BEING AN ACCOUNT BY ERNEST LYCETTE OF HIS LIFE AS A YOUNG MAN AND SOLDIER IN THE YEARS BETWEEN 1911 AND 1921
ARMY OF OCCUPATION – RHINELAND AUXILIARY CORPS – IRELAND
The introduction to the script by Lycett´s grandson says Please note that this memoir was written many years after the event and may contain some inaccuracies with regard to dates. It has been typed solely from the original notes which were handwritten in 1966 by Ernest Lycette. Every effort has been made to preserve the words and character of the author, with some minor editing to maintain consistency of tense.
Indeeed he is not good on names or dates, but it is a very interesting view of Auxiliary life in C Coy. His account is of the same sort of vintage as IRA Witness Statements, and show how events get altered in a man´s mind over time.
I arrived at the appointed time, gave my Rank, Regiment and service abroad, which
included Gallipoli, Palestine, Western Front, Italy and the Army of Occupation. I
filled in a form and was told that I would be notified later where to report. I
mentioned the two officers waiting in the corridor. He told me to ask them in. They
were eager to know what happened and I escorted them into the room. “These are the
gentlemen, Sir.” I waited outside while they were being interviewed and when they
came out, they said, “Thank God, Ernie, we have something to do at last.” We were
all told that we would receive orders in the next few days. I said, “I’m going to walk
back to Euston Station, for a little exercise and I want to catch the 1.20pm express to
Birmingham.” They had nothing to do so they came with me and I shouted them a
drink at the bar, and said I would see them in a few days.
As always, I enjoyed the trip through the countryside into the midlands and arrived in
New Street at 3.30pm and caught the 4pm train for Cannock. I met Daisy Foster, who
had brought some people to catch the train and she asked me to join her for the trip to
Heath Hayes and asked me to have tea with her. She had a little shop in the main
street, with a middle-aged lady to do household duties and help with the shop when
she was out. So over a cup of tea and fish and chips she told me the gossip of the
occupants of the village. We went in to see her parents, who were not well and had a
chap named Jack Daft minding their business for them (the village bakery).
I arrived home at 7pm and they were surprised to see me so early. I told them that I’d
had a successful trip and I would be leaving in a week. They asked if I would be
leaving England, which I confirmed but was not able to say where. We played cards
whilst waiting for Lionel to come home from work at 10pm. Next morning, I went to
work, as I had got to like the job and the men, who were a cosmopolitan crowd, including cockneys, Irish, Welsh and Scottish; some were navvies picking up casual work.
The manager wished me the best of luck when I left. Working out on the open Chase all day had made me quite tough and brown. On Monday, I had received my Warrant and notice to report at Grantham. Early next day, I donned my best suit and put a few odds and ends in a small case. I said goodbye to Mum and Dad and travelled with Evelyn on the same coach to Cannock. I said cheerio to Evelyn, telling her I would write home when I knew where I was staying. Poor old Eve, I could see she was sad at my leaving home again. She said it was always happier when I was there. I arrived at the Camp about 2.30pm and found there about 40 others. We received instructions and our railway warrants and were taken to the station and caught the boat train, which would take us through to Holyhead. I chummed up with Jones and Lewis (?AG Jones and A Lewis). It was a thrill; I had never been on this night trip before. In the late afternoon it was very interesting going through the beautiful Trent Valley country of England. We passed through Tamworth and Lichfield, very old and historic towns of the past. Then through Rugeley, my hometown where, as a boy, I had often seen this fascinating train all lit up under the evening sky. Through Great Hayward and Milford where we had spent delightful camps and had often admired this famous old train passing by with great speed. We came to Stafford, which was rapidly expanding, then on to Crewe. On our first stop, we had just time for a cup of tea and a walk up and down the platform. We saw many faces in this refreshment room that we had not seen before, but we felt that we would see much of them in the future as we had an idea that they were going to the same place.
We were soon pushing onward through the night air and the starry sky and at last we got to the seaside town of Holyhead. We were told not to move in a group, but as two’s or three’s, so we picked up our scanty luggage bags and followed the crowd. We saw the porter busily engaged unloading the Mail bags onto trolleys and conveying them to the boat side ready to be put into the holds, all supervised by special Uniformed Officers. The boat was lashed securely by large steel wire ropes to the quayside, as it was windy. We made our way through the gate, showed our warrants, climbed up the steps of the gangway and along to the starboard side of the ship, where we dumped our luggage. Then we stood by the rails and watched the attendants load the Mail bags and heavy luggage onto the boat. We could see and hear the sailors releasing the boat and soon we were moving out into the Irish Sea, which can be very rough. It was not long before it began to rock and pitch and then a roll. I noticed that quite a number of well dressed ladies and gents, who promenaded gaily up and down in the early stages, were now beginning to feel the unpleasantness of being seasick and they were not alone. Some went into rooms and others dashed for the rails, just as I did. Many of them didn’t care how they looked and neither did I, but Lewis, Jones and I sat outside on a seat, where we found it better than being in corridors or rooms. Once we got out of the deep moving current of the Irish Sea we began to find our sea legs but we didn’t get much sleep. However, we arrived in the breakwater at Kingstown and were soon made secure. After breakfast we disembarked and entrained to Dublin
We were met at the station and were directed to catch trains, which took up to Rathmines. We made our way to the large Army Barracks at Beggars Bush, where the Sentry at the gate held us up. He sent for the Sergeant of the Guard and we had to show our papers before being admitted. The Officer had a blue uniform with a beret. We handed over our papers and were sent in to claim a bed. There were about 25 beds along each side and we claimed our three beds at the far end of the room. It was not long before it was filled up and all in this room belonged to No.4 Platoon and were taken over by a Sergeant.
He said that recruits had been coming in since Monday. It was about mid morning so
he said a cup of tea was ready, after which he would show us around the different
rooms. There was a large library where we could read or write and post our letters.
Billiards and the canteen were open for a few hours. We were told there would be no
leave to go to the city until we had been posted to our Platoon, Company and Unit.
The next morning we were instructed to read the orders of the day and had to parade
at 9am, just in our ‘civvies’ suits, with no caps or hats.
What a crowd we were: tall, short, thin and fat, a few with beards, but mostly shaven,
many of them bald or nearly so. Some came from the Army, Air Force and Navy,
also a few Chief Officers from the Merchant Fleet. There were Colonels, Majors,
Captains and Lieutenants from the Army. From the Navy: Admirals, Captains, Petty Officers and from the Air Force there were Squadron Leaders and Flight Lieutenants. By Saturday there were between 600 and 700 present. All these ex officers had volunteered to serve in Ireland.
They were paid one pound a day, uniform and keep. For some it was an adventure but to the majority, it was a job as unemployment was very bad in England. Also it was an effort by the British Government to create a force that would work between the Army and Police and named The Auxiliary Corps, to prevent and break down the unrest, which was spreading all over Southern Ireland. I can say definitely that it was a most difficult and dangerous project to carry out, and many brave and courageous men on both sides lost their lives in their endeavours. On the Saturday we were inspected and addressed by General McCreadey, who told us of the situation. We were to go through 2 months intensive training in Police and Military Law and to engage in all kinds of Patrols to keep the highways and byways open.
Now we got down to work and Platoons and Companies were formed and Officers were selected to be OCs on a temporary basis, to see if they measured up to the job. We had orders of the day and had to do drill, work and study to a syllabus of training, set out by the OC of the Unit. We had parade ground drill and PT under instructions to make us tough and fit. Military and Police Law drivers were chosen to drive lorries and armoured cars and even though they were already good drivers, they had to pass the tests set down. First Aid and specialist classes were set up and everyone seemed keen to learn. We had to take our turn in Sentry and Patrol duties and were allowed leave according to the roster, both for after duty to midnight and also weekends. We were fully advised on what precautions to take and to put on our best behaviour. There was plenty of fun and amusement in the barracks as they had Crown and Anchor, cards, billiards and all kinds of fun.
We were then issued with a uniform for on duty, consisting of a black tunic and trousers and a beret. Not spectacular but useful and we always wore it on duty unless we were on a special exploration duty. On leave we had to wear civilian clothes and we were advised not to go out alone. We had very experienced officers to teach us Police Legal procedure. Generally the people were friendly, but we always had to be careful as to what areas we visited as we never knew when the IRA would stage a holdup. We were not allowed to carry arms when in ‘civvies’, so it was a battle of wits if you happened to get into trouble. One Saturday afternoon I went with Botha and Pringle (edit note, neither of these names are correct) to call at a little shop in the next street, after which we were to meet at the bottom of Grafton Street by the Statue. The shop was next door to the Albion Hotel, a small chemist that I had been in several times before. However, this time was to be different. I saw the chemist was a little agitated. He was serving two men and I heard them giving him orders for goods and I turned to leave, but one of them said, “Hands up or I will blow a hole through you.” He had his revolver already close to my stomach. Of course, I could have disarmed him in a flash, but it was no use on this occasion as I had the other one to deal with. So he said, “Who and what are you?” I said I was a commercial traveller from Brussels, Belgium and he felt in my inner pocket and found the Card with my supposed name and calling.
The chemist said, “All your goods are ready,” and one of the men said, “Charge it to the IRA!” Then he said to me, “Where are you staying?” I told him the Grafton Hotel. “Right, stay here until we come back.” One of them went out and the other came up to me, planting the pistol very close to my stomach. I tried out my unarmed combat instantly. I had my arms up, he said, “Move and you have had it!” So down my arms crashed and before he could pull the trigger, up went my knee violently into his crutch and he lay on the floor of the shop, groaning. I picked up the pistol and dashed onto a tram that was passing. I got on the wrong side but went on the other side as soon as the tram stopped, after being “ticked off” by the tram attendant. The tram was going past the bottom of Grafton Street, so I got off there and after a minute or so I met my pals. “Where have you been, Ernie?” “Well, to tell you the truth, I have been held up; I was scared, I can tell you!” So I told them what happened and showed them the pistol, but it was empty. I said, “Come on; let’s have a drink after that!”
Dublin is always a lively and interesting city. We went to the cinema early so that we could get back before curfew came on at 11pm. We used to catch the train, which came through Rathmines, and get off at our crossing. We always had to show our passes to get by the Sentries, even if they did know us. I reported the incident in town to the Orderly Officer and he gave me a chit acknowledging receipt of the revolver and said I would have to report to Orderly room next morning. Of course, all lights had to be out at 11pm Saturday but when the news got around next morning the chaps in the room wanted to know about it and how I executed the dislodgement of the weapon. I gave them an exhibition of it and after that I was quite popular. When I saw the OC, he said, “Smart work!”
After six weeks it was decided to have a small athletics meeting. We had contests of
tug-of-war, running, walking, jumping and seven-a-side football. I won the mile walk
and one mile run. I had recently started training for the London to Brighton walking
race. I had already walked to Naas and back. Old Jock Fife (edit: nobody called Fife in ADRIC) came with me on a bike,
as the distance was 36 miles, but the actual race was 52 miles so I still needed more
practice. I interviewed the OC and told him I would like to represent our Unit in the
Victory London to Brighton walking race, which was taking place in two months
time, if I could get the necessary leave. He said that if everything went all right I
could have a weeks leave.
By now we were doing all kinds of patrol work with the lorries and armoured vehicles and on bicycles, dressed as civilians, visiting and observing. One week three of us got dressed as farmers and went to a cattle sale just outside the city, mostly to listen and observe and mix with the farmers and labourers as they were selling the stock. At another time, dressed in appropriate clothing, I was supposed to sell newspapers by Sackville and Liffey Streets. I was delivered by car with my roll of papers, cap askew. I had to observe at the same time the comings and goings into a certain building. Sometimes we were picked up by the Curfew Patrol when out seeking information, and would then be taken to the Castle to report, and to be questioned. But we also had plenty of evenings off and several times I went to the famous Abbey Theatre with some of my pals. At times we saw some very good modern plays. Whenever we went there was always a queue to stand in and while we were waiting to go in we were entertained by broken down singers and musicians, who laid a little carpet on which some people threw down a few coins. They knew they had only a short time to put their part over, so they were very slick. However, one night I was waiting my turn and the comedian had just finished his song, and as we started to move forward, I thought, “Ah well, I will give him a few coppers for his effort.” But I found out when I got to the office to buy my tickets, that I had thrown him 5 half crowns instead of the pennies I intended. I had my leg pulled many a time over that but I didn’t make that mistake again
Next day, when orders came out the OC was asking for men with St John Ambulance
certificates to report at Orderly Room. As I had been a Superintendent in a St John’s
Brigade, like a ‘mutt’ I put my name down. There were quite a number who did
likewise and we had to report at the Hospital quite close to the entrance of Phoenix
Park. We were told that we would be on special duties and have a special area of
slums, to work in with nurses, especially in severe cases of sickness and accidents.
We had an area from the Old Dutch Church to Sackville Street, where blocks of flats
were four storeys high. The living rooms and conditions were very unhygienic, and
in some rooms there was no furniture or perhaps boxes for seats and table, and boxes
stacked on top of each other for cupboards. Sometimes these were covered with a
length of cotton rag to act as a curtain, but mostly they were like Mother Hubbard’s
The beds were another shocker, sometimes dirty bags filled with straw and very smelly. I don’t know how often they changed them. Of course, there was only a small percentage as bad as this. Some had ancient furniture and though they did try to keep it tidy what a battle they were waging. At the back of the flats they had iron steps by which they could ascend to the upper floors. They had no lavatories, but just inside at the top of each set of steps, there was a short wooden seat with a hole in it and a bucket underneath. Daily, the buckets were collected by sanitary men, but the stench used to make me feel sick whenever I had to pass near them. The nurses were middle-aged women and they could be angels when needed. I used to feel sorry for the children living under such conditions. There were different types of people living in these tenements and some had never lived in anything else. There were labourers, wharfies, street cleaners, and lorry drivers. Some of the women worked in shops and offices, factories etc. One afternoon the nurse wished to interview two girls living in a room but she said that every time she wanted to speak to them they closed the door. I agreed to go and said, “You can come along later if I am successful.” The door was partly open as I approached it and one of the girls came to the door. She was fully dressed, and said, “What do you want, a woman or a bed?” I said, “Neither.” The girl said, “We are just going out, so don’t be long about it.” Just then the nurse came in and they beganto be very abusive to us, the language being unprintable. However, I took out a box of chocolates from my haversack, and offered them one. They smiled and I said, “Have another; I don’t want to delay you, but where do you work?” They replied, “We spend most of our time on the streets.” I asked, “Are these your beds?” “Yes,” was the reply. They were two very old iron bedsteads with flat slats and were covered with sacks as black as “coalmen’s asses”. On the wall hung two fancy flimsy dresses, and on the mantelpiece were two pairs of the same type of shoes. I asked the nurse if she wanted to ask any questions and she said, “No.” “Good for you; we have an appointment in the city.” I said, “Have another chocolate and cheerio.” Turning to Nurse O’Donnell, I asked if she had any more visits. “Yes,” she replied, “we have one more down by the Old Dutch Church.” I offered my assistance and said, “It is 3pm, let’s have a cup of tea at the refreshment rooms, but as I have to be back at Headquarters by 4.30, we will have to hurry.” On our way down we passed the two girls of the slum tenement, but they ignored us. They looked quite attractive in their turn out. I asked the nurse why she wanted to see these girls in their room. She said, “I have seen them coming down the street on several occasions when I have been visiting patients. They were dressed as we have just seen them and I wondered what their room was like. Now I
know.” We arrived at our last call for the day, which was on the first floor, where two very dirty little girls came to the door, but the mother called to us to come in. I said, “Nurse, I will stay with the children for a while. Call me if you want me.” I took my packet of chocolates and gave them what was left. Their faces brightened up immediately. I asked, “Why are you not at school?” They replied, “Dad has gone away and Mummy was sick.” Just then the nurse came out smelling very strongly of disinfectant, which was quite a relief from the stench around. She had finished duty for the day. She said that the father was a member of the IRA and was on the run. I told her that I felt sorry for those kids, living under such conditions, and asked if something could be done for them. She said that there were so many and often when help was given it was only abused. However, as my duty for the day was done, the nurse asked me if I had even been in the old church, as it was worth a visit. It had been built during the 12th century. I said, “Thanks, I will try to arrange a visit later.”
It was about 4pm so I thought I would take a tram to Grafton Street corner as no
motor traffic was allowed in that thoroughfare and it was quite fashionable and
interesting and one could see some of Dublin’s most beautiful girls. I thought I would
walk through and have plenty of time to walk to camp, but I had only gone a few
steps when I met Botha, one of my pals from the Platoon. I said, “What are you
doing?” He replied, “Well, I have the afternoon off so I came for a little walk for a
change, come and have a cup of tea.” I told him I had to see the OC Platoon at 4.30.
(He wore civvies and I wore an Ambulance uniform). He said we could make it if we
caught a tram to the Camp gates and I said, “Ten minutes at the most, just a cup of tea
and sandwich.” We went into quite a clean, showy place and sat down at a table.
What do you know, the two girls, whom I had seen in the slums a couple of hours
previously were with two army Officers, one, a Major; the other, a Captain. They all
seemed to be enjoying themselves. I said to Botha, “I want to move from here,” so
we moved to the side near the door and I was telling him the story, but I said, “Come
on, we will catch the tram.” He was surprised when he had heard about it. “Well,” I
said, “you never know and you never can tell.”
I made it to my appointment with a minute to spare and the OC informed me that the
Platoon was on Curfew Patrol that night and we would be leaving the Camp at 9pm to
report to the Castle HQ for briefing. Away I went for a bath and change in readiness
for tea at 5pm. After tea several of us from our room went to watch and play roulette
for an hour or so. It is a very fascinating game and we used to get a lot of fun. I did
not have many bets, although I came out about five pounds in front. At 8pm I went
back to our barrack room. I could see that the cadets, who were going on duty, were
having a rest. We had to parade for a few minutes outside the room and then we marched over to the Vehicle Park by the OC Patrol. Our Platoon was responsible for two semi-armoured lorries, with the driver at the wheel and the leader by his side and four men on a bench down each side, facing outward. All vehicles reported at Dublin Castle, where those in charge received maps and orders of the route to be taken. We always had to keep very alert when on this duty and there was no smoking, (this was strictly carried out). You never knewwhen the IRA was going to shoot or throw bombs.
Fortunately, on that night there
were no incidents, and we arrived back at our Camp just after midnight.
The next morning the news was going around on the grapevine that we would be
moving soon, to another training camp – there was nothing authentic about the news.
I was due for an afternoon and evening pass. So was Botha, so we went to Dublin Town, which was always very lively and interesting. (edit; a long account of his trip to Dublin)
We caught the tram to Rathmines and from there it
was about 100 yards to our barracks.
There was a little dairy and tearoom, which was always well patronised by our chaps,
before they crossed the road to Camp. We went in, had a pot of tea, cakes and
sandwiches, and watched the fun for a few minutes before reporting. We always had
to show our passes, or sign our name and time of arrival in the Guard Book. We
made our way to our beds early, but were awakened later by the rowdies from the
roulette room. They were anxious to tell us the latest news of the grapevine.
“Have you hears the latest news, Ernie?” “Oh, let’s get to sleep,” I said. “No,” he
said, “the Company is leaving here and we are going to the Curragh Camp for a
course of intensive training. The advance party will be leaving in a few days to take
over part of the old army barracks, which is now empty.” However, the next morning
we were all anxious to see the orders of the day. There was an item that there would
be movement of personnel. Also, there was a meeting called for 10.30am in the
Lecture Hall that day. We realised that there must be something doing, as the OC Company, Captain, Taylor, was to address the meeting. As a matter of security he did not wish us to talk about it outside the camp. He stated that he had received instructions from Headquarters that we were to move to the Curragh Camp as quietly and quickly as possible. A Platoon would move off tomorrow and the advance party was to takeover the area to be occupied, making all arrangements to receive the remainder of the Company in a few days. As no definite date or time was set, it was quite an upset for many of us who had made appointments in the city.
As soon as the meeting ended, A Platoon was told to parade at once for instructions and that Leave would not be allowed to anyone in the advance party to leave camp. Drivers and lorries from Headquarters Section would be attached to A Platoon for the movement. All drivers and assistant drivers were to report to the Car Park at once and go through vehicle maintenance in readiness for an early move the next morning. The advance party was up at 5am and all blankets and kit bags had to be loaded onto the lorries, with rations etc. to move off as soon as ready. Several armoured lorries went out on different routes to check for any signs of trouble. Breakfast was over, the trucks were loaded with gear etc. and six lorries armed in case of attack, with Lewis guns, rifles and bombs. The armoured cars left and we were to follow ten minutes later. Fortunately, it was a fine morning and we moved off quickly from the side gates, which took us directly to the main road to Naas, which in turn, was straight and in good order. I knew this because I had been along it on a training walk a few days previously. It was about 20 miles if I remember rightly. I had walked both ways, which made it 40 miles, the longest walk I had done in Ireland. We made good progress without any incident and came to a place named Newbridge, just one short street, mostly with old men standing outside the stores and a few donkey carts parked at the side. The people inside started to rush outside onto the footpath, but we did not stop and went straight through. Our next small settlement, a little larger than Newbridge, was called Kildare. It looked like it was a market day, with the animals and donkey carts at the sides. However, we waved to them and went on our way. The houses were small, as well as the little stores and I found out later that they mostly stocked braces, aprons, boots and shoes, oranges, potatoes, saddles and sweets. The desires of the people seemed to be very simple. But one could buy a porter or stout from almost any store in the place. With the cows and donkeys, it put me in mind of Egypt, where the donkey was also very popular. We would often see this animal in use, pulling little carts with all kinds of articles loaded on them. The women looked old and some of them bent, wrapped mostly in black shawls, some carrying bundles as they trudged along.
Of course, our group was the centre of interest as we passed and I am sure this set their tongues going. We made good progress and eventually came to our destination, the Curragh Camp, which we soon learned to like very much. Soon we took over the hutments and buildings from the chief caretaker. There were plenty of facilities, ablutions, lavatories, wash houses, cook houses, dining and lecture halls, hot and cold showers and a good parade ground, with a football ground nearby. There were quarters also for the Senior Officers. The cooks took over the cookhouses and very soon we were unloading rations and stores. Immediately a Sergeant and 8 Cadets mounted guard and put sentries on the entrance gates. All hands were busy getting everything in order for the main body. A number of local employees were taken on, after investigation, to take over sanitary and other fatigues, in order to release duty personnel. They were told that if they did not measure up to the work they would be discharged. We all worked hard to get the huts ready for the incoming personnel. Fortunately, we had struck a period of fine weather for this move to the Curragh, which is really a very fine area for training grounds, not only of men, but of horses too. I remember that on my first tour of duty on the eastern entrance, we had a magnificent
view of the landscape, which was wide open from the foreground, the middle distance, and to the background of the Dublin Hills. It was very interesting to see the long lines of racehorses, taking different roads as they were taken out on their daily exercises. Often we would hear the clatter of hoofs, and the talking of the stable boys as they passed by. It was not a heavy clatter, rather a delicate lady-like sound. A group of about twenty horses left the road and cantered over the turf towards the training grounds, by the racecourse. I expect they came up this way, so that they could see what was happening in the camp. We received a message, saying that the main body of men would be leaving early and would arrive before lunch. A few minutes after 11 o’clock we caught sight of vehicles in the distance. The guides were paraded, to be ready to take the Platoons etc. to their quarters. They started to pass through the entrance at 11.20 and by 12 noon they were all in their quarters and vehicles in the car park. Of course, there was the usual talking and cursing and inquiry into this and that, but after lunch, (a fine effort by the cooks) and a rest on their bunks, they felt a lot better. A parade was called in loose dress and the OC asked them to settle in quickly. A party was sent off to assist with the rations and clothing, which was to be housed in
the Quartermasters Stores.
At 6pm there was a meeting in the large lecture hall, where the OC Captain Taylor thanked the advance guard for the good work they had done in getting the camp ready for all involved in the movement. He said that we had excellent training grounds, good facilities and he wanted us to get settled down to study and training, so that we could use it with efficiency and confidence when we were up against trouble in the future. “From tomorrow, the bugle will sound the calls of the day, commencing with Reveille at 6am and from 8.15am we will be following a syllabus of training, which will extend to the evening on some days.” This would be put up in the barrack rooms along with the orders of the day. We would have special lecturers from Dublin to assist with Military and Police Laws. A special committee of the Company, which was by now 200 strong, would arrange entertainment, recreation and sport. Captain Taylor said he had noticed in a Kildare shop window, that there would be a Race Meeting on the Curragh three weeks hence, so that would be something to look forward to. He concluded by announcing that the Bar would be open until 9.30pm. It took us several days to get accustomed to the training tables, with musketry training, rifles, revolvers and bombs, Law study, physical training and unarmed combat. Instruction and practice on vehicle maintenance and driving was also given. Platoon competition football was played. We got on excellently with the people around the settlement.
From my second week there I used to turn out on short training walks before Reveille, covering up to 10 miles. When parades were suitable Jock Fife often accompanied me on a bicycle. I usually did about 7 miles per hour on these trips and sometimes Botha, from South Africa, would run with me also. I wanted to get fit, and keep fit for the London to Brighton walk, which was 3 months away, but the OC had promised me leave to compete and to represent the Company in this International Race. After a few walks, I soon got well known to the stable lads and trainers, ... (edit ; more about his walks and racehorses)
With minutes to spare we made it. “Goodnight, Sentry.” The bar had closed but we could hear them chattering like parrots and so we made our way to the hut, in an effort to get into bed before lights out, which was always on a crisp, solemn note. The orderly officer instructed the bugler to blow the last call of the day. Of course, there was always a hullabaloo for awhile as some had too much to drink. Others were a little excited over their gambling at the roulette table, but after a while they were told to “put a sock in it” and to settle down. From this point on we would have a tough course of training and study. Morning came all too soon, the Reveille was sounded at 6am and it clearly told us to get out of bed, or else. The Orderly Sergeant shouted, “Rise and shine – fall in for parade!” “Don’t you ever sleep, Sergeant?” And all kinds of oaths and jokes were hurled at him as he carried out his duty. Of course, if you were late, it meant fatigues. What a mixed up mealy crowd they were, fat and tall, thin and small. We were told “easy dress” and so it was, but it was never repeated. From then on, it was slacks, jerseys and shoes. We were taken for 15 minutes crisp sharp walk, on the way back down it was feet up a few times and then continued the walk and for the last 100 yards, we were told to “break and run for it.” There was a scramble to get showered, to the ablutions and lavatories, where we got all the gossip of the camp. It wasn’t long before we heard a different spirit in the camp, singing, joking and getting ready for the cookhouse call so that they could be on time. The cooks had come from Portobello Barracks and were doing a grand job, and it looked as if everything would be on time.
It was the first day of the training programme and the OC had already asked everyone
for full cooperation. Shortly, the “Cook House Doors, Boy”, was sounded. Breakfast
was porridge, bacon and eggs, bread and butter and jam. Naturally the early morning
walk and exercise in the crisp morning air of the Curragh had sharpened our appetites
and we were all very chirpy and cheerful in their conversation. The OC inspection
and lecture was the first thing on the morning’s table of work and Platoons had a
quick inspection and then we were marched on to the parade ground.
The Adjutant took over and after a few exercises in arms drill we got the command,
“For inspection, open ranks march!” That meant that the near rank would take one
pace step back and when the Adjutant was satisfied he handed over the Company to
the OC, who then gave the command to “order arms” and we were ready for his
inspection. This was the first occasion we had such a large parade. The OC, Captain
Taylor, was very tall, so he could easily observe things and it did not take him long to
carry out the inspection. He gave a short talk, “hoping that the 5 weeks training
would be of great benefit to us in carrying out our duties in the future, with efficiency
and confidence, wherever we would be sent to deal with illegal practices.” Then he
added, “as the Curragh horse races were being held on Wednesday” it gave him
pleasure to announce that all ranks, with the exception of the Guards and those on
duty, would be given time off after the 9am parade.
For the series of lectures being held we were told to take exercise books and pencils,
because an examination would be held at the end of the training course. We had
several very good, experienced lecturers from Dublin and they made the work very
interesting. We had arms and movements drill then musketry in rifles and revolvers,
followed by afternoon instruction in driving and vehicle maintenance, on the Car Park.
(edit: more about the Curragh Races)
There was quite a lot of joviality in the mess, most of them were primed up, some had won and one chap, Williams (edit: possible CH Williams ) had lost well over a hundred pounds. He said that he was broke. He had been a Group Captain in the Air Force, and he and a little Jew named Salmons (edit: not in ADRIC) were the greatest gamblers in the Company. Williams asked me if I would lend him a fiver, and he was very successful at the roulette table. After that I came to his rescue several times. He always paid me back, often with interest. He was mixed up with high society in Dublin and used to go to shooting parties, dancing and any near race meetings. He had special suits for special occasions and was quite a man about town. After tea Botha and I went for a walk up the river, looking in the direction of the Racecourse, which was almost deserted, with just a few people packing up to move off early the following morning. Although the twilight was with us the shadows were falling over the plain. It had been a memorable, happy day, our first race meeting in Ireland. We wandered casually back to camp and intended going to the gaming room to try our luck at roulette. When we read the orders for tomorrow, we changed our minds, as we were both included in a Guard, which would be mounted at 9am. We stayed in the room, cleaned our rifles etc. so that we would not be so rushed in the morning. It seemed no time at all before the Bugler was sounding the Reveille at 6am. The men sing to it as it sounds, “Get out of bed, get out of bed or cor’ blimey, you’ll mess the bed.” Soon everyone was dashing around, washing, shaving etc. We started mounting of guard at 9am under the orderly officer. I managed to put in some time studying Police and Military Law, when not on Sentry duty. It was not yet time for me to go on my second spell of sentry, but I could see the men coming from the lecture hall with their pencils and notebooks, some of them talking about the lecture. Botha and I got ready to do our second spell of sentry and of course we always had to be in a state of readiness, in case we were called out suddenly. We went on duty at 9pm and the twilight was still with us, but by 11pm all the shadows had gone and thenight was with us. Nothing unusual happened, but it was very eerie at night to see a few lights blinking here and there in the local settlements situated around the camp. We could always tell when the boys in the stables were up and doing as a halo of light would cover the stables in the early morning.
Of course, we always had to be fully dressed when on guard, in case of a sudden call out, either by the orderly officer, or some sudden incident. Sentries always have to alert when on duty and keep a sharp lookout. If a call comes there is a scramble to fall in with arms at the slope. Very often a few swear words flying about, but that is all in the work. We were pleased when 9am came and our tour of Guard duty was over and we could look forward to a few hours off duty. From then on training was intensified in every way and of course, being in a camp, we got to know each other much better. In addition to parades drill and lectures, we were sent out to get used to communal affairs. We usually worked in pairs, attended market days in most of the settlements around, to mix with the people who bring in their produce, whatever it may be on the donkey carts, some with eggs, fowl, little pigs and sows (sometimes with little piglets), butter and peat. In fact, it was amazing what we saw when on these adventures. We were told to dress in very casual clothes so as not to look out of place.
I remember going to a tailor I got to know in Kildare, who had learned his trade in
London. One afternoon I met him in Kildare and he said, “Hello, what are you doing
in civvies?” I asked, “Have you got time to have a drink, Pat?” “Sure, I have,” he
replied. So we had a stout and I told him I was visiting some of the markets. “God in
heaven,” he said, “You’re not going rigged out like that! Damn it, come to my shop, I
can make you something more in touch with market days than the rigout that you
have,” he said, “here you are, the real Irish Donegal Tweed.” And sure it was. I said
cheerio to Pat and cycled back to camp and I just managed to get to in time for tea.
When I saw Rennie, whom I had been with that day, he said, “Where did you get to,
Ernie?” I told him about my visit to the tailor. The next day I was out withRobinson, who had a well-worn jacket and slouch hat and he also had a scraggy
moustache. Sometimes we use to see other pairs out, mixing up, but we always kept
apart. Some of the farmers came in a horse and gig, some on horseback. They were
in business in a bigger way than the donkey cart owners of small sections were. We gradually improved our ideas, from day to day.
Next day, I called on Pat to see what progress he had made. “First of all, take your pants off, and try these on.” I had the breeches on in a jiffy and then the jacket. I was surprised and I could see the suit was going to be good. Pat made a few adjustments to the jacket and told me to dress and call on Friday afternoon. That was two days later. We were kept in camp for the next two days, swotting up on Police Law and also some firing practice on the rifle range. On Friday the shops remained open until 9pm. I asked Botha to come with me for a walk, as I wanted to see if the tailor had finished the suit. Kildare was quite lively and of course, the pubs were doing the best trade. I could see the tailor’s shop was open, long before I got to it. Pat said, “I had it finished about 4.30 as I thought you may be calling on your bike.” With my brown shoes it looked absolutely OK and old Botha was really surprised as the suit cost me £5. I was very pleased, but I told Botha, “It’s too flash to wear around here,” so I took it off and put on my old pants and grey vest. I carried that parcel, well pleased with old Pat’s workmanship.
Two days later, a small group of us were going to Wicklow for three days. We were taken by a small covered van and were put off at the Wicklow Hotel. The van was to pick us up three days later, so we were all in civvies. I took my Donegal suit and Williams lent me a very nice pair of neat leggings as they matched the breeches well. Also he gave Botha and me a letter if introduction to a shooting friend of his. We stayed at his lovely home, just out of Wicklow for one day and night and then we called on a farmer we had met at the Curragh races, who gave us a very nice time, fishing and shooting rabbits, and playing tennis with the family. We called on the local police on the last day to see if there was any IRA activity. The sergeant said it was quiet at present, so when we got back to camp, we reportedaccordingly. We split up into two and we had all had a very interesting trip. When they saw me in my cycling suit, most of the chaps said, “Christ, Ernie, where did you get your suit from?” Once I told them, Pat was kept very busy doing all kinds of things for them. I did not wear it in the country, but when I went to the cities on business I often wore it. Also, I wore it in England and for many years in New Zealand.
Most of our travels were done on cycles and we really enjoyed those trips. We had to
draw maps, make notes and hide them in our shoes or boots until we got back to
report to the Adjutant, always on the same evening of our return. Of course, these
trips intermingled with our training making it much more interesting. We always had
to be back in camp to attend the 7pm lectures on Law, which were always interesting
by well-trained Police Officers.
Just about this time the IRA were stirring up trouble, burning down Police Stations in
villages and small towns, also robbing Post Offices and trying hard to create a period of unrest and terror. Politically the British Government was trying hard to reach a settlement. But it dragged on from day to day and from week to week. We still had some time at the Curragh Camp, but the IRA went haywire in the south and Cork was in flames as we read in the Irish Times. We thought there must be some movement soon and the OC received orders that one Company was to be alerted and ready for movement as soon as possible. About twenty armoured vehicles arrived to make up our number. Drivers and assistant drivers were chosen and taken out on the plains to carry out movements, which would be of great value to them later. Also stacks of equipment and clothing and rations arrived and a new officer, Colonel Buxton-Smith arrived to take over our company. He was an old soldier and also had been a Diplomat. Two hours after his arrival he called for a parade of personnel and equipment and we all worked very hard to be there on time. We were ready for inspection when Captain Taylor and Colonel Buxton-Smith arrived. The two officers made their inspection and they both seemed very pleased with the quick turnout. Afterwards, the Colonel gave a very inspiring speech, telling us what was taking place and what our job would be for the next few months ahead. We had to be ready to move at a moments notice after tomorrow, butor security reasons no times were issued of the movement. At 7am the next morning, Headquarters section, with its equipment and personnel moved off. A and B Groups moved off at 1 hour intervals, each group had 15 vehicles and were armed for battle order in case of any trouble on route.
The route we followed from the Curragh was through Maryborough, Durrow, Cashel, Cahir and Mallow to Cork. The trip was very interesting, passing through some most beautiful scenery. But, of course, we were so tense and concentrated, realising that trouble could happen at any moment, as we passed through narrow cuttings and defiles etc. In many of the small towns and villages we saw the charred remains of what was the Police Station. We were feeling tired by the time we got near to the Cork area, but at last we were met by a motor cyclist, who presented his ticket and guided us directly to the Army Barracks, where we were to be billeted for the night. Everything was organised for our comfort but we did not take off our clothing, and just lay on our own blankets. We were not allowed out, but as we were on a rise, we could see large burnt out areas from the top rooms in the barracks. It was a great relief to be able to relax inside these walls. Of course, the city was quiet since the troops had arrived. At 7pm the OC gave a short talk on the movement so far and thanked all those, who had taken part, and advised us to get to bed early. At 6am the following morning the bugle sounded and the check maintenance parade was held on the park 15 minutes later, followed by breakfast at 7am. At 7.30am Headquarters group moved off, so as to arrive early and give us plenty of time to get settled into our new quarters. The central part of Cork is surrounded by water and has quite a number of bridges around it. Each group took a different route out of the city, before we got on the road, which took us through Dripsey, Coachford, and to our destination, Macroom Castle, the place in which we were to live and work for several months. The town was oblong in shape, more or less, with one street stretching for half its length, and then it spread out towards the large Market Square, around the Town Hall. The Square contains a fairly large Catholic Church, and also an English church. The river flows through the Castle grounds, which are large and spacious and dotted here and there with beautiful trees. A high wall with large wooden entrance gates surrounds quite a large part of it. Sentries had already been posted when we arrived, with no one being allowed in or out without a signed permit. By 10.30 all personnel and vehicles had arrived and a party of three officers who had come several days earlier had planned out different areas for vehicles and rooms for personnel. Mostly, everything worked well, but a few adjustments were made later. When we reached our destination the whole shopping area was crowded with pedestrians on the footpaths and all kinds of donkey carts lined the streets. They all seemed interested, and we were the last group to arrive. The vehicles were directed to the car park and were unloaded; we collected our gear and were then taken to the rooms allotted to us. This night we were all domiciled in this very large Castle, by the river.
The Castle is a very large square building of stone blocks with quite a large part of the front covered with ivy and had a very large entrance. This six storey building has over a hundred rooms, some very large and several magnificent stairways. The large basement contained cellars. There was a large spacious yard at the back, partially covered, and also a separate back entrance of large high doors, which remained closed. It naturally took us some days to settle in. Soon, I was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of my Platoon. It was chiefly so that I could carry out the position of Mess President. I was responsible to the OC for the ordering of local supplies, food, wines, etc. which did not come under the authority of the Camp Quartermaster. I soon got to know the local shop keepers, including the butcher, baker, grocers, greengrocers, wine stores and the Town Clerk and Chairman of the Town. I liked the work very much, but I still had to go on my duties with Patrols on the armoured cars and lorries. We had an area of country to patrol, covering about a 50 mile radius of Macroom. A programme and a roster of patrols and guards was prepared and put into operation from the second day we were at the Castle. We were on dangerous duty, which was to keep the highways and roads open to traffic. Every morning the patrols would leave the Castle gates at 8am with definite route to be followed by the officer in charge. All in battle order and ready for trouble on the way, we took midday rations with us, also petrol to refuel if necessary. Notwithstanding the tension, it was very interesting, passing through the most beautiful country, but we never knew what was just around the bend. When passing through deep cuttings, sometimes we sent out scouts on either side ahead of us, for security against roadblocks etc.
Our new OC was a good firm experienced officer who would not tolerate any nonsense. He tried hard to impress upon all ranks that we were on very dangerous work and that must not relax at all when on duty. As soon as we entered the Castle gates on our return, the lorries were taken to the car park to be checked and repaired by mechanics, so as to be ready for any sudden call. We soon arranged for sport and recreation and the OC was very liberal with night passes, provided the men behaved themselves. I still kept up with my running, mostly with one of my friends accompanying me on the Unit cycle. I expected the local people, when they saw me first, wondered what I was up to so early in the morning. I used to wave to them and most would wave back. When I returned to the Castle yard, I had a hot and cold shower, then I was ready to enjoy a large breakfast. I remember my first visit to the butcher’s shop; it was very well stocked and clean. I saw the shop sign, Casey, Butcher, so I went in. There was a woman by the large round chopping block. I said, “Good morning, is the butcher about?” Very loud and clear she said, “Yes, I am the butcher.” I soon realised that, when I saw her using the cleaver and sharpening her knife, also the way she cut up the carcasses to the requirements of her customers, left nothing in doubt. I assure you, I was amazed when I saw Mrs. Casey, a fairly tall, well built woman, carrying out the job so efficiently. I got to like her very much. She was as straight as a die. After I had explained my business to her, it was arranged that I would give her my order every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 8am and I would arrange to pick them up using a little van at about 9am. I asked if she was agreeable to the account being paid every Saturday and she said that the arrangement would be quite all right. We worked on that principle the whole time we were there. Each Saturday morning I would visit her about 9am and she would take me into a small office, whereI would give her the cheque (anything from £40 to £70) from the Quartermaster for the goods received. She would always have a Guinness with me, and it was good. She said that she gave the cheque immediately to her accountant, who had an office nearby. We always got good, fresh meat and she often gave us a few chickens for good measure. She was a great Irish lady and a very efficient butcher. Well done, Mrs. Casey!
I had similar arrangements with other tradesmen, which worked out well. I don’t
think that there was a single shop in the town, where you couldn’t get a Guinness – it
really is a great Irish drink and beverage!
Fortunately, we had some excellent cooks and they did a really good job for us. They
were Cockneys and naturally were very humorous and witty, and created quite a lot of
fun from time to time.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays I usually went out on patrols and it was really lovely to
leave the level ground and move into the hills around. On the skyline sometimes we
would see big yellow clouds moving quickly and changing colour every moment.
The white road curved through the valleys and hills, as we sped along, leaning this
way and that. We saw a few bright fields, some with corn and vegetables, other
patches were uncultivated summits, with grey rocks showing through tufts of grass. The roads were mostly deserted, but occasionally, carts drawn by donkeys and loaded with turf-like bricks, the colour of dark chocolate. Old men, or old women with their heads in black shawls, crouched above the shafts, in most incredible rag garments. They had been up early putting on their loads and I expect they were heading for their homes or to the nearest market to sell their goods. The scenery was picturesque as we moved along and at other times we came across groups digging and cutting blocks of peat, which would be stacked and left to dry out, then picked up later and carted direct to market. There were quaint folk, who indulged in a lot of Irish blarney together.
The first time we saw the market in Macroom, we really enjoyed the crude and rustic
custom of barter and sale. The vendors started arriving very early in the morning and
by 9am there were hundreds of tousled and mud splashed cows standing all along the main street, some on the pavements, others in the middle of the road. Sometimes the
indignant shop owner came to smack a beast out of his shop. Attached to each cow,
or group of cows, there was a man, who was just as casual as the beasts he owned.
Generally, these herdsmen could be tall, wild looking chaps from the hills, or short,
mild and fat men from the plains. Often leaning on a rough stick, usually with rough
clothing and unshaven, they were most friendly to talk to. In another wide area there
were a group of donkeys, many of them too young to be put to work, being chased by
small boys trying to get on their backs. This was about the only happy time a donkey
At the sides of the streets, in another part, were lines of donkey carts, painted in blue,
with shafts in different colours. On these, little pigs slumbered with sows, fowl, and
pigeons in cages. The market seemed to spread everywhere, a real expression of
village life. There were two or three pubs scattered around but you could buy stout or
porter in any shop. Of course, this was in 1920. It was amazing how some of those
people scratched for a living. They came to town with a load of peat, valued at about
5/- and some with a load of hay for about 10/-. Naturally, their wealth could be
counted in pennies. Yet, if they did not get their price for cows, pigs, ducks or hens,
or a load of hay or peat, then they would rather take them back home, than compromise their price; they loved to argue. It was very interesting to go around the market on this first day, but as I saw it many times later, it always seemed to be the same old blarney and argument.
I became very friendly with the Anglican Vicar (who was very tall) and his wife and her sister, who lived with them. They had a son, Stephen, and a daughter, Barbara, who was away, working in a bank. They lived in quite a large comfortable home, with a very large kitchen garden. They were very jolly and I often went over to spend the evening with them. They told me that, if there was anything we required from the garden, such as herbs, vegetables etc. I was to take advantage of it, because they could not use it all. The two women often gave me information regarding cooking, which I passed on to the cooks. On most days, I used to walk along the river, which was in the Castle grounds, and of course, private. One morning I saw several large fish basking in the shadows of low branches, as they glided slowly around. I began to have ideas of how nice it would be to catch a few for lunch or dinner. I was told that they were salmon. I remembered the day, along the River Po in Italy, asking an Italian boy of there were any fish in the River. He said that he would take me to where there were plenty on this side of the corn-grinding mill, which was powered by the water wheel. I had similar intentions in this case. Of course, it would have been very nice and sportsmanlike to catch the fish with a rod and line, but I didn’t have those. My next venture was to take a Mills hand grenade and practise my stunt again. I took a couple of sacks with me in case I needed them and I chose a time when the patrols were out. I threw in some old meat bones and bread, and then I went back to the cooks to ask them if they would cook some fish if I was able to procure them. “Sure,” they said, they could easily borrow some trays from the pub.
Away I went to commit this unsportsmanlike deed. I could see a few floating and swimming around, and I pulled the safety pin out of the grenade, counted three and pitched it into the river. In 4 seconds it went “wuff” and no one but I had heard it. In a few moments several large fish were lying stunned on top of the water. I walked into the river, collected them and put them in the sacks. It was very exciting and was all over in a few minutes. I made my way around the back of the Castle yards, dumped the sacks in the store room used by the cooks and went to change into some dry pants. I went down to the cooks and told them I had got some fish for dinner the next night. “Come and have a look,” I exclaimed. Sam and Bert came, and said, “Oh, Christ, they will come in very nicely.” I said, “If there is any seasoning for sauce etc. let me know, so I can get it from the kitchen garden at the Vicarage.” It meant a lot more work for the cooks and I got Botha to relieve me on my patrol the next day, because I wanted to assist with the cooking and arrangements. The cooks at the pub helped them out and after a very exciting and eventful day we had steaming hot salmoncutlets with parsley sauce as one of the courses. Everyone thought it magnificent and we should try it again they said, (but not for me, once was enough.) They had fish, of course, but it was not salmon. I had to keep it quiet for I did not know how the Colonel would react if he heard the true story.
We were getting well settled in by this time and we got to know the people, and we wanted to help them. We set up a welfare section and visited the Institute for old men and women. We met the matron and asked if it would be in order to arrange a few visits to the old people. We went once a fortnight and heard later that they enjoyed our visits and looked forward to our return. We took with us packets of tea, tobacco, chocolates, sweets and a few cigars for some of the men who liked them. It certainly was a break for them in the dreadful monotony, in which they existed. Also we arranged two short afternoon concerts on Sundays. Some of the artists were members of our Unit; some were townsfolk. It brought a little sunshine into their drab, dreary lives. We arranged a Census so that we could help if there were any severe cases of distress. It was arranged that, on a certain date, all members of the home were to put up a list of names of both males and females staying in the house on that night. Both churches assisted in the project, and it was successful, if not perfect. We found that some families were in great distress and that some of the homes were in terrible condition. But yet, they did not feel in the least distressed and seemed to take it as if it was just the natural way. The day came for us to carry out the check up and it was planned that two of us did a street or part of one, according to number of houses. One collector did one side and the other person checked the other side. Everyone had been notified to expect us and we just knocked at the door. When it was opened, we said, “Census check.” We carried on writing down the street number, and number of occupants. Some of the places were really pathetic, with earth floors, broken windows and doors, and leaks and holes in the roofs. Ducks, fowl and goats use to come in the shacks and nibble at anything that they found. Sanitary arrangements were very bad, just as rustic as the hens or goats in the yards. Many did not worry in the least at these conditions andsometimes we would just pass the time of day. Others would ask questions, such as why it was being done. I used to fill my haversack with sweets and chocolates and I knew that would help me out in some part, especially with the very small children.
I visited one house and as there was no card up, I asked where the list was. The
woman said that she had no time for that. I wrote the details down for her, nine
children, four girls and five boys. “Where is the father?” I asked. She said he was
not there. I asked how they managed to get food and she said, “If we cannot get it, we
have to go without.” The two eldest girls slept in one small room with a window as
big as a sheet of foolscap paper. They slept on dirty old mats, covered with ragged
blankets. The boys, who were aged from about four to 14, slept in similar conditions
in another small room. I asked her what she had for them to eat. She told me “potato
peelings and some bones given to her by the butcher”. “Where is your husband?” I
asked. She said she did not know, and that he must have been on the run. Later, I
asked the butcher about him, she said that he was lazy and would not work. I told the
mother that I would try to do something for her family, but there were so many
families in need. I had only two more homes to visit and my quota was complete.
In the next home I visited, was an old man, who lived with his daughter. His age on the card was 99 years and 6 months. I asked if I could come in and see him, and the daughter showed me to his room. He was tall, grey and bent and could not see very well. I tried to talk to him but did not get much response. She said that she had to do everything for him, as he was helpless as a baby. I thought, as I said goodbye to the woman, that I never want to reach a century and be so useless, and a nuisance to everyone. I called at the grocer’s and asked him some questions about the family of nine, and purchased three pounds of Irish butter, 4 pounds of sugar, 3 large loaves of bread, a large packet of Quaker Oats, and a tin of cocoa. He charged me 10/- and gave me a bag of sweets. I went along to the cottage with the parcel of goods, which I thought would help them out. The woman asked me in and I told her that I had got these few things to help out in the meantime. She showed me her pantry; it was like Mother Hubbard’s.
I asked her to send along one of the boys at 5.15pm, with a basket or clean bucket and I would look out for him at the Castle gate. I asked which boy she would send. I picked the ragged little boy about ten. She blessed me many times and I said that I would give them further help from time to time. There were quite a number of large families in the township who were living in distressed circumstances. We gave a lot of information to the Welfare Committee after the Census was made. For the remainder of the time we were in Macroom we supported a family of 13 and the family of nine that I have mentioned. We all subscribed a weekly sum, which was used to purchase provisions and these were delivered to them every week. Also we used to have a lot of good clean food left over after meals. After I had seen those skinny, neglected, hungry children, I couldn’t bear to see it thrown into the large drums and boxes for collection by the pig man. We arranged for a boy and girl from the families to come along to the back doors of the Castle, where the cookhouse was situated. From the first week the head cook and I used to give to these children liberal supplies of food which had been left over after meals. I was very pleased to see it put to a good purpose and I am sure those mothers were pleased when they saw what was given to them for the whole family. There was always bread, meat, butter, cake, soup and pudding. Sometimes we sent the food in enamel dishes, which had to be washed and returned. Instead of the pig man calling every day, he then called on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If it rained I would take the food to their homes in the small van and it also gave me a chance to see that it was used properly. Later, we cared for two other families and I told the mothers that, as long as the food was not wasted, we would continue to help them. When we met with the local Welfare Committee I reported to them what we were doing for distressed families and that each cadet and officer in the Unit was contributing to a fund weekly to help the children. While all this was being done, our patrols had still to be vigilant and alert in their duties. At the time the British Government was trying to negotiate a treaty with representatives from the IRA that would bring a just and peaceful settlement.
Unemployment was still present in most countries of Europe and the World, caused by the gigantic upheaval of War and economics. There was no stability anywhere. Colonel Buxton-Smith was a grand old man of about 60 years, who had served on the Diplomatic Corps with distinction, and often we were fortunate to listen to carefully written papers of his work. He was often away from the Unit to attend Conferences, both in Dublin and London. The Castle estate was spacious and lovely to walk through, along the banks of the River Lee, which wound through the grounds. We had plenty of room for games but notwithstanding these facilities there was always that prevalent ring of confinement and security, which we observed especially when we were off duty. One Sunday several of us thought we would like to make a real exploration of the basement rooms of the castle. We equipped ourselves with torches and set out on our search through those dark rooms. The foundations were in wonderful state of preservation and a credit to the architects and masons who built with the large stone blocks. It was a pleasure to see such workmanship. Some rooms were large and paved with oblong stones; others had earthen floors. They had not been used for many years and it was there that we had a find. We had been looking through a lot of empty bottles, when we found eight bottles of Spanish Wine, of very old vintage. We tasted it and it was wonderful, so we drank it at our special dinner. The wine was mellow and mature and I kept a cork from one of the bottles for many years. After having been to the depths, we thought we would try the heights and we made our way to the roof. Quite a large area of the roof was more or less flat with a wall approximately four feet high and chimneys here and there. There was a magnificent view of the town and the surrounding countryside. Lookouts were posted on the roof during daylight hours and they were armed with binoculars, pencils and notebooks. They were instructed to ‘see without being seen’ and had a telephone to contact the Sergeant of the Guard at any time during the day
After the result of the Census was known, the Welfare Committee of the Unit chose
me to represent them on the Town Committee. The population of the town was 1250
in 1920. I explained to the Committee that we were not only keeping open the roads
and highways, but also were trying to help and assist come of the local distressed
families. When I raised the question of middle-aged men being absent from their
homes they stated that many were away working in England and Scotland. It seemed
to me that if an Irishman wanted to get a little money together he had to leave Ireland.
To some people the Irish never seemed to take life seriously. Their mental attitude to
life was infuriating to the materialists, who called it laziness. They were not really
lazy; they were casual, indolent and metaphysical. The ‘curse of industrial nations is
the cruel and cynical subjection of man to machines.’ Mechanical inefficiency, which
was a shame and a disgrace to the modern world, was, to an Irishman, a Joke.
In the villages we often passed when on patrol, were mostly old people and school
children. I learned that from May until October most of the youth and middle-aged of both sexes would leave their homes, to go by boat to Britain and work in England and Scotland and sometimes Wales. They worked in many types of job, as farmers, nurserymen and in Public Works. ‘Work and Save.’ Many farmers built large hutments to accommodate the workers close to the work of hoeing, weeding, sowing and planting, etc. Many family men would return to Ireland, but single men with good jobs stayed on permanently. The girls also found work in factories and homes. Of course, in the 1920’s the outlook of these people began to change as it did in all countries. At that time the charm of Ireland was partly due to the relaxed pace of life and nobody seemed to worry. I noticed that, in most Catholic countries such as Spain, Italy and Ireland, the material world was overshadowed by the spiritual. The priests generally had great power over the people, especially in the country districts. I remember that on Sunday mornings from early morn to mid-day, the usual scene as we stood by the Castle Gate was a slow continuous parade of donkey carts from districts around, bringing the faithful to Mass. Townspeople usually walked. The church was quite large, surrounded by lawns and trees with other buildings nearby
I invited one of the Cadets to walk with me to the Catholic Church. I wanted to see
how they accommodated all those people who came to Mass. The Church was
packed with hundreds kneeling and standing around. It started to rain, but it made
very little difference to those who remained, still kneeling and getting wet through.
“Why don’t you go home?” I asked one. “Oh no, that would displease the Father!”
was the reply. So they stayed and got very wet. However, we hurried back to the
Castle, as we had no coats.
The Unit had no special parade and Cadets could go where they wished if they were
off duty. We had patrols daily, so there were always men on duty. Often on Sunday
afternoon, if I was off duty, Stephen Baines from the Vicarage came over with an
invitation from his parents to join them for supper. I went many times and it was
always jolly and friendly and Stephen enjoyed it very much. The Vicar often talked
to me of his experiences, which were not always happy. Several times, he said he
thought the Church would have to close owing to the tactics of the IRA, but
eventually they managed to see it out. During those visits I met some important
townspeople such as Lawyers, Accountants, Shopkeepers and Members of the
One Friday evening while I was there I mentioned that I was travelling to Cork for the
weekend, leaving on the morning train. The Vicar remarked that he was going also, to preach at the Church there on Sunday. I had intended to have lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel, so I asked him to join me. It was agreed so I rang and made reservations. The following morning was nice and sunny as I dressed in my Donegal Tweed walking suit, which I had not worn since leaving the Curragh. I had to report to the Adjutant for final instructions. When he saw me in my rigout, he said, “Christ, Ernie, you’re all dressed up, have you got a date?” Of course, there was a bit of leg pulling. The Adjutant said, “I have to go to the station, Ernie, come with me.” So I fetched my case, gloves and cap. Shortly we arrived there and I told him that the Vicar was going too, so I would have company. We could see the tall and sprightly figure of the Vicar walking along the platform. When I stopped and saluted him by raising my cap he didn’t know me for the moment. Both he and the Adjutant laughed, “We don’t see you dressed up likethis very often.” We talked until the train puffed into the station. When we boarded the train the Vicar laughed again. “Well, I didn’t really pick you at first glance; I’ve always seen you in uniform or slacks but never like this. I must say, you look quite smart and it fits you so well!” I told him that an Irish tailor in Kildare had made it for me, and that I was pleased with the result, but had few opportunities to wear it. I asked after his family and he remarked that Stephen would have liked to come with us.
We arrived in Cork at 10.30 and the Vicar booked in for two nights. I told him that I
had already reserved for lunch and that I would be leaving him immediately after as I
had an appointment at the Barracks. We were talking in the large ante-room, when,
like a shot from the blue, an elderly gentleman with a very attractive young lady,
probably his daughter, walked up to me and said, “Excuse me please, do you happen
to be Sir John Frazer?” I was so surprised I hardly knew what to say without causing
embarrassment. He said, “We were expecting him about now and we thought you
looked like the photograph we have of him.” I bowed and smiled, and they left the
room. I turned to the vicar and said, “What do you think of that, you will have
something to tell the Ladies and Stephen when you get home.” The Vicar always
called me Mr Lycette, but though I asked him to call me Ernie, he never did.
I suggested we go for a walk. It was surprising to find that the centre of Cork was an
island surrounded by water, so we walked around the Quays. There were a number of
bridges for access. In parts it looked very grim after the burning, with wrecked buildings of blackened timber. ( edit: his timing is wrong as Cork was burnt in Dec 1920) We saw small groups of tourists, some being Americans, who were taking photographs. I also saw a few Cadets in uniform. Of course, they had no idea that I was one of them. We made our way back to the Hotel, and watched people walking to and fro’. We thought we might see the real Sir John Frazer, but we later heard that he would arrive in the afternoon as the boat he was on had been delayed by storms. Our lunch was very nice and after a further chat, I left the Vicar, as he had an appointment also at 2pm, mine was a little earlier. I said that I would try to come over on Monday evening to hear what they thought of the news. I retrieved my case and raincoat from the Cloak Room and was soon on my way up the rise towards theBarracks.
I reported to the Sergeant of the Guard and showed him my credentials. He sent a runner to the orderly room and in a few minutes a young officer came and shook hands and took me to the orderly room, then to the Adjutant’s room. I handed him the letter from Colonel Buxton-Smith with a plan to improve the system of patrols adjacent to our boundaries. We went to see the OC and it was late when we finished finalising the scheme, so that it could be put into action within a few days. They asked me to stay the night so I had dinner with them and enjoyed a game of billiards and discussed the news of the day. I also met several Cadets, who had been at the Curragh Camp when I was there. I telephoned the Adjutant of our Unit and inquired if any lorries were coming to Cork that morning. I was picked up at 10.30 by the Mail Van and after a nice trip, arrived back in Macroom. I changed into uniform immediately, had a drink with some of my pals and was ready for lunch. I saw the Adjutant, who arranged for me to meet him at 2pm and the OC at 3pm. I explained to the OC that his letter was well received and we had started to work on a plan to improve the patrols on boundary roads of our area. It was agreed to, but it had to be ratified by the OC’s. Colonel Buxton-Smith thanked me for the manner in which I had carried out my duty (even if I did not turn out to be Sir John Frazer). I had my leg pulled about this episode quite a lot by the boys when they got to know about it. On Monday evening I went over to visit the Baines family and the Vicar had brought back with him a copy of the Cork newspaper, which had a photograph of Sir John Frazer. I certainly did look a bit like him. I carried this photograph in my diary for many years but it eventually got lost. He was a writer and was spending some weeks in Ireland collecting data of the country and its people during this very disturbing period.
Our patrols were still very active, but they were being extended to Killarney and
Tipperary. The countryside was wonderful and very interesting; especially Killarney,
but we always had to keep our eyes open and our minds alert as to what might be
waiting for us just ahead. We changed out times and tactics every day, because we
were up against determined men who would stop at nothing once provoked. When not on duty, I still continued my early morning runs always followed by hot
and cold water showers. Not once was I intercepted or held up in my training
anywhere in Ireland. The London to Brighton Walk was still approximately five
weeks away so I had to keep fit. I had already sent in my application form to enter,
but had not yet received my acceptance form. As soon as I knew the exact date I
could approach the OC regarding my leave. One day I went into Cork by lorry and walked back through Dripsey and Coachford to Macroom. The OC was on his way back to Macroom when he saw me. He stopped to offer me a lift and I told him I was on a training walk. He smiled and waved and drove on. Quite a number of the older men had been sent back to Dublin, as the work was too strenuous for them. They were replaced with younger men, but all of us had seen service as officers in charge of men and machines. Although we made up the rank and file of our Unit, we thoroughly understood what discipline meant. Before you could command, you had to learn to obey. We had some excellent men who had seen service in different parts of the world, in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the
One day I was listed for the Killarney Patrol. I had not been on this patrol yet, but those who had, said the countryside was beautiful. On this morning, Lewis was our driver. He had a small garage in Bristol and was very efficient in his work. We had Glover, a very good Rugby player from the same town and John Botha, a rugged individual, who was a grandson of General Botha of the African War of 1900. We had Routh, a Canadian tough guy, whose father was the Bishop of Liverpool, Bill Fife, a miner from Scotland, and from Birmingham we had Bill Onions, a holder of the VC. He was a real pal in trouble and in joy. Last, but not least, was Ernie Lycette, who was sure to be in it. We made sure all of our gear was ready, including rifles, grenades, machine gun and binoculars. We drove out through the Castle Gate and were the in the last lorry in a convoy of six. The Guards waved to us and we returned the compliment. It was a fine morning and we were on our way. Most of the drive, for about twenty miles, was through familiar country, and we soon
entered the valley of winding dells to Killarney. There were stone walls on both sides of the roadway and the long lake in view. In summer, we were told, this was a Botanist’s paradise. There were Cedars of Lebanon trees, Arbutus, wild Fuschia, and Mediterranean Strawberry trees. The Lakes of Killarney are in a vast cradle, surrounded by hills, woods and lanes as lovely as the lakes. Flowers grew on the grey stone walls and we could see hedges of Fuschia, tall Foxgloves, trim and radiant Canterbury Bells by the million, as well as millions of bees to visit the many flowers and blossoms. The temperature at this time of year was identical to the South of France. I could not find words enough to express the beauty of that place. Nature had bestowed on it an element like a paradise. Windermere, in the Lake District and Loch Lomond are almost suburbs of cities, but Killarney is through the dales, over the hills, far away and forever lonely in these beautiful valleys. I know of no more perfect place in which to spend a summer holiday. It is a country in miniature. It has hills and valleys; little green pastures lands, dark woods, creeks and bays. Here is peace.
We had our lunch in the Police Court Grounds in Killarney, leaving a Guard over the
trucks, while some of us had a quick visit to Muckross Abbey, and climbed the
Waterfall. The people were very friendly and all kinds of souvenirs were on display
for us to buy. That day it was quiet, otherwise the OC would not have allowed us to
leave the vehicles. It was refreshing in the streets so different from other parts of
Ireland. (I expect that since then, the tourists would have blurred much of the
friendliness and Irish charm).
At about 2.30 we made our return journey through this most fascinating countryside.
Fortunately, we arrived back at the Castle at 5pm, tired and weary, but nevertheless
very satisfied with what we had seen. I thought that I would be making the trip again
and I intended to take my camera to get a few snaps. When I got home that night I
had a letter from the London Walking Club, advising me that my application had been
accepted and giving me the date and starting time of the race to commence on the
street just below Big Ben. After reading and digesting these instructions I went to see
the Adjutant to arrange an appointment with the OC the next day. I noticed that on
the orders of the day my name was not on the list for patrol duty and I had a message
from the Adjutant to see the OC at 9am. That allowed me time to see about
provisions for the Mess and I called on the Butcher and Greengrocer Stores. It was always a pleasure to greet Mrs Casey and I was fascinated by the skilful way she used to manipulate the saw and cleaver when cutting a carcass of meat. She was ever cheerful and with her Irish blarney and charm she could thaw an iceberg. “Good morning, Mrs Casey,” I said and she would always return the greeting with, “and a good morning to you.” After leaving my order, which would be delivered to the cookhouse later in the day, I said, “Mrs Casey, I will not be able to have a Guinness with you this morning.” She replied, “For why in the Mother of Mercy, why?” ‘I have an early appointment with the Commanding Officer and I wouldn’t like to smell that I had been part-taking of alcohol so early in the morning.” She reminded me to call later in the day. After completing my orders, I went back to my room to see that my dress etc. was correct. I was outside the Commanding Officer’s door right on the dot, but he was not yet in his room. I could see him coming up the corridor, with the familiar slouch and expression. The Sergeant Major bellowed out, “Parade Attention,” so we all reacted smartly. After the order to stand at ease, a few moments later, my name was called. He said, “Take off your cap and take a seat. Have you been doing any walking stunts lately?” I answered, “Yes, Sir. I want to see you about one in the very near future.” I explained that I had discussed with the previous OC, Captain Taylor about three months earlier, the matter of obtaining leave to compete in the London to Brighton Walking Race, as a representative of the Auxiliary Corp. I told him of my previous experience in athletics and that I had represented the British Army in Rome, Paris, Brussels and Antwerp. He told me to carry on my training and he would approve the leave when the time came. “I sent in my application to compete in the race some months ago, Sir, and today I received acceptance from the Secretary of the Walking Club, advising that my application was in order.” I handed it to him. He said, “Very good, Lycette, I have also received excellent reports from
the Adjutant and your Platoon Officer. It is with pleasure that I grant you 14 days leave, starting from the day of the race with full pay. I wish you the best of luck. Give the details to the Adjutant and he will finalise the arrangements for you.” I said, “It is a month before it takes place, but there are a number of details to fix before that time.” I stood up, put on my cap and the CO shook my hand and said, “Good luck.” I saluted and thanked him. I could now make the necessary arrangements with the Adjutant.
Meanwhile I carried on with my training and duties. My next patrol was in our northeastern area and we travelled the Tipperary District. I very much enjoyed the trip, winding in and out along steep defiles and high rugged hills. We passed through marshland where we saw many men digging out peat in blocks, and the womenfolk loading in onto donkey carts or stacking it to dry. Tipperary was not a large place and was quiet, not being a market day. Owing to a large landslip we had to deviate through Cork, Dripsey and Coachford. The OC Patrol telephoned the Adjutant from Cork that we would be an hour late. At about 7pm that night, I had a call from Stephen Baines, who said his parents and aunt wished me to have supper with them. They were all musical so we enjoyed the playing and singing. They were surprised when I told them I would soon have 14 days leave to compete in the London to Brighton Walk.
(edit: there is a description of his 14 days leave. He came 3rd in the London to Brighton Walking Race in his story)
Eventually, we arrived at Queenstown, where we only stopped for a short time, before
making our way around the Quays to the city. I had breakfast on the boat. That time
I was travelling light, so I carried off my bags and went to the Post Office, where I
rang the Castle Macroom to inquire if any vehicles would be in today. I was told that
the Mail lorry was due in during the morning. I was told to go to Army Barracks and
wait until the lorry arrived. I went to the Sergeant of the Guard and showed him my
pass, telling him that I had permission to travel on the Mail Lorry to Macroom. I
asked if there was a reading room or refreshment place nearby, and the Sergeant sent
a guard, who escorted me to the YMCA.
The YMCA attendant asked if I was just coming back from leave and I said, “Yes, I
am on my way back to Macroom,” to which he added, “You were lucky being away while the ambush affair was on.” I said that I knew very little about it yet. He was just about to tell me about it, when I saw a familiar looking lorry at the entrance. I excused myself, saying that I must catch that lorry. I saw Glover and Lewis on the front seat. They were both Welshmen and very fine sports and I said, “It’s good to see you. I want to ride back with you to the Castle.” “Right you are,” he said, “hop up, and we will go and see what mail we have, then we will go to the Mess to get a cuppa before we return.” I helped them with the Mail, and, while we drank our cup of tea, they told me part of the story of the ghastly ambush that struck the Company a short time ago. It was a frightful affair and had shocked the Company and the people of Macroom. The place had been in mourning ever since. The whole town turned out for the funeral and one could feel that the people of the town really reflected their sorrow for what had taken place. We had to pick up two other lorries, which had both arrived in town, so we got on our way. There were many more patrols out then, since the ambush. This morning, Cork seemed to be quite busy. We started out towards Dripsey. Lewis was an excellent driver. I remember one time when we were out in a semi-armoured Rolls on a special run and he was doing 82 miles an hour over difficult roads and he drove with great skill and was so relaxed. But, of course, we were not driving a Rolls at this time, and we had to conform to the speed of the lorries ahead. We were nearing Coachford and I told them, “The last time I did this route I walked from Cork to Macroom. I remember having a cup of tea and a sandwich at a small tearoom there. Later, a few miles nearer Macroom, the Colonel, our OC, came by with the Adjutant, and recognised me walking and offered me a ride. I declined, saying that I would like to complete the walk to the Castle. They had laughed and driven on.”
They told me that there was a rumour going around that the OC would soon be
leaving the Company. I expected that the ambush must have been a terrific shock to
him. By this time, we could see part of the town in the distance and as soon as we
passed over a little bridge I knew were about a mile and a half from the Castle.
Although I had only been away just over a fortnight I felt glad to be back in
Macroom. Soon, I would be back with the men I had got to know well and I liked
and cherished their comradeship.
We stopped at the Castle Gate close to midday. The Sergeant eyed us over and
waved us in and the Gate was closed. I reported to the orderly room and then went to
my room. My bed was still rolled up and tidy and I was pleased to change from my
civilian clothes into my uniform. The men greeted me on all sides, most of them
having read in the newspaper the results of the Walk. Only those close to me during
my training were keen to hear the details of the race. The ambush had seemed to put
a damper on the atmosphere of the place.
I went around to the cookhouse. The cooks were please to see me and welcomed me
back with their Cockney humour. I told them that I would be ‘on deck’ in the
morning. I asked, “Do the boys and girls still come for the waste food?” “Just the
same as when you left, Sir,” old Sam retorted. The lunch gong sounded and I was
soon seated amongst my old friends. It felt really good to be with them again, but all
conversations ended with the ambush. That afternoon, I lay on my bed and read a
number of the Irish Times and other dailies, poring over the deadly and sensational
news of the tragedy. They said that the whole town had been in mourning, and it had
been such a dreadful shock to these people, with whom we had worked and played for
several months, with great composure and excellent behaviour. To consolidate the
spirit of goodwill, fairness and friendliness, we continued to help the many distressed families of the town. The children could not to be blamed for this. Only the unforeseen and painful circumstances of the past had shown themselves. During the following days, I met many different people in the town, all serving in their different positions and stations in the community and all expressing the horror and sadness of the situation. For quite a while it was a township of gloom and sadness.
When I saw the Vicar and his family in the evening, there was sadness indeed. They
cried for a while. They knew so many of those courageous men and naturally were
stricken with sorrow. At last I was able to dry those tears. I told them how the two
Cockney cooks, Sam and Bert, had welcomed me back with their Cockney wit and
“Struth and what did you see down Petticoat Lane?”
“Well,” I said, “I did see your sisters Polly and Jane,
And they asked me if I would have a gin.”
I said, “No, no, my girls, I am already steeped in sin,
but I have two cooks named Sam and Bert, away in yon’ Macroom. What they would give to have a flirt, with Polly and Jane, from Petticoat Lane.” Stephen wanted to know more of the Sir John Frazer episode and that brought out a few smiles. I also told them of my brother and the hairdresser in London. We had supper and soon I had to leave. They reminded that if I wanted anything from the kitchen garden I was to come and get it. The next morning, I was on the job early and called on Mrs Casey, the butcher, and on the grocer and other tradespeople. I never mentioned the tragedy, but they all expressed their sympathy. We still carried on with our patrols, but we were much more careful when approaching places, which we thought could be dangerous. Of course, those who occupied the hillsides where they could hide behind rocks etc. always had the advantage over those men confined to a vehicle. I was told the story by some of the men who went to the rescue of the ambushed patrol. It was almost dark before those at the Castle realised that something must
have happened. The patrol should have been back by 3pm and by this time it was 7pm. The rescue patrol was quickly organised and they moved quickly. It was in a drear and dangerous spot, where the Rebels had struck their blow. They had used machine guns and grenades. The men, who were travelling on the lorries, were an easy target. The whole patrol of 22 were shot and killed, some trying to escape, but they were completely overpowered. The Rebels had then stripped most of them of their uniforms. It must have happened mid-afternoon.
I did hear of a Solicitor who had
passed that way soon after the outrage but he was afraid to report it in case he had
been seen. The Solicitor’s wife, who was an English woman, told me this. I never
met him again, though I saw him several times in the street. Of course, the IRA made
a complete getaway! Some phases of it crept into the papers, but nothing vital and the
Politicians were still talking and talking.
Other rumours began to spread that we would soon be moving from this area.
Colonel Buxton-Smith was the first to leave. He gave an excellent speech the
evening before his departure. He was going back to the Diplomatic Service. We
gave him a rousing send-off. I saw him once again at a Dublin Theatre.
The Adjutant took over the Company until we returned to the Dublin area and we
kept the patrols going until the final week. There was also a terrific amount of
cleaning up to be done. A few nights before we left the people of the town staged a
concert and dance.
We left in two groups by lorries; a rear party was left behind, supplemented by Army
personnel, to leave the Castle and grounds in good order. We departed Macroom very
early, travelling through Coachford, Dripsey and bypassed Cork. After a short break
at Wicklow, we continued to the outskirts of Dublin and arrived at Portobello
Barracks by mid-afternoon. It was nice to be back again on duty, which included
Night Curfew Patrols around the city, and all kinds of civil investigation work.
Just about this time, two Army Officers were shot and killed. There were many other
unpleasant incidents taking place. Three of us were sent to a small seaside village
named Bray. We reserved rooms and stayed for the weekend, mixing with the guests,
as much as possible, boating and swimming and listening to local gossip. We had to
report our experiences to the Intelligence Officer.
Our next adventure would be over a longer period. I was paired up with a pal named Rennie,(edit: this would appear to be PF Rennie, who was Scottish) who came from Belfast. He was to go under the name of Patrick O’Leary and I was to be Jim Murphy. We were to dress in clothing similar to the ‘dock rats’, let our beards grow and try to imitate them as much as we could. We had to try to get a room with an old Irish woman, who had several rooms. She turned us down the first time we tried, and told us to try a few doors away. We tried again several nights later. “What, you have no room yet?” she said. “We have slept out the last two nights, but we only just missed the Curfew Patrol last night,” I replied. “Where do you come from?” she asked. We told her we were from Cork. I continued, “We are looking for work on the boats, or as street cleaners.”
“What’s your name?” she said. Rennie told her, “Patrick O’Leary.” She looked at me, “What’s yours?” I replied, “Sure, it’s Jim Murphy.” We said that we would pay for bed and breakfast and get other snacks outside. She said, “No booze allowed here, otherwise you go!” She had two other boarders, but they did not come home every night. We saw them several times but did not let them see we were watching them. We had a good look at them one morning as they were leaving. They were talking to the old lady. We decided to get picked up that night by the Curfew Patrol in order to obtain information. We were just trying to dodge the Patrol as we turned a corner, but they spotted us and shouted for us to “Halt.” We stopped as the lorry pulled up. “What are you bastards out here for? Hands up! Search him mate! What are you doing on the street?” We told them we were trying to get home. “Well, you can come with us for the night.” I said, “Take me to the Castle; I want to make a complaint.” When we got in the Castle we were taken to an officer for questioning. We showed him our cards. I said, “We want to see photographs of wanted IRA men and then, we want you to put us down, just off the street, where you picked us up.” They gave us a feed and drink and returned us to the street.
We told the old lady, “We nearly got picked up by the Patrol last night. It was a near
go and we will have to watch out in future.” I said, “I don’t think I will stay here too
long – I like it better in Cork, but we did get a few hours work on a boat yesterday.”
The old woman said she had heard that the Curfew would soon be off. The next
morning, the landlady was cleaning out the room of the other boarders as we came by.
“Have they gone?” I asked. “No,” she said, “they haven’t been home.” I commented
that they must have been living a gay life.
It was a double-storey house. I suggested to O’Leary, “When we go down for
breakfast, try and keep the Mrs in conversation while I come up and have a look
around their room. We cannot hang around here too long.” There were several letters
and other notes in an old jacket. I wrote down several names and addresses, but could
find no photos. I made a note of clothing etc. I pretended that one of my boots had a
nail sticking up in the sole and asked the landlady if she had a hammer. She said she
didn’t. I told her I would fix it later and pretended to limp a bit.
I thought that the men were working with a gang, but could not do anything until they
were on the premises. If they didn’t return soon, we would have to get out. About
8pm the next night, they came back as we started to play cards and we heard them
knock on the landlady’s door. They asked if she would cook them some supper. I
said to O’Leary, “Now is our chance; go to the Castle at once; report to the Sergeant
of the Guard, show him your pass and tell him the story. They are to come as quickly
as possible, surround the building at once before the Police knock on the door and get entrance quickly. Arrest me with the others and you wear your uniform, with your beard off, as you know the layout of the house. Is that clear and OK?” “Yes.” I had to hold the fort while he was away. It was after Curfew before the Police arrived and I did not hear them until there was a loud knock at the door. I saw one of the men dash down the stairs, the other was in his room as the Police closed in they told the one in his room to get his things together and come with them. Then they told me to do the same, and took me down below. “Where is the other one?” they asked. I told them I didn’t know. When we were in the hall I could see a pair of bare legs under a coat, which was hanging on the rail. I pointed to the legs. We all smiled as the Policeman pulled the coat aside and said, “Hello, my friend, what are you doing there?” He did not speak. “Well, come up to your room, collect your gear and the three of you can come with me.” I said to the Sergeant, “I am not with them.”
“Well,” he said, “you can tell that to the Chief when you see him.” They took him to his room, where he dressed quickly and put his gear into a bag. They also shouted at me to get a move on and swore so that the others could hear. The landlady was looking sorry for us and I said to the Policeman, “Can I pay her the board I owe?” “Yes, and get a move on!” he said. I said to the landlady, “I will see you again when I get out, Mum.” The IRA men and I were pushed into the Police Van. About 15 minutes later the van stopped at the Castle, the handcuffs were removed and we were put in separate cells. I immediately asked the Sergeant where I could get a bath and shave, also a uniform to replace these ragged and dirty clothes. Rennie came in just then, so the Sergeant told him, “Take your mate over to get cleaned up and uniformed.” Rennie yarned with me whilst I got ready and as it was getting towards midnight we asked if we could get transport to Portobello Barracks. The Sergeant said, “We will have a police car ready when you are, but I want you both to be here at 9am prompt tomorrow to make out a report of the whole affair.”
It was good to be back in our room with the
boys. “Where the hell have you two been this week?” they asked. “See you in the
morning,” I said, “it’s sleep I want now.”
We didn’t need to rise at a set time while we were on this work as long as we
observed our own timetable of duty. We had a cuppa brought to us by the room
orderly, and soon we were swapping experiences. I think on this occasion ours was
the longest and most trying, but we felt better after the night’s sleep, clean and
without tension. We needed to walk down to the city for a little exercise, reported to
the guard at the entrance of the Castle and were taken into a special room. We were
there all day and had lunch and afternoon tea at the Castle.
We learned later that the two IRA men were part of a gang of terrorists operating in
and around Dublin. At 3.30pm we were taken back by car to our Headquarters in
Rathmines. The first person I met was Botha, who wanted me to go with him to a
dance at the Palais that night. I said, “Not tonight, I would rather hang around and
play roulette for a while, maybe cards, and then go to the Teashop outside the gate
and watch people come and go.” Mrs Thompson and her daughter had the shop and
usually had extra help in the evenings. They were pleased to see us back and she
shouted supper for us. It was always lively in there, most of the cadets who were on
part-time duty came in to see the comings and goings of people. However, Botha and
I decided to go to the dance hall in Sackville Street, as we were not on duty.
The following morning, we looked over the orders of the day and found that we were
free so we got a leave pass from 3pm to 10pm, Curfew time, and went down to
Grafton Street from Rathmines, by tram. That gave us more time in the city. It was
good to promenade along Grafton Street, where no traffic was allowed. We had
afternoon tea in a very nice café. You would see all the latest fashions there. We also
enjoyed a walk, as we had not seen Dublin for months. We had tea in popular
Sackville Street. The dance hall opened at 6.15pm and the orchestra started at 6.30,
because the 10pm Curfew shortened the evening.
We met some girls that we had danced with previously. The orchestra was very lively
and we enjoyed the fun. There was plenty of room and I don’t think either of us
missed a dance. Time passed quickly and at 9.30 we collected our coats and hats and
caught the tram for Rathmines, which would take us home. When we reached our
room we found it almost empty, so we went to the Games Room and watched and had
a few bets on the roulette. We returned to our room, where a number of men were already in bed, reading or talking. In the morning, we got a cup of tea and perused
the orders of the day to see if we were on duty. Unfortunately, I was on a patrol and
we had to report to the Castle for orders.
Section Leader Quale was in charge, with five other cadets and we had to be at the Vehicle Park at 8am. The Leader had been recently issued with a new powerful gun, which was a heavy 12 bore, I think. He was climbing down the lorry step, when he either hit the butt of the rifle or mishandled it somehow; anyway it let off one ‘bang’. The driver of the lorry was killed and, as I was standing in front of the lorry, I was hit by some shot, but did not realise until one of the other men said, “Look, Ernie, blood.” It was running down my arm and onto my hand. It all happened in an instant and I was taken to the ambulance room, where the doctor examined me and told me it had only just missed my elbow. A splint and sling was put on my arm and I was taken to the hospital. During the trip, I became aware that I had also been hit in the knee. I was taken to the theatre and my arm was treated. I told the doctor that I had a pain in my left knee and they removed my trousers. The doctor examined my swollen knee and told the Sister to put on a raised splint and that he would look at it the next day. So that’s how quickly events can happen. The ward was large and sunny and I asked the Sister if I could move nearer the window so I could see Phoenix Park. They were all very friendly towards me and, fortunately, I had bathed on the morning it happened, but that did not save me from being put through the ‘scrub’. The doctor came around the ward at about 10am and I received injections for the elbow. He told me I had fluid on the knee, and told the Sister to keep it on the splint in raised position and it should be so for several weeks. After the doctor’s rounds were finished in the ward, the nurses came around to tidy the beds. As they fixed my sheets, I asked, “How long will I have to be like this?” They said, “Maybe six weeks, but don’t worry, we will look after you.”
I had quite a number of visitors from the Camp and also a Women’s Organisation arranged for visits on Sundays and Wednesdays. We got newspapers early in the mornings and the Mail arrived at 10am, but it was very monotonous, lying in bed day after day. My elbow healed, but it was my knee that kept me in bed. Later, when I could get about, ladies would drive us around the Park to see the magnificent gardens, sports grounds, lovely trees and the home of the Viceroy. The Park was large and about 7 miles across (I was told) and it was kept in excellent order. I could see by the newspapers that the Auxiliary Corp would not be needed much longer in Ireland. At last, the Politicians and Representatives were reaching agreement and a Treaty would be made. Once I was rid of the splint, I could walk around the ward and look around. I needed a stick for a few days and then I could walk to the entrance and back. Later, I went round the flower borders, where a large gang of gardeners and boys were removing plants that had finished flowering and replacing them with others in bloom. They had a small tractor towing about ten trailers, bringing in and taking out plants all the time. There were large glasshouses in the trees, where the plants were propagated. Sometimes I followed the edge of the River. Each day we would see the smoke belching from the high chimney stacks at the Guinness Brewery. At last, the doctor gave me a clearance, but told me to go easy for awhile. I thanked the Sister and nurses for the excellent care and treatment that I had received. The following morning I was collected by a car from the Company and taken to Barracks, where it was very quiet. Most days were spent playing cricket, tennis and other games; unfortunately, my elbow had not yet healed. Sometimes I went to the beaches or into the city. The OC asked if I would like to go on leave, but I told him I would rather stay and see it through and go when the Unit disbanded. I asked Botha if he was going back to Africa. He said he was going to work for an uncle in Belfast for awhile. It was common talk by now, “What are you going to do when this is finished?” I felt sure that seventy percent of us had nothing definite in view and there was still unemployment everywhere. Eventually, the news came through that we were to be disbanded we were granted one month leave with pay and a gratuity according to our length of service in Ireland. There was a large party on the eve of our departure. We had to attend a lecture and our Final Parade. (Many of these splendid characters enter my mind as I write these lines.)
Captain Taylor, who had been our OC through the whole period, thanked us for the
splendid service we had given and wished us the best of luck in our future adventures
and lives. We also received a Letter of Thanks and details of our departure from the
Camp. We had 48 hours to collect our clothing and gear. Most of us left the next day
after saying goodbye to our friends in the Company. I had found some good and
interesting comrades, but a feeling of sadness always hangs around when these times
come to an end.
Botha and I arranged for a jaunting cab to call for us the next morning to take us to the Railway Station to catch the boat train for Kingstown-by-the-Sea. This was not the first time we had been on a Jaunting Cab, but on this occasion it seemed different, looking sideways onto the passersby, and as we waved to them, some waved and others smiled. We were generous to the cabby, who said, “May all the saints of heaven look on ye’.” We were not the only ones on the station and many of them had their girls seeing them off. This time it was not crowded and the sea was not bad, but eventually it got very rough around Holyhead, taking three attempts before they managed to rope us in, much to our relief. We had our feet on English soil again, and soon we were on the train for London Town. I said farewell to many before we started on this early morning train. It was not yet daylight. The train rolled onward and after several hours we heard, “Crewe Junction, 10 minutes, refreshments!” We all dashed for a cup of tea and sandwiches. I said to Botha, “I stop at the next station, I hope I do see you again,” and we wished each other ‘all the best’ over a cup of tea. “All aboard the London Train!” We rattled on and though the dawn had not yet lifted, we could soon see the lights of Stafford blinking and hear the cry of “Stafford Station”. With one final cheerio to several of the boys the train was on its way.