Michael Nugent (Mick) RILEY

RILEY, Michael Nugent

Service Number: SX8113
Enlisted: 6 July 1940
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Kangarilla, South Australia, 10 June 1920
Home Town: Burnside (SA), Burnside City Council, South Australia
Schooling: St. Peter's College, Adelaide, South Australia
Occupation: Jackaroo (Moolooloo Station)
Died: Killed in Action, Egypt, 31 October 1942, aged 22 years
Cemetery: El Alamein War Cemetery
A II C 10
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Parachilna & Region Honour Roll
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World War 2 Service

3 Sep 1939: Involvement Private, SX8113
6 Jul 1940: Involvement Private, SX8113
6 Jul 1940: Enlisted Adelaide, SA
6 Jul 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SX8113
6 Nov 1940: Enlisted Private, SX8113, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, Adelaide, South Australia
31 Oct 1942: Involvement Private, SX8113, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, El Alamein

Pro Deo Et Patria (For God and Country)

Michael was born at Kangarilla in the Adelaide Hills on the 10th June 1920 to Reverend Leslie Daniel Burfitt and Minnie Francis Riley. He had a younger brother, Charles Guy, born two years later in June ‘22 and a sister Monica. Because of their father’s work as minister in the Anglican Church, the family first lived in several country areas including Waikerie, Pinnaroo and Penola before his appointment to Burnside where the family lived in the St David’s Rectory. Both Michael and Guy attended St. Peter's College in Adelaide.
Post school Mick headed to the Flinders Ranges to work as a jackaroo on Moolooloo Station a working sheep property, situated between Blinman and Parachilna. There he met Jean Ferguson, the elder daughter of the owner W.B. Ferguson.
With the outbreak of WWII 20-year-old, Mike enlisted on the 6th July ’40 and was allocated the number SX8113 with the 2/48th Battalion. His initial days were spent in the cold of the Pavilions, now part of the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds before the new enlistees headed to Woodside for their preliminary training. Pre-embarkation leave gave Mick time to propose to Jean with their engagement formally announced in December. Meanwhile, the 2/48th contingent embarked on the Stratheden for the Middle East, on the 7th November 1940, arriving on the 19th December 1940 with the Battalion completing a few months training in Cyrenaica.
By the start of the next month, the 2/48th were in Tobruk where the dust, flies, heat, minimal water supplies and constant bombardment were quite a challenge to new enlistees. They were to become the famed Rats of Tobruk.
Michael’s younger brother, Guy enlisted in April ’41 as a 19-year-old, becoming a Flying Officer and heading to the United Kingdom.
Mick was involved in the battle for Hill 26 in July ’42. Enemy tanks loomed over the 2/48th troops who were technically unprepared and under resourced. Many legends were created that day, including from Captain Bryant being asked how his heavily attacked position was and answering, ‘She’s sweet’. This laconic phrase became a byword in the battalion. John Glenn in Tobruk to Tarakan records that ‘About this time a German tank, trailing a thick cloud of dust and firing everything it had, loomed up over a slit trench occupied by Mick Riley, Teddy Woodroofe, and young Mick Miles. Mick Miles tells the story:
“The tank stood over us, looking a tremendous size in the fading light. A German poked his head out of the turret and yelled “Come out and lift your hands up.” I don’t think the Jerry could see us in the dark. I was in the trench with Teddy, and I was probably more frightened that he was. When the Hun spoke, Mick Riley, who was a really good soldier, yelled back, “Shut up, you squarehead, I’ll get you.” Teddy whispered to Mick, “Don’t tease him, let him go home.” We held our fire and the tank moved off.”
Back home awaiting news, 1942 became an extremely challenging year for the Reverend and Minnie Riley. The Advertiser of August ’42 reported the death of their younger son, Guy who was killed in an aircraft accident. ‘The Rev. L. B. and Mis. Riley have been informed that their son. PO Charles Guy Riley is reported to have lost his life as the result of an aircraft accident at Cairn Place Farm, near Grail, Scotland. PO Riley was an old boy of St. Peter's College and a member of the eights boat in 1940. He entered the RAAF while still at school and was a foundation member of the recently appointed Australian Spitfire Squadron in Scotland. The burial took place at the RAF Station. Leuchars. Scotland, on Tuesday.’
Less than three months later, the November issue of the Advertiser ’42 carried the news that ‘Pte. Michael Nugent Riley, 22, elder son of the Rev. and Mrs. L. B. Riley, of St. David's Rectory, Burnside. was killed in action in Egypt on October 31. Before enlisting he was for some time a jackeroo on North Moolooloo station under Mr. W. Ferguson, to whose daughter Jean he was engaged. For nine months of his two years overseas he was in Tobruk. His younger brother, PO Guy Riley, died in Scotland on August 1 as the result of an aircraft accident.’
Mick’s death was also reported in the Chronicle in December and included a list of the other men, predominantly from the 2/48th Battalion, killed in action. They included SX7832 Pte. Max C. Boase. 2/48th Millicent; SX6896 Pte. Lance Chapman, 2/48th, North Moonta; SX5226 Pte. Charlie L. K. Cock, 2/43rd Solomontown; SX7260 Sgt. Charles Fraser. 2/48th Norwood; SX10466 Pte. E. L Freeman, 2/43rd, Calca; SX8651 Sgt. Lindsay R. Goode, 2/48th Malvern; SX13580 Pte. Ronald A. Grist. Inf., Port Noarlunga; SX8587 Pte. George W. Haywood, 2/48th Mount Compass: SX7249 Cpl. J. Hinson, 2/43rd ., Plympton: SX310 Sgt. Alfred W G. Miller, 2/48th Ponde; SX9488 Pte. Eric L. Montgomerie, 2/48th., Edwardstown; SX7375 Sgt Charles E. Plummer, 2/48th College Park; SX7176 A-Cpl. William C. Quinn, 2/48th Bordertown; SX8113 Pte. Michael N. Riley, 2/48th Burnside; SX7298 Cpl. Harold Sandercock, 2/48th Maitland; SX7732 Ste. Clem H. Schulz, 2/48th Yorketown; SX12924 Pte. Richard Speck, 48th Blanchetown; SX849J Pte. Arthur G. Wilson, 2/48th Glanville. It was a day of great loss to the 2/48th Battalion.
Mick was killed in action during the horrific fighting that erupted over October, 1942. Conditions at that time were ever-changing and the fighting continuous. Montgomery had ordered the 9th Battalion to attack northward. John Glenn in ‘Tobruk to Tarakan’ described the confrontation.
‘The attack continued, however, without pause…it was only after hard fighting, with heavy casualties on both sides, that they were able to consolidate on their objective. The troops had never been more tired.. The 2/48th had stirred up a real hornets’ nest; from first light until nine o’clock the enemy turned all their fury on the Trig area, with particularly heavy fire on 29 itself, hiding the position in a cloud of dust and smoke.’ A comment was later made that about the heavy casualties. History later recorded these as being close to 6,000.
Prior to the announcement of Mick’s death, an article in the November issue of the News featured then Corporal Michael Riley with Sergeant Jack Weston, who had enlisted at a similar time to Mick. Their heroic action in battle was mentioned. Jack, a Station Manager pre-war survived the war.
In a later edition, the Advertiser expanded on their tribute to the two Riley sons. ‘It is difficult to find words to express our feelings towards those who have lost sons in this war. Two sons of the Rev. and Mrs. L. B. Riley have died for their country. Guy, a pilot officer, lost his life following upon an aircraft accident in Scotland in August, and Michael, an elder brother, fell fighting in Egypt last month. The two Rileys and David Fowler were three of six SPSC boys whose names will go down proudly in the school annals as having been the first to enter the RAAF in the last term of 1940 just after the historic Battle of Britain. They became inseparable, three modern musketeers, until they reached England, and Mr. Riley told me about the wonderful letters he used to get from them. One in particular spoke of their arrival in London from Canada, and how in their new Savile Row uniforms they wandered round and found themselves in front of Buckingham Palace just at the changing of the guard. They had a great thrill when the austere guardsmen paid them a tribute by giving them a salute.’ It would be those memories that sustained the family as they grieved the loss of their two sons.
Initially, Mick was buried in the Military Cemetery of Tel El Eisa. On the 14th March ’45 he was finally reburied in the El Alamein War Cemetery Plot A 11 Row C Grave 10. In keeping with his family’s faith, the inscription Pro Deo Et Patria (For God and Country) was chosen for his headstone. He now rests with others from his Battalion who were killed in action on that fateful day of 31st October ’42. They include 27 year old Private R Jackson SX6963, 29 year old Corporal J Hamilton WX10432, 23 year old Private T McMullin SX13102, 22 year old L/Sgt F Hale SX7700, 22 year old Private Ronald Grist SX13580 and 30 year old Private Andrew Warner WX14061, 29 year old Sgt Lindsay R.Goode SX86512, 27 year old Pte William E. Ridley WX9913, 38 year old Pte Francis R Cornelius WX9930, 25 year old Pte Lance Chapman SX6896, 25 year old L/Cpl Ronald J. Templeton WX9832, 24 year old Cpl Paul W. Cashen SX7000, 33 year old Pte Vincent DeP McGahan SX6775, 29 year old Pte Edward R. Edwards SX12876, year old Pte J.A. Cox SX10362, 23 year old Pte Thomas S. Holmes SX9330
Mick’s sister, Monica married Lieutenant Peter Jeffries in March ’46. She had previously served in the Australian Women’s Army Service. In a poignant tribute to her brother, Michael, when their first child was born in May ’47 he was named Michael Nugent. Her husband Peter, who was serving overseas at the time with the Navy in the waters off Japan, received a cable with the news. The new grandfather, Reverend Riley christened his young grandson in October ’47.
Researched and written by Kaye Lee, daughter of Bryan Holmes, SX8133, 2/48th Battalion.

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Father Leslie Daniel Burfitt Riley (b. 9/2/1892 - d. 1989) (m. 31/12/1918  St Clements Church,
Enfield)  and  Mother Minnie Frances (nee Ragless) d. 1984.

Siblings:  sister M M Riley (later married Peter Jeffries and had 4 children)
Michael Riley
Brother:  Charles Riley (b. 21/6/1922, Adelaide, SA  - d. 1/8/1940)

Michael and his younger brother Charles were sons of one of the priests of St Peters Cathedral
North Adelaide diocese.

An ex-parishioner of St Peters Cathedral, North Adelaide -  Betty Byrne - as a young woman,
knew both Michael and his younger brother Charles, from country South Australia.

There was a group of three young lads, including Fred

When the war came each of the three joined up in the Services. 

6/11/1940        Michael enlisted in Adelaide

Fred became an ambulance person. At the second battle of El Alemein, Fred came across fatally wounded Michael Riley.
Michael actually died in Fred’s arms.   

RAAF Officer Charles Guy Riley was killed in an aircraft accident in Scotland 1 August 1940.

With thanks to Rosie Hamilton from St Peters Cathedral.

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan.  4 August 2014.  Lest we forget.