Journal, 1964

From the IG Journal, 1964: THE IRISH GUARDS ASSOCIATION VISIT TO THE FIRST BATTALION IN GERMANY, 1963 Lieutenant Colonel R.S. Langton, M.V.O., M.C., Commanding Officer 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, writes: The possibility of a visit to the 1st Battalion in Germany by a party from the Association was first discussed by Brigadier Jo Vandeleur and myself in 1961 before the Battalion left Caterham. However, because of the heavy training commitments on the Battalion during 1962 I reluctantly had to say that we would not be able to manage it that year but we would plan a visit during 1963. So plan we did and it was decided that the most suitable dates would be in May when the whole Battalion would be “At home” preparing for the Queen’s Birthday Parade. There were many ‘alarms and excursions’ before the great day itself, not least of which was the threatened rail strike scheduled for the chosen day of departure. However that was very efficiently overcome by Regimental Headquarters whilst at this end we managed to smooth over various officials who though that they out to have a “look in” when so illustrious a body was to pass through their various countries. And so came the day - the 15th May - and the party, led by Captain Jimmy Watson, arrived at Ostend. They were met there by those two stalwarts, Captain Paddy Mercer, the Technical Quartermaster, and Drill Sergeant McComiskey, with the Battalion bus. Meanwhile, I and my wife motored to Brussels to meet Brigadier Jo Vandeleur and Colonel Tommy Lindsay, who came by air. We met in the Prince Albert Officers’ Club, the doors of which had very kindly been opened to us by the Belgian Army authorities, and so, with my brother, Major T.B. Langton and his wife, who had been staying with me, and Captain James Baker, and Paul de Remusat, who had organised this part of the visit, the reunion got off to a good start in the bar of the club. The Ostend Party were due to arrive at 1800 hours at Petit Chateau Barracks where they were to stay the night as guests of the Belgian Army. There was no sign of them at 2000 hours so, seeing no cause to worry, as I would have done with a party of younger soldiers, we went off to dinner and sure enough it was later reported to me that the party had arrived in fine fettle having “dallied” for a while in Ostend. (I never have found out what the dalliance actually consisted of ! ). The next morning we all met in Le Petit Chateau Barracks and despite the Ostend and Belgian Army hospitality of the night before, everyone was on parade and as far as I could judge - fit. The bus then drove off to Waterloo, whilst the Brigadier and I paid our respects to the Belgian Commandant. The city authorities were disappointed that the party was not able to pay an official visit to the Hotel de Ville, but this was impossible to fit in. At Waterloo we were given an excellent insight into the battle by Brigadier Jo. It was a fine morning, and I think the magic of military history, particularly as expounded by the Brigadier, touched everybody there. There were some dubious faces looking at the steps to the top of the Memorial Mound. But with Darky Curtain in the lead all go to the top, and safely down. We then drove round to Hougemont Farm, which was equally interesting. As it was my birthday we had (we must admit) paused for some refreshment amidst all this culture. Let me hastily say that I had forgotten, my wife only just remembered and somehow (as usual) Captain Mercer knew that it was my birthday and from the back of the bus he and Drill Sergeant McComiskey produced a bar of some quality. Time was therefore getting on when we finally drove off to Landen where we were to meet another old stalwart. Sergeant Ennis, my Officers’ Mess Sergeant, who was in charge of “A” Echelon and lunch. I did however persuade Brigadier Jo to stop at a certain cross-roads nearby to Waterloo in order that we could hear the story of another minor Waterloo that took place the day ofter the liberation of Brussels, in September 1944. This is recorded in the Regimental History, but it was the first time any of us had heard the story from the Brigadier himself. Then on to Landen and lunch. A great welcome awaited us from the people of Landen where the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were billeted for a few bitterly cold weeks during Christmas and the Ardennes offensive 1944/45. An Advance Party (strength one), had in fact gone on ahead direct from Ostend, so our arrival was expected. We inspected the “memorial window” given to the church by members of the Regiment, and renewed many old acquaintances. Although we were not to know it immediately, it was here that tragedy struck as a small party of the Battalion, travelling to Landen to prepare the lunch, met with a fatal accident, three out of the four being killed. I was able the next day to ask that this should not shed a blight over the rest of the tour as I knew the three would not wish it so. This I think was achieved, and here I would like to say thank you to the Association members for their wonderful support, and sympathy generally over the whole sorry business. The next day was spent touring barracks and departments of the Battalion and generally gossiping. I was able to fit in an official welcome which had not been possible the day before and this, conveniently, was in the Sergeants’ Mess before lunch. On Saturday Drill Sergeant McComiskey took the party to Gummersbach and Hoffnungsthal where the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were stationed immediately after the war. Unfortunately my “pride and joy”, the Battalion bus, broke down and we had to resort to a “hireling”. A blow to our pride but the Association members were very kind, and apart from a sly dig here and there, the matter was not mentioned again. All will be pleased to learn that the bus is back on the road and better than ever. After Gummersbach the party returned by steamer on the Rhine from Konigswinter to Koln. Sunday, the 19th was spent quietly (as far as I could judge ! ) either making local visits or watching the 4th Guards Brigade Polo Tournament. On Monday we all set out to the Escaut Canal to do “Jo’s Bridge”, the break out over the Escaut and the advance to Arnhem - Operation Market Garden. Again we were lucky with a fine day. The area west of “Jo’s Bridge” is much built up and there is a fine new bridge. Brigadier Jo gave a vivid description of the remarkable bouncing of the bridge nineteen years ago. “Those who were there” were also able to add life and much interest to the tale. The Brigadier went on to describe the “breakout” and we then drove on along the route of Operation Market Garden. We stopped on the way at the War Cemetery just outside Valkenswaard. A peaceful spot and beautifully kept as, indeed, they all are. Then on to Nijmegen Bridge. Conveniently i had been called on some weeks previously to give a presentation of the Nijmegen crossing to the Officers and N.C.O’s of another brigade, together with an American Top Sergeant who had been in one of the leading boats of the 82nd Airborne’s assault river crossing, so the notes came in useful. Finally we  moved across the river and up to Elst where the Battalion group had finally halted. We then drove back through Holland to a Sergeants’ Mess social evening. Tuesday, 21st May, was the final day in the Battalion. A photography in the morning followed by an “official farewell” again in the Sergeants’ Mess. Then after an early lunch the party was fallen in by Captain Watson; they marched through the barracks, led by the Pipes and Drums with the whole of the Battalion lining the route and cheering. I was accorded an “eyes left” and I confess I was very much moved at seeing these magnificent “comrades” who in a few days living amongst us, had proved themselves such in the best sense of the word, marching out of the gate and away home, we hope with happy memories and a desire to join us again. For us it was a memorable week and we are grateful for the friendship and interest shown by every member of the party. It is not possible to mention by name all those involved in this epic visit, but a small roll of the party is attached. Similarly, I and the Regimental Sergeant Major and others, have received so many letters that it is impossible to quote from them all. I have chose three from which the following extracts: “I would like to express my thanks to all members of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards or the overwhelming hospitality shown to the Irish Guards Association, on our recent visit to the battalion. I am just beginning to recover my senses.” In these days of cynicism it was a joy to experience a comradeship which I am certain no other regiment in the British Army possesses. As we marched out of the barracks headed by the Corps of Drums, and the Battalion cheering, this was surely the climax of our visit, and as we fell out to board the coach many handkerchiefs discreetly appeared as tears rolled down cheeks.” “I write to you to express my thanks to you and all Irish Guardsmen for the wonderful hospitality you showed to us while staying with the Battalion last week. It is something I shall never forget. It was nice to meet old friends and to make new ones, and the send-off you gave us will no doubt be talked about in the Regiment for years to come. I can only repeat that old saying “It took the Micks.” ” “Her I am in my own home once again. It is hard to realise that this time last week I was enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards. I enjoyed every moment of my stay and I think everyone else did a lot. To the former members of 2 Squadron, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards who were billeted over the bridge at Landen. The town has now a more prosperous look about it. A new estate of well-to-do houses lies to the left of the town, one does not now have to walk the 300 yards up and over the bridge to reach the other half of the town, a new subway connects the two. Quite a few people have moved but those still there still have a warm corner in their hearts for us. Gummersbach has taken on a new look, the tramline which ran for miles and miles to dear knows where has been lifted and buses serve the outlying villages. The trees in the main street have disappeared and all the shops given a face lift. The Other Ranks Canteen is still there, under new management. We mean an old SS man there who had no hard feelings for us, though one of his companions had no time for us. The vehicle park on the left on the way to H.Q. Squadron is now a lovely garden of flowers. The football field where the Colours were Trooped has been ploughed up and a new pitch has been made for the left of the top end of the old one. Houses now have been built where the plots once were, the carp pond is still there and the old school just the same, except that brick buildings have replaced the wooden ones at rear of school. The gap in the wall at rear of H.Q. is still there after all these years, but all other traces of our being there have been removed.” The Hon. Secretary of the Liverpool Branch, Mr. Chris Corrigan was, I think, the most prolific writer and we are most grateful for his and all the other letters. Perhaps, in ending this dull account of what I think was a remarkable occasion in our Regimental life, I may quote the closing phrases of all Mr. Corrigan’s letters, so well known to all of us: “Quis Separabit: Up the Micks”.

Journal, 1964
dbf, May 19, 2013
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