Two gay, gallant and sincere soldiers are our own first causalities

James McCarthy writing in the Evening Echo, Cork, Monday, 11 September 1967

Part 4

(Read the previous article, here.)

Our destination, Ciempozuelos, lay straight ahead, but there was no direct road because a range of hills intervened. Our route was via the Toledo road for some miles, then we were to turn left, on a main road heading to Ciempozuelos, a recently captured town, which we were appointed to garrison.

The town which lay some 15 miles south-east of Madrid and on the west or right bank of the Jarama river, was close to the enemy lines and was constantly being shelled, with aircraft paying occasional visits.

In Single File

In moving along we were told to keep in on the grass margin of the road as there was a danger of spotter aircraft coming over and seeing us if we marched in formation. So we travelled in single file, on both sides of the road. Having travelled some distance in this fashion, we were ordered to leave the road and we then branched to the left along a farm highway.

Having covered only a short distance, we spread out in battle formation, extending to the left with the old roadway on our right to direct us as we made a beeline across country towards our destination.

An officer party composed of Capt. O'Sullivan, Sergeant Major Timlin, a Spanish officer, Lieut. Bove, two Spanish sergeants and a runner, Legionnaire McMahon kept to the old railway and travelled a little ahead of the leading section. It was difficult ground and sometimes the adjoining columns were lost to view of each other because a hillock or a grove separated them.

Sgt. Lee led No. 1 platoon of the first section, close to the road, while Sgt. Levey, with whom was Lieut. Hyde, had charge of No. 2 platoon, some 20 or more yards behind and to the left.

In this order we trudged along, leisurely, for miles without incident. Then, when we were ascending a ridge of going through an olive grove, a shouted warning was passed back which brought all sections to a halt, and everyone lay down and awaited orders.

Lieut. Hyde's Order

We were not, as yet, aware of the reason for the warning, and the order to halt, so Lieut. Hyde instructed Sgt. Levey to get him a runner. The first and second platoons of Lieut. Hyde's section were at this stage, because of the nature of the terrain, at least 100 yards apart and out of sight of each other. Sgt. Levey, as requested, asked Cpl Sheehy, whose squad was nearest to Sgt. Lee's platoon, to send up a man. I was sent, and hurrying up to Lieut. Hyde, he instructed me to go to Sgt. Lee and inquire what was amiss, or why the Brigade had been halted.

I found Sgt Lee on the near side of his platoon, which was in a prone position on the crown of a ridge beyond the olive grove and about 300 yards from Lieut. Hyde. Sgt. Lee informed me that there was a body of troops in front which was coming in our direction and that an officer of ours had gone forward to ascertain who they were.

I returned with this information for Lieut. Hyde, who, in the meantime, had gone forward to the summit of the hill to obtain a view of the position ahead. As I came in view he shouted to me to call out my information, which I did. He then told me to remain where I was and to keep him in touch.

I crouched beside a tree from where I could view and hail both Lieut. Hyde and Sgt Lee. Presently I heard a voice in the distance, shouting a call, followed immediately by another voice, as if in answer. I listened intently and wondered what this meant; then I heard a shot, followed immediately by a number of voices shouting. I was watching Sgt. Lee, who was on his knees, looking ahead, when a few shots rang out in quick succession.

Sgt. Lee lay flat as I heard he shots and a Spanish sergeant rose from the right and came running towards me shouting: "The enemy, the enemy". I called Lieut. Hyde repeating the Spaniards words.

Bullets Whistle Overhead

The firing had by now grown in intensity as the Spanish sergeant reached me, and ordered that I go forward to the crown of the ridge and open fire also. I ran forward to the point he had indicated, crouching low as bullets whistled back overhead. He hurrying on to the rest of the platoon.

I commenced firing in the direction of where I heard the shots coming from for, as yet I had not a clear view of the attackers positions. No. 1 platoon was already replying to the fire as I came up and having fired a round I looked in Lieut. Hyde's direction to see a man on his back being hauled by the shoulders of the ridge.

This I learned later was Lieut. Hyde who had got a burst of fire in the neck and it was Sgt. Levey whom I saw attending to him. Sgt. Levey ordered his platoon to advance to the top of the height and to join in the fray. The whole section was now in action with machinegun and rifle fire.

The attackers were in concealed positions on a lower level while we were lying on bare ground, but had the advantage of the elevated position. We kept our heads down and poured rapid fire into their positions, the flash and smoke from their weapons being guides to our targets. We soon noticed the volume of their fire diminishing and saw a few retreating figures. Eventually the shooting from the opposing force ceased and we got the order to ceasefire.

First Causality

I murmured a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to God for having escaped death or injury. It was my first time under fire and the same was true of most of my comrades. As I relaxed in the moments of peace and quiet which followed the cease-fire I heard my name called. I raised my head and looked to my left the direction from which the voice came to see our gunner, McLoughlin of Donegal, looking in my direction. It was he who had called and as I looked he said in a broken voice, "Chute is dead."

I was shocked by this news, as there had not been a more popular man in our section and I had regarded him as my dearest friend. He was assistant gunner with McLoughlin, his duty being to feed the machine-gun and to replace the gunner if he happened to be incapacitated.

It was when reloading the gun that he received a fatal wound. He was a personality of whom Kerry, of which county he was native, could be proud. His fine qualities shone out among us and we loved him for his sincerity and for his good-natured friendly manner.

When I found my voice after hearing the sad news I enquired where his body lay, to be told he had been taken back by our ambulance men, 'Bazzy' Gibbons and Jerry Mac. I raised myself to a knelling position and looked back to a sheltered spot about 50 yards behind where the Red Cross men were attending to him, but he was beyond their aid. I regretted that discipline did not permit me to go back to embrace him, I could only weep and say a prayer for his soul.

I turned again to McLoughlin whose face I now noticed was smeared with blood. I asked him if he was wounded, to which he replied that he did not know, but that his head was sore. I crept across to him and found he had a gash on his temple from which blood trickled down his face. I got a dressing in McLoughlin's kit and staunched the flow from his head and proceeded to dress his wound. We both felt inconsolable as we reflected that we would never again enjoy Dan Chute's companionship.

We were hailed by Captain O'Sullivan who had come along to see how our section had fared in the conflict. Seeing me dressing McLoughlin's head, he asked me if he had been wounded, to which I answered that he had got only a slight cut from something, adding that a man had been killed and was lying on the slope behind us.

I indicated the spot as I spoke and we watched as the captain went in haste to where the ambulance men were bending over Dan's body. He knelt down and seemed to be making inquiries of the ambulance men as I continued the dressing of Mick's head.

"Lieut. Hyde is Dead, Sir"

The Captain remained a few minutes with the ambulance men them, having gone a few paces further along our line, he called towards the ridge where the remainder of our section was, saying: "Lieut. Hyde, how are you over there?"

A hollow separated this position from ours and it was slightly more elevated and the summit was more a hundred or more yards from where the Captain stood.

McLoughlin and I, hearing the Captain's words, were eager to hear the reply so we were all attention. An answer came immediately, but it was Sgt. Levey's voice which said; "Lieut. Hyde is killed, sir." The Captain, with quick strides, made his way towards the point from where the answer had come, while we stared, dumbfounded, in that direction.

Our section had lost in Tom Hyde a kind, fatherly commander and in Dan Chute a loyal, loveable comrade. There were other causalities among us: Cpl. John Hoey, a Dublin man, had his wrist shattered by a bullet. While two Spaniards, a lieutenant and a sergeant, who were in our advance party, were killed.

We were surprised and grieved to learn later that both forces in the conflict were Nationalist troops. The mistake happened through an omission on the part of the Area Command and a misunderstanding by the commanding officer of the force which met us. The precaution omitted was the practice that when two units of troops were to travel towards each other, an officer of each was with the advance party of the other column. It seems that neither body expected to meet any other trops on this journey; possibly it was intended that we would travel via the road on which we at first set out.

The misunderstanding occured between two Spanish officers who as they approached each other failed to identify their respective units. When our liaison officer advanced towards the other party their officer came forward and called out inquiring who we were. Our officer answered: "Bandera Irelandese El Tercio", whihc in English meant an Irish Brigade of the Legion.

The officer on the other side opened fire on our officer immediately and he then ordered his troops to attack us. Our liaison officer and the officer who fired on him were killed in the ensuing battle.

The possible explanation of the hasty action taken by the officer of the opposing force was that he inferred from our officer's words that we were the Irish unit of the International Brigade and it is possible that their commandant did not know that an Irish unit was serving in General Franco's army.

The ambulance unit attached to Number 2 section was called up to attend to Lieut. Hyde as our unit was engaged with Dan Chute. Both bodies were later taken back to Caceras, where they were interred in vaults side by side. They were accorded full military honours by Spanish units who attened at the cemetery.

Installment 3 Two gay, gallant and sincere soldiers are our own first casualties

Thursday next - Deadly fire from an armoured train.