b. 09/02/1890 Tumut, New South Wales, Australia. d. 03/06/1941 Melbourne, Australia.
Edward John Francis Ryan (1890-1941) was born on 9th 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 1st 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 14th 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 was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the allied assault on the Hindenburg defences on 30th 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 22nd May 1919 received his V.C. from King George V at Buckingham Palace. He returned to Sydney on 24th October and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 10th 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 3rd June 1941 and was buried with military honours in the Catholic section of Springvale Cemetery where eight V.C. recipients 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.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: SPRINGVALE CEMETERY, SPRINGVALE, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA.
Roman Catholic, Compartment A, Section 19, Grave 05
Richard Yielding – Image of the Ryan VC Plaque at Springvale Cemetery and Crematorium, Melbourne.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Ryan VC Medal Group at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.