortly afterwards, and the Tigris Force continued to advance up the river, capturing Baghdad on the 11th March 1917.

On Sannaiyat, Maude’s despatch commented [5]:

The capture of the Sannaiyat position, which the Turks believed to be impregnable, had only been accomplished after a fierce struggle, in which our infantry, closely supported by our artillery, displayed great gallantry and endurance against a brave and determined enemy. The latter had again suffered severely. Many trenches were choked with corpses, and the open ground where counter-attacks had taken place was strewn with them.

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16. Shaikh Saad and Kut-Al-Amara, Situation 5 a.m. 23rd February 1917; Source: Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917: Part II – Maps; British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/2, f 3, in Qatar Digital Library: http://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100030405325.oxooooo8 [accessed 21 February 2017]; reused under the Open Government Licence

Aubrey Spranger Townsend Reilly was the son of Major James Myles Townsend Reilly, J.P. and Frances Isabella Reilly (née Spranger). Major Reilly was a retired army officer, but he was also a magistrate and a long-serving member of Bath City Council [6]. During the war, he also acted as Chief Recruiting Officer in the City of Bath. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were living at 18, Royal Crescent, Bath – although there is by then no trace of Aubrey, who would have already have been serving with his regiment. Captain Reilly had an older brother, Staff-Captain (later Major) Myles J. T. Reilly, M.C., who had been twice injured at Gallipoli when serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He had been awarded the Military Cross for successfully taking his battalion out of action when all of the senior officers had been either killed or wounded [7]. After recovering from his injuries, Myles Reilly became a staff captain, serving with the 228th Brigade in Salonika. After the war he served again with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers before being appointed Commandant of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force in 1931 and then Senior Inspector of Air Raid Precautions for the Ulster Ministry of Home Affairs in 1939 [8]. The 1911 Census return also shows that Captain Reilly had two sisters, named Dorothy and Kathleen.

A brief obituary of Aubrey Reilly appeared in the Bath Chronicle of the 10th March 1917, and this gives a brief overview of his education and military career [9]:

CAPT. AUBREY REILLY
KILLED IN ACTION
Major Reilly’s Younger Son
Major J. M. T. Reilly, J.P., of the Royal Crescent, Chief Recruiting Officer in Bath, has received a telegraphic intimation of the death in the Far East of his younger son, Captain Aubrey Reilly, of the 69th Punjabis, who was killed in action on February 22nd. The deceased officer, who came to Bath when nine years of age, was educated first at Cheltenham College, and he proceeded direct from there to Sandhurst in 1911. Passing exceptionally high there, he was given a commission in the Indian Army, and was for a year attached to the Connaught Rangers; then, in May, 1912, being appointed to the 69th Punjabis. He went from India to Mesopotamia in December, 1915, and had thus had about fifteen months’ service in the most eastern sphere of the war. He was only 23 years of age. Major Reilly’s elder son, Staff-Captain Myles Reilly, M.C., who was wounded at Gallipoli, is now in the Near East theatre of the war. Deep sympathy will be felt with Major and Mrs. Reilly in their sorrow.

Interestingly, Captain Reilly’s death was also reported in some Ulster newspapers, on the basis that he was a member of an old County Down family, the Reillys of Scarvagh [10].

A copy of Captain Reilly’s will (proved and registered in Bombay on 19th November 1917) and various papers related to probate are included in the India Office Records held by the British Library [11]. I don’t think that the papers are exceptionally revealing (they include a list of property – mostly boxes and packing cases, but which also include Reilly’s rifle and gun), but they do show that Captain Reilly left an estate of around 7,800/- Rupees and that his father, as next-of-kin, accepted responsibility for any outstanding claims against his son.

The memorial tablet in Bath Abbey was dedicated in 1919, as was reported in the Bath Chronicle of the 3rd May [12]:

MEMORIAL TABLET UNVEILED AT THE ABBEY
THE LATE CAPTAIN AUBREY REILLY.
A very handsome addition to the many mural memorial tablets in the Abbey Church was dedicated on Saturday afternoon by the Rector of Bath in the course of the four o’clock service. It is “in sacred and loving memory of Aubrey St. [sic] T. Reilly, Captain, 69th Punjabis, attached 92nd Punjabis, youngest son of Major J. M. T. Reilly, of this city, who fell on February 22nd, 1917, at Sunniyat, Mesopotamia, while gallantly leading his company, and was buried the following day in the trench cemetery, Sunniyat, aged 23 years.” The tablet occupies a very prominent position in the north aisle, a little below and to the west of the base of the organ loft. It was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson, the Abbey architect, and executed by Messrs. Farmer and Brindley, of Westminster Bridge Road [in Lambeth],  who were responsible for the organ loft carving. The memorial is of white marble, with black sunk lettering, on a base of verd Antico [i.e., verd antique or verde antico], which is beautifully veined. It is surmounted by a beautifully carved design comprising a cross, a sword, rifle, and flag, a laurel wreath, and the crest of deceased’s regiment; and appropriately placed are the text, “Greater love hath no man than this,” and the motto, “Faithful unto death.” It was arranged that the unveiling should take place on the eve of the day set apart for the memorial service for those who have fallen in the war. Among those attending the service were Major Reilly (who was on Friday made a churchwarden of the Abbey), Mrs. Reilly, and the Misses Reilly. Captain Myles Reilly (brother of Captain Aubrey Reilly), who is in Constantinople, was unable to be present owing to his inability to obtain leave. Mr. E. H. Vokes (Rector’s Warden) and a number of sidesmen sat with the relatives near the tablet.

Major J. M. T. Reilly died in September 1936 at the age of 81. His Bath Chronicle obituary noted that he had been in failing health for some time [13]. It also provided background and hinted at some of his personal qualities:

Major James Myles Townsend Reilly, J.P., D.L., O.B.E., of 18, Royal Crescent, Bath, had a much larger niche in the public life of the city than would be imagined from his quiet, almost retiring disposition. On his retirement from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers he lived in Ireland (where the family estate is at Scarvagh, County Down); in Sussex and near Devizes [Market Lavington] before coming to reside in the city 32 years ago, and it was not long before his sterling, albeit unobtrusive, qualities were recognised.

He was soon prevailed upon to accept an increasingly large share of public service. In every department, he worked with a thoroughness that was exemplary, and by his personal qualities made a host of friends, but never an enemy.

Major Reilly had joined Bath City Council in 1905 and became an Alderman in 1919; he later served as Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Somerset. At Bath Abbey, he became People’s Warden in 1919, a position that he held until his death. The obituary noted that, “never a day passed on which he failed to visit the church, and never was there an occasion of importance which failed to find him in his wonted place.”

References:

[1] A. J. Barker, The First Iraq War, 1914-18: Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign (Enigma Books, 2009),p. 279.

[2] Despatch from Lt. General Sir Stanley Maude on operations between September 1916 to the end of March 1917, section 22. Second Supplement to the London Gazette, No. 30176, 10 July 1917, pp. 6937–6950: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30176/supplement/6937

[3] Staff College Quetta, Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917: Part I – Report (Calcutta: Government of India Press, 1925), p. 288. Ref: British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers: IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/1, in Qatar Digital Library: http://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100023514019.0x000002

[4] Despatch from Lt. General Sir Stanley Maude, section 23.

[5] Ibid., section 27.

[6] Bath Chronicle, 5 September 1936, via British Newspaper Archive.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bath Chronicle, 28 January 1939, via British Newspaper Archive.

[9] Bath Chronicle, 10 March 1917, via British Newspaper Archive.

[10] Belfast News-Letter, 8 March 1917, via British Newspaper Archive.

[11] British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers: IOR/L/AG/34/40/83 Military Estate Papers – Bengal & All India 1895-1937;  IOR/L/AG/34/29/370 Bombay wills and administrations 1783-1937; IOR/L/AG/27/417 Inventories and accounts of deceased estates – Bombay 1798-1937; all available via Findmypast.

[12] Bath Chronicle, 3 May 1919, via British Newspaper Archive.

[13] Bath Chronicle, 5 September 1936, via British Newspaper Archive.

Image Credits:

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/13706945@N00/9052303477

Map citation: ‘16. Shaikh Saad and Kut-Al-Amara. Situation 5 a.m. 23rd February 1917’ [‎3r] (1/2), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/2, f 3, in Qatar Digital Library http://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100030405325.0x000008 [accessed 21 February 2017].

Open Government License: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/2/

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