Wexford family marks death of Gallipoli hero

David Tucker

Published 12/05/2015 | 00:00

Aaron, Tomas and Jack O'Leary with the memorabilia of Jack Conway who was killed Gallipoli 100 years ago.
Aaron, Tomas and Jack O'Leary with the memorabilia of Jack Conway who was killed Gallipoli 100 years ago.
John (Jack) Conway 1887-1915 Back Row last on right
A postcard from Jack to his wife Lizzie telling her that he was alright and that the King had inspected the troops to see if they were 'fit and ready for the Front'.

A Wexford family is marking the 100th anniversary of the death of their ancestor in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign during the early stages of the First World War.

John (Jack) Conway, from John Street, was one of an estimated 4,000 Irish men who were killed in Gallipoli in what was part of the Ottoman Empire between April 25, 1915, and January 9, 1916.

The father of two was just 28 when he was killed on May 6, 1915 at Achi Baba, the main point in the Ottoman defences on a height dominating the Gallipoli Peninsula. There is no known grave for Jack.

Florrie O'Neill, from Cromwelsfort Avenue and who is married to Jack's grandson Jack O'Neill, said her family's interest in their long-lost ancestor was rekindled when her husband Jack's grandson, Aaron, who was nine at the time, wanted to know more about Remembrance Day when he was watching commememorations of it on television on November 11, 2007, and he began telling him about his grandfather who was killed in the 'war to end all wars'.

When Aaron went back to his class at Davidstown National School and told his teacher what he had uncovered, the school got involved in a research project about his great grandfather and his life and times. A picture emerged of a family man and loving father who, like many Wexford men before him, made his liveihood from the sea, and like many others, died in a foreign field.

'When he gets interested in something he just goes the whole way,' said Florrie, 'and it was just by chance that this happened'.

John (Jack) Conway was born in John Street, Wexford town, in 1887. He went to work on the railway when he was 14 in 1901. When he was 15 he left the Royal Navy, subsequently joining the Merchant Navy and sailing from Liverpool with the P&O Line.

His family says the only ships they know he sailed on were the SS Oronsa and Arcadia. He married Lizzie (nee Crosbie, of Green Street, Wexford) in 1906 and had two daughters, Lil in 1907, and Rosie in 1911. He was in the Royal Naval Reserve and when the war began in 1914, Jack, who was sailing on ships between Rosslare and Fishguard, was called up to a new division formed from all naval reservists and was posted to the 8th Battalion (Anson Battalion) Royal Naval Reserve Regiment.

The regiment trained in Egypt before going to Gallipoli, now in modern Turkey, and which at the time was part of the German-allied Ottoman Empire.

His regiment landed in Cape Helles on April 25, 1915, and he was killed less than two weeks later, on May 6, 1915, at Achi Baba. There is no known grave for him.

His name is listed on Panel 7 in the Helles Memorial on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. So many service men were killed in the campaign that many are buried in Malta, Crete and Sicily.

Florrie said a friend of Jack's, a Joe Walsh, from Bride Street, brought home a few of his belongings from Gallipoli. 'He often told the family, he used to say to Jack Conway to keep his head down, but he wouldn't'.

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