Monday, July 18, 2016

Billy pleased at Jadotville soldiers recognition

Kilcullen’s veteran of the Congo peacekeeping forces in the 1960s, Billy Redmond, says he’s very pleased that the Irish soldiers who fought in the siege of Jadotville are finally getting proper recognition, writes Brian Byrne.

In an interview on ‘Kildare Today’ on KFM radio, Billy said that while he and colleagues were ‘several hundred miles away’ in Goma at the time of the Jadotville event, they were ‘shocked’ at the news of the siege when it came through on their radio.

He was speaking with Shane Beatty of KFM, along with John Gorman, who was then a 17-year-old private soldier who fought in the actual siege, where lightly-armed Irish soldiers resisted Katangese assaults for six days as a relief force of Irish and Swedish troops unsuccessfully attempted to reach them.

A combined force of some 5,000 white mercenaries, Belgian settlers and local tribesmen attacked the Irish peacekeepers while they attended Mass, but were held off over the next six days until ammunition ran out and they were taken prisoner. No Irish soldier was killed in the engagement, but they inflicted heavy casualties on their attackers.

However, when they came home, the Jadotville soldiers were treated with a degree of derision because they had become POWs for a month. Ever since then, John Gorman has been fighting for recognition for the actual heroic activity of the men and their officers. This has finally been achieved, with the help of Limerick TD Willie O’Dea according to John Gorman. In September, on the 55th anniversary of the siege, a special Citation will be awarded to the remaining former soldiers, of whom about a third are still alive.

“When we came home we never spoke of Jadotville,” John Gorman said on KFM, recalling the term of derision ‘Jadotville Jack’ with which they were sometimes labelled. “It was treated as a dirty word in the Army. We didn't talk about it even among ourselves when we would meet on the square.”

In 2004, then Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea instigated an inquiry into the event, following which Commandant Pat Quinlan and his men were cleared of any charge of soldierly misconduct. A commemorative stone honouring the soldiers was erected in the grounds of Custume Barracks in Athlone in 2005, and a commissioned portrait of Commandant Quinlan now hangs in the Congo Room of the Irish Defence Forces' UN School.

“When we got news of the siege, we were shocked,” Billy Redmond recalled, noting that the only communications they had at the time was by morse code on radio. “It was some time afterwards, such were the difficulties with distance and restraints on communication. It was the major topic of conversation and speculation for some time. What could have happened, and what might have happened, all that sort of stuff. But communications back then were very, very basic. We didn't even have any real link to Ireland at the time.”

(Pictured above, Irish soldiers at Jadotville being guarded by a mercenary after their surrender when they finally ran out of ammunition.)