Rilley, James Henry
No. 18/1429, Royal Irish Rifles, transferred to
No. 109545, 2nd Labour Company, Royal Irish Regiment, transferred to
No. 2/L/517, 183rd Company, Labour Corps
Killed in action on Thursday 14 February 1918 (aged 42)
Boyelles Communal Cemetery Extension, France (Grave II. B. 3)
Newtownards and District War Memorial
Newtownards Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Mark’s)
In some records his surname is spelt Riley (Newtownards and District War Memorial), in others it is spelt Reilly (1911 Census) and in others it is spelt Reavy (his parents’ marriage registration).
In the Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919 database it is recorded that James Henry Rilley was born in Ballynahinch.
After Private Rilley died, it was reported in the Press that his widowed mother was living in Killyleagh.
James Rilley worked as a labourer for Robert McBurney in the townland of Ballyhenry, Comber and prior to the outbreak of the Great War James Rilley and his wife Mary Ellen (nee Courtney, sometimes McCourtney) lived at 114 Mill Street, Newtownards.
James Henry Rilley and Mary Ellen Courtney were married on 11 October 1901 in Raffrey Presbyterian Church. James Henry Rilley from Ballymacreely was a son of Henry Rilley, deceased. Mary Ellen Courtney from Ardigon was a daughter of James Courtney, deceased.
James Henry Rilley and Mary Ellen Rilley (nee Courtney) had at least 13 children including:
Samuel James (born 12 April 1902 in Tullyveery)
Mary Jane (Minnie, born 15 September 1903 in Maymore, Toye)
Annie (born 23 September 1905 in Ballygoskin)
William Henry (born 21 July 1907 in Maymore, Toye)
John Francis (born 15 April 1910 in Ballyalton)
Robert Sidney (born 9 April 1912 in Ballyrickard)
Sarah Ellen (born 8 September 1914 in Ballymagreechan)
Eileen (born 22 July 1916)
The last four were baptised in Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards.
James Henry Rilley was born on 26 October 1875 in the townland of Ballycrune, Annahilt and he was the eldest son of Henry and Jane Rilley (nee Skelly, sometimes Kelly) who were married on 19 November 1872 in Annahilt Parish Church of Ireland Church. Henry Rilley from Annahilt was a son of Peter Rilley, a farmer. Jane Skelly from Dromara was a daughter of James Skelly, a labourer.
Henry and Jane Rilley (nee Skelly, sometimes Kelly) had at least eight children:
James Henry (born 26 October 1875 in Ballycrune, Annahilt)
William John (born 14 January 1878 in Clintagh, Annahilt; died 15 August 1878)
John (born 18 August 1879 in Clintagh, Annahilt)
Sarah (born 6 February 1882 in Clintagh, Annahilt)
Mary Jane (born 16 July 1884 in Clintagh, Annahilt)
Agnes (born 13 April 1886 in Clintagh, Annahilt)
William (born 29 July 1889 in Clintagh, Annahilt)
Samuel (born 27 January 1892 in Clintagh, Annahilt)
Their father, Henry Rilley died of spinal meningitis on 17 March 1896 (aged 50) in Derryboye and his wife Jane was with him when he died.
John Cochrane and Jane Rilley (nee Skelly, sometimes Kelly) were married on 7 May 1897 in Raffrey Presbyterian Church. John Cochrane, a labourer from Derryboye, was a son of Edward Cochrane, a labourer. Jane Rilley (nee Skelly), a widow from Derryboye, was a daughter of James Skelly, a labourer.
John Cochrane died of angina pectoris on 13 October 1916 (aged 50) in Derryboye and his wife Jane was with him when he died.
James Henry Rilley enlisted in May 1916 in Newtownards and in the Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919 database it is recorded that he served with the Royal Irish Rifles (No. 1429) before transferring to the Labour Corps.
Private James Henry Rilley was 42 when he was killed in action on 14 February 1918 and he was buried in Boyelles Communal Cemetery Extension, France.
Mary Rilley first heard about her husband’s death when she received a letter from the Rev Roland H. Streatfield. He told her that the Labour Company had come under heavy shellfire on 14 February and that her husband was among the casualties. He assured her that James’s death had been instantaneous. For the burial, his coffin was draped with the Union Jack and at the graveside his comrades sang Abide with me and Sun of my soul.
Mary Rilley placed a For King and Country notice in the 20 April 1918 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle and it contained the verse:
One by one the links are slipping,
One by one our heroes fall;
And you my darling husband,
Have answered the great Roll-call.
A loving father, true and kind,
Loved by those he left behind;
Forget him, no, we never will,
As time goes on we love him still.
In 1919 Mary Rilley was still living at 114 Mill Street, Newtownards and she placed an In Memoriam notice in the Newtownards Chronicle. It contained the verse:
Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a Crown of Life.
Across the world the Voice of God hath spoken,
When, on the battlefield, men fought and fell,
Look upward, and, although your heart be broken,
Make answer, ‘It is well.’
Because the Voice which spoke amidst the thunder
Of earthly warfare, and a deadly strife,
Called your beloved, through death, into the wonder
Of His eternal life.
They are not dead who fall in battle, giving
Their lives for honour, smiling at death’s dart;
They are not dead whose memory still is living
Within a Nation’s heart;
Oh! You, who mourn the dear remembered faces,
Rise up from grief, and stand triumphant now,
It is a Crown of sorrow which God places
Today upon your brow.
Private James Henry Rilley is commemorated on Newtownards and District War Memorial and in Newtownards Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Mark’s).