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Soldiers' Stories

  • 18-05-2009 12:24pm
    #1
    Closed Accounts Posts: 12 ✭✭✭ DFL


    [/
    THE GUN FLOWERS
    An Episode of the Operations in County Cork (1922)


    The officers’ cars - the only ones using their headlights - had disappeared in the darkness ahead on a scouting expedition. In the solid night under the trees that completely over-arched the little road the column waited.
    Presently there were challenges and assurances in the dark around us and , a little later, as I leant over the back of the Lancia, I heard the unmistakable voices of countryfolk discussing the first column of Irish troops they had ever encountered.
    Someone on the ground lit a match for his pipe and with a gleam came startling discovery.
    “A Cannon!”
    “A gun - a big gun!” Oh, Mary Kate, come hither, quick!”
    I think Mary Kate brought the whole family with her. Looking down, I could see that a dense and agitated darkness around the 18 - pounder that the Lancia had tugged all the way from Cork. Matches were struck in reckless profusion and there was a babel of tongues. But the illumination proving incapable of satisfying their curiosity a candle was lit for more adequate inspection.
    “Stand back from that gun” barked the ex-sailor beside us - I think he had been feeling a proprietary interest in it since he spliced the riven rope when we stuck on the mountain top an hour or two earlier.
    “It’s all right, sir, we won’t touch it,” the pastoral chorus assured him.
    A girl’s voice murmured cheekily:
    “Yerrah, you and yer oul’ gun!”
    “ ‘Tis you that’s glad to see it all the same,” said a young soldier.
    “Mary Kate, look at the flowers on the gun” cried a child’s voice.
    “Is it there you are, Brideen, an’ your mother thinkin’ you in bed an hour ago. Run away this minnit.”
    There was a sound of snivelling by night and an incoherent childish murmur. After which Mary Kate once more:
    “Oh heavens above, is that you, Paudeen? Well, of all the young devils….”
    “Ach!” interrupted a Northern voice; “let the weans alone. What harm are they doin’?”
    Followed a few remarks between Mary Kate, dimly visible in the candlelight, and the intrepid Ulsterman, in which the latter did not come off victorious.
    * * * *

    I had noticed the flowers on the gun before the daylight went west. I think our fellows plucked them in the garden of the Rectory where some of them had been entertained during the mid-day halt. The Recoil Resister made a fine flower box.
    Other soldiers had come up from the cars at the rear attracted by the voices. They stood around at the edge of the faint light given by the candle, rifles in hands, none too trustful of these countryfolk who must, of necessity, know more about the “other gentlemen” than we did.
    Another young woman had come out of the shadows. She was younger than Mary Kate and (this in the belief that I will never meet Mary Kate again ) vastly better looking. Apparently I was not the only person to notice this. A young gentleman in green with his rifle slung behind him like the harp of the Minstrel Boy sidled sheepishly nearer to her. I was perfectly certain that she saw him sidling just as plainly as I did but she seemed sublimely unconscious of his existence.
    The old sailor turned soldier chuckled hoarsely and dug an elbow into my ribs. By the time I had finished rebuking him the introduction had been accomplished at the side of the 18 pounder. The soldier and the girl stood conversing.
    The Ancient Mariner and I, leaning on the steel rim of the Lancia just above their heads, heard youth calling to youth in the usual ridiculous tongue-tied fashion. The whole dialogue was painfully bucolic.
    * * * *
    Some of the soldiers had by this time partly overcome their suspicions of the country folk and were explaining the 18 pounder. I felt that I had never really appreciated that 18 pounder before. Up to that moment I, in common with the gun crew in the Lancia, had been speaking unkindly of it and to it. The time that it had stuck at the fording of the Bride the ex-sailor had used language towards it that would have made any really sensitive weapon melt away.
    When we heard those infantry men in the lane telling the countryfolk all about the wonders of the big gun we realised that we owed it an apology. It was a far more wonderful contraption than we had ever dreamed of. Or the infantrymen were bigger - but of course that could not be.
    We had been doing all the pushing and hauling and cursing in connection with that gun since mid-day and here were the mere riflemen coming along and stealing our thunder, as it were.
    “Blymme,” said the ex-sailor, “you’d think it was their bleeding gun.”
    He spat overboard disgustedly and narrowly missed the two earnest conversationalists on the port bow.
    * * * *
    A whistle sounded in the darkness ahead of us. There was a ripple of orders along the line back to the ambulance about half a mile away at the point of our tail. The motors of the lorries began to grumble hoarsely.
    “All aboard,” said the ex-sailor gruffly as he bent towards where the young soldier was still talking to the girl. The youth was evidently trying to extract some information from her - always a good thing to do when in enemy territory,
    At last she gave it to him.
    “Eileen,” she murmured shyly, endeavouring to release her hand.
    I was glad it was Eileen. I would hate to have the idyll spoiled by the lady pleading guilty to say, Gwendoline or Gladys.
    The column commenced to move. The soldier hurried back to rejoin his comrades. But before he did so he took the bunch of flowers from the Recoil Resister and gave it to Eileen.
    “Hi!” cried a ‘Jock’ in the Lancia. “Them’s our flowers!”
    “Shut your fat head,” ordered the ex-sailor.
    The Lancia staggered ahead: the gun bumped behind it.
    In a minute or two the Lancia turned a corner of the lane and the faint glow of the candle vanished. We heard a little burst of cheers as the rest of the column passed the spot.
    About half an hour later we were halted again. It was ticklish work finding your way through a district which the enemy knew better than you did, in a pitch black knight with joyous possibilities of broken bridges and land mines at every yard.
    The column was, according to instructions, comparatively silent. But as we lingered in the obscurity of this second halt, a youthful tenor a short distance behind us broke forth:

    Sheolfainn fein gamhna leat, Eibhlin a run
    Sheolfainn fein gamhna leat, Eibhlin a run
    Sheolfainn fein gamhna leat,
    sios go Tir Amhlai leat
    Mar shuil go mbeinn i gcleamhnas leat,
    Eibhlin a run


    It was well sung. It seemed to me that it was the singing voice of the boy that had spoken to the girl by the gun-side.
    “I ken that air fine,” said the ‘Jock.’ “It’s ‘Robin Adair.’ I can play it fine on my mouth organ.”
    “It’s not ‘Robin Adair,’” said I, “but an Irish air composed centuries before the Scots stole it for the song you name.”
    “Of course,” said the ex-sailor, “ an’ if that red-headed Irishmen from Glasgow attempts to produce his mouth organ I’ll blow the silly head off him.”
    Again the whistle sounded and the column resumed its march. As the rumble of the wagons increased the song rose louder from the car behind us: -
    An dtiocfaidh tu no an bhfanfaidh tu, Eibhlin a run?

    I wondered if the youthful warrior would ever get a satisfactory answer to the question.

    JOSEPH LE POER
    Originally published in ‘An t-Oglach’ June 1923
    QUOTE]


Comments

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 12 ✭✭✭ DFL


    PARADE STATE (1930s)
    Sergeant Corcoran lowered exactly one half of his pint and peered dreamily through the haze of cigarette smoke. His ear isolated the several conversations that proceeded like so many dogfights around the bar of NCO’s mess while he waited for the opportune moment.
    “I was listening to what you were sayin’ Joe, about trying to get a company on parade.”
    “Yes,” CS O’Higgins said eagerly. “My CO thinks I can pluck men outa the air…”
    “We was something like that before the war.” Corky bulldozed though the other’s words. “There was a kinda shortage of men, and we was going on the Bank of Ireland as we was comin’ offa the Government Buildings and buckshee men was as scarce as daisies on the Colonel’s tennis court - on account of the Colonel having four men outa B Company weedin’ his grass from Reveille to Tattoo - not that he was much of a tennis player, but he hated havin’ weeds on his grass.”
    “There was men in the cookhouse,” Corky continued, “ an’ room orderlies, and fire picquets, and waiting men and fellas going sick, and fellas training for the boxing team and between the lot of them there wasn’t much chance of doing foot drill or rifle marksmanship or bayonet practice and there was an awful lotta officers and an awful lotta NCOS and there wasn’t no men.”
    “Me and Sullivan was in Brigade at the time - Sullivan was Orderly Room Corporal and I was clerk. It was only the intelligentist of the army could get clerk them days - there wasn’t no shovin’ any oul’ yoke who could recognise a “J” nib - yeh had to do a writin’ test and read a bit from the racin’ page and yeh had to be able to make cha. We was busy enough. The OC would be in at eleven and we’d have cha and then he’ll yell out - “Sullivan, bring in the mail!” and Sullivan would bring in the Routine Orders from the battalion and the Colonel’d open them up. He liked openin’ letters, the Colonel did. I expect he thought he’d get a postal order or somethin’ some day. It’d be after twelve be that time and he’d hafta go off for his lunch and after he’d et that he went off on a confrince playing golf.”
    “Wan day he went off with his golf sticks and Sullivan and me was playing shove ha’penny for a tanner a game - Sullivan hated losin’ and every time I won he’d come the corporal and he’d fall me in the corridor an’ give me PTs for ten minnits - but he hadda pay up and yeh could get something for a tanner them days. Well, like I said, we was playin’ this game and I was winnin’ and Sullivan was getting mad an’ I knew in me bones that I was gonna get run around the block, when in walks the Brigade OC with a pair of yella plus-fours on him (they was a kinda bags some of them some of them golfers usta wear instead of trousers.) He’d a funny pair of legs and I gave a sorta snort of laughin’ and Sullivan grins and the OC sez, real nasty - “So this is how yez spend the afternoon an’ me sweatin’ at confrinces. It’s no wonder,” he sez, “the work gets behind and yez hafta spend Saturday and Sunday makin’ it up.” “

    “Sullivan gets mad an’ sez: “Sir, we’re always up late wit the work an’ the cha an’ we never hadda work on no weekend before.” The Colonel gives him a dirty look an’ sez, “we’’, you’re gointa work next weekend to get up to date.” Sullivan says he has no arrears of work an’ if the Colonel feels that way mebbe he’s recommend his transfer to the Supply and Transport and the Colonel says the only transfer Sullivan is gointa get is down to the Glasshouse in the Curragh and he goes inta his office and Sullivan sez a nasty word. Me, I don’t mind cos Sullivan is always lookin’ for his transfer and the Colonel is always bouncin’ offa him and anyway if Sullivan goes I’ll get his stripe seeing that I’m doin’ most of the work anyway.”
    “We was wondering what the Colonel was doin’ back in the office and I said his grandmother or somepin must be dead, but Sullivan says, no, he’d of sent a officer to represent him at the funeral rather than stop the game of golf. He sez it must be the Command OC was looking for him and sure ‘nuff the Colonel comes outa his office in his uniform an’ sez the Command OC wants to see him and for Sullivan not to budge in case there’s typin’. So Sullivan details me to stay and finish the game of shove ha’penny, only he makes us start all over again an’ this time he wins the tanner. Sullivan’d do anything for money.”
    “Well, after a bit, the Brigade OC gets back an sorta sweeps into the office and sez: “Sullivan, I want cha,” an’ on inta his own office. I can see he’s mad at somethin’, so I gets a sweeping brush an’ starts sweeping near the door, because Sullivan went and shut it and I couldn’t hear without listening near the keyhole. “Sullivan,” sez the Colonel, “there’s an inspection on Thursday next - and me down to play in the Open Mixed Foursome in Portmarnock. I don’t mind that, but the GHQ crowd is coming on Wednesday and we have to get them breakfast and their dinner and their tea, and I was down to play in the medal on Wednesday. Another thing, Sullivan, is that the parade states don’t make it look like we could dig up a decent platoon from the Brigade, so I want you to especially stress that every man in each Battalion and Corps and Service is to be on parade on Thursday afternoon for the General Staff. I want them to see a full Brigade and not a company. Full battle dress parade at 1400 hours - band and the rest. Get that typed and ready for my signature. I gotta go back and finish my conference.””
    “Sullivan sez he’s only got two hands and ten fingers and he can’t get a movement order ready while the Colonel is getting’ back into his yella plus fours an’ the Colonel sez the guardroom is a drafty place to spend the night so he’d better get movin’, an’ tell that fool Corcoran not to be listenin’ at the keyhole. A thing I never done in me life. Well, Sullivan comes out and starts to type an’ I can hear the Colonel practising swings and putts and brassies and mashies until he swipes the water carafe offa the table and gets a hole in wan. Then he comes rampaging outa the office and sez he can’t wait and Sullivan is to get the order out himself, and that’s no trouble to Sullivan cos he knows the Colonel’s signature like his own. Well, we sweats out a movement order and Sullivan does a fair job of copyin’ the Colonel’s signature and I gums the envelopes and we gets the job done.”
    “The Colonel is shockin’ busy the next week so we don’t see much of him - the barracks is being whitewashed and greenwashed and the pioneer squad is cleanin’ the parade ground and Nobby Clarke, the Pioneer Sergeant is chargin’ fellas left, right and centre for droppin’ bits of paper on the ground. I hear from the battalions that the order has gone out that every man, woman and child is to be on parade and Joe Comiskey outta B Company sez it’s enough to make a quartermaster cry to see some of the characters that gets pulled out on parade. There was scenes of desolation as the Chaplain’s orderly was hauled outa his plot at the back of the barracks and shoemakers and tailors tore away from the back of beyont. The regimental barber didn’t escape and he took it out on the battalions by givin’ every man jack a number one haircut. There was fellas went home to their missus an’ they didn’t recognise ‘em. The Sergeant-Major got one too, so the barber was detailed for an extra guard as well.”
    “Sullivan was readin’ the parade states every day, an’ it looked like there was goin’ to be a full turnout, an’ he slips into the Colonel’s office and sez: “Sir, the parade state as of today shows nearly two full battalions, ready for the inspection.” He acts like it was him that got them out an’ the Colonel says: “I’m thinkin’ about lending you and Corcoran to the battalion for the day.” Sullivan sez: “What about the work in the Brigade?” and the Colonel sez that’s alright he’ll be getting’ coffee in the Mess that day; so Sullivan sez his left leg is givin’ him trouble and the Colonel says if that’s all that’s bothering him he can use a crutch on parade. So Sullivan and me starts polishin’ up.”
    “The day of the Inspection we was outa the office all morning getting’ run around the square be a big black-faced Company Sergeant outa C Company, and by dinner time me and Sullivan was nearly banjaxed - the legs was dyin’ under me and Sullivan said he’d torn an artery in his clavicle. Every man was out on the square by 1230 hours and the leggings was gleamin’ and the bayonets was shinin’. We was standing at ease, rank by rank, when the parade commander calls the parade to attention, and I sees the Brigade OC marchin’ up on his todd. We gets the “present” and the parade OC crosses over, salutes and hands over the parade. The Colonel gets red in the face and sez somepin to the parade commander an’ he gets red in the face. Next thing the Colonel shouts out for Sullivan and Sullivan takes two places back an’ marches up to the Colonel. I’m in the front rank and I hears it all.”
    “I won’t tell you what the Colonel calls Sullivan cos a Colonel hasn’t no right to use them words, but he sez: “Sullivan, I’ll have you court-martialled for this. What’s the idea of getting’ the Brigade to parade here this afternoon? The inspection is tomorra and the General Staff is here waitin’ for it’s dinner and there’s not a cook or a waiter or an orderly in the place. You done this on purpose Sullivan” he says, “an’ I’ll have you busted to Spike.” Sullivan couldn’t open his gob; he was getting’ dirty looks from Company Commanders and Company Sergeants and the Colonel left him standing on the square while the cooks and waiters and orderlies were galloping off the square.”
    “I heard after that the General Staff was mad - only a cold dinner, and the QMG or maybe it was the AG hated salad. The next day the inspection was on, but Sullivan and me wasn’t on it - we was both in the Guardroom, Sullivan blamed me - said I used the wrong date on the rubber stamp, so the Colonel jugged the pair of us.”
    “We didn’t get a court martial. We both accepted his punishment - I didn’t have a penny for six months and anyway we was both CB. I didn’t speak to Sullivan for a fortnight for blamin’ me, but as I told him afterwards there wasn’t no man goin’ to say I was lissenin’ at keyholes.”
    ‘Sergeant Mac’

    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ August 1958


















  • Closed Accounts Posts: 12 ✭✭✭ DFL


    THE PRAYER (1940)


    He had been born in this country, and had lived here all his life, and his father before him, and his father, and his father again, and back to the time of the Ulster chiefs when they were beating the English, and back further, to the days of Malachy before the English came, and further again, to the days when Patrick and Bridget made this land holy, and back further still, to the very dawn of history when Heber and Heramon divided the country between them and England was a savage waste and Troy but freshly ravished, and there was no Rome. And now he was crouched in a slit trench on an island in Cork Harbour. It was five a.m. on the morning of the 20th of December 1940.
    The shrill lilting call of the bugles had awakened them at two, and they were rushed out to their positions in the rear of the big guns, to hold them safe from attacks by parachute. They had been told that an invasion of the British Isles had been planned for dawn on the 20th. And all over the island that night, and all over the country, and all over England and Scotland and Wales, soldiers shivered in their slit trenches as they waited for the dawn.
    Out front the patrol ships and torpedo boats were working ceaselessly five and ten miles from the harbour. And on the island the big guns were uncovered pointing out to sea, and the ammunition was piled beside them ready and fused. And around them crowded tense, chilled figures. And the Bofors guns and the four inch anti-aircraft guns were manned and ready to fill the air with bursting metal. And all around the plateau of the island, in their trenches, crouched the infantry men straining to smash into the German paratroops as they landed.
    In his slit trench, his hands frozen on his rifle, crouched Maurice Cassidy, and he was worried. It was two weeks since he had been posted to the Battalion, and he had only four weeks training in the Depot before that. But things were so rushed, so many recruits kept pouring in, that they were sent out from the Depots as soon as they had acquired the necessary elements, and their basic training was to be continued by a special three month’s Recruits course in the Battalion. He knew that he was not a trained soldier, and he worried there, alone with his thoughts, in the dark.
    From worry his mind turned to prayer and he prayed silently with his heart and soul.
    “Oh Blessed Mother, intercede with your Divine Son for me this night, and ask him to look kindly on my old father and my mother and keep them safe and help them through their troubles for the remainder of their lives, and help my little brothers and sisters to grow up in grace and happiness. Look down to-night, O Lord, on my brother John who is somewhere with the Ulster Rifles. And, O Lord, I who may be before your dread judgement seat in a few short hours, grant me one prayer for myself. Grant me that I may bear myself worthily, and that I may send the immortal soul of one of my enemies crashing to judgement before me. Amen.”


    Originally published in ‘Proudly The Note’ by Jasper Tully


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 12 ✭✭✭ DFL


    TWENTY- FOUR (1941)
    In June 1941, a 12-pounder battery was formed in Kildare, formed largely from gunners drafted in from the Anti-Aircraft battalion. That September, as part of a requirement that Army personnel be
    skilled in mines and explosives, the new unit travelled to the Glen of Imaal for a training exercise.
    On the 14th of that month, an anti-tank mine accidentally detonated, killing fifteen artillerymen and the engineer officer instructing them. It was subsequently learned that one of the dead officers, Lieutenant Sean Fennessy, had written this rather prophetic poem shortly before the unit had travelled to the Glen:

    ‘Twenty Four’

    A thousand mad, wild thoughts packed into a day,
    With a lovable, laughable, wild unruly crew.
    A moment’s sadness or a moment’s gladness,
    And yet no sound or hint of dread.

    They placed us there together,
    Twenty four
    Brady and Ryan and Dillon close to the door.
    O’Loughlin and the black-haired mad O’Shea
    And so time fled like a single day,

    Will we still be together when it ends?
    How many dead?
    How many no longer friends?
    How shall we gather
    In the Nation’s need?
    How many will tell the tale of glorious deeds
    Performed by one we knew,
    One of the twenty four;
    By Eager or Heron or Dillon by the door?
    Perhaps in a week, perhaps this very night or next
    Comes the dread call
    A raid in the half dead light
    A silver twinkling speck in a searchlights ray;
    A bomb on it’s way to earth hunting a prey.

    Will it be one of the twenty four,
    One of the lads I knew,
    Who falls in the night
    Shorn of his radiant life, one of the gallant crew,
    Stuck in his prime?
    There lay his broken gun
    And will they be there to tell
    The rest of the twenty four
    How willingly he fell?
    When at last the fight is over
    Will there be more perchance
    Than one to shed his blood
    Dying beside his gun
    Smilingly, even as he fell
    Knowing the fight was good,
    Knowing that someone will tell
    Some of the lads he knew
    Some of the laughing twenty four,
    How even in death were true.


    In 1958 a stained glass window commemorating the sixteen dead was installed in the Garrison Church in McKee Barracks. In September 1986, a memorial was unveiled in the Glen of Imaal, consisting of sixteen rick-stones and sixteen Mountain Ash trees arranged in a semi-circle around a 14 ton basalt monolith. A polished granite plaque on the monolith names the dead:

    Lt John Brierton
    Lt John Fennessy
    Lt Thomas O’Neill
    Lt Michael McLoughlin
    CS Patrick MacMahon
    Sgt Michael Scullion
    Sgt Thomas Stokes
    Cpl Edward Kennedy
    Cpl William Shannon
    Cpl Denis Cleary
    Cpl Colm Heffernan
    Cpl John Taylor
    Gnr John Murphy
    Gnr James McDonnell
    Gnr Gerard O’Hagan
    Gnr James Osborne


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 12 ✭✭✭ DFL


    RECOLLECTIONS FROM THE FORTIES
    I joined the 4th Battalion in June 1940 and left when I crossed the square at Collins Barracks to become Command Legal Officer in September 1947. In spirit I never left , and after some forty five years military service, those are the years I remember with pride, happiness and tremendous nostalgia. The halcyon years - the “well from which we drink long draughts of the wine of memory” whenever any of us who soldiered in the 4th in those days meet.
    The narrative that follows is the story as I remember it. It may be inaccurate in some respects, unbalanced in others. It may be too personal to be called a history. Sometimes a memory is just a tantalizing shadow flickering on a wall.
    In June 1940 I was ordered to Collins Barracks, Cork, there to be commissioned quite informally and posted as Platoon Commander No 1 Platoon, “A” Company, 4th Battalion, which had just begun to assemble at Ballincollig. The CO was Dan Kelly with the rank of Commandant, 2 I/C was Mick Kearney, inseparable from his terrier. The remainder of the battalion officers were Lieutenants and 2nd Lieutenants. It was about this time that Dan Kelly was reputed to have sent a requisition to Command HQ for one Major, one Commandant, 8 Captains and so on. Promotion was slow and one had to wait for a “list” - in the meantime the appointment was everything and one did not depend on rank to exercise command.
    Companies took in turns to act as “stand to” at Ballincollig and platoon commanders slept beside their platoon transport - everyone was rehearsed in loading, mounting and dismounting transport and in minutes the “stand-to” Company could sally forth to meet any invaders (at that time and all the summer expected to be the victorious Germans). The battalion area of responsibility, as I remember it, stretched from Cork Harbour to the mouth of the Shannon and “A” Company sector was from Cork harbour to Courtmacsherry. One may smile today at our innocence but we took it very seriously and at that time the Battalion was all that was available in the south to meet a landing by sea or air. We left Ballincollig at the end of June on the Munster Circuit - Bandon, Macroom, Ballineen, Dunmanway, Bantry, Courtmacsherry, Kinsale, Mallow, Doneraile, Fermoy, Midleton.
    We were like Duffy’s circus as we moved from place to place, from town to town - usually making camp two or three miles from a town. In Bantry we camped in the grounds of Bantry House. We had a remarkably good battalion bugler - Mahoney. Two officers of a cyclist squadron were killed in a motor cycle crash near Bantry. The funerals halted in the square before they took their separate roads. Mahony blew a “Last Post” that will never be forgotten by anyone who heard it, drawing out the long harsh notes hauntingly - letting them fall out across the bay and echoing from the hills that dominate the town. Mahony was an artist who deserves his place in the Battalion annals. For many years no Old IRA man’s funeral was complete without him.
    We marched everywhere constantly carrying out exercises at Company and Platoon level and sometimes we were motorised. We were fit and tough and young. The “old men” were in their thirties - even the Command OC, later the Divisional GOC, General MJ Costello, was under 40! We were relatively well armed, weapon training standards were high and during those summer months we grew into a real fighting force. We were proud to belong to the 4th, we believed in the justice of our cause and everywhere we went we got a tremendous welcome. One felt that the Civil War was really over and one must remember that in 1940 - it was only some 17 years before, the Black and Tans less than 20 and many NCOs had seen service in the Great War.
    We rarely saw Collins Barracks - it was a place to keep away from - the haunt of “Command” and later, Brigade and Division. Impressions of the Barracks were of the Square. It seemed as if a cloud of dust hung over it and a cacophony of sound as the new battalions were hunted and harried and chivvied from dawn to dusk - men of all professions and no profession - of all ages, all backgrounds - but for us that activity had little relevance.
    From time to time there were alarms - a landing from the sea, a parachutist - rumours of an invasion fleet - once “C” Company was ordered to “seize” and hold a hill on the east side of Cork harbour, near Cloyne. No one said from whom it was to be “seized” but the orders were for real and so was the spirit of the Company. Years afterwards I got one of the dossiers of maps and booklets issued in September 1940 for Operation Sea Lion - the invasion of Britain and Ireland by Germany. It was a little daunting to realise that Lt Schmidt leading his platoon ashore at Robert’s Cove, or Rocky Bay or Trabolgan was better informed about the hinterland of Cork than his opponent in the 4th Battalion - nursing his one paper Sheet 25A and who like me had possibly never set foot in Cork until June 1940.
    Autumn came and September grew chill and we longed for a roof over our heads and a dry floor to lay out our gear. We knew that “winter quarters” were being requisitioned, but there were “civvy delays” and finally some sensible soldier, either General Costello or our own Dan Kelly, or Pearse Barry, the battalion QM, forced the issue and very quickly we dispersed into a number of stately mansions, Castle Hyde, Glenville Manor, Park House, Doneraile as well as Kilworth Camp and the Aerodrome at Fermoy. Sometime in 1941 this became a real airfield again when three Lysander Army Co-Op machines were stationed there, piloted by flyers whose names became household names in Aer Lingus - Jimmy O’Brien, Tom Clegg and others.
    We kept those houses until the end of the war and a pattern of winter quarters at about the end of September and then out under canvas about May. Companies changed about from time to time while Battalion HQ remained in Castle Hyde. The Blackwater ran past the front door. There was a ford a few hundred yards upstream, below which lay a good salmon pool.
    Winter weekends were busy helping to train the new LDF. Every Sunday, hundreds came to Kilworth usually to fire five rounds “Grouping” and five “Application.” Companies acted as “enemy” almost every weekend – Ennis, Mallow, Mitchelstown, Killarney, where a local leader in anticipation of the 4th Battalion “parachutists” Armed a number of his men with a sort of ‘Kerry’ blank cartridge (enough pellets to make things lively) and exhorted his group to remember that ‘it’s not birds ye’re shooting today.’ Things got really lively when someone was winged and promptly charged with the only effective weapon to hand - the bayonet!

    The winter passed, with ‘interior economy,’ TOETs and all the time tactical training, marching, night patrols, and of course, camp concerts, boxing tournaments and basketball - football too whenever there was a pinch.

    Early in 1941, about May when we were under canvas in Moore Park before moving to Nadd, the battalion was involved in an unusual operation in the Rathgormack area. As far as we were concerned it was sprung on us quite suddenly. There was a simulated landing of enemy parachutists south of the River Bride and the battalion moved to deal with them. What was unusual about the exercise was the high powered group of observers, including the American Military Attache in London, who were present. ‘C’ Company were later commended in a letter from the Attache for their part in the ‘action.’ This was the time that David Gray, the American ambassador in Ireland was urging Roosevelt to force Ireland into the war and throwing doubt on the effectiveness of the Irish Army. I believe that this demonstration by the 4th Battalion was to impress the United States with our fighting efficiency and I believe we succeeded. The official records of this episode would be interesting.

    By the end of 1942 the likelihood of invasion had receded - the War had for us become The Emergency - civilian style hardships and deprivation : tea rations, petrol coupons, bicycle tyres and the black market provided the stories. We retreated more into our own world of military routine. Soldiers went on agricultural leave, on indefinite leave or on exemption.

    Kilworth was the heart of the Battalion area - the axis about which we revolved every year. Who, having once seen it on a sharp clear spring day could ever forget the view from the top of Flagstaff Hill? Four thousand acres, moor and forest and furzy glens, straddling the Dublin road between the Imperial Hotel and Gloccamorra, west over the long valley to the Kerry Mountains, north to the Ballyhouras and the Galtees, south to the sea over the two ridges, east to Araglen and the Mountain Barracks.

    I stood with Bob Hanna one night in Kamina when Kasongo Niembo was supposed to invade the base. We looked at the battle thirsty Gurkhas dug in all around us; we wondered at the extraordinary happenings that had landed us, two middle aged men, in this bizarre situation and we talked about Kilworth.

    In late 1945 or early 1946, that most splendid of men, Mick Leamy, took over command. During the Black and Tan War he was a tough and courageous fighter, during the Civil War humane and sensible. Two or three days after he died in January 1956 I went shooting to Kilworth alone and followed a trail across the ranges and by woods where every step had a memory. I finished at dusk at the Corner of the Wood where we usually waited for a shot at flighting woodcock. I fired and missed and I thought I heard a shout of “did you get him?” I looked to my left and I could see him plain where he always stood in his old trench coat.
    Maybe it was imagination but I like to think it was something more. He was my last CO in the 4th Battalion.













    Looking back from this distance it seems strange that the War made so small an impact on our lives. Certainly, we followed the campaigns - the battles. Most Messes had war maps on the walls. Some enthusiasts even moved the little flags to mark the ebb and flow of the fighting. Sometimes an aircraft crashed or made a forced landing and for a moment a harsh wind from Europe caused a frission. Once we hunted a parachutist without success on the Nagles mountains. In general, our lives, the life of the Battalion was lived in isolation, bounded by Brigade and Division, by range practices, turf cutting, Autumn manouvres, Winter Quarters and the social life of Mallow, Fermoy and Mitchelstown.

    If we deserve to be remembered it is not so much for what we did but for what we were ready to do.
    Colonel MN Gill (ret’d)
    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ November 1983



























  • Closed Accounts Posts: 12 ✭✭✭ DFL


    MARATHON MARCH CONTEST (1944)
    On the night of the 12th September 1944, forty five officers, NCOs, and men of the 4th Battalion set out to march 42 statute miles, each carrying 40 lbs of equipment. Nine covered the distance in 11 hours 49 minutes and all but four, who were casualties, finished in less than 14 hours.

    Our Battalion Sports were to be held on Sunday 16th September, and a cup was being presented for the best all-round company competing. It was decided, after much discussion, to have a marching competition for which a proportion of the marks for the cup would be allotted. For some years now a number of our officers, NCOs, and men have been anxious to show what they could do on a really tough march and to establish what might be a record for the Army. It was also felt that a number of men who had no specific athletic or sporting ability, but who had given valuable and faithful all-round service, should get a chance to show their worth. The march was therefore unique in that it was first and foremost a sporting event.

    The following rules were drafted:
    1. That all participants should be volunteers.
    2. That all should be medically examined before starting.
    3. Teams to consist of 1 officer, 2 NCOs and six men.
    4. Equipment: Rifles, respirator and full battle order - helmet to be carried but forage cap to be worn. Equipment to be weighed before starting.
    5. Course: 42 statute miles.
    6. Teams to start at half hour intervals. Transport officer to be time keeper.
    7. Order of starting to be drawn by lot.
    8. Choice of rations to rest with team.
    9. Arrangements for times and places of refreshment to be left to initiative of each team. All preliminary arrangements and assistance on the road to be debarred, the only concession being that any cooking utensils required would be carried on umpire’s bicycle.
    10. One officer umpire with a bicycle to travel with each team.
    11. Teams sustaining any casualties to be ineligible (this meant that each team had to march at the rate of its weakest member)
    12. Number of teams: five from each company.

    To put the march in its proper military perspective each team was to consider itself a fighting patrol detailed to march from a point 42 miles outside Fermoy Town to blow up Fermoy Bridge.

    Volunteers flocked forward - from the oldest to the youngest in the battalion - all were anxious to “have a shot at it.” About two days before the march teams were finally selected. Never has any sporting attempt in the history of the battalion evoked such interest and enthusiasm. Old soldiers were lavish with “tips,” grey haired experts passed on the fruits of their experience. Scarcely a man left camp on the night of the 12th - all were anxious to see the start and give last minute instructions. The headquarters of each team was like a jockey’s dressing room with willing assistants adjusting equipment, soaping socks, donating cigarettes and chocolate for the road and giving still more last minute advice.

    First team away from Fermoy at 2100 hours was B Company under Lieutenant George McEnery on the long road to Fermoy via Ballyhooley, Castletownroche, Skenakill CR - Fermoy. They were followed at half-hourly intervals by HQ Coy and then C, A and D Companies.

    The result is now history. B Company coming home at 0849 hours were winners in the remarkable time of 11 hours 49 minutes. Each team was met by pipers a quarter mile from the camp and the entire battalion was massed at the front gate to cheer them in, and proudly lead their own teams for a mug of the “Sergeant-Majors.”

    We learned an amount of useful. Data from the march of which the following will be of general interest:
    All men wore good worn boots, some half-soled, all studded. The night was cold and dark, rain from 0300 to 0600 hrs. One third of the road was second and third class, surfaces rough and stony which caused some difficulty in the dark, two thirds were first class tarred roads with good surface. There was no adverse report from MO on his inspection after march. Men were suffering from natural exhaustion but recovered quickly. No one came in in a state of collapse. The causes of four casualties were as follows:
    1. Exhaustion due to unaccustomed weight of equipment: this man fell out after 28 miles.
    2. Old operation wound started to give trouble.
    3. Badly blistered heel due to lack of practice in marching.
    4. Sick stomach due to eating too much chocolate on march.
    (first three were from HQ Coy)

    Points of interest from winning team:
    Ages: 2nd Lt McEnery (28), Cpl Courtney (26), Cpl Clancy (26), Pte Foley (32), Pte Ryan (26), Pte Kelly (25), Pte Walsh (23), Pte Galvin (29), Pte Harris (28)

    Socks: All old, in good condition, and changed once during the march. Eight of winning team greased socks with soap (socks were slightly damped, rubbed with soap and allowed to dry.) The remaining man did not avail of this device and suffered blistered toes.
    Rations: Winning team carried cold tea in water bottles and sandwiches.
    Formation varied to break monotony from tactical formation both sides of road to closed column.

    Bounds and rest:


    Distance Time Rest Period

    First Bound 16 miles 3 hours 40 minutes 15 minutes Sip of cold tea - no smoking
    Second Bound 7 ½ miles 1 hour 30 minutes 30 minutes Cold tea and sandwich - no smoking
    Third Bound 7 miles 1 hour 40 minutes 15 minutes Sip of tea - no smoking
    Fourth Bound 3 miles 55 minutes 15 minutes
    Fifth Bound 4 miles 1 hour 10 minutes
    Sixth Bound 4 ½ miles 1 hour 29 minutes 10 minutes

    Total 42 miles 10 hours 14 minutes 1 hour 35 minutes

    Total Time of March 11 hours 49 minutes



    The break of 10 minutes in the last bound was made near Labbacallee to permit a member of the team to fix his socks which had slipped down over his heel. Drank water from a nearby pump.

    It will be interesting to note that to a man the winning team did not smoke throughout the whole march.
    D Company brewed tea almost in a matter of seconds by use of an ingenious device which was jealously guarded. Roughly ¼ inch of methylated spirits was put in the larger part of a mess tin, lit, and water boiled in the smaller part. This was done by each man. Amongst the competitors who finished was one NCO of 52 and a man aged 46.
    As a participant in the march myself I found the greatest strain to be the weight of the equipment and suffered considerably from cramp and pains in shoulders and arms. Singing helped us but it was difficult to find songs suitable in rhythm. Most of our marching songs as sung at present seemed too much of an effort. All our mental faculties remained alert although tempers did not improve towards the end and little annoyances were magnified out of all proportion. The darkness of the night was exceptionally trying and a similar march in daylight would be a far less formidable task. All agreed we were capable of digging in or mining a bridge, but would scarcely be capable of sustained offensive combat without at least five hours rest. My most vivid recollection was the enthusiastic, emotion-charged reception which we got from the battalion as we marched home. The men who took part in this march were average infantry soldiers who received no special preliminary training and I know there are thousands of others who could have taken their places. No better proof that this cold be given of the fitness, morale and powers and endurance of the Army as it stands, and marches, today.


    Commandant MN Gill
    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ March 1945

    Some forty years later, this march was recognised as the fastest military march carried out under peacetime conditions and was entered as such in the Guinness Book of Records.










    THE WORD (1945)

    The time came when mighty armies swept across the Rhine or eastward from Warsaw. The fact that the war was ending had percolated even down to the rank of Lieutenant. The soldiers would be set free, some of them fairly delighted by the prospect; some would stay on and a fair number of NCOs would sign regular forms. The officers were asked to indicate their intentions and most of them were happy to serve, a fact that surprised nobody, as some were aged about twenty five and had a few young children, not to mention the wife. Anyway the 21st Battalion which we had feared, hated and loved over the eventful years would be no more. Half would go to Clonmel to the 13th and the rest to Fermoy and the loving arms of the Fourth Battalion led by Jaypee Murphy. At least we knew somebody. I found out later that I was earmarked for Clonmel but Colonel Tom Higgins, bless the man, saw the lists and drawing a neat line through my name, added me to the other side. The fact that he was president of the Collins Barracks Gaelic Football Club at the time may have had something to do with it for I was prone to following a bag of wind around the fields of Munster.

    Quietly the lorries pulled out from Youghal, bearing their live cargo of apathetic soldiers to Clonmel. Most of the lads didn’t give a damn. It was all over anyway. The pals, the billets, the canteens, the messes, the teams, the women, the officers were all behind them, sucked up in the swirling dust of the rolling trucks. That night, the barracks in Youghal, the old Workhouse, was almost silent and very lonely. A lot of good men got drunk.

    But the hard bright light of the following day brought everyone back to reality. Today would be the final blow, and as the trucks drew up in front of the Orderly Room the men piled silently in. Some were sober, others halfway and still more, blissfully the other half towards oblivion. There was a big arch at the entrance gate and Quartermaster Dan Dunne, white-haired, red faced and very lovable, raised his arms and calling on the lads to chorus him paraded up and down like a vaudeville artist singing out in clear baritone “Underneath the Arches, I dream my dreams away.” The song echoes down the years. There was no sound of engines until the last note had died away. Then start up was called and as the first truck moved out 65 O’Neill of A Coy, slumped on the floor, eyes shut, and full to the gills, pronounced his final benediction: “To hell with the Fourth.”

    In Fermoy, Jaypee Murphy fastened on me as bar officer as he knew I didn’t drink (at the time.) I don’t think I was a great success as I liked to sit and talk with the officers at night and the bar didn’t always shut on time. The NCOs and men settled in quickly in Fermoy and there was nobody going to disturb the slow, even heartbeat of the close-down for though this was a regular unit the new era wouldn’t start until the splendid soldiers of the Emergency had said goodbye.

    There was little to do and so Commandant Mick Gill, never noted for lying in bed, grabbed me one day. I was a regular officer, without any of the worries that attended the poor devils with young families who wanted to stay on, but awaited the verdict of the interview boards. Mick Gill told me it was my job to keep them occupied. I suggested games and he said “Right.” Had I plumped for digging tunnels under the golf course his reply might have been the same. The idea was to make them so tired by day they would go to bed at night. We played hurling, we played Gaelic football, we played soccer, we played rugby, we played rounders, a great game we had to learn in the bog while cutting turf to warm Grainnuaile. Those officers, about twenty of them, really enjoyed themselves and as for me, I was being paid for what I liked best. We tried various combinations of the games and in the end all agreed that the most entertaining of the lot was soccer with a rugby ball. Pity we didn’t get Mick Gill to patent it.

    “The Word” was what we called the Army’s verdict on the careers of the temporary officers who elected to stay on. Every day someone would say “The Word” was coming. I never joined in those discussions: it was my function to make sure the poor devils forgot about it. Then one evening we were sitting down to tea and Johnny Water, the Adjutant, came to the door. “Gentleman,” he said, “I have here the list of commissions. Some officers are transferred to the Reserve (that meant you were out the door) and some are granted regular commissions.” I felt the knee of the man sitting beside me stiffen. Around me were a dozen young married men, all my friends. Johnny began to read. As each name was spoken, quietly but clearly, a man wilted or shifted or coughed, or threw up his head in defiance. Of the ten present one, only one, was granted a permanent commission and he, God bless the man, the most unlikely of the lot. I hadn’t the heart to stick around. I scurried over to my room, put on an old pants, sweater and gymshoes and jogged off up the back towards Kilworth knowing that by the time I was back it would be very dark and I would be worn out. Two hours later I fell into bed dog-tired.
    I was almost asleep when in the door came a man I liked a lot, a comrade, an officer. He was the one who had been granted the permanent commission. “Youngy,” he cried, “the greatest night of my life and you’re inside in bed.” Out I hopped and over to the lads. They were by now maith go leor but taking their beating well. With clarity and emphasis as well as a strong mixture of joy and sorrow Jaypee Murphy’s bar officer heard The Word that night.

    Commandant E Young
    Originally published as ‘God Gave Us Memory So Tthat We Might Have Roses in December’
    ‘An Cosantoir’ November 1983




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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 12 ✭✭✭ DFL


    MY FIRST VISIT TO NIEMBA (1960)
    There is a village in north east Katanga in the Albertville region called Niemba. To me it will always be “The Deserted Village”, a place of melancholy - an enlarged “Fothroch Fallamh gan Aird” near a railway station on a tropical hillside forgotten and neglected.
    I saw it first on Thursday, 3rd November 1960, when I travelled out there with a small escort of one Corporal and Four Privates of ‘A’ Company 33rd Irish Battalion ONUC. My company commander, Commandant Louis Hogan, newly arrived from Kamina base, was concerned about our enforced lack of contact over the last five weeks with Lt Kevin Gleeson and his men of Number 2 Platoon. As 2 I/C of ‘A’ Coy I was detailed to go out there to visit them in their outpost at Niemba. We travelled on a tiny train called a Dressein - one driver and one inspector of the CFL railway company from Albertville. We carried food, canteen supplies and items of welfare. The journey took about three hours - sitting on an open top flat car with our valuable supplies. There were about five stops on the way and at each stop it was remarkable that no men were to be seen but plenty of women and children. These women seemed agitated and the Inspector was up to his neck in the hassle that went on. This was in French and Swahili so the Irlandaise did not understand the reason for the commotion but it seemed to concern pay and the Belgian’s refusal to hand over pay packets in the absence of the male railway workers.
    At last we pulled into Niemba Station in the heat of midday - it was completely deserted, also the manumouks were absent. The Inspector told us he would be returning from Nyunzu at 4 pm. We unloaded our goods and the Dressein pulled off. A landrover approached promptly and we had a big handshake and Failte from the driver Sgt Hugh Gaynor and Pte Jim Creagh. I had not seen him since he left with his platoon from Kamina Base on September 5th. He drove us about half a mile uphill away from the river to platoon headquarters. Kevin Gleeson was waiting there outside his house with most of the men of his platoon. We were feted and welcomed with mugs of tea and great enthusiasm. Questions poured our way: “How’s so and so,” “are all the lads up from Kamina?” Kevin and I detached ourselves from the group and went to his room for a chat. Pte Malachy Bartley produced more tea and spam sandwiches. Then Sgt Gaynor brought us on a tour of the platoon locations. The UN flag fluttered from a tall flagpole nearby. There was a sandbagged guardroom and a sentry on each of the four approach roads. Security had been intensified since a sentry shot and wounded a prowling Congolese warrior a week earlier. We visited the cookhouse where Pte Gerry Killeen proudly showed me his set-up, nicknamed “The Gresham.” His three Congolese workers, however, were missing again that day and this was the pattern of behaviour for some weeks past.
    Then Kevin Gleeson brought us on a tour of the platoon houses. Cpl Jim Lynch’s house at the crossroads housed a section, almost all Engineers. They kept this European style house in great order. Cpl Dave McGrath was landlord of another house some 200 yards away that was, in more peaceful days, the station master’s house. A few songwriters had been discovered and I was shown the script of “The Ballad of Niemba” which had become a great favourite though Kevin Gleeson’s rendering of “Three pints of the Johnny Jump Up” was always guaranteed to bring down the house. Other unusual hobbies were disclosed. Medical orderly Matty Farrell was adding to his collection of reptiles and insects by preserving these creatures with formaldyhyde injections. Numerous horticulturalists were trying their hands with the accelerated growing of un-named plants. Alas, they were destined never to see the fruits of their labours.
    Back at platoon headquarters my report for OC A Company was taking shape -conditions better since installation of lighting -food was adequate though some variety would be welcome - laundering was primitive, mostly being done at the river bank below the village. Canteen supplies were inclined to run out before replacement. There was need for an interpreter as they had over the past month had visitors from the local native villages. One particular chief and his officers liked to join their parties and had composed a special drum solo for the Chef Irlandaise. This past week, however, nobody had come near the village and even the few regular workers had deserted their jobs. Something had changed and Kevin looked uncharacteristically serious when he said - “I must move my bed tonight - those fellows know where I sleep.” I tried to gauge the extent of this apprehension but then Pte Hoyne came from the wireless room next door with a message from Battalion HQ. A lot of mail from home had arrived in Albertville and the Platoon’s share would be brought out on Saturday via the Chaplain’s patrol.
    Kevin spread the good news and morale improved all round. Tea was brewed again and we admired a few objects d’art which the former Italian householder had left behind though most of the contents had been looted in the September rioting. I recall a sculpted stone torso about a foot high resting on an empty bookcase - the Chaplain had strong feelings about its retention. A check of the time surprised me - the day had passed so quickly and we still had lots to talk about. Kevin and his platoon were now in great form and said they would soldier on there for another month but would like to be back in Albertville for Christmas when some other platoon would be welcome to the isolation of Niemba. I was satisfied that the platoon mission was being achieved. The roads were kept open and the railway was functioning. The cotton from Nyunzu passed through on its way to the mills at Faltisaf. The platoon was proudest about the rescue of the white missionary, Father Beeders, from the shouting menacing mob at Nyunzu just two weeks earlier. They would also like some better transport and bridging planks. My report was complete and Kevin himself drove me and the escort to the station via the solitary burned and plundered street of the village where some goats were still scavenging.
    The Dressein arrived on time and so we said our goodbyes, the sentries at the station came up for a few words. It was great, they said, to have a visiting party of ‘A’ Coy after all those weeks since they left Kamina. We moved off slowly and our friends waved until we slid into the trees on our way. The return journey was uneventful and more pleasant as the sun had passed its zenith. At the village of Kioka some men in fur hats stood and glared at us without emotion. It was a relief to round the bend and cross the Lukuga river to Albertville and at the CFL station a pickup from Coy HQ was waiting to bring us the last few miles to Filtisaf by Lake Tanganyika. I dismissed my tired and trusty escort.
    My diary records that my fellow travellers included Cpl Peter Kelly, Pte Tom Kenny and Tpr Tom Fennell. These travelled again to Niemba as members of No 4 Section rejoining their platoon on Monday 7th November. This section plus cook Gerry Killeen were brought on a familiarisation patrol led by Lieut Kevin Gleeson down the Manono road at noon on 8th November 1960. For them it was to be their first and last patrol from Niemba. History records in detail the sad story of this patrol.
    It was during my second visit to Niemba when leading a search patrol down that same Manono road at about 1100 hours on November 10th, that Sgt Don Keating shouted “STOP!” from the rear of my landrover. An emaciated figure in UN tropical dress came staggering down a gully towards us. Tpr John Smith exclaimed “That’s the missing Red Kenny.” Promptly the wounded dishevelled man saluted and declared “57 Kenny Sir and I’m glad to see you!”

    The victims of Niemba are remembered each year at a Mass in Cathal Brugha Barracks (Dublin) on or near the 8th November.
    Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson
    Sgt Hugh Gaynor
    Cpl Peter Kelly
    Cpl Liam Dougan
    Pte Willie Davis
    Pte Michael McGuinn
    Pte Gerry Killeen
    Pte Matt Farrell
    Tpr Tom Fennell
    Tpr Tony Brown

    (Author) Lt-Col Donal F Crowley
    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ November 1981













    A GRIM MEMORY (1965)
    The coast road from Lefka to Polis winds like a ribbon in and out through the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. Despite the very warm climate the country is both green and picturesque. This part of the island is truly beautiful.
    It was difficult to perceive, in this peaceful setting that the island of love was going through a very difficult phase in its turbulent history - the tragic war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. This story concerns, what might be considered a side aspect of this conflict.
    High on one side of the many hills overlooking the road, a detachment of Irish UN soldiers stood guard over a drilling operation being conducted by the Cyprus Mining Corporation. The work force consisted of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, which seemed a little peculiar to the soldiers, as a state of war, or near war, had existed for some time between both communities.
    Occasionally Greek or Turk would pause, to look around fearfully, and then glance at the soldiers, as if for reassurance. Their fear was of course genuine, for prior to the arrival of UN troops some workers had been the victims of assassination squads.
    Towards dusk work commenced on the laying of a water pipe from the river, that ran alongside the road in the valley below. The intention was to pump water to the drilling location. What the water was for, the soldier neither knew or cared, their interest began and ended in providing protection for the work force.
    At midnight, the Greek Cypriot foreman approached the corporal of the guard and informed him of his concern, for the safety of his men on the river bank below. His concern was understandable considering the drilling operation was taking place in no-man’s land, despite the existence of an uneasy truce. A soldier was immediately sent to investigate.
    The 19 year old private moved cautiously down the hill. He didn’t particularly like the task but he had been ordered to do so. Visibility was poor, he was on his own, and facing the unknown. Moving as quietly as possible, and with much difficulty in the darkness, he reached the dirt road that wound its way down to the river crossing. Pausing for breath, he took stock of his surroundings.
    He could now see some workers in the light of the oil lamps, as they pumped the water on the river bank. What puzzled him was that he could count six people instead of the reported three. Pulling back the action of his automatic weapon, but leaving the safety catch on, he crossed the road and, keeping to the bush and shrubs for cover, he lay on his stomach and started to crawl forward as he had been trained to do. On reaching within ten yards of the perimeter of the circle of light created by the oil lamps, his suspicions were confirmed. There were six people there. But it was the two in a crouched position with their backs to him that held his attention. They appeared to be holding rifles in the crook of their arm, with the rifle butts resting on the ground. The soldier’s heart thumped with fear and tension. Releasing the safety catch, and holding his weapon at the ready, a few short strides took him into the light. The sequence of events which followed were to save the Cypriots’ lives.
    On hearing the noise behind them, the Cypriots jumped to their feet but fortunately for all, turned into one another. In the confusion, they dropped their rifles to the ground. The soldier, having taken first pressure on the trigger, noticed a reflection from what should be the wooden stocks of the rifles. He realised at the last instant that the ‘rifles’ were workmen’s shovels, the light from the oil lamps causing the reflection from the blades. Slipping the safety catch back on with his thumb, he enquired of the workmen if everything was in order.
    The knowledge that the Greek Cypriot foreman had neglected to inform them of the presence of three Turkish Cypriots in addition to the three Greeks, the deceptive light plus the wartime situation with all its fears and tensions was of little consolation to the soldier. For in his heart, he knew, that it was only a ‘trick of light’ that had prevented him from killing innocent people. He proceeded back up the hill, and reported that all was correct, omitting the details.
    CPO JE Lucey
    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ March 1981








    66 IRISHBATT (1990)
    As I write this in February it is cold in South Lebanon with heavy driving rain pushed on by gale force winds. West of Ireland weather in fact except there is no salt on the wind and the farmers are content that holding tanks and village ponds are welling up with precious water. They know full well there is a long parching summer to follow.
    There are other differences. The low lying cloud 'bundled up' on the surrounding hills blind not so much the gentle green sloped forts of an Irish landscape as the menacing , weed-killed brown mounds of the DFF compounds. Similar weather conditions saw AMAL sow the tank track connecting the compounds with mines so that when the sun returned and painted in the vivid greens and browns of the wadis immediately below, the ice cream cone of far-away Mount Hermon and of course (what other shade could it be?) the blue wash of the Mediterranean onto the doorsteps of Tyre's high-rise apartments: when in other words one could see as usual eventually, the elephantine lurching of an Israeli tank ploughing its way on patrol some hundreds of metres past 66 IRISHBATT OP 6-20 (somewhat unfairly nicknamed 'The Black Hole') set off a mine with a heart-stopping explosion.
    The acrid, greasy, black pall of smoke that drifted up into the air was for all the world like an evil genie escaping from the broken bottle of the crippled tank and now 66 IRISHBATT from the relative safety of protected OPs and the apprehensive populations of nearby Haddathah, Ayta az Zutt and Bra**** knew that retaliation was but a matter of time.
    It duly came two days later in beautiful sunshine when two tanks trundled out of the DFF compounds of Bra**** and Bayt Yahun and with 'a gaze, blank and pitiless as the sun' fired 42 rounds of high explosive into the hapless village of bra****. 66 IRISHBATT had witnessed a similar retaliatory shelling of Ayta az Zutt before and as the rounds pounded into the village school and ordinary homes, knew that the people were cowering in the uncertain sanctuary of cellars and ground floors. Watched from a distance each house seemed to give an almost human jerk of agony when hit and inevitably red flares arced over the pall of dust and smoke to signal a round had impacted on or close to an Irish position.
    Suddenly it was all over. The firing ceased. All 66 IRISHBATT positions reported personnel safe. They then moved into the village to evacuate casualties and assess damage. Incredible as it may appear there were no injuries or deaths. Four houses had been destroyed and twelve damaged. More amazing still in the aftermath of the shooting the people of Bra**** instead of contemplating leaving, appeared even more determined to hang on and just one day after the incident were repairing walls and clearing the debris of shattered furniture, household effects and masonry from their homes and attempting to return to normal routine again.
    This vignette scissored from the broad canvas of Lebanon's agony shows the dangerous and volatile environment the Irish soldier has to contend with and his innate ability and professionalism in coping. From it some realisation of how beautiful a country is may be sensed. the intimidation and indiscriminate violence of the DFF is clear. Surely though what must be most evident is the courage, resilience and endurance of the Lebanese people and their love ( a trait the Irish understand well ) for a native place and country. People like that must eventually find stability and freedom.
    And what of 66 IRISHBATT? It has successfully completed one half of a most searching examination but then there is every indication that it will have to find answers for many more problems. 66 IRISHBATT itself is convinced that its a 'mighty' outfit and in the values of Army morale that is the ultimate in praise.
    Lt Col VL Blighe
    OC 66 IRISHBATT UNIFIL
    Originally published in 66 IRISHBATT Commemorative Magazine 1990






  • Registered Users Posts: 335 ✭✭ In my opinion


    Wonderful excellent stories. Post more please


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 471 ✭✭ pmg58


    Wait until tomorrow evening though, my exams are over then and you wont be distracting me anymore. wink.gif


  • Registered Users Posts: 3,533 ✭✭✭ iceage


    Any more?


  • Registered Users Posts: 50 ✭✭✭ prodigy1


    Does anyone out there have any information on a man called Charlie Downey?
    He was a commandant in the IRA during the troubles, an intelligence man, he was michael collins right hand man and he was great frients with emmett dalton?

    he left the army when an a grenade went of accidental and it burnt his face..he was in glen of immal.

    all info welcome,
    many thanks


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  • Registered Users Posts: 1 diana200


    i am just wondering if any one can remember my old friend timothy murphy he joined the army in 1937 he was all over the country from cathal brugha to collins barricks, ballincollig to bantry i think he said they had to run from kilworth to ballincollig carrying the equivelant of a bag of coal on his back he told me he was a driving instructor i was a good bit younger than him at the time wanted to join the army myself but unfortunately had consumption as they called it then still around though.i had many old buddies who signed up they were hard old workers .but teddy was a gentleman i never saw him after he left limerick.i believe he lived in north cork for a while and also i heard he moved through the ranks.i think he was highly ranked possibly even a sergeant ,a major even all i know is that he died 70s at a young age.would love to hear any old stories.including teddy timothy murphy. james micheal calnan,jack john collins all from county limerick


  • Registered Users Posts: 10 ✭✭✭ downeyac


    Any information about Charlie Downey?


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 257 ✭✭ dandyelevan


    DFL wrote: »
    MY FIRST VISIT TO NIEMBA (1960)
    There is a village in north east Katanga in the Albertville region called Niemba. To me it will always be “The Deserted Village”, a place of melancholy - an enlarged “Fothroch Fallamh gan Aird” near a railway station on a tropical hillside forgotten and neglected.
    I saw it first on Thursday, 3rd November 1960, when I travelled out there with a small escort of one Corporal and Four Privates of ‘A’ Company 33rd Irish Battalion ONUC. My company commander, Commandant Louis Hogan, newly arrived from Kamina base, was concerned about our enforced lack of contact over the last five weeks with Lt Kevin Gleeson and his men of Number 2 Platoon. As 2 I/C of ‘A’ Coy I was detailed to go out there to visit them in their outpost at Niemba. We travelled on a tiny train called a Dressein - one driver and one inspector of the CFL railway company from Albertville. We carried food, canteen supplies and items of welfare. The journey took about three hours - sitting on an open top flat car with our valuable supplies. There were about five stops on the way and at each stop it was remarkable that no men were to be seen but plenty of women and children. These women seemed agitated and the Inspector was up to his neck in the hassle that went on. This was in French and Swahili so the Irlandaise did not understand the reason for the commotion but it seemed to concern pay and the Belgian’s refusal to hand over pay packets in the absence of the male railway workers.
    At last we pulled into Niemba Station in the heat of midday - it was completely deserted, also the manumouks were absent. The Inspector told us he would be returning from Nyunzu at 4 pm. We unloaded our goods and the Dressein pulled off. A landrover approached promptly and we had a big handshake and Failte from the driver Sgt Hugh Gaynor and Pte Jim Creagh. I had not seen him since he left with his platoon from Kamina Base on September 5th. He drove us about half a mile uphill away from the river to platoon headquarters. Kevin Gleeson was waiting there outside his house with most of the men of his platoon. We were feted and welcomed with mugs of tea and great enthusiasm. Questions poured our way: “How’s so and so,” “are all the lads up from Kamina?” Kevin and I detached ourselves from the group and went to his room for a chat. Pte Malachy Bartley produced more tea and spam sandwiches. Then Sgt Gaynor brought us on a tour of the platoon locations. The UN flag fluttered from a tall flagpole nearby. There was a sandbagged guardroom and a sentry on each of the four approach roads. Security had been intensified since a sentry shot and wounded a prowling Congolese warrior a week earlier. We visited the cookhouse where Pte Gerry Killeen proudly showed me his set-up, nicknamed “The Gresham.” His three Congolese workers, however, were missing again that day and this was the pattern of behaviour for some weeks past.
    Then Kevin Gleeson brought us on a tour of the platoon houses. Cpl Jim Lynch’s house at the crossroads housed a section, almost all Engineers. They kept this European style house in great order. Cpl Dave McGrath was landlord of another house some 200 yards away that was, in more peaceful days, the station master’s house. A few songwriters had been discovered and I was shown the script of “The Ballad of Niemba” which had become a great favourite though Kevin Gleeson’s rendering of “Three pints of the Johnny Jump Up” was always guaranteed to bring down the house. Other unusual hobbies were disclosed. Medical orderly Matty Farrell was adding to his collection of reptiles and insects by preserving these creatures with formaldyhyde injections. Numerous horticulturalists were trying their hands with the accelerated growing of un-named plants. Alas, they were destined never to see the fruits of their labours.
    Back at platoon headquarters my report for OC A Company was taking shape -conditions better since installation of lighting -food was adequate though some variety would be welcome - laundering was primitive, mostly being done at the river bank below the village. Canteen supplies were inclined to run out before replacement. There was need for an interpreter as they had over the past month had visitors from the local native villages. One particular chief and his officers liked to join their parties and had composed a special drum solo for the Chef Irlandaise. This past week, however, nobody had come near the village and even the few regular workers had deserted their jobs. Something had changed and Kevin looked uncharacteristically serious when he said - “I must move my bed tonight - those fellows know where I sleep.” I tried to gauge the extent of this apprehension but then Pte Hoyne came from the wireless room next door with a message from Battalion HQ. A lot of mail from home had arrived in Albertville and the Platoon’s share would be brought out on Saturday via the Chaplain’s patrol.
    Kevin spread the good news and morale improved all round. Tea was brewed again and we admired a few objects d’art which the former Italian householder had left behind though most of the contents had been looted in the September rioting. I recall a sculpted stone torso about a foot high resting on an empty bookcase - the Chaplain had strong feelings about its retention. A check of the time surprised me - the day had passed so quickly and we still had lots to talk about. Kevin and his platoon were now in great form and said they would soldier on there for another month but would like to be back in Albertville for Christmas when some other platoon would be welcome to the isolation of Niemba. I was satisfied that the platoon mission was being achieved. The roads were kept open and the railway was functioning. The cotton from Nyunzu passed through on its way to the mills at Faltisaf. The platoon was proudest about the rescue of the white missionary, Father Beeders, from the shouting menacing mob at Nyunzu just two weeks earlier. They would also like some better transport and bridging planks. My report was complete and Kevin himself drove me and the escort to the station via the solitary burned and plundered street of the village where some goats were still scavenging.
    The Dressein arrived on time and so we said our goodbyes, the sentries at the station came up for a few words. It was great, they said, to have a visiting party of ‘A’ Coy after all those weeks since they left Kamina. We moved off slowly and our friends waved until we slid into the trees on our way. The return journey was uneventful and more pleasant as the sun had passed its zenith. At the village of Kioka some men in fur hats stood and glared at us without emotion. It was a relief to round the bend and cross the Lukuga river to Albertville and at the CFL station a pickup from Coy HQ was waiting to bring us the last few miles to Filtisaf by Lake Tanganyika. I dismissed my tired and trusty escort.
    My diary records that my fellow travellers included Cpl Peter Kelly, Pte Tom Kenny and Tpr Tom Fennell. These travelled again to Niemba as members of No 4 Section rejoining their platoon on Monday 7th November. This section plus cook Gerry Killeen were brought on a familiarisation patrol led by Lieut Kevin Gleeson down the Manono road at noon on 8th November 1960. For them it was to be their first and last patrol from Niemba. History records in detail the sad story of this patrol.
    It was during my second visit to Niemba when leading a search patrol down that same Manono road at about 1100 hours on November 10th, that Sgt Don Keating shouted “STOP!” from the rear of my landrover. An emaciated figure in UN tropical dress came staggering down a gully towards us. Tpr John Smith exclaimed “That’s the missing Red Kenny.” Promptly the wounded dishevelled man saluted and declared “57 Kenny Sir and I’m glad to see you!”

    The victims of Niemba are remembered each year at a Mass in Cathal Brugha Barracks (Dublin) on or near the 8th November.
    Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson
    Sgt Hugh Gaynor
    Cpl Peter Kelly
    Cpl Liam Dougan
    Pte Willie Davis
    Pte Michael McGuinn
    Pte Gerry Killeen
    Pte Matt Farrell
    Tpr Tom Fennell
    Tpr Tony Brown

    (Author) Lt-Col Donal F Crowley

    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ November 1981


































    A GRIM MEMORY (1965)
    The coast road from Lefka to Polis winds like a ribbon in and out through the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. Despite the very warm climate the country is both green and picturesque. This part of the island is truly beautiful.
    It was difficult to perceive, in this peaceful setting that the island of love was going through a very difficult phase in its turbulent history - the tragic war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. This story concerns, what might be considered a side aspect of this conflict.
    High on one side of the many hills overlooking the road, a detachment of Irish UN soldiers stood guard over a drilling operation being conducted by the Cyprus Mining Corporation. The work force consisted of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, which seemed a little peculiar to the soldiers, as a state of war, or near war, had existed for some time between both communities.
    Occasionally Greek or Turk would pause, to look around fearfully, and then glance at the soldiers, as if for reassurance. Their fear was of course genuine, for prior to the arrival of UN troops some workers had been the victims of assassination squads.
    Towards dusk work commenced on the laying of a water pipe from the river, that ran alongside the road in the valley below. The intention was to pump water to the drilling location. What the water was for, the soldier neither knew or cared, their interest began and ended in providing protection for the work force.
    At midnight, the Greek Cypriot foreman approached the corporal of the guard and informed him of his concern, for the safety of his men on the river bank below. His concern was understandable considering the drilling operation was taking place in no-man’s land, despite the existence of an uneasy truce. A soldier was immediately sent to investigate.
    The 19 year old private moved cautiously down the hill. He didn’t particularly like the task but he had been ordered to do so. Visibility was poor, he was on his own, and facing the unknown. Moving as quietly as possible, and with much difficulty in the darkness, he reached the dirt road that wound its way down to the river crossing. Pausing for breath, he took stock of his surroundings.
    He could now see some workers in the light of the oil lamps, as they pumped the water on the river bank. What puzzled him was that he could count six people instead of the reported three. Pulling back the action of his automatic weapon, but leaving the safety catch on, he crossed the road and, keeping to the bush and shrubs for cover, he lay on his stomach and started to crawl forward as he had been trained to do. On reaching within ten yards of the perimeter of the circle of light created by the oil lamps, his suspicions were confirmed. There were six people there. But it was the two in a crouched position with their backs to him that held his attention. They appeared to be holding rifles in the crook of their arm, with the rifle butts resting on the ground. The soldier’s heart thumped with fear and tension. Releasing the safety catch, and holding his weapon at the ready, a few short strides took him into the light. The sequence of events which followed were to save the Cypriots’ lives.
    On hearing the noise behind them, the Cypriots jumped to their feet but fortunately for all, turned into one another. In the confusion, they dropped their rifles to the ground. The soldier, having taken first pressure on the trigger, noticed a reflection from what should be the wooden stocks of the rifles. He realised at the last instant that the ‘rifles’ were workmen’s shovels, the light from the oil lamps causing the reflection from the blades. Slipping the safety catch back on with his thumb, he enquired of the workmen if everything was in order.
    The knowledge that the Greek Cypriot foreman had neglected to inform them of the presence of three Turkish Cypriots in addition to the three Greeks, the deceptive light plus the wartime situation with all its fears and tensions was of little consolation to the soldier. For in his heart, he knew, that it was only a ‘trick of light’ that had prevented him from killing innocent people. He proceeded back up the hill, and reported that all was correct, omitting the details.
    CPO JE Lucey

    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ March 1981









































    66 IRISHBATT (1990)
    As I write this in February it is cold in South Lebanon with heavy driving rain pushed on by gale force winds. West of Ireland weather in fact except there is no salt on the wind and the farmers are content that holding tanks and village ponds are welling up with precious water. They know full well there is a long parching summer to follow.
    There are other differences. The low lying cloud 'bundled up' on the surrounding hills blind not so much the gentle green sloped forts of an Irish landscape as the menacing , weed-killed brown mounds of the DFF compounds. Similar weather conditions saw AMAL sow the tank track connecting the compounds with mines so that when the sun returned and painted in the vivid greens and browns of the wadis immediately below, the ice cream cone of far-away Mount Hermon and of course (what other shade could it be?) the blue wash of the Mediterranean onto the doorsteps of Tyre's high-rise apartments: when in other words one could see as usual eventually, the elephantine lurching of an Israeli tank ploughing its way on patrol some hundreds of metres past 66 IRISHBATT OP 6-20 (somewhat unfairly nicknamed 'The Black Hole') set off a mine with a heart-stopping explosion.
    The acrid, greasy, black pall of smoke that drifted up into the air was for all the world like an evil genie escaping from the broken bottle of the crippled tank and now 66 IRISHBATT from the relative safety of protected OPs and the apprehensive populations of nearby Haddathah, Ayta az Zutt and Bra**** knew that retaliation was but a matter of time.
    It duly came two days later in beautiful sunshine when two tanks trundled out of the DFF compounds of Bra**** and Bayt Yahun and with 'a gaze, blank and pitiless as the sun' fired 42 rounds of high explosive into the hapless village of bra****. 66 IRISHBATT had witnessed a similar retaliatory shelling of Ayta az Zutt before and as the rounds pounded into the village school and ordinary homes, knew that the people were cowering in the uncertain sanctuary of cellars and ground floors. Watched from a distance each house seemed to give an almost human jerk of agony when hit and inevitably red flares arced over the pall of dust and smoke to signal a round had impacted on or close to an Irish position.
    Suddenly it was all over. The firing ceased. All 66 IRISHBATT positions reported personnel safe. They then moved into the village to evacuate casualties and assess damage. Incredible as it may appear there were no injuries or deaths. Four houses had been destroyed and twelve damaged. More amazing still in the aftermath of the shooting the people of Bra**** instead of contemplating leaving, appeared even more determined to hang on and just one day after the incident were repairing walls and clearing the debris of shattered furniture, household effects and masonry from their homes and attempting to return to normal routine again.
    This vignette scissored from the broad canvas of Lebanon's agony shows the dangerous and volatile environment the Irish soldier has to contend with and his innate ability and professionalism in coping. From it some realisation of how beautiful a country is may be sensed. the intimidation and indiscriminate violence of the DFF is clear. Surely though what must be most evident is the courage, resilience and endurance of the Lebanese people and their love ( a trait the Irish understand well ) for a native place and country. People like that must eventually find stability and freedom.
    And what of 66 IRISHBATT? It has successfully completed one half of a most searching examination but then there is every indication that it will have to find answers for many more problems. 66 IRISHBATT itself is convinced that its a 'mighty' outfit and in the values of Army morale that is the ultimate in praise.
    Lt Col VL Blighe
    OC 66 IRISHBATT UNIFIL

    Originally published in 66 IRISHBATT Commemorative Magazine 1990





    I served with the 66th Inf Bn UNIFIL with Col Blythe.
    One rough trip.


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