Journal Volume 5 2006

John Francis O'Reilly and John Kenny: Irishmen sent by the Germans to spy in Ireland during World War 2 (continued/1)

John Francis O’Reilly

John Francis O'Reilly landed by parachute in Kilrush, Co. Kildare, on the night of 16th December 1943. This individual was born on 7th August 1916, the son of R.I.C. Sergeant Bernard O'Reilly who arrested Sir Roger Casement at Banna Strand, Co. Kerry, earlier that year after he landed from a German submarine to take part in the 1916 Rising. Thereafter Sergeant O'Reilly was known as 'Casement O'Reilly'. In 1920, he was one of several R.I.C. members who resigned from the force in protest over the activities / behaviour of the Black and Tans and retired to Kilkee, Co. Clare.

John Francis O'Reilly attended the Christian Brothers in Kilrush, Co. Clare and went on to join the Irish Customs and Excise Service at Rosslare, Co. Wexford, in 1936 but later left the Service. One version says that he failed the statutory Irish language examination while another account says that he was dismissed for striking a superior. He then appears to have decided to join the priesthood and entered Buckfast Abbey in England but left after 2 weeks.

By the time World War 2 broke out in September 1939, O'Reilly was working as a hotel receptionist in London but shortly afterwards left this position and moved to the island of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands 20 miles off the Cherbourg Peninsula in France where he obtained employment as a seasonal worker with the potato harvest at Beaumont Farm, St. Heliers. He then transferred to a tomato plantation where he was employed in a similar role.

On 10th May 1940, the Germans unleashed the might of their armed forces against the British Expeditionary Force and the French along the Western Front, very quickly occupying Holland and Belgium without difficulty. Within a matter of weeks the French, unable to resist the rapid German advance, were forced back while most of the British Expeditionary Force, minus its equipment, plus some French troops, was successfully lifted from the beaches of Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo which began on 27th May 1940 and concluded on 4th June 1940. While this was happening, the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark) were evacuated by British forces. Jersey and Guernsey were bombed by the Germans on 28th June 1940 and occupied by them 2 days later, the only British territory to be occupied by the Germans during World War 2 with citizens being ordered not to resist the German occupation by the British authorities in London.

Some citizens of Jersey were very happy in ingratiate themselves with the Germans and collaborate with them - the local civil administration worked for the Germans in accordance with ambiguous instructions issued to them by London and this action has still left a legacy of bitterness with some citizens of this island over their collaboration with the occupying Germans as no action was taken against them by the British Government when Jersey was liberated in 1945. O'Reilly was one of those who was happy in ingratiate himself with his new German masters and began by rising from a menial job at the German airfield to finally acting as interpreter between the island commander Major Goerg Wilhelm Pruny zu Walbeck und Prymont and those Irish workers who had decided to remain on in Jersey.

Having established himself with the Germans, O'Reilly approached the Major about the possibility of obtaining permission to travel and work in Germany, an action which O'Reilly later claimed was a ploy to enable him to reach the Irish legation in Berlin with a view of returning home. The Major indicated that he was prepared to grant him permission to travel to Germany provided he could recruit other Irish workers in Jersey for employment in Germany. O'Reilly threw himself into this challenge with great zeal and by means of a very creative incentive scheme which promised pay, holidays and paid return to Ireland when the war was over, managed to persuade 72 Irish workers to travel to Germany with him.

The workforce the Germans expected and what they received were in great contrast to each other. The Germans expected a very disciplined and well behaved group of workers but things started to get out of hand once the workforce reached mainland France to commence the train journey to the Herman Goering plant at Waterstedt. While on the train, the Irish party behaved in a very boisterous and noisy manner, were drunk, entered the compartments of other foreign workers travelling on the train and on several occasions pulled the emergency cord for no apparent reason. O'Reilly as leader of the party had to accept much of the blame for what the Germans considered unacceptable behaviour.

On arrival at Waterstedt, O'Reilly turned on the charm and managed to get accreditation with the German authorities as an interpreter to the German forces. He began to distance himself from the Irish workers as they never conformed to the German concept of workers and the type of behaviour expected of them as they disregarded the rules, were noisy and boisterous at night and more seriously turned or left on the lights of the factory they were working in during the blackout.

After a while, O'Reilly tired of his Irish compatriots, in September 1941, replied to an advertisement seeking a writer of articles for Irland - Redaktion, the Irish service of German Radio. Between December 1939 and May 1945, German Radio broadcasted Nazi propaganda to Ireland starting with a weekly talk in Irish, later growing in time to a nightly broadcast in English and Irish. The originator behind this operation was Dr. Adolf Maher, the Austrian born director of the National Museum of Ireland. Maher joined the National Museum of Ireland in 1927, became a member of the Nazi party in 1933 and was appointed Director of the National Museum of Ireland in 1934.In August 1939 he went to Germany to attend an archaeological conference but did not return to Ireland, remaining in Germany for the duration of World War 2, being officially recorded as being on leave of absence from his post as Director of the National Museum of Ireland during this period. Dr. Maher spent the World War 2 years working at the Irish desk of the German Foreign Office in Berlin as well as starting and directing Irland-Redaktion.


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