14th Battalion, Australian Infantry (Australian Army)
Date Of Birth:
11/04/1917 (Killed in Action)
Edwin Johnston Irwin was the son of Andrew and Lucy Irwin. He was born 15th October 1891 in Stilloga, Eglish, County Tyrone. He was one of nine children, all born in the Benburb area. His father was a farmer. By 1911, Edwin was living and working in Belfast as a draper’s assistant. He then emigrated to Australia. Edwin enlisted on 7th July 1915 in Melbourne with the Australian Infantry. Previously, he had been working as a salesman. Private Edwin Johnston Irwin was killed in action on 11th April 1917 in France.
Edwin Johnston Irwin was the son of Andrew and Lucy Irwin. Andrew Irwin and Lucy Frazer were married on 22nd April 1886 in the district of Armagh.
Edwin Johnston Irwin was born 15th October 1891 in Stilloga, Eglish, County Tyrone. He was one of nine children, all born in the Benburb area.
The 1901 census records the family as living in Eglish. Edwin J was 9 years old in a rather large family with 9 children. His father was a farmer.
Family: Andrew Irwin, Lucy Irwin, Evelyn A Irwin (born 3rd March 1887), John A Irwin (born 28th October 1888, twin), Florence J Irwin (born 28th October 1888, twin), Lucy E Irwin (born 15th June 1890), Edwin Johnston Irwin (born 15th October 1891), Hilda Irwin (born 8th October 1892), Aubrey Andrew Irwin (born 10th March 1894), Emily G Irwin (born 14th January 1898), Edna M Irwin (born 11th June 1904).
Edwin’s father, Andrew Irwin, died in Benburb on 23rd February 1908, aged 52.
The 1911 census does not list Edwin as living with the family at house 8 in Stiloga, Benburb.
The 1911 census lists Edwin as age 19, boarding at house 39 in Lonsdale Street, Belfast.
The family later moved to live at Chichester Road in Belfast.
Edwin served a four year apprenticeship with a drapers company, Fulton and Co, in Belfast.
Edwin J Irwin then emigrated to Australia around 1911.
Edwin enlisted on 7th July 1915 in Melbourne with the Australian Infantry. Previously, he had been working as a salesman. He gives his next of kin as his mother, who was living at 6 Chichester Road, Belfast.
On 11th March 1916 Private Irwin joined the 14th Battalion.
On 12th May 1916 he was transferred to base ex No1 Australian State Hospital.
On 1st June 1916 Private Ned Irwin proceeded to joined British Expeditionary Force Per “Transylvania” They disembarked at Alexandria, France, Marseille.
Private Edwin Johnston Irwin was killed in action on 11th April 1917 in France. He was shot through the heart and was killed instantly..
Letter from France, dated April 23rd 1917:
'Dear Mrs Irwin, I wrote to you a short note last week, telling you of dear old Ned's death. I hope you got it alright and are getting over your great loss. He was the best 'Cobber' I ever had, and was my bedmate every night for over 12 months. I felt his death as though he were my brother. I suppose he told you that we expected to have a hop over at Fritz, well it was in this 'hop over' that he fell. It was at daybreak on the 11th April that it took place and I will never forget it. The ground was white with snow and of course it wasn't cold, 'not half'; we were almost freezing when the word came to line the bank, and in a few minutes over the top we went and a lovely sight it was, especially when the flares went up and lit the surroundings, for it wasn't yet daylight. Four lines of men stretching as far as the eyes could see and marching coolly towards the German lines almost 1000 yards ahead, as if they were only on parade, instead of going to their deaths perhaps. The tanks so much talked of, that they were going to do wonders, proved themselves a failure, as they were too slow and we were ahead of them. Our hearts fell a bit when we discovered this, for we thought the barb wire entanglements would not be cut as the artillery was not firing, as the tanks were expected to do the work. Fritz could now see us coming and opened fire with machine guns, rifles, bullets were whizzing everywhere and men were commencing to drop, but still on we marched and at last came to the wire, which to our great relief was fairly well knocked about and was easily got over, but so well did Fritz have his guns trained on it that by the sparks, the sparks that flew from the bullets striking it, made it seem impossible to get any further. Men were falling fast, but there was no time to think and in a few seconds we were through it and into the trenches and then we got to work with our rifles and in this excitement I forgot all about my own safety and was firing away at the Huns, running back into their second line. It was just here where I happened to see Ned and I hailed him and asked how he was. 'Good old Bill, good luck' he said and then I went ahead, for we had to take the second line of trenches. Things were getting pretty warm and Fritz was resisting stubbornly, and he held us back with his bombs for a while, and we had to bomb him out. I again found Ned by my side as I was throwing bombs, he was in the act of firing his rifle, when I heard him call out 'Bill' and I turned and saw him fall. I ran to his side and raised him but one look at his wound I knew it was fatal. Hard luck but he died doing his duty as many of my mates did that morning. I took his pocket watch and wallet off him and am sending them to you as he desired. [the letter continues with further details of the battle and comments about what 'Ned and I' had planned to do should they ever get leave. It finishes:] Well, I think this is all I can say just now, but will drop you a line occasionally. Hoping this finds you and all dear Ned's sisters and brothers as well as can be expected. I remain Ned's dear Cobber.'
From the Tyrone Courier dated 26 April 1917
News has been received that Private Edwin Johnston Irwin, Australian Imperial Force, was killed in action on 11th April. The deceased soldier, who was the second son of the late Mr Andrew Irwin, Stilloga, Dungannon, and of Mrs Irwin, 6 Chichester Road, Belfast, and a nephew of Mr W J Irwin, solicitor, Dungannon, and was 25 years of age, had been engaged with Messrs. John Fulton & Co. Ltd, Howard Street, Belfast. He emigrated to Melbourne six years ago.
Correspondence with the Red Cross dated 18th November 1917:
Havre, 18th November 1917. 14th Australians Irwin, Edwin Johnston 4222. 11April 1917. He was dark, medium build, and about 27 or 28 years of age. He was killed by shell at Bullecourt in “no man’s land” on 11April 1917. He was killed instantly. Private T.W. Irvine of the 14th Battalion, B Company, now with the battalion, took everything off him, and sent home to his people in England I think. He went to see them when he was on leave, I think. Informant Gilbert, CAE 8932. 14th Australians, B Company, VIII Platoon. Australian Camp Rouellee.
Correspondence with the Red Cross regarding Private Irwin's grave. Letter from 4224 Private TW Irvine, B Company, 14th Battalion, France 26th November 1917:
“14th Battalion AIF. “Killed in Action 11.4.17” Edwin Johnston Irwin. Concerning no 4222: Private E J Irwin, killed on 11 April last. I can tell he was killed right enough as I was by his side when he fell. He died instantly as the bullet that struck him went to his heart. We were in a charge at the time and he fell before we reached our second objective, so as I had to go on, I had no time to bury him but I took all his papers and wallet and went on with the fighting, intending to return and bury him later. But before I got a chance to get back to him, the Germans counter-attacked and after some hard fighting they drove us out and forced us to return to our own front line, so I can't tell you if he was buried at all. Someone might have buried him before the attack. If so he would be buried on the field near Bullecourt. His mother lives in Belfast, Ireland and whilst on furlough, I went and saw her and told her all but kept it from her that I did not know where he was buried at all, but I told some of his sisters and I dare say they kept it from the mother. Was it her that was enquiring? If he was buried, there is a chance some of the lads would stick a piece of wood or a board on his grave with his name and number on it, but I hardly think there would be time for that as we lost heavily that fatal morning. If ever I go near that part again, I will have an eye open for his name on the numerous crosses on the battlefield.”
Reply from the Red Cross to 4224 Private TW Irvine, B Company, 14th Battalion, AIF, BEP, 06 December 1917:
“Dear Private Irvine, We have to thank you very much for your letter in answer to our enquiry concerning 4222 EJ Irwin 14th Battalion, AIF. The detailed information will be of much assistance to us and of great value to our enquirers as they learn through you that death was instantaneous which is always a comfort to friends and relatives. Our enquiry came from us from our Melbourne Bureau, but names of enquirers are not cabled or sent us, merely the particulars of the soldiers enquired for. We presume those enquiries are made on behalf of next of kin or relatives. We should indeed be grateful if you could, as you suggest, send us word if later you discovered his name on any cross in the neighbourhood. We very much regret that we have not been able to collect any information concerning 4222 EJ Irwin 14th Battalion, AIF. Missing 11.4.1917 but we have entered your name as enquirer and shall inform you immediately we receive anything. Sgt W C Groves has not yet written to the Red Cross.”
Memorials and Medals
Private Edwin Johnston Irwin's grave was never discovered and he is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in the Somme region of France.
Kenneth Irwin, Edwin's grand-nephew, has an autograph book and within its pages is a Christmas card from 1916 and a pressed leaf on which is written, 'Keep the home fires burning, Till the Boys come home. Cheer up, Ned.' The autograph book also contains a letter from Edwin's best friend to his mother, written on 23rd April 1917, giving a firsthand account of what led up to 'Ned's' death. The autograph-book, which was kept by Edwin's sister, Florrie, contains the following, written by Ned on 25th December 1911:
'More precious far than gold refined
Is friendship knit with heart and mind.
Gold may go its fickle way,
But friendship, tried, will ever stay.'
Receipt of disc received by the family at Chichester Road, Belfast
The CWGC record Private Edwin Johnston Irwin as the son of Mrs Lucy Irwin of 6 Chichester Road, Belfast, Ireland.