John Ignatius Mooney was born on 24th January 1892, at Spring Valley near Goulburn, New South Wales. He was the grandson of another John Mooney, an Irish convict from County Galway who was transported for life to Australia in 1831 for the crime of ‚Äúdemanding arms‚ÄĚ from the British landowners in the area near Woodford where his family were tenant farmers. This John Mooney was one of several men who were tried and convicted together for crimes against the British who ruled the whole of Ireland at that time ‚Äď this made them political prisoners, and they were dealt with by a special court set up to deal with political crimes. The group all stood trial in Galway City in June 1831. Two were imprisoned with hard labour for 12 months, four were transported to the colonies for life and three were hanged. Mooney‚Äôs ship ‚ÄúNorfolk‚ÄĚ arrived at Sydney Cove in February 1832. He was allocated with other convicts as a shepherd to the sheep station ‚ÄėMichelago‚Äô in the Monaro district of the Southern Tablelands of NSW. When he was eventually given his ticket-of-leave, John Mooney settled in this area of NSW, married an Irish immigrant woman, Ellen Ryan and raised a family with his own sheep farm.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914, John Ignatius Mooney (the grandson) was employed as a railway shunter with the NSW Railways Service, having moved to Sydney to find better employment than farming. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 15 May 1915 at Liverpool Army Camp, NSW and was allocated to the 3rd Reinforcements of the 19th Battalion, one of four units in the 5th Infantry Brigade. After recruit training, he departed Sydney on 9 August 1915 on the troop transport A54 H.M.A.T. ‚ÄúRunic‚ÄĚ. The date of his arrival in Egypt is not recorded, but it is reasonable to assume he spent about three weeks training there before deploying to Gallipoli. His service records show that his Will is signed at Zeitoun Camp near Alexandria, on 18 September, 1915 and it was witnessed by Arthur H. McIndoe and Charles R. Watts, both of the 3rd Reinforcements, 19th Battalion.
However, his trip to Gallipoli was not straightforward. After leaving Alexandria by ship, he was put ashore at Mudros on the island of Lemnos and admitted to hospital with mumps on 28 September 1915. About two weeks later he was discharged from hospital and sent on to Gallipoli, being taken on the strength of the 19th Battalion on 16 October 1915.
The 19th Battalion had arrived on the Gallipoli Peninsula at the end of August 1915 and participated in the last battles of the August Offensive against the Ottoman Army, notably the attempts to capture Hill 60. From September onwards, the unit was allocated to the northern sector of ANZAC within the 2nd Division‚Äôs area of responsibility. The 19th Battalion was specifically charged with the defence of a small knoll in the front line known as Pope‚Äôs Hill. The battalion remained as the garrison for this position until the withdrawal of Allied forces from the peninsula in mid-December 1915. According to later newspaper reports in the Goulburn Post (Goulburn being the largest town near his birth place of Spring Valley) John Ignatius was employed at Pope‚Äôs Post as a marksman against the Turks on Gallipoli, this in recognition of his rural upbringing and familiarity with weapons and his experience as a good shot with the school military cadets.
After the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula, he spent about three months in various hospitals in Egypt. He was disembarked from the transport ‚ÄúDunluce Castle‚ÄĚ in Alexandria on 23 December 1915 and was immediately hospitalised with a bout of jaundice. This was followed by a bout of influenza and then other complications, until he finally re-joined his unit on 18 March 1916. His unit then left Egypt to re-deploy to the Western Front as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). He disembarked in Marseilles on 25 March 1916 and took the long train journey north to the Bois Grenier sector, near Armenti√®res, where the 2nd Division trained for the fight against the might of the German Army. He attended a Trench Mortar School from 4th ‚Äď 12th November 1916. After the relatively quiet introduction to trench warfare in that northern sector, his first major action in France occurred in the battles around Pozi√®res from July 1916 onwards.
The 19th Battalion, as part of 5th Brigade and 2nd Division, was involved in all the major campaigns and battles fought by the AIF in France and Flanders throughout 1916, 1917 and 1918. In general terms, combat conditions were appalling - far more appalling than those encountered on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The AIF suffered severe casualties because of the superiority of the German army artillery and machine-gun sections in their front line units.
Private Mooney was badly wounded in action during the battle of Flers on 13 November 1916, suffering a gunshot wound to the right arm. Flers was a small but notable victory for the 19th Battalion, as it was the only unit in the brigade that achieved any success. They managed to capture a large German trench system known as ‚ÄúThe Maze‚ÄĚ and held it without support for more than 24 hours until relieved. The rest of the brigade‚Äôs attack was a failure due to the extreme cold weather, the driving rain and the deep mud that hindered all progress. It has been described as the worst European winter weather conditions in living memory. This particular German strongpoint, just east of the Butte de Warlencourt, had been unsuccessfully attacked by the same Division the week before without success.
When wounded, he was evacuated through the hospital system from Rouen in France to Exeter in England. He remained there recovering from this wound, followed by convalescence and then course attendance until he re-joined the 19th Battalion later in 1917. As a result of his wound at Flers, Mooney was actually out of the front line for ten months. During this convalescent period, he was fined for being absent without leave for five days. This disciplinary incident did not seem to have any effect on his standing as a soldier, as he was promoted Lance Corporal shortly afterwards on 30th July, 1917 whilst on promotion courses at the 62nd Training Battalion.
He returned to the 19th Battalion in October 1917. He then attended a course of instruction at the Corps Bomb School in November 1917 and then the Corps Gas School in February 1918. Both these courses were run in Belgium. He was granted 10 days leave in Paris during February ‚Äď March 1918. He returned to take part in the Allied push on the Hindenberg Line, in which the AIF played a major role by being employed as shock troops. He was promoted Temporary Corporal on 24 August, 1918.
The battalion was then about to participate in the attack on Mont St. Quentin, the small village above P√©ronne on the Somme River. This was one of the most famous combat actions undertaken by the AIF during World War One, where two under-strength Australian divisions out-fought five German divisions, including one of the Prussian Guards. In the opening phase, Australian Corps commander, General Monash attempted to force crossings of the Somme from the west near the junction of the river and the Somme Canal. There were several footbridges in this area, but the withdrawing Germans had either destroyed them or had them covered by artillery and heavy machine-gun fire. Australian engineers made an attempt to repair one particular bridge opposite Halle and the 19th Battalion was ordered to cross here if possible during the night of 29-30 August. Unfortunately, the engineers had been unable to repair the bridge sufficiently and the crossing operation was cancelled. The battalion suffered several casualties during its night move to and from the footbridge, with several men being wounded. Corporal John Ignatius Mooney of D Company was killed by German artillery as his company was heading west, back to their trenches about 400 metres from the river. All the witness statements in his Red Cross Bureau Report agree that he was hit by shell fragments from a minenwerfer shell ‚Äď the German 7.6 cm trench mortar, known as a ‚Äúscreaming minnie‚ÄĚ because of the noise it made ‚Äď that landed immediately in front of him, killing him outright. (After these attempted crossings failed, General Monash quickly changed his plans and decided on a bold, surprise attack on Mont St Quentin from the north using the 5th Brigade, which succeeded on the morning of 1 September).
After daylight on 30 August, several men from his company who knew Mooney well volunteered to go down to the river to retrieve his body. This party consisted of five men: Sergeant William Kirkup MM, Lance-Corporal Charles Mackinnon, Private Arthur Dawson, Private James McIlwee and Private James Monks. As the small group carrying his body approached the battalion‚Äôs outpost line, the Germans shelled them again. Two of the party, Mackinnon and McIlwee were killed and one of the other stretcher bearers, Private Monks, was slightly wounded.
At the time of his death Corporal Mooney was aged 26 years and 7 months. His fianc√©e in Australia was devastated. Margaret Hannah Driscoll (known as Pearl), was the daughter of a notable pioneering family from the Monaro district, near Cooma in NSW. She never married after his death. John Mooney, Charles Mackinnon and Jimmy McIlwee were buried together later that day in the 5th Brigade temporary battlefield cemetery, close to the Somme River.
Corporal Mooney‚Äôs body was re-located from its original gravesite in 1923 and he now rests in Assevillers New British Cemetery, west of P√©ronne, along with Mackinnon and McIlwee who had been killed retrieving his body. They rest close by the graves of 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Healy and Privates Bentin, Cravino, Courtney and Vaughan who had been killed the day before at Sword Wood, plus many others who fell in the spectacular attack that subsequently took Mont St Quentin.
By David WILSON,
Australian military history consultant,
Author of Fighting Nineteenth
- 2055 Corporal John Ignatius Mooney, 19th Battalion, AIF
- Colour patch of the 19th Battalion, 5th Brigade, AIF
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