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The opening pages of Declan Power’s book on Jadotville

“Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love”

William Butler Yeats, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

 

The cry went up, “Le majeur irlandais!” and the crowd surged forward, straining to grasp the hand of the Irish officer as he attempted to enter the small bar in Jadotville town. As the officer entered the bar, a command rang out and the assembled mercenaries snapped to attention.

Commandant Pat Quinlan (42), the commanding officer of A Company, part of the 35th Irish Battalion of the UN forces, must have found the scene quite ironic. These respectful men, braced with their stomachs in and chests out, had been locked in mortal combat with Quinlan’s men only 24 hours previously. Both sides were now applying a cease-fire and Quinlan had gone into town to buy some beer for his troops who were parched. No other liquid was available.

“C’est la guerre,” Quinlan mused to himself, if indeed “war” was the correct term that could be applied to the bizarre conflict that he and his men had been sucked into. Here he was, buying beer in a bar filled with men who had been trying to kill him and his troops only 24 hours beforehand. A lean man with a soldierly frame, Quinlan steadily elbowed his way toward the bar. With his mouth firmly clenched and his eyes unblinking under his shaggy brows, he returned the gaze of each and every mercenary who tried to stare him down.

Following closely behind him was Warrant Officer Eric Thors, a Swedish helicopter pilot, who had assisted in flying the ill-fated and only attempt the UN made to re-supply Quinlan’s besieged troops. Despite the praise being lavished upon him, Quinlan was acutely aware that it was his troops who had accounted for the deaths of many messmates of the mercenaries ranged around him. Some of the mercs, as the Irish soldiers called them, even came forward proudly to show off the wounds they had acquired. Quinlan nodded his appreciation, no doubt noting with satisfaction the marksmanship of his previously un-bloodied teenage troops.

Being a Kerryman, Quinlan was now demonstrating that mix of stoicism and sharpness his countymen are famed for. The local police guards were keen for Quinlan to leave before the mercs began to feel maudlin about their fallen comrades. But Quinlan was damned if he was going back to his lads empty-handed. He’d promised them beer and beer they’d get. It wasn’t just as a reward for holding their ground in the face of overwhelming odds. The plain truth of it was that the water had been cut off, and what had been saved was beyond stagnant in the harsh African heat. A crate of minerals had been delivered after the cease-fire. But it was no substitute for turning the water back on so his men could wash and slake their thirst. After all, they had been fighting in slit trenches for the last week.

Following four days of intense combat that had included being strafed by a jet, Quinlan and his men were still in their positions when the Katangan gendarmes sought a cease-fire.

“We fought them to a standstill. If only the bloody relief column could have made it across Lufira Bridge, we’d be drinking those beers back in Elisabethville,” Quinlan thought.

With his blue UN beret clamped on his head, and armed only with the natural authority of the career officer, Quinlan saw the assembled ranks of mercs part as he finally got to the bar and ordered his beer. As he was leaving the bar with his police escort a voice enquired, “Mon commandant, ’ow many men ’ave you lost?”

Quinlan drew his hand across his moustache and eyed the French merc. “None,” he replied, and strode smartly into the night.

 

 

Posted by John on 27th June 2015