Gerard Valentine Ryan, 5 November 1922 – 17 October 1944

Sometimes in my browsing of family history I hit grimly interesting coincidences or anniversaries, and so it was this morning, when I realised that today is the 77th anniversary of the death of my second cousin once removed Gerard Ryan, aged 21, fighting in the Netherlands during the Second World War. His mother, Aileen Ryan née Grehan, lived to an old age; I don't know when she died, but she was born in 1890 and I remember her as an occasional presence at family gatherings in the 1970s. Her sister Magda married my great-uncle George (they were distantly related) and her niece Bunty Simonds was one of my father's closest relatives.

Poor Aileen. Her husband Joss Ryan was killed in a polo accident in India in 1927; their daughter Molly died suddenly of a cerebral aneurysm in 1933, a month before her ninth birthday; and Gerard's death left her on her own. As I said, she remained loved by her extended family, but she had lost those closest to her.

Gerard had been the godfather of his not much younger cousin Peter Ryan, born in 1939, and Aileen took on the role of proxy godmother. Peter died earlier this year; he was a science journalist who wrote Invasion of the Moon, 1969: The Story of Apollo 11.

Gerard was killed during the British advance on the Dutch town of Venray, part of the Battle of Overloon during the Allied advance through Dutch Limburg to Germany in late 1944, a colossal tank engagement in which nearly 2000 Allied soldiers and an unknown number of Germans died. He is buried in Venray Military Cemetery.

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