‘One-Inch Group’ in the Congo

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As published in An Cosantóir in February 2017
Photos: Christy Fleming & www.unmultimedia.org

The source of information for the following article is an unsigned contemporary report on the activities of 1 Inf Gp in the Congo in 1961, written towards the end of the deployment.

Written by Commanding Officer Lt Col J.C.O. O’Donovan and endorsed by Comdt M.F. Quinlan, and sent in by Congo Veteran Christy Fleming.

ONUC Irish contingent troops en-route to the airport on the first leg of their journey to Elizabethville, where fighting has broken out. 1st December 1961. © UN Photo

1 Inf Gp, or ‘One-Inch Group’ as it was affectionately called by its members, was formed in April 1961 for service with the UN in the Congo. Comprising a company from Eastern Command and one from Southern Command, with a tactical HQ, it was the first Irish formation to be armed entirely with the new FN rifle and the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle and was designed to be a hard-hitting, highly-powered, independent, self-contained unit.

Shortly before leaving Ireland it was announced they would be heading to Kasai province, where, a few days earlier, tribal warfare had broken out in the area of Mwene-ditu, where the HQ was to be based.

The unit flew out on 25th and 26th May and when they arrived in Mwene-ditu they started taking over from the Ghanaians. However, as a virulent small-pox epidemic was raging in the territory, the senior UN MO ordered that anyone who had not been vaccinated within the previous three months would have to be revaccinated before going into the area. (Throughout their deployment small-pox and other diseases were so rampant that the whole of south Kasai was known as a pathologist’s paradise.)

Irish ONUC soldier Pte W. Ambler on guard duty at Coy HQ in Albertville. 1st August 1960. © UN Photo

Due to the revaccination delay it wasn’t until 17th June that the Group had taken over the entire south Kasai sector, with an area of 6,000 sq miles to look after.

1 Inf Gp was responsible for guarding over 60 miles of important railway line that provided the main supply line from Elisabethville through Katanga and Kasai to Port Franqui.

At least three times a week the unit provided train guards to protect hundreds of refugees travelling on the line, which ran along the borders of Baluba and Kanioka territories, and also between Lulua and Baluba tribes, who were traditional enemies. Any relaxation of vigilance could mean a flare-up of the tribal wars that had unhappily caused so many UN casualties a short time previously.

1 Inf Gp held the area for over two months, eventually occupying posts previously occupied by a battalion with a recce squadron in support.

The unit’s posts were barbed-wire enclosures about the size of a football pitch, which they never left except to patrol in strength, living in primitive conditions under canvas and with a constant shortage of water; one post had to travel over five miles to collect their water in jerry cans.

The Ghanaians had taken their transport with them and the Irish had to wait a considerable time for the arrival of UN replacements. In the meantime, the transport for one company, with two posts over seven miles apart, consisted of one jeep, two pick-ups and a bullet-riddled, five-ton truck. Roads were rutted tracks and after a few miles faces and clothes were covered with a thick coating of black-red dust. Loaded weapons were carried by all personnel at all times. Snakes were also plentiful; at one post four deadly mambas were killed in one day alone.

Irish ONUC soldier on sentry duty at Elisabethville airport. 1st April 1961. © UN Photo

By the time 1 Inf Gp was withdrawn to Kamina, south Kasai was considered a ‘safe area’ due to their efforts, and the UN garrison there was not replaced. When the last company was leaving Mwene-Ditu, the Minister of the Interior came to the railway station to address the Irish, telling them that they were welcome back to south Kasai at any time. At each station on their route deputations met the train and similar speeches were made. It was a testament to the Irish soldiers’ efforts, given that two months before there had been a shooting war between local troops and UN personnel.
On arrival in Kamina after four days travelling in dilapidated railway coaches, OC 1 Inf Gp took over as base commander and as commander of the NW sector of Katanga, an area over 100 sq miles previously occupied by a Nigerian brigade, and which included 100 Swedish troops. In addition to running the huge base and its outposts 1 Inf Gp also had to garrison Kilubi, 60 miles away, where a hydro-electric station supplied power to Kamina.

With such a huge area there wasn’t much time for rest but living conditions were excellent and the work was much easier. Strength on the base, including the Swedes, was roughly 300.

Then, on August 27th 1 Inf Gp was handed two Katangan officers to guard; one a French mercenary. The next day, captured mercenaries started to roll in from the rest of Katanga and in a short time they had 150 under guard, along with 27 others they had rounded up in their own area. These mercenaries were tough and unpredictable; a roving army of ‘guns for hire’ who had fought in Korea, Indo-China, Palestine, Europe, and Cuba.
From 2nd September the Irish unit also had to send a nightly patrol of 50 into Kaminaville, 30km away.

Along with all the extra duties and extra guards, the situation meant that trouble was almost inevitable. It duly arrived.

On the night of September 12th ‘stand-to’ was ordered. There were 14 roads and a railway line leading into the base and it had been acknowledged that it would require a brigade to successfully defend Kamina, a town whose importance was recognised in the saying “who holds Kamina holds Katanga”. With small numbers, the best Lt Col O’Donovan could do was to man strategic strong points around the base and scramble the mobile reserve.

ONUC Irish contingent troops en-route to the airport on the first leg of their journey to Elizabethville, where fighting has broken out. 1st December 1961. © UN Photo

Reports coming in of enemy strength were of 1,200 troops, equipped with long-range mortars, and eight Saracens armed with 57mm cannons, twin machine-guns, and .5” machine guns; completely out-gunning the Irish unit. The enemy also had a reserve of 2,500 troops in the Kaminaville sector and it was claimed that they could arm 20,000 tribesmen.
On the afternoon of September 14th they attacked. The first wave came up against a strong point manned by 29 Swedes with an Irish mortar section in support. This attack was broken up and the 84mm knocked out two Saracens. Irish mortar fire also blew up an enemy ammunition truck containing about five tons of mortar rounds and small-arms ammunition. Lt Col O’Donovan quickly deployed his mobile reserve and further attacks were broken up as they arose. Probing tactics, sniping and mortar fire continued from the edge of the jungle, but men and weapons were quickly moved to counter threats and in all cases the enemy were beaten off.

Late on the evening of the 15th around 30 enemy infiltrated houses on the outskirts of the base where the jungle grew right up to the perimeter. At first light on the following morning an Irish platoon counter-attacked and after a fight lasting about three hours dislodged the enemy who left three dead behind.

When the base came under long-range mortar attack, Irish mortar crews crept forward under fire and brought down deadly fire on the enemy positions. The Irish crews kept changing their positions and continued striking enemy positions while their opponents seemed to be unable to shift their fire quickly in response.

The enemy never set foot on the base again and it was the nearest they came to the airport five miles away. Enemy dead during these actions was estimated at 35 killed and 48 seriously wounded.

The defenders were also subjected to regular air attacks from Fouga jets and all roads and bridges into the base had been blown up. Gradually, however, their meagre force was reinforced by air at night. As each new unit came in they took over positions from the Irish troops who moved further and further out in search of the enemy. While they came up against some sniping and mortar fire they no longer faced serious opposition.

On the night of the 19th 55 men of B Coy in Kilubi, who had been cut off when the enemy blocked and mined the road, were evacuated by helicopters. The rearguard of one officer and seven men destroyed all stores and equipment before taking off. The garrison was no longer needed in Kilubi as the power line had been cut.

1 Inf Gp used its generators for power and to supply emergency lighting for the airport’s runways and power for the control tower.

On receiving information that enemy reinforcements were moving in, 50 Irish troops were sent out to ambush them. Positions were chosen, prepared and manned, but the enemy didn’t materialise. Another 50 Irish were sent out to guard against a possible attack from the Jadotville/Kolwezi road.

By the time a ceasefire came on the night of 20th September the base was manned by 320 Irish, about 300 Swedes, and about 100 Indians, all under the command of Lt Col O’Donovan.

Not only had they secured the base but had advanced out and were holding all the ground up to the jungle’s edge.

Despite the air attacks and the vastly superior range of their opponents’ weapons (until some long-range mortars were captured and turned on the enemy), the only casualties suffered on the base were three Congolese civilian refugees killed and an Italian pilot wounded in the first Fouga attack, and two civilian pilots wounded in a later attack when their plane was bombed on the ground.
After the ceasefire the troops still had to man the outer defences and hold the ground they had won. There was little rest, with 24 hours on, 24 off. Then on 9th October 1 Inf Gp received 24 hours’ notice to pack-up and move to Nyunzu near Niemba.

The Swedish company from Kamina also moved to Nyunzu, still under the command of 1 Inf Gp.

Taking over from the Ghanaians, they were the first white troops to occupy the area. Back into the bush and into tents, but this time at the height of the rainy season. They were also back among the Balubas and carried out frequent patrols to Niemba, and sad pilgrimages to the scene of the ambush.

In Nyunzu they had 144 Katangan prisoners to look after, in addition to guarding the town, a railway, the road network and an airstrip.

By the time the report on which this article is based was written, 1 Inf Gp had occupied seven stations since their arrival in the Congo five months previously, operating for all bar two weeks at ‘battle stations’. The writer of the report said that morale, which had been very high when things were toughest, was dropping steadily with the arrival of each batch of newspapers from Ireland as the troops found that the Irish public were not being informed of their activities. Far from being a nebulous outpost of 35 Inf Bn in Elizabethville, as portrayed in the papers, Kamina was over 200 miles away and was an independent command.

While giving all credit to 35 Inf Bn for the magnificent job they did in Elizabethville, the men of ‘One-Inch’ Group felt they also deserved credit for the work they had done and the hardships they had endured in the Congo; spending their entire service stationed near small towns without shops or modern amenities, confined to their camps because all their deployments were in trouble spots. Credit they certainly deserved in light of the above story.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Willys Jeep

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As published in An Cosantóir in April 2016
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

A US Willys Jeep in World War II

On the 21st January 2016 An Cosantóir visited Sean Curtis, MD of PROTAC and chairman of the Association of Irish Military Enthusiasts (AIME), which is “devoted to the preservation and promotion of our military heritage”. AIME hold a military show, ‘SALUTE’, in the National Show Centre, Swords in August every year. www.aime.ie

Last year Sean was lucky to purchase an old Willys Jeep from the 1950s, ‘ZL1240’, which was one of 40 or so Willys Jeeps in service with the Defence Forces from 1950 to 1966. From what we know the Defence Forces sold ZL1240 in the late 1960s.

An Irish Defence Forces Willys CJ3B ZL1246 on parade on O’Connell Street in 1958. Photo: Howard Woods Collection

Karl Martin’s book ‘Irish Army Vehicles, Transport & Armour Since 1922’ (2002) lists the Willys entry into service. The two models purchased were the CJ3A and CJ3B; these were civilian versions based on the famous and most recognisable vehicle of World War II – Willys Jeep. (Some say the vehicle was nicknamed the ‘Jeep’ after a character in the popular Popeye cartoon of that period.)

Roughly 640,000 Jeeps were built during WWII by Ford and Willys, and used on every front of WWII. They subsequently saw service in Korea and Vietnam. The Jeeps not only proved themselves as reconnaissance vehicles, but also as fire engines, field ambulances, artillery tractors and even locomotives. Even after the war the jeep continued its success story in both army and civilian use.

Willys CJ3A had an L-head 2.2-litre, four-cylinder ‘Go Devil’ side-valve, petrol, 63bhp engine; the CJ3B had an improved F-head 2.2-litre ‘Hurricane’ 73bhp engine. Both were 4×4 drive, three-speed gearbox with a two-speed transfer box. The Ford models were built to Willys specifications from an initial design by the Bantam Car Company who’s prototype ‘Blitz Buggy’ was built in a mere 49 days – but that story is for another day.

Sean purchased the Jeep on the grounds that it would be fully restored and not sold on for profit. This particular Jeep served in 1 Cav Sqn, Cork. Because of the vehicles’ short service there is little known about them and parts are near impossible to source in Ireland, as most ‘off -the-shelf’ parts don’t fit. Sean ordered most of the parts from France and America. Sean’s good friend, ‘Don’, an engineer by trade, and a military vehicle hobbyist who lives in the US took a list of parts and set about collecting them over the last few months. He came to visit Sean in January for ten days; this was their only window to use Don’s expertise on rebuilding the Willys Jeep. Sean had the jeep stripped and cleaned, keeping 90% of the original paint on the outer shell by not sandblasting, and having it ready to be put together with the new parts. Ten days! The task was on…

Sean and Don met over 20 years ago at the War & Peace Revival Vintage & Military History Festival, a five-day military and vintage festival held annually at Folkestone Racecourse, RAF Westenhanger, Hythe, UK. https://warandpeacerevival.com

Don said, Sean and I have been friends for many years and when I visited last year he asked for my help with the Willys Jeep – I had already restored mine. I brought over about 150lbs of parts, tools and equipment to do the job. I have one of each of the Willys Jeep types myself, but my passion is Ford’s GTB 10 ton truck, that saw service in Burma with the US Army.”

We visited Sean and Don again on 28th January after nine days to check their progress. The jeep was completely rewired, using an old style loom, new engines seals fitted, and a complete engine strip and paint had been carried out. There were no indicators on the original version, but by law these now needed to be fitted. However they looked very original on.

Don continued: “This jeep has a history, so it has provenience and will be great to restore and display.”

Sean added: “Its quite possible there’s a number of these vehicles lying in sheds somewhere in Ireland.”

By the time the ten days were up, we saw the Jeep running smoothly and in a great display condition; still retaining its authentic look. The Jeep was road-tested with two very happy enthusiasts on board. Sean hopes to have it out for this year’s 100th centenary parades, as it would have been originally on O’Connell Street in 1966 on the parade to mark the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Well done to Sean and Don, on their successful ten-day rebuilding venture.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

President Visits Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave)

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As published in An Cosantóir in February 2017
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Wednesday 23rd November President Higgins visited Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave) to see
the work being done in ONE’s original home for former members of the Defence Forces who may have fallen on hard times and need somewhere to live. The president met several residents and staff from the home as well as some residents and staff from ONE’s other homes in Letterkenny and Athlone who were there for the occasion.

Brú Na BhFiann manager, Dick Dillon; asst manager, Sinéad Black; President Higgins; CQMS Michael Tynan (retd); and ONE CEO, Ollie O’Connor.

The current Brú na BhFiann (the original, smaller home was opened in 1994) is a six-storey, custom-built building that opened in 2003. It is managed by Sgt Major Dick Dillon (retd), assisted by Sinéad Black and a small dedicated staff. The home can cater for up to 30 residents in subsidised temporary accommodation.

The story of Brú na bhFiann began in the winter of 1988/89 during an earlier crisis in homelessness, when a number of former soldiers were among seven people who died from hypothermia while living rough on the streets of Dublin. So touched were they by the plight of some former colleagues that Pat Dunleavy and others within ONE decided to start a home for ex-soldiers down on their luck, even going as far as raising mortgages on their own houses to generate the necessary finance.

President Higgins with residents of Brú Na BhFiann.

It was in this spirit that ONE’s CEO, Ollie O’Connor, welcomed the president to the home, saying:

“Brú na bhFiann is a home built on a dream of providing a safe haven for those who through their service in the Defence Forces brought honour to Ireland, and to ensure that never again would a soldier be found dead on our streets.” In closing, he said: “In this historic year of 2016, homelessness is still very much a part of Ireland’s story and we have yet to fully attain our goals.”

Addressing those gathered, President Higgins said:

“I am delighted as Patron of the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel to have this opportunity to visit this wonderful facility and it is appropriate to have these great services available to people who served Ireland at home and abroad. It is a basic right to have food and shelter and it’s important to take steps to break the cycle of poverty; while a good health service and housing policy are very important, it is also important that people recover, as well as the economy.”

To fund ONE’s valiant homeless initiatives, which are acknowledged by the government and the Defence Forces/DoD, the organisation needs to raise €600,000 annually to continue running the homes and maintain them in a satisfactory condition.

Brú Na BhFiann manager, Dick Dillon and asst manager, Sinéad Black showing President Higgins one of the rooms available

As one small way of fundraising, a number of guest rooms are available in Brú na bhFiann for overnight stays for all serving and former members of the Defence Forces, priced at €30 for a single room, €55 for a double. To make a reservation, phone Brú Na BhFiann on 01-485 0600, Monday to Friday during business hours. By availing of this service you can also help to support the home’s great work.

The president with managers of ONE’s other homes and drop-in centres.

In addition to its other functions ONE has also assumed responsibility for representing DF pensioners, as the representative bodies PDFORRA and RACO can only represent serving personnel. ONE has also broadened its lobbying abilities to represent ex-service personnel in a wide range of ancillary areas. For more information on ONE, visit www.oneconnect.ie

 

 

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

ONE FUCHSIA APPEAL 2013

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As published in An Cosantóir in October 2013.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos Sgt Mick Burke

On June 27th Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann Teoranta (Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women), or ONE as it is more commonly known, launched its annual Fuchsia Appeal in Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave) on North King St, Dublin.
ONE has been providing residential facilities in Dublin since 1994, and now has two other residential centres in Letterkenny and Athlone, and two drop-in centres in Dundalk and Limerick. The organisation currently provides housing for up to 40 former Defence Forces members and needs over €600,000 annually to run its current facilities.

The overall objective is to ensure the welfare of ex-servicemen and women who may have become homeless, infirm or suffer from a disability. ONE also promotes a spirit of comradeship between serving and retired members and provides information on pensions, social welfare, and other entitlements.

This year’s appeal was launched by Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe TD and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McCann.

Minster Keogh said in his speech:

“The work ONE does is practical and supports the welfare needs in hard and difficult times.” He went on to add: “It’s great to see ex-service personnel come out and parade at different events up and down the country and show their pride in the organisation.”

Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe TD

In his address Lt Gen Seán McCann said:

 

“In the last three years as chief of staff of the Defence Forces, I have watched with a mixture of pride and gratitude the great work that ONE does on a daily basis for our ex-servicemen and women around the country. As I come towards the end of my term as chief of staff I am delighted to be invited here today to launch this year’s Fuchsia Appeal as ONE has a very special place in the wider Defence Forces family.”

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McCann

Also speaking at the launch ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor said:

 

“The Fuchsia appeal is of critical importance to the organisation. It enables us to help former colleagues who are having a difficult time and without a home. Many of these people gave outstanding service to the state and to the United Nations and for one reason or another have not been able to make ends meet since leaving the service. The homes and drop-in centres do not just provide accommodation, but also an opportunity to meet and socialise with others who served. This we feel is important. Most of the people who spend time with us move on to independent living after a period of time with support and comradeship”

DF Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán McCann, Minister Keogh and ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor at the launch.

The Fuchsia 2013 appeal ran throughout June and July but if you would still like to donate to ONE you can do so through PayPal or standing order. No donation is considered too small and all are welcome. For more information contact ONE on 01-4850666 or email info@oneconnect.ie. Registered charity No. CHY 13868

As published in An Cosantóir in October 2013.Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Honouring the Dead (Part 2)

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in August 2011 issue.
By Paul O’Brien – Photos by Cpl Greg Dorney & Cpl Neville Coughlan

The Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge commemorate the sacrifice of the almost 50,000 Irish servicemen, Catholic and Protestant, who died during the Great War.

garden6The gardens, which are located on the southern banks of the Liffey about three kilometres from the centre of the city and occupy an area of about three hectares, were designed by Sir Edward Lutyens.
Shortly after ‘the war to end all wars’ drew to a close it was decided that a permanent memorial to commemorate all those Irish men and Irish women who were killed during the conflict should be erected in Ireland. On 17th July 1919, one hundred representatives from all over Ireland met in Dublin and established a memorial committee to raise funds to further this aim. In the years that followed, a number of suggestions were put forward but all were rejected due to their impracticality, inconsistency, or failure to meet planning obligations.

In 1929 the Irish government suggested a memorial park should be constructed on the banks of the River Liffey at Longmeadows. The plan consisted of a public park, a garden of remembrance and a war memorial. The Memorial Committee would pay for the war memorial and the government would finance the gardens.

Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), who designed the Cenotaph in London, was commissioned to prepare the design. His design was one of classical symmetry and formality; a stone cross overlooking an elaborate symmetrical garden with four classical granite pavilions linked by pergolas.
The first phase of the construction began in 1931 with a linear parkway that stretched from Islandbridge to Chapelizod. The second phase saw the memorial gardens laid out between 1933 and 1939. (The workforce for the project consisted of ex-British army personnel residing in Ireland and also ex-servicemen from the Irish National Army.)

garden5Enclosed within a high limestone wall with granite piers is the central lawn, the centre of which is a Stone of Remembrance made from Irish granite. (Lutyens designed the Stone of Remembrance for the Imperial War Graves Commission. It was designed to be used in IWGC war cemeteries containing 1,000 or more graves, or at memorial sites commemorating more than 1,000 war dead. Hundreds were erected following World War I.) The Stone of Remembrance symbolises an altar and is flanked on either side by fountain basins with central obelisks symbolising candles. The combined symbolism of the altar, candles and cross is representative of death and resurrection.

Aligned with the Stone of Remembrance and the central avenue stands the Great Cross. Inscribed on the limestone wall are the words: “TO THE MEMORY OF THE 49,400 IRISHMEN WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918.”

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At either end of the lawns are two pairs of book rooms constructed in granite. These represent the four provinces of Ireland and contain the books of remembrance in which are inscribed the names of the 49,400 soldiers who lost their lives during the conflict. The famous stained-glass designer Harry Clarke carried out the ornate Celtic decoration in these books.

garden2The Ginchy Cross is also housed in one of the book rooms. This wooden cross was erected in 1917 as a memorial to almost 5,000 Irish soldiers of the 16th Irish Division who were killed in action at Guillemont and Ginchy during the battle of the Somme. The cross was later replaced by a stone one and the original was returned to Ireland in 1926.

The sunken Rose Garden is located on either side of the central lawn. Entrance is gained by walking between the granite pergolas. It is interesting to note that the garden is devoid of any military symbolism and is more a place of peace and tranquillity than a glorification of war.

The north terrace is screened by a number of trees and beyond, from the dome shaped temple, a number of tree-lined avenues radiate from its centre.

The planting of the trees and flowers were vital to Lutyens’s design and a committee was established to carry out and supervise the planting scheme. Sir Frederick Moore, a former keeper in the Botanical Gardens and Mr AF Pearson of the Phoenix Park directed the planting of the trees and the selection of over 4,000 roses for the gardens.

Though the park was opened to the public in 1937, a delay in obtaining a completion certificate for the grounds deferred an official opening and the outbreak of the Second World War postponed the opening indefinitely. In the years that followed, a lack of finances was to restrict future works and maintenance and by the 1960s the gardens were falling into disrepair, decay and dilapidation.

garden3In 1988, after a period of extensive restoration the gardens were rededicated to the many servicemen that lost their lives in both world wars. The Office of Public Works (OPW) now manages the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in conjunction with the National War Memorial Committee.

The Garden of Remembrance and the War Memorial Gardens are open to the public and are worth a visit, not just for the history that has just been made but also to remember those that have fallen and to ensure that history does not forget them.

Paul O’Brien is a military historian and published author, his website is: www.paulobrienauthor.ie

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Honouring the Dead (Part 1)

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in July 2011 issue.
By Paul O’Brien – Photos by Cpl Greg Dorney & Cpl Neville Coughlan

In the first two-days of Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit the British monarch took part in wreath-laying ceremonies with President Mary McAleese at the Garden of Remembrance and the Irish National War Memorial. Many people who watched these moving ceremonies on television were probably not familiar with the history of these gardens.

Garden of Remembrance1

Located in Parnell Square, at the northern end of O’Connell Street, the Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.

In 1935 the government acquiesced to a request from the Dublin Brigade Veterans Association that a remembrance memorial should be constructed in Dublin city. Part of the Rotunda Gardens in Parnell Square was chosen as the site due to its historical significance: the Irish Volunteer movement was founded in the nearby Rotunda in 1913 and it was within these gardens that many of those taken prisoner after the 1916 Rising were kept overnight before being moved to Richmond Barracks and Kilmainham Gaol.

Garden of Remembrance2

Although the new garden was designed by Daithí P Hanlon as early as 1946, its construction only commenced in 1961. It is cruciform in shape and has a curving twelve-foot high, marble wall enclosing it from the rear. Access to the central pedestrian area is via a descending flight of steps that lead to a tranquil pool. The bed of the pool is decorated in a mosaic pattern of blue-green waves interspersed with weapons from Ireland’s Heroic Age. The weapons are depicted as broken because according to Celtic custom weapons were broken and cast in to the river at the end of a battle. As well as signifying the end of hostilities, many believe this was a votive offering to the gods for victory.
The railings surrounding the lawns are decorated with cast designs of the Loughnashade Trumpet and the Ballinderry Sword, all of which are pointing downwards to indicate peace.

Garden of Remembrance3

The centrepiece, Oisín Kelly’s eight-ton, 25-foot high, bronze sculpture of the Children of Lir, cast at the Marinelli foundry in Florence, Italy, was inspired by WB Yeats’s poem ‘1916’. The concept was that at certain points in history people are transformed and the artist used the depiction of human figures transforming into swans, symbolising rebirth, victory and resurrection, as in the mythological tale of the Children of Lir.

On the wall a poem entitled ‘We saw a Vision’, by Liam Mac Uistin, reads:-

In the darkness we saw a vision.
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted the tree of valour and it blossomed
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.
We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.
Winter became summer. Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.

Garden of Remembrance4

President Eamon De Valera officially opened the Garden of Remembrance on Easter Monday, 1966, the golden jubilee of the 1916 Rising. The Office of Public Works (OPW) maintains the gardens.

Paul O’Brien is a military historian and published author, his website is: www.paulobrienauthor.ie

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Carlow Military Museum

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in March 2013 issue.
By Cpl Paul Millar – Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Co. Carlow Military Museum LogoThe Carlow Military Museum punches well above its weight and its story is as interesting as the stories of the 7,500 items it currently holds. 

IMG_3373The museum began life in 1995 as a memorial to Chief Warrant Officer Donal Cunningham, a Carlow native who served with 10 Inf Bn before moving to America, who, after several tours abroad as a helicopter pilot, was killed in a training accident in Cyprus. To remember Donal, some of his former comrades in the Reserve put together a collection of his kit in their drill shed. As word grew, donations came in and it became apparent that a larger building was needed.

After a long search, the group was allocated St Dympna’s Church, in Carlow Hospital grounds, by the Health Board. The church is ideal for the museum as it is an historic building in its own right: the stained glass window over the altar, worth over €1.2 million, has proven to be an attraction all of its own. The move to the church in 2001 was only the beginning of many years work and dedication on behalf of the volunteers.

IMG_3382Today the military museum covers all aspects of Carlow’s warrior history, from medieval times to the 21st century. Most displays are interactive. For example, the medieval exhibits give a real sense of the weight of chain mail armour and weapons, and an appreciation of the time it took to get suited up for battle. There’s also a small area on the 1798 rebellion with a restored ‘Brown Bess’ musket holding centre stage.

IMG_3383The most extensive exhibits in the museum cover the period from 1900 to 1950, with a selection of uniforms, ordnance, bayonets, kit, and an atmospheric reconstruction of a three-man observation trench overlooking no-man’s land in Ypres.
All the exhibits have a Carlow connection and were donated by people who served in various armies, or by family members.

All donations are cared for by a dedicated team of volunteers and together they highlight the personal sacrifices made by the people and families of Carlow during various wars. The museum has just received a donation of Black-and-Tan medals and even during our visit donations of various medals were made.

Taking main stage in the medal collection is the Military Star awarded to Lt Kevin Gleeson, who lost his life in the Niemba Ambush, a significant event in Defence Forces’ history. All services are represented, with an Air Corps presentation and a display for PO TJ Doyle, who died in service with LÉ Róisín.

IMG_3385Members of 10 Inf Bn were key in advertising and collecting for the museum and the unit is now honoured with an area that celebrates its life and times.

Many older serving or retired members of the DF would remember the various uniforms, kit, bicycles and comms equipment on display. A lot of the ordnance and kit was sourced with the help of Comdt Gerry Shinnors (Retd) and is reason enough for a visit. There’s even a collection of DF pottery complete with chamber pot!

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An Cosantoir Staff with Museum Staff and visitors

The work of the museum is ongoing and the staff is doing a fantastic job cataloguing current stories from today’s Carlow natives serving with a range of armies. This will become the history of the future. Whereas Carlow used to be a gateway to the Pale, now it’s a gateway to the past. A visit here would be part of an ideal day out for people interested in the best of what a small volunteer museum can offer. For more information ring 087-6904242, or visit www.countycarlowmuseum.org, or checkout their Facebook page

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

FOUGA MAGISTER ON DISPLAY

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in July/August 2013 issue.
Report & photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

IMG_9793In the early hours of Monday the 5th June members of the Air Corps transported a Fouga Magister aeroplane (216) from Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel to Clarke Square, in Collins Bks.

IMG_9783The plane was then reassembled and will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts & History and is on load for the summer months from the Air Corps Museum & Heritage Project.

IMG_9784“It’s a great privilege to be displaying a Fouga Magister aircraft, we are very grateful to the Air Corps” said a member of the museum staff.

With its distinctive ‘butterfly’ tail, the iconic French built Fouga CM 170 Magister was a 1950s two-seat jet and was Fouga’s greatest success with nearly 1,000 constructed. It had a top speed of: 715km/h, a wingspan of: 12m and a length of: 10m.

The Fouga Magister has a unique place in Irish military history: one was used to attack Irish troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the Congo in 1961. This lone Fouga was flown by a Belgian mercenary in the Katangan Air Force who carried out the bombings and machine gun attacks on Irish troops.

IMG_9791This was the first occasion on which Irish troops would experience an air attack. The Air Corps operated six Fouga Magisters (CM170-2) from 1975 to 1999, four of which equipped the Silver Swallows Aerobatic display team.

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The Silver Swallows were famous internationally for winning the Lockheed Martin Cannestra trophy for ‘best display by an overseas team’ at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford in 1997. This plane is one of those used by the Silver Swallows.

FOUGA BookFor more information and history on both the Fouga Magister and the Silver Swallows I recommend reading: Fouga Magister – An Irish Perspective by Joe Maxwell and Radu Brinzan with original drawings by Philip Avonds. ISDN: 978-0-9562624-1-7 – 108 Pages, 210 x 297 mm. Price: €22. www.maxdecals.comjoe@maxdecals.com

You can also learn about Ireland’s military history since 1550 at the permanent Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts & History in Collins Bks. www.museum.ie/en/exhibition/soldiers-chiefs.aspx

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Sir Roger Casement Branch, ONE

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in May 2012 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

ONE_BadgeThe Sir Roger Casement Branch of ONE (Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women) was established in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, in late 1979. The branch has grown from strength to strength over the years mainly due to the efforts of its members and the great relationship it has had since its foundation with successive GOCs and serving Air Corps personnel.

 

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ONE Memorial Garden

Significant events undertaken by the branch include: establishing the ONE Memorial Garden in Baldonnel with a monument to the memory of deceased former Air Corps personnel who have served within the Air Corps; holding an annual Mass of Commemoration in the Garrison Church; the presentation of a unit flag designed by a member of the branch to the Apprentice Training School; and a presentation to GOC Air Corps of a book of copies of the letters of Roger Casement.

In addition, every year the branch organises a number of trips to places of historical interest as well as organising events that provide an opportunity for former colleagues to meet and renew old acquaintances. An example of the latter is the annual Christmas lunch for retired Air Corps personnel. This very popular event has become a favourite reunion for former colleagues.

Paddy O’Meara, who stood down as branch chairman in January 2012, joined the Air Corps as a boy apprentice in 1956 and served for 12 years, mostly as an instructor in the Air Corps Apprentice School, retiring as a flight sergeant in 1969. After leaving he joined AnCo the industrial training authority that had been recently set up to promote industrial training throughout the country. Paddy has been an active chairman since his election in January 2007.

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ONE Memorial Garden

During his tenure he oversaw the updating of the magazine-style version of The Link newsletter, which is circulated to all members on a quarterly basis and is greatly appreciated particularly by overseas members. An extensive website was created that provides full details of the branch’s history, committee, and details of upcoming events. Copies of The Link are also archived on the site. The website has been the key in generating contacts from many former Air Corps members who are scattered around the world and who wish to maintain contacts with their old comrades. A new Facebook page and email address were also created for the benefit of all members.

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Finnbar Lyons & Paddy O’Meara

In addition, Paddy successfully negotiated with the board of ONEt and the Dept of Defence, with the kind support of the GOC Air Corps, for approval for the members of the branch to wear Air Corps-style forage caps as part of their ONE uniform. This headgear has been very popular with the members. It further identifies the branch and its members with the Air Corps family and branch membership has increased as a result.

A programme of collection days was set up in selected shopping centres to generate support for ONEt’s national Fuchsia campaign. These collections were professionally arranged with the use of advertising posters, backdrops and videos. In addition to the funds generated, the PR spin off for the branch was invaluable, particularly with the communities in the Baldonnel, Clondalkin and Dublin Airport catchment areas.

Paddy will continue to serve as a committee member, with special responsibility for maintaining the communications systems, and he wishes the incoming chairman every success in the position.
The new chairman, Finnbar Lyons, enlisted in 1953 as a direct-entry aircraft mechanic and served with No 1 Fighter Squadron (Gormanstown) until he left in 1961 to work for Aer Lingus as an aircraft technician. Finnbar says his main focus as chairman will be to continue Paddy’s great work through the communications media, events and outings, and to increase membership, which currently stands at 150+.

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Branch members on the Fuchsia Campaign

Personnel who have served in any part of the Defence Forces are welcome to join the branch and to attend its meetings, held on the third Thursday of the month at 20.00hrs in the NCOs’ Mess, Baldonnel. For more info on the branch, contact the secretary: Noel Murphy, onerogercasementbranch@gmail.com or visit www.oneaircorpsbranch.com or www.facebook.com/pages/ONE-Roger-Casement-Branch/100278033401653

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

THE NAVAL SERVICE

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in May 2013 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos: Cpl Colum Lawlor, 105 Sqn

On March 28th staff from An Cosantóir joined the Naval Service’s LÉ Emer (P21) on a patrol in the Irish Sea.

LE EmerIt was a cold, early start for us on Dun Laoghaire’s east pier, where our escort picked us up in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) powered by twin Yamaha 400 outboard engines. We were given a safety brief, which was precise and to the point – life jackets were fitted and its safety devices pointed out – “Sit forward, at all times keep your arms and feet inside, and don’t let go” – and then we were off.
002 COL_0102The RIB parted the emerald waters of the Irish Sea as we made our way out into Dublin Bay to LÉ Emer where the crew awaited our arrival.

The ship, which is due to be decommissioned as part of the fleet replacement programme when the first of two new naval vessels enters service; P61 is due January 2014.

003 COL_0106LÉ Emer still looked really impressive as we drew alongside. The RIB was hoisted aboard and we were very warmly greeted by the ship’s executive officer and 2 i/c, Lt (NS) Gavin McCarthy, who gave us another safety brief as we removed our life jackets and wets. We were also informed that we would be told when and where we could take photos, as much of the ship’s operations and equipment are classified.

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Lt Alan Flynn (NS) checks the charts

Our first visit was to the bridge, where we were introduced to the ship’s captain, Lt Cdr Daniel Wall, and some of his crew. We were invited to observe the ship’s navigation system and view our lane out of Dublin Bay and into the Irish Sea. As the ship moved out smoothly in the Force 5 sea-state, Lt
McCarthy told us about the ship’s recent activity and upcoming tasks. “On Monday and Tuesday we took part in a two-day examination at sea for future ships captains’ who were undergoing the Senior Command Operations Course (SCOC) conducted by the Naval College,” he told us.

“This is the culmination of a six-week course for our future ships captains. On Wednesday we were on a fishery patrol on the East Coast; today we have a press visit; on Sunday some of the crew are involved in the 1916 commemoration ceremony at the GPO; and then on Monday we start a four-week fishery patrol.”

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Navigator S/Lt Tadhg Clarke

Lt McCarthy then gave us a brief rundown on what is involved on a fishery patrol, including boarding operations. “Being boarded for inspection is very common for fishing vessels,” he explained. “It’s just like drivers being stopped and having their tax and insurance checked by An Garda Síochána.” He then showed us the screen displaying the Fishery Intelligence System (FIS), which is updated hourly by satellite and enables the NS to monitor all of the vessels in their patrol zone.

After the bridge we were given a tour of the ship, where we met many of the crew going about their daily routine. While at sea there will generally be around 20% of the crew resting at any one time due to shift rotations. We were then invited to lunch in the Senior Rates Mess, were we relaxed and conversed with the crew over some tasty soup and rolls.

006 COL_0532Later the ship’s crew gave us a fire-fighting demonstration and a display of a boarding party’s equipment and tactics.

Unfortunately my sea legs went missing for parts of the visit, much to the amusement of my fellow visitors and the ship’s crew, but during those absent times I at least had the pleasure of visiting many of the ship’s ‘heads’ and I felt I did my bit to help keep them clean after use.

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Fire-fighting team were (l/r): A/Mech Alan Murray, A/Sea Justin Guinan, L/Sea Tom Kiely and TT/ERA Ken O’Donovan

Although we only spent a few hours on board, I think our short visit still gave me a good understanding of what it takes to be a member of the Naval Service. They truly are a dedicated team of hard-working professionals; even seasick sailors still have to get on with the job.

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Pictured in the ships galley are (l/r): A/Sup Rena Doran, PO/Ck Johnny Brunnock and A/Ck Aileen Hanna

The Naval Service is acknowledged, nationally and internationally, as a flexible, impartial, multi-skilled, well trained, highly motivated, professional maritime service that is responsive to the needs of the nation. The primary role of the Naval Service is the maintenance of our maritime sovereignty by the delivery of operational patrols, over which Ireland claims jurisdiction by establishing a physical presence at sea.

This includes deterring intrusive or aggressive acts, conducting maritime surveillance, maintaining an armed naval presence, ensuring right of passage, protecting our fisheries and other marine assets, and combating illegal drug and weapons smuggling. The Naval Service must also be capable of supporting army operations through sea-lift and close naval support.

008 COL_0375In 2012 the Naval Service patrolled 132,000 sq miles of sea (approx four times the land mass of Ireland, representing 15% of Europe’s fisheries) during their 1,480 patrol days. They boarded and inspected 1,325 fishing vessels from Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Lithuania, Belgium, Portugal, Denmark and the Faroes. 40 fishing vessels from Ireland, UK, Spain, France and Lithuania were warned for 53 infringements and they made 20 detentions for alleged infringements of fishing regulations. The Naval Service Diving Section is the states primary dive agents and was called out on 79 operations. They were involved in 14 separate Search and Recovery operations following requests from the Coastguard and An Garda Síochána lasting 49 days.

All of the Naval Service operates 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. It is a testament to the men and women of the Naval Service that this feat is achieved with a small fleet of eight ships and only 1,094 personnel. To find out more about the Naval Service visit: www.military.ie/naval-service/

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie