Historian sheds light on Private Ryan

Sean O’Riordan Private William Patrick Ryan was an unusually courageous man. Having fought and survived several bloody battles in the First World War, he then volunteered in its aftermath to exhume the dead for Christian burial, even though he could have been blown to pieces by unexploded shells.

Historian sheds light on Private Ryan

Private William Patrick Ryan was an unusually courageous man. Having fought and survived several bloody battles in the First World War, he then volunteered in its aftermath to exhume the dead for Christian burial, even though he could have been blown to pieces by unexploded shells.

An eminent British military historian has provided a report to a charity shop in Kealkil, near Bantry where Ryan’s two World War medals were discovered in a jacket pocket.

It was part of a bundle of clothes donated anonymously to the charity.

Military historian Richard Moles has been able to shed light on the past of the man he believes won the medals and it is hoped this information will ultimately lead to them being presented to his descendants.

Mr Moles has discovered that after the ‘war to end all wars’, Ryan re-enlisted in the Labour Corps.

“There was a need to salvage whatever war material could be salvaged and clean the battlefields of France and elsewhere. There was also a need to exhume the bodies of fallen soldiers from battlefield graves and bring them together in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries,” he said.

“When Ryan re-enlisted in May 1919 this was the work he agreed to undertake.”

Mary McCarthy chatting with Steve Roffe who was sorting clothes at the Kealkill Community Charity shop when he found two World War 1 medals, the 1914-14 star and the victory medal. Picture Dan Linehan
Mary McCarthy chatting with Steve Roffe who was sorting clothes at the Kealkill Community Charity shop when he found two World War 1 medals, the 1914-14 star and the victory medal. Picture Dan Linehan

Mr Moles said “regrettably” some records relating to Ryan may have been destroyed, along with those of many others, during the Blitz on London in 1940.

“At some stage, Private Patrick Ryan was evacuated home either through illness or injury and without his (full) service record we do not know the exact date, “ Mr Moles said.

It is unclear as yet where Ryan was born, although some other historians believe he may have been from Co Tipperary.

How the medals ended up in a West Cork charity shop remains a mystery.

However, Mr Moles has discovered that Ryan joined the 1st Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers in the summer of 1915, when they were then based in Aghada, Co Cork.

It may well be that after he had finished his military career he moved back to Cork.

When he joined up, the war was still in its infancy and he would have received three months’ basic training.

The two World War 1 medals, with the correct ribbons .1914-14 star and the victory medal which are thought to belong to a Private Patrick Ryan
The two World War 1 medals, with the correct ribbons .1914-14 star and the victory medal which are thought to belong to a Private Patrick Ryan

Little would have prepared him, however, for the pounding he and his comrades received during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

The campaign foundered when British and Commonwealth troops were hemmed in on the beaches by dogged Turkish resistance. The Turks were allied with the Germans.

The British had invaded the region in the hope of opening up a route to their Russian Allies through the Black Sea, but Ryan and his colleagues were soon after evacuated to Egypt, where they spent time resting near the Suez Canal.

On February 25, 1916 his battalion received orders to move to France. Embarkation began in March and they disembarked at Marseilles between March 15 - 29.

Ryan and his comrades would later be involved in the Battle of the Somme, Battle of Guillemont and the Battle of Ginchy.

“At some stage, Private Patrick Ryan was evacuated home either through illness or injury and without his service record we do not know the exact date, “ Mr Moyles said.

The medals were put on display last Saturday at the charity shop in Kealkil.

Charity shop treasurer Ed Smith said they got ribbons to go with the medals which were an authentic match and donated by Robert Fennell, who is an amateur military historian.

Steve Roffe, a charity shop volunteer who found the medals in the jacket, made contact with Mr Moles and Mr Smith said they were all delighted with the results.

“I’m 100% certain about the research by Mr Moles. It makes very interesting reading. I can’t believe all the battles Ryan was involved in,” Mr Smith added.

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