Tablet in Spanish Church Commemorates the Brigade
The Irish advance to Ciempozuelos
O'Duffys Brigade - series of 9 Evening Echo articles
James McCarthy, Instalment 3, Friday, September 8th 1967
Added January 13th 2008 - An earlier defence of the Bandera by one of its volunteers
Commanding ‘A’ Company was Capt. Dermot O’Sullivan, a Dublinman who had considerable military experience, having served in the Easter Week Rising, the Anglo-Irish war and in our National Army. The Sergeant Major, Dick Timlin from Dublin, was a capable instructor and was very popular.
Lieut. Tom Hyde, a Corkman, was the officer in charge of the first section of this company; he had served in the fight for independence and later in the National Army.
The two platoons which composed that section were under the charge of Sergeants Lee and Levey, both of Dublin. No. 1 platoon, under Sergt. Lee, had Corporals Nunan, Doolan and Hoey, while No. 2 had Corporals S?, Tully and Farrelly, under Sergt. Levey.
A Spanish captain, who acted as liaison officer with the higher command had, with each company, an English-speaking Spanish Lieutenant, though whom he maintained contact.
In a short time we had mastered the foot drill, so we were issued with firearms and ammunition. The rifles were of the Mauser type, while the sub machineguns, with which one man in each platoon was armed, were Browning automatics. Each rifleman received 200 rounds of ammunition, and, in addition, we were each issued with a gas mask, a haversack, a water bottle and a pair of blankets. A bayonet in a scabbard was carried by all riflemen.
Our daily routine in Caceres was as follows. On parade at 8 am for physical drill; breakfast at 8.30; arms training until 12.30; midday meal; further arms training until 3.00 pm. After the evening meal, except for those on special duties, we were free until ??pm. Usually we spent out evenings in the city, the majority going first to one or other of the Churches to attend evening devotions. The prayers of the rosary were led by a Spanish priest in his own national language, while each member of the congregation responded in his home tongue. Thus, in Spanish, Irish and English our voices united in prayer.
On Sundays we did no training, and except for the Bandera parade to our chaplain’s Mass in Santa Domingo, were free from duties. Most of the men here attended an early Mass and received Holy Communion, then got back in time to have breakfast before going on parade fro the march to Santa Domingo, for our chaplain’s Mass.
The Irish tricolour and the Spanish Nationalist flag of red, gold and red were carried at the head of this parade.
On Sunday afternoons we explored places of interest in and around the city. On one occasion, some pals and I took a road which led from the city to the pinnacle of a hill that over-looked the surrounding countryside. We found that the route to the summit was used as a Way of the Cross, with Stations at intervals along the wayside. On the summit were a Calvary and an oratory crowded with worshippers. Nearby an anti-aircraft battery was mounted to protect the city from aerial attack.
We received pay at the same rate as the Spanish soldiers, which was three pesetas a day for legionnaires. A peseta had about the same purchasing power as a shilling. Some of us thought that, as volunteers, we should not receive pay at all, but we soon realised that we needed the money to supplement our rations and to purchase other necessities.
In the early days of February 1937 it became known that we would shortly be leaving for the war front. The Spanish Inspector General paid us a visit and reported favourably on our fitness.
This inspection was soon followed by a review by General Franco, who took the salute, as we marched past on the barrack square. The Spanish command was satisfied that we were fully efficient so orders were used that we should leave on February 17 for the front lines on the Madrid front.
Some time prior to the termination of our stay in Caceres, a collection was taken up from all ranks to finance the erection of a plaque in Santa Domingo church to commemorate our having worshipped in it. Another purpose of the subscription was to help reward the Franciscan Fathers for their kindness in placing the church at our disposal by presenting them with a sum of money towards the erfurbishing of their church.
We had the pleasure of having a complete set of new seats installed with other improvements completed, when we returned from the war front.
The commemorative table erected in Santa Domingo church is of bronze and bears the shields of Ireland and of Spain on either side. At the top is a Celtic cross and at the foot a miniature of the Madonna and Child, shamrocks and Irish designs fill the corners.
The inscription is in Irish, Spanish and English and reads: “To the glory of God and the honour of Ireland, in remembrance of the 15th Bandera, Irish Brigade of the Tercio, which worshipped in the cause of the Faith, and of Ireland’s ancient ally and protector, Spain.”
The unveiling ceremony took place on a Sunday after the celebration of Mass attended by the whole brigade. The tablet was blessed by the Bishop of Caceres and unveiled by General O’Duffy.
On the Sunday prior to our leaving Caceres, we were addressed in Santa Domingo church by Fr. McCabe, of the Irish College, Salamanca. He exhorted us to maintain a high standard of conduct in what he termed a holy and noble crusade. He reminded us also that some of us would, inevitably, fall on the field of battle and he advised is to keep our souls in readiness in anticipation of this fate. All of us took this sermon to our hearts.
On the morning of the appointed day, the Brigade paraded to Mass in full battledress.
On our return to barracks we were drawn up on the square, where his Lordship, the Bishop of Caceres, passing through the ranks, gave us his blessing.
We returned to our billets to make a final check on our equipment and in the interval before leaving each man was issued with tinned food to tide him over a day’s journey. We had water bottles, which we filled, as we did note expect to taste any other beverage until we would arrive at our destination. As we again assembled on the square prior to our departure, we were in good spirits and we felt that we were capable of making a valuable contribution on the front [as] we felt so fit.
We marched across the city to the railway station led by a colour party, Lieut. Hyde bearing the Irish tricolour, with Lieut. Fitzpatrick on his left carrying the Spanish Nationalist flag. A few of our members played martial music on the war-pipes as we marched in columns three deep through the main thoroughfare. The citizens of the city lined the streets and crowded the windows as we passed by with the stirring music of the pipes bringing rounds of hand-clapping from the bystanders.
At about midday our train left on its journey and did not arrive at its destination until late in the evening of the following day, having been delayed many times on the way. The distance should normally have been covered in daylight on the first day, but damaged lines and disrupted communications delayed out progress. In some stations where our train stopped, there stood on the down line ambulance trains with their carriages full of wounded soldiers.
At a junction some miles from Madrid our train left the main line and proceeded over a branch railway, heading in an easterly direction. At a quiet station near the village of Terrejon we got orders to leave the train and having done so, we marched into the village.
Near Front Lines
As we were on our way from the train we saw an aerial battle taking place in the distance and could hear gunfire so we became aware that we were near the front lines. The village appeared deserted, with the houses badly wrecked, evidently there had been a struggle for the place.
We paused on the street for some time awaiting instructions as the Spanish officers with us were strangers to the locality and were unsure of the route to Ciempozuelos, the town which we were on our way to defend. As nightfall approached the officers, after consultation, decided we would billet in the village overnight so we proceeded to take over a few large buildings and to pack ourselves in.
As we prepared for the night’s sojourn in this place an order came saying that we were to proceed at once to Valdemora, a distance of about eight miles. A guide was found and, hungry though we were, we moved on and were fatigued when we arrived at our destination.
Except for tinned food, of which we had brought only one day’s supply, we had had only one meal, consisting of coffee and bread since we left Caceras on the previous evening.
On arrival in Valdemora, a light meal was prepared for us and having partaken of it, we were shown to our quarters. We were lodged in a damaged building, which had been a convent, the community having been driven our by the Reds when they occupied the place. We slept on the floor packed like sardines in a tin, but sleep came easily. When retiring, we were told we should be out again at dawn, so we snatched as much rest as possible. There was no lighting in the building, so we had to find our own way with the aid of a few torches.
The sun had not yet risen and the air was chilly when we trooped out on the roadway next morning – to line-up for our advance to Ciempozuelos.
Lieut. Hyde, who was in command of the leading section, was already on the roadway, pacing up and down to warm himself.
Other articles form this series
Installment 1 - Evening Echo, Monday, Sept. 4 1967
General O'Duffy Launches his Irish Brigade
Instalment 2 - Thursday, 7th Sept. 1967
Lonely Christmas for the Irish Brigade in Spain
(Next instalment The brigade’s baptism of fire.)
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