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Saving our Private Ryan and Sgt. Wilkinson’s memories

30 April 2018

The Great War ended 100 years ago but the stories continue and the responsibility of telling these stories has been passed down.

‘An academic discovers a soldier accused of going AWOL for his anti-war convictions.’

‘A young grandson was told ‘… was 90% boredom and 10% absolutely terrifying.’

As part of the Library’s Doing our Bit: Mosman 1914 to 1918 project we are presenting an evening of two very different stories about two very different men and their experiences in the Great War.

Author, Douglas Newton when researching his book ‘Saving Our Private Ryan’ discovered an amazing story of a man struggling for peace during the First World War. A man who displayed a brave determination to stand by his anti –war convictions; a view at odds with a fiercely patriotic majority.

Private Edward James Ryan joined up in 1915 and was wounded twice on the Western Front and suffered from shell shock.

While convalescing, in England, he wrote a letter to a British MP denouncing the war and began to resist military discipline. Over the next year he faced four court martials accused of being ‘Absent Without Leave’ and ‘Desertion’.

At his trials Ryan maintained his political objections to the war. Accusing both sides of fighting for imperialist goals and continuing to reject promising opportunities for peace. He urged the war be ended by negotiation. His death sentence was commuted and he spent a year in prison before returning to Australia in 1919.

Newton will examine Ryan’s war experiences placing his anti-war convictions in the larger context of the war aims and peace opportunities.
David Wilkinson will present a very personal story about his grandfather Sgt H J Wilkinson of the 3rd Battalion 1st AIF.

As a teenager David always wanted to hear about his grandfather’s experiences in the Great War and recalls ‘every time I would broch the topic my grandfather would very gently change the topic.’

‘Then one day when grandfather was in Concord Repat he relented and made two brief comments ‘…. it was 90% boredom and 10% absolutely terrifying…
David remarks ‘this intrigued me even more and I started to investigate my grandfather’s wartime experiences.’

‘Some years later I found the very farm house he was defending in France in April 1918 where he nearly lost his leg and his life.

‘Inspired, I set myself another goal to seek out my grandfather’s relatives who had also served at Gallipoli and discover their stories.’

Local Studies Librarian, Donna Braye says ‘the evening promises to be a wonderful journey into two fascinating stories.’

28 May 2018 7-8.30pm. Refreshments provided. This is a free event and bookings are essential at