THE IRISH GUARDS ASSOCIATION VISIT TO THE FIRST BATTALION IN GERMANY, 1963
Mr. D. Cooper, Hon. Secretary of the Manchester Branch of the Irish Guards Association, writes:-
This year, 1963, saw something new in the history of the Regiment, as for the first time an organised party of members of the Association visited a battalion serving overseas, and what a wonderful success this turned out to be.
With John Watson in charge, 30 members of the party representing the Belfast, London, Midland, and North of England Branches of the Association, together with a serving member, C.S.M. Maguire, visited the 1st Battalion in Germany, leaving Wellington Barracks on the morning of the 15th May.
The journey from London to Dover was very pleasant as the weather improved with every mile, and during the whole of our stay on the Continent we were very fortunate. The crossing to Ostend was find and sunny, and proved a great opportunity for everyone to become acquainted over various types of refreshment. On arrival we were met by Captain Mercer M.B.E., M.M., and Drill Sergeant McComiskey, together with the Battalion coach co-drivers, Lance Corporal O’Hara and Guardsman Callahan.
From this moment on we were to experience all the wonderful hospitality which could not be excelled anywhere outside the Regiment. Our first trip was very brief, merely across the road to the Hotel De Neiuwe Sportman, where we had a fine meal of steak and chips, but while awaiting the service we were amply refreshed. Needless to say one old Mick made a great start by attempting to converse in some foreign tongue with a young fellow attending to our wants, only to find this was a very embarrassed Guardsman Banks. Following the meal we set off for Brussels and our first night as guest of the Belgium Army at the Petit Chateau Barracks. Here we were provided with English speaking N.C.O’s who accompanied us in parties for a very enjoyable night on the town.
On the 16th we set off for Waterloo where we were met by Brigadier J.O.E. Vandeleur, D.S.O, Lieutenant Colonel R.S. Langton, M.V.O., M.C., and Captain Baker. The Brigadier gave us a very graphic picture of the great battle, and led the party on the very stiff climb to the top of the landmark to continue the story and point out the vital areas. We then descended safely to ground level and visited the museum where members were fascinated by the remarkable panoramic representation of the action depicting a terrible scene of carnage, but truly a great piece of work. We really seemed to be living history, especially being in the company of the Brigadier whose Great Uncle, Major-General Sir John Vandeleur, Commanded a Light Cavalry Brigade in the action. He succeeded Lord Uxbridge as senior Cavalry Commander after Lord Uxbridge lost a leg, and led the final Cavalry charge. This visit ended on a very happy note as we had the pleasure of drinking the health of the Commanding Officer on his birthday.
We then moved to a nearby farm to inspect a Memorial to the fallen of the Regiment, and thence travelled on to Landen. Here the main object was to visit the Church to inspect the very beautiful window presented by the 2nd Battalion. Prior to this however we shared a few Lagers while a veritable banquet was prepared for us on the spot of the old field kitchen. A great deal of hard work went into this effort, and it is to be hoped our appreciation was a just reward. Later as we left the Church we found quite a gathering of locals waiting, and there were many inquiries for friends in the 2nd Battalion.
It was now time to set off on our journey to join the Battalion at Hubbelrath Barracks, and one sensed the excitement and anticipation of once more being with the Regiment. It was however, indeed, a sad arrival, as we were to learn of the tragic motor accident which had robbed the Battalion of three of its Members. We were then shown to our respective quarters, and later gathered in the Sergeants’ Mess where we held a respectful silence and spent the evening quietly becoming acquainted with the various members.
During the official greeting from the Commanding Officer, we learned it was his wish that the tour be carried out according to schedule, and that Friday, the 17th, had been partly set aside to view the Barracks and Battalion activities. We were very pleased to see a very impressive rehearsal for the Trooping of the Colour, and then under the guidance of Captain Baker, inspected various vehicles and weapons, all of which were of course different to the ones we remembered. Many members also enjoyed a visit to the miniature range, even though perhaps many eyes were not as true as they used to be.
We were now enjoying the full hospitality of the Sergeants’ Mess, and were ready for the fine lunch provided before setting off for a visit to Dusseldorf, calling at the Airport then on into the finely built new city, and a little shopping expedition then back to barracks for our evening meal and a few happy hours in the Sergeants’ Mess, where we were happy to meet many of the ladies.
On Saturday, the 18th, we were ready after an early breakfast for a full day’s visit to Gummersbach. Unfortunately all was not well as the Battalion bus really disgraced us by breaking down on the Autobahn but thanks to a lot of hard work by Drill Sergeant McCommiskey and Corporal O’Hara, we finally got under way. After stopping for a great haversack lunch we continued through lovely country to Hoffnungsthal where a few of the party remained while we continued our journey to Gummersbach. Some of the boys were able to point out the old Battalion Headquarters and various other places of interest, not forgetting the old Guardmen’s Mess which is now a very fine inn. (Postschenke). Here the pumps and everything were so delightful, as of course everyone gathered there, and there was much fraternising with the result our departure was very delayed. However, we finally set off on our long run back to Barracks, fortunately someone remembering to collect our friends from Hoffnungsthal.
As always, a good meal awaited us, then a quick change and on to the Corporals’ Mess for a really marvellous party. What a great effort they made to provide everything one could wish for, and what a happy occasion it was for us all to see everyone including the ladies having such an enjoyable evening. Much later we wended our way to the Sergeants’ Mess where we rounded off the night, or was it morning, and indeed “a good time was had by all.”
It was here we heard rumours that the Battalion bus had finally given up, so the proposed Sunday outing to Cologne, which was to be followed by a sail down the Rhine was unfortunately curtailed, but a few members did manage the visit to Cologne as the Welsh Guards kindly loaned their mini-bus, and C.Q.M.S. Hayes took a party in his car.
For Monday, the 20th, the programme was a battlefield tour, and we wondered just what would happen as it was not possible to repair the bus for the journey. How foolish we were to wonder, for there bright and gleaming was a fine new German coach complete with driver, and of course fully loaded with refreshments as usual.
Once again we were off to an early start with tireless Drill Sergeant McComiskey fully organised for a tough bit of map reading, being in possession of a large scale map only. As one wit remarked we would have been better taking the coach along the railway line. Nevertheless we arrived safely at our rendezvous, which was Joe’s Bridge, where once again we were met by the Brigadier, Commanding Officer and Captain Baker. The Brigadier in fine form related the whole story of the action, and one or two members were able to add their stories having been present in the fighting.
We then moved on to Nijmegen to see the famous bridges where such bitter actions were fought, and once again were able to hear the stories from the Brigadier. From here on to “Market Garden” where in spite of the close attention of a very spirited cow (meadow variety) the story was continued by Lt. Col. Langton. We also visited in the area the beautiful War Graves Cemetery where many of our Comrades lay. How perfectly kept are these memorials.
Our journey then continued to Arnhem, now another lovely area, where a good deal of shopping was done. The party was recognised as ex-Mick by a very successful looking ice-cream vendor, and it seemed that extra large portions of his wares changed hands, and just as we were about to drive away, he suddenly appeared with an armful of brochures. This was indeed a wonderful day and we covered many miles through Germany, Belgium and Holland, and we saw so much of the areas where our Regiment gave so much.
Once again the long drive back to Barracks, and our evening meal, and what else could have rounded off the perfect day so well as the party which followed in the Sergeants’ Mess. One o the outstanding memories of the tour is this farewell party with all its great comradeship and hospitality. We shall remember the presence of the Commanding Officer and Adjutant, Captain Baker and other Officers including the sons of fathers under whom we served. We shall remember the Brigadier who in his brief speech told how he wished he could be back in the Regiment, and the presentation, when each Branch was presented with a Regimental Shield and framed inscription to commemorate our visit, and which we promised would be displayed at every Annual General Meeting of the future.
All too soon came our final day with the Battalion, which proved to be a very emotional experience for us all. Firstly we attended the very moving Memorial Service for Sgt. Hanna, Piper Stewart and Guardsman McKeown, a moment to be remembered always. It was then time for final shopping, packing and farewells, our last meal from the staff who did so much for us, and then the last preparations for moving off.
No member of the tour will ever forget our last few minutes with the Battalion. As we marched out to the Pipes and Drums, every man lined our route to cheer us on our way, while the Commanding Officer took the salute. Nor shall we forget the youngest squad who came out to give a final cheer as the Pipes struck up Auld Lang Syne. We hope they heard our response. In spite of the fact that some of us carried scars from the wars, and perhaps could not swing the arms or dig in the heels as well as we did quite a while ago, we do hope we maintained the standard of the Regiment.
Now we were on our way back to Brussels, leaving behind great friendships and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. The journey was a little quiet, no doubt due to a tinge of sadness at leaving, and even the weather broke for the first time, raining heavily on the way. Then our final night at the Petit Chateau Barracks, and for many an early night.
Wednesday, the 22nd, we were about early, ready for the journey to Ostend, thence to Dover and London. A final coffee at the Hotel De Nieuwe Sportman, then farewell to Drill Sergeant McComiskey and Guardsman Banks, through the Customs and on board. Even then however it was not quite over, for as we were passing the end of the long jetty, there was Drill Sergeant McComiskey waving his hat in goodbye. We hope he heard our big cheer.
Once again we had a fine crossing, the water being quite visible from the bar, then back to Dover and a quick run through to London where the party finally broke up. A few did however stay overnight at the modern Chelsea Barracks, and experienced the hospitality of R.Q.M.S. F. Murphy before turning in.
Now it only remains to pay tribute to all who made this tour possible and such an unforgettable success. Thanks firstly to the Lieutenant Colonel Commanding, Colonel J.W. Berridge, M.B.E., for his permission, and to the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Langton, M.V.O., M.C., for making it possible. To the Adjutant Captain J.D. Morrogh-Bernard and Captain Baker. To Captain (QM) Mercer, M.B.E., M.M., and R.S.M. Stuart for everything arranged for us, and to all the members of the Sergeants’ Mess for their wonderful hospitality. To all the Sergeants’ Mess for their grand effort and hospitality and the Guardsmen for welcoming our members into their fine club. To Corporal O’Hara and Guardsman Callahan for all the safe journeys under difficult conditions and to Guardsman Banks for his work during the tours, also to all members of the Battalion for their courtesy at all times.
Thanks also to the Regimental Adjutant Major J.N. Ghika, R.S.. B. Wild, M.B.E, and all staff at Regimental Headquarters for their arrangements.
A very special vote of sincere thanks to Drill Sergeant McComiskey for his untiring efforts which so ensured the absolute success of the unforgettable tour, and finally grateful thanks to Brigadier Vandeleur, Chairman of the London Branch, for all the trouble he took.
Through all this we are mindful of the tragedy resulting in the loss of three fine Guardsmen, and our deepest sympathy is extended to their relations.
The story of the tour has now been told, the places we visited, the hospitality we received, and the respect which was accorded to us all by all ranks of the Battalion, and the nature of our reaction much be recorded.
We realised we had visited the modern generation of Irish Guards, and were very conscious of the strange contrasts. Among our party were ex-Micks who had soldiered in that splendid British Army of pre-1914 days, before aeroplanes had even been adopted as a weapon, and who had faced the horrors of trench warfare in 1914-18. There were those who had known the comparatively mobile warfare of 1913-45 with its mass air raids: which meant we had a cross section covering more than half a century of the Regiment’s history. Our visit to the Battalion made us realise the immense problems which have to be faced by the modern army in a war of ideas and in the shadow of nuclear war, and just how well these present Guardsmen face up to just these problems.
There was no doubt whatever in the minds of the whole party who agreed wholeheartedly that the present generation of Irish Guards will maintain the traditions which have been built up by succeeding generations since the formation of the Regiment, and well fulfill the aspirations of Lieutenant Colonel FitzClarence, V.C., who on the occasion of the Presentation of New Colours on June 28, 1913, by H.M. King George V, stated in his speech in reply to His Majesty:
“I beg to assure your Majesty that it will be our earnest endeavour to show in peace and in war, that devotion to duty which has distinguished the older Regiments of the Brigade, and the Colours presented to us today will be an incentive to duty and self-sacrifice in future.”
These sentiments expressed by one of our most distinguished Commanding Officers 50 years ago have been fulfilled to the last letter, and we have no doubt will continue to be fulfilled so long as the Regiment remains.
It has not been possible to record every item of happiness we experienced, nor describe in detail all the hundreds of miles we travelled, but there is no doubt that the memories each and every on of us have of this tour will live with us always, and we trust that in future years this wonderful experience may be enjoyed by other members of the Association.