Diary 14 November 1985 - Irish soldiers in Congo, Winstanley workers, Munster Express, Longford News

The Forgotton Victims

TWENTY-FNE YEARS AGO on the afternoon of Tuesday November 8 1960, an Irish patrol serving with the UN in the Congo was attacked by over 100 Baluba tribessmen in an am bush the army would prefer to forget. Eight Irish troops died. Confidenntial army reports now availlable to Magill reveal that a number of factors contribuuted to the massacre taking place: strict UN orders meant that the Irish could only deefend themselves after being fired-on, vague orders from HQ to carry out the patrol were open to different interrpretations, and the platoon at Niemba was particularly vulnerable without the possiibility of reinforcement and with no air cover. These factors made it almost ineviitable that the troops staationed at Niemba would be attacked. They were victims as much of bad organisation by the army as of the Balubas. For reasons best known to the Department of Defence, only one medal was awarded to those who died in the ammbush although others during the ambush and before it showed what could be desscribed as conspicuous galllantry .
In a letter dated Novemmber 5 1960 Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson, platoon commander of the ill-fa ted Irish detachhment in' the village of Niemba wrote "The roads are now all blocked with the exception of the road to A-ville (Alberttville). It's funny the workings of people's minds. Yesterday the Engineering Officer was here and I showed him the broken bridges. On the way back here I told him I thought A-ville would be attacked in the next day or two. His first question was 'what notice would you be able to give us of an attack?' I said as soon as we are attacked here I'll give you notice on the radio if we are alive. He says 'Well I have all the roads in A-ville well sealed off and we'll be safe anyway.' I gathered from that, we are just bait and as long as HQ in A -vilie are safe. well that is all that matters."

Three days later Lt Gleeson and seven members of his platoon (Trooper Anthony Browne survived the initial ambush but was later killed' by the Balubas whilst trying to make his way to safety). were hacked to death by a' large Baluba war party led by ex-Premier Sergeant Lualaba. The eleven-man patrol was powerless to stop the frenzied attack as the Balubas poured out of the bush in front of and behind the Irish.

The possibility of mountting a successful defensive action was ruled out due to the fact that all UN troops were under strict orders only to open fire after being fired on. When Lt Gleeson was able to give the order to open-fire a number of the Irish had already been hit by poisonntipped arrows.

The day before the attack a much larger Irish force of about forty men went to the destroyed timber bridge at the river Luwuyeye some thirteen miles from Niemba, the exact spot where Lt Gleeson and his ten-man pattrol would be cut down the following day. According to a confiden tial army report 0 bbtained by Magill, Lt Gleeson was "concerned about the num ber of roadblocks around Niemba. On each patrol he found that the roadblocks were coming closer to the village. The Battalion Commmander decided to mount two simultaneous patrols, one southwards from Niemba and one northwards from Manono, to clear the road." Commanndant Louis Hogan was in charge of the road-clearing operation from Niemba. After travelling from Albertville with twenty men, Comdt Hogan linked up Lt Gleeson in Niemba and, reinforced by twenty soldiers from Lt Gleeeson's platoon, the patrol set out at 5.45am on Monday 7 November.

A number of roadblocks had to be cleared before they reached the bridge at the Luwuyeye river, Comdt Hogan reported to the Battaalion Commander that the bridge would take several hours to repair and he was ordered to return to Alberttville. Before leaving the area the Irish saw a number of Balubas in the bush and succceeded in capturing one of them who was lying in the undergrowth. When quesstioned about the poisoned arrows he was carrying and the Baluba headgear he was wearing as were those in the bush, he replied that he was a member of a pygmy huntting party. The army report states that "He was an exxtremely small man, and as his story appeared plausible he was released. Before leaving the area the patrol gave food to the unarmed natives (enncountered on the South side of the river) as they said they were hungry. The patrol were unaware of it then. but these men and the armed men in the bush, were members of the Baluba war party who were to murder Lt Gleeson and his men the next day."

The report continues: "It was decided that Lt Gleeson should reconnoitre the same route again the next day and that night he was instructed by radio to do so." For miliitary orders given to a platoon operating in hostile territory Kevin Gleeson's instructions were vague and open to different interpretations. He was "to continue to patrol along the route travelled by Comdt Hogan's patrol on 7 November - to see if in time could push a patrol as far as Kinsukulu. No terrific urrgency."

The words "No terrific urrgency" for a young fullyycommitted officer could immpart quite a degree of urgency on the part of his superiors. Lt Gleeson did not waste any time in carrying out his orrders. The next day at 1.30pm he set out to see to the unnfinished work of a much larrger patrol in an area ideal for an ambush where armed. tribesmen, presumably Balubas, had been seen the preevious day.

About an hour after the patrol set out a Congolese houseboy named Pierre emmployed by Lt Gleeson demannded his pay from Corporal Lynch who was left in charge of the post at Niemba. He was so insistent that Corporal Lynch paid him out of his own pocket. It was later preesumed that he knew the atttack was imminent. He was not seen by any of the Irish at Niemba again. Soldiers at Niembaalso reported seeing a villager taking off on a bicycle as soon as Gleeson's patrol set out.

Due to its location in the midst of Balubakat (members of the Baluba movement oppposed to secession of Katannga) territory and its isolation, Niemba was the most danngerous of po stings at the time. In a letter dated November 3 Kevin Gleeson wrote " ... I heard today that we will be replaced here when we have six weeks completed. I won't be sorry as we have no water or lights or facilities of any description. The soldiers are feeling the strain especially now that the 'cats' (Balubaakats) are expected ... It's now admitted in A-ville that this place is by far the worst post of all." The letter conntinues: "We are not being paid well enough at all for the chances we have to take. I don't think they will fill another Btn (Battalion) allthough they say they have enough officers, but where will the men come from? The boys in Manono existed on beans and biscuits for three weeks and I believe they nearly mutinied."

Private Joseph Fitzpatrick who along with Private Thoomas Kenny survived the ammbush recounted the last mooments of the patrol in an interview with the Daily Mail on November 14 1960. "We had noticed lately that the parties of Baluba we met were getting more sullen and hostile, but we never had more trouble than an odd arrow shot our way and we had always managed to bring about a peaceful end to our meetings with them ... we were workl'hg away at the bridge . . . when someone called out there were Balubas coming down the road beehind us. I looked up and there were about a hundred of . them carrying bows and arrows, spears, panga knives and clubs. Lt Gleeson told us to stop working and be on alert with our weapons. Even then we did not expect trouble. We thought there would be another parley and then they would go away. Lt Gleeson walked towards them alone, holding up his right arm in sign of peace ... I looked away for just a mooment for some reason or other and heard a shout from the lads.

"Then I saw Lt Gleeson staggering with an arrow in his shoulder. I heard him yell 'Take cover lads - get behind the trees . . .' The air was suddenly black with a shower of arrows, and the Baluba let out blood curdling yells that sounded like a war cry and rushed down the road like madmen, jumping in the air and waving their weapons . . . I saw Lieutenant Gleeeson killed. He didn't really get off the road. He fired into the Baluba with his subbmachine gun, covering us, looking quickly back over his shoulder to make sure we had taken cover." Seeing Lt Gleeson being killed was the most awful memory for Pte Fitzpatrick. "Lt Gleeson was a wonderful man and we loved him - we all loved him".

Trooper Anthony Browne was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for Gallanntry. He was the first soldier to receive the award. He had saved the life of Pte Kenny by firing on the Balubas that were attacking him, in doing so he drew them towards himself. The powers-that-be, however, chose to ignore the sacrifice made by his commrades, none of whom even received a Distinguished Serrvice Medal which according to one ex-army officer are "nowadays given out with the rations."

Lieutenant Gleeson and his patrol paid the price for bad planning and organisaation on the part of their superiors. It is hardly surrprising that they have been forgotten.

Beyond The Pale

By Nicky Kelly

THE MAJORITY OF PEOple wanted to follow their conscience and behave in a moral way, and nature has its own answer for the liberals, declared Councillor W. Farrell at a North Western Health Board meeting, the Sligo Champion reports.

Discussing the in troducction of a family planning service, he went on to say "that due to promiscuity we are now encountering diseases like AIDS, that were never heard of before. The birds in the bushes and the animals in the fields have codes of ethics that are natural, but human beings are adhering to codes that are not natural, and unfortunately those who do are now contaminating others," he added.

During the same debate Independent Socialist Counncillor Declan Bree, supporting the setting up of a family planning service, stated: "It was a basic civil right and that the sexual morality of the people cannot be dictated or legislated by the bishops." This drew a sharp reply from another board member, Mr B. McGlinchey, who objected to Councillor Bree's remarks about the Catholic church, stating: "I suppose a man who has a bust of Lenin in his house would be no lover of the Catholic church."

After being asked by the chairperson not to get perrsonal, Mr McGlinchey reeturned: "I certainly won't take bullshit from a commuunist lackey like him."

A HUNGRY MOUSE WHO ate the inside of a sophistiicated computer for his supper caused a hiccup which held up work on a section of Waterford's new multi-million pounds dual carriageway, acccording to the Munster Exxpress.

Recently Waterford Corrporation installed a new pubblic weigh bridge for the harrbour commissioners so that the old weighbridge, owned and operated by the harbour board, could be removed to make way for the new viaduct. The new apparatus which was imported from Scotland cost £25,000 but when the time came for the grand switching on, nothing happpened.

"No problem," declared the experts, "just a question of a loose connection." After a number of attempts to switch on, the experts deciided to open up the apparatus for a detailed inspection:

When the box containing the computer was examined, out jumped a mouse. The experts discovered that the tiny tresspasser had eaten through the paper tally roll and much of the micro-electronic wiring, and the nifty nibbler, obbviously impressed with his surroundings, had even begun to make a nest for himself.

A new part was rushed from Glasgow, but the operaation of the weigh bridge was delayed by three days.

TEACHERS AT THE CONNvent school in Longford Town have been victims of serious bogus telephone calls, innforming them of the death of a relative and other calls have been shockingly 0 bscene, the local Longford News reeports.

An investigation is being carried out to ascertain wheether or not there is any direct link between the upsetting anonymous calls and the spate of graffiti which also makes crude references to some of the same teachers.

The graffiti has appeared in the ladies toilets at Longgford railway station and has also been discovered on walls of the Convent of Mercy primary school in Longford.

The disgust and concern at the incidents is not confined to the teachers and school management. A group of senior students have asked the school authorities to asscertain if any of the school students have been involved and if so that they be dissmissed from the school.

It is also thought that the daubing of obscene slogans on a car parked at the school during a girl guides' meeting is part of the campaign.

These Boots are made for walking....

By James Casey

TWENTY FORMER WORKERS OF one of the country's oldest shoeemakers, Winstanley's in Dublin, now in liquidation, who are determined to form a co-op to produce the old firm's tried and trusted range may have to face competition from their former employers manufacturing shoes in England.

The workers have agreed with the liquidator to buy vital equipment including lasts and patterns to produce the range - provided they can come up with £10,000 by the end of the year. But in the longer term they are faced with raising anything up to £100,000 to recommence production.

Faced with joining hundreds of other former Irish shoe workers on the scrap heap of unemployment, a group of workers at Winstanley's resolved not to spend their statutory redundancy and contacted the Irish Productivity Centre to carry out a feasibility study.

The almost completed report is believed to be supportive of the co-operative idea but points out that the market for Winstanley style shoes - the heavy welted variety - may be in decline.

The members of the co-operative who occupied the Winstanley premises in Dublin's Back Lane in October, on the other hand, think they may have a race against time with the former owners of the firm who have also set up a separate shoe business.

Winstanley's, a name beloved of all who liked their heavy solid brogue style of shoe was a family firm dating back to 1852. The firm stayed within the same family for generations and similarly sons tended to follow their fathers onto the factory floor.

In the mid-seventies the firm employed around 160 people. Early this year a survival plan was introoduced which was followed by a three weeks workers sit-in over a £5 pay increase. Staff numbers also dropped by forty as part of the streamlining.

Workers describe the conditions and the attitude of management as "Victorian" and claim that high wages had nothing to do with the firm going to the wall. Wages ranged from £100 for factory workers to £ 158 per week for lower management staff or supervisors.

Of immediate concern to the worrkers is the task of raising the cost of setting up a plant once the vital cuttting and pattern equipment have been paid for. An interview on the 'Morning Ireland' programme brought in offers of support and £500 hard cash from a priest in Arklow.

They are also concerned that Mr Denis O'Neill, a former director of James Winstanley, who had set up a company called Shoe Tree, will supply the Irish market from England with shoes similar to those produced in the Liberties factory.

O'Neill who first wrote to Winnstanley's customers within days of liquidation on company notepaper with "in liquidation" beside the company title saying he was staying on in the trade, later canvassed them with letters using the Shoe Tree designaation.

In the Shoe Tree letter he assured customers that "Getaway" shoes which Winstanley had formerly imported would be available through his new company. He also offered ten styles of Winstanley shoes for the preeChristmas market. The workers hope to make the very same shoes.

While there is nothing illegal about the director of one failed company going into business again, as Mr O'Neill has done, the workers feel that Irish jobs could be going outside the counntry, needlessly.

"You can earn more importing shoes than making them here as the closure of firms like Clarks shows," says co-op chairman Tom Keogh, who hopes that sixteen jobs will be created initially from the former Winstanley workers attempts to get back in busiiness.

Winstanley liquidator, Ray Jackson, told Magill that he knew nothing about any letter being written to fornier customers by Mr O'Neill folllowing his appointment as liquidator on July 26 last. The letter was dated July 30. He had not given permission for it to be written.

Several shoe shops contacted by Magill said that a representative of Mr O'Neill's firm, Shoe Tree, was doing the rounds with samples of men's and ladies' shoes which they intended selling to the trade.

Reliable sources say that Mr O'Neill is working with a British shoe firm and . that Shoe Tree, of which he is a direcctor is being run as a distribution and importation operation by a close relaative.

James Casey