Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ryan, Edward John Francis (1890–1941)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Edward John Francis Ryan (1890-1941), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1919

Edward John Francis Ryan (1890-1941), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1919

Australian War Memorial, P01383.013

Edward John Francis Ryan (1890-1941), soldier and labourer, was born on 9 February 1890 at Tumut, New South Wales, second son of Michael Ryan, a Sydney-born labourer, and his wife Eugenia, née Newman, from Gunning. Educated locally, he worked as a labourer before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force at Wagga Wagga on 1 December 1915. After marching to Sydney with the 'Kangaroos' recruiting march he was posted to the 2nd Reinforcements of the 55th Battalion. He left Sydney on 14 April 1916 and after two months in Egypt joined his unit at Fleurbaix, France, in September. He remained with the 55th for the rest of the war except in January-June 1917 when he was detached to the Anzac Light Railways Unit.

John Ryan won the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the allied assault on the Hindenburg defences on 30 September 1918. During the 55th Battalion's attack near Bellicourt Ryan, despite heavy fire, was one of the first to reach the enemy trench. A fierce counter-attack drove the Australians back to the Le Catelet line trenches where a bombing party at their rear placed them in a critical position. Ryan quickly organized and led a party to attack the Germans with bomb and bayonet. Reaching the position with only three men, Ryan and his party killed three Germans on the flank and then Ryan alone rushed the remainder with bombs and drove them back across no man's land. He fell wounded but his action saved a highly dangerous situation and enabled the trench to be retaken.

Private Ryan rejoined his battalion in December and on 22 May 1919 received his V.C. from King George V at Buckingham Palace. He returned to Sydney on 24 October and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 10 January 1920. A Sydney Morning Herald article described him as 'a thin lithe man with a smiling face that has been burned a deep mahogany brown'.

The subsequent years were not kind to John Ryan who, like so many returned servicemen, found it hard to adjust to civilian life and to keep a job. His circumstances worsened during the Depression when he was on the road for four years. Destitute, in August 1935 he walked from Balranald, New South Wales, to Mildura, Victoria, where he was given temporary work by the local council and shortly after found employment in a Melbourne insurance office where he remained for several years.

By May 1941, in poor health, he was again tramping the streets looking for work and was taken to hospital the day he was to have started yet another job. He died of pneumonia in Royal Melbourne Hospital on 3 June 1941 and was buried with military honours in the Catholic section of Springvale cemetery where eight V.C. winners formed a guard of honour. Unmarried, he was survived by two brothers and a sister Mrs P. G. Grant of Yass, New South Wales, who presented his V.C. to the Australian War Memorial in November 1967. His brother Malcolm was a trooper with the Light Horse, A.I.F.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963), revised and condensed by J. Williams and A. Staunton (Canb, 1986)
  • London Gazette, 26 Dec 1918
  • Reveille (Sydney), July 1941
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Dec 1918, 15 Jan, 25 Oct 1919, 17 Aug 1935
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 2 Jan, 30 Oct 1919
  • Herald (Melbourne), 16, 17 Aug 1935, 5 June 1941, 29 Nov 1943
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4, 6 June 1941.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Ryan, Edward John Francis (1890–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ryan-edward-john-francis-8312/text14577, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Edward John Francis Ryan (1890-1941), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1919

Edward John Francis Ryan (1890-1941), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., c1919

Australian War Memorial, P01383.013