Memoirs of Red Cushing

[Note by C Crossey, 21 March 2006: While doing this research on Irish involvement in the SCW I've gone down a number of side tracks. This one, involving Thomas 'Red' Cushing was one of the strangest. I was contacted by Peter Lunt, someone who'd served with Cushing and he was able to provide these interesting comments. Thanks Peter.]

Peter Lunt wrote 19th June 2002:

In January 1954, I was posted to The 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers in Berlin as a 2nd Lieutenant, and was assigned a Sergeant "Red" Cushing as my Platoon Sergeant. We subsequently moved to Korea, then to Kenya (at which time, Sergeant Cushing returned to the Regimental Depot in Armagh).

"Red" was a true character and had served in the U.S. Army. He had rows of medals on both chests - those on the right side being from foreign governments. I have never read the book "Soldier of Fortune", so am not sure if this is the Sergeant Cushing you are looking for.

Peter Lunt Wed, 19 Jun 2002 "Red" Cushing

Dear Ciaran:
Thank you for your reply. Following is what I can tell you about him:

1. Yes, he really did exist. He was a "once in a lifetime" character, whose primary failing in life was "the drink". By my standards, he was not a good soldier - he drank too much, was unreliable, and did not have the respect of his men - who tended to laugh at his antics and exploit his weaknesses. See below for some examples.

2. Yes, he served in the Spanish Civil War, as attested to by some of his medals.

3. I erred when I said that he returned to the Regimental Depot in Armagh when we moved to Kenya at the beginning of 1955 - in fact, he accompanied us to Kenya, where he became Acting Sergeant-Major at Brigade H.Q. After that, I lost track of him and there is no reference to him in the regimental magazines for the next two years.

4. When the battalion moved from Berlin to Korea, I took a group of soldiers on to Japan for several weeks of training at the Commonwealth Division Battle School at Hara Mura, Japan. During that time, Sgt Cushing was given temporary command of #4 Platoon, "B" Company in Korea. Upon my arrival in Korea, he was "all mine" again and accompanied me on a number of detached operations, where we lived in close proximity to one another for weeks at a time. There were very few stories that I missed, and he certainly led a very "varied" existence - although how much he contributed to the war effort on his own side is open to question!

5. My first major problem with Red arose on St. Patrick's Day 1954 in Berlin, where we were responsible for internal security at Spandau (we were stationed in Spandau Barracks, while the remnants of the Nazi leadership was across the road in Spandau Prison). On the night prior to the traditional St Patrick's Day parade, Red drank the mess dry and was still drunk the following morning when the time came to march to the Roman Catholic Church for St. Patrick's Day services. Red (as the name implies) had a very ruddy complexion and fiery red hair which stuck out all over the place - he always looked inebriated, so no-one realized how drunk he was that morning and he was allowed to march off with a group of soldiers who soon realized that they he was heading in the wrong direction. After the party failed to show up for church service, we had to send out a security detail to find them, since we were adjacent to the border between the British Sector of Berlin and the Russian Zone of East Germany and an international incident could easily have been started. The following day, he was paraded before the C.O., who advised that he was tired of these "incidents" and was going to recommend a court martial - whereupon Red confessed his sins, implored the C.O. to give him one more chance and explained how he had met with the Padre that morning to renounce the drink forever. By that time, the Adjutant, R.S.M. and myself were practically on the floor with laughter at the "sincerity" of his performance, and the C.O. was having a hard time keeping a straight face. He was finally given a caution that if he was ever brought before the C.O. again, it would mean his stripes (not the first time he would have been demoted for over-indulging!).

6. The month-long ocean voyage to Korea (with duty-free booze en route) was heaven-made for Red, and it also helped that a new C.O. joined us, who was not as familiar with Red's background. That soon changed when Red decided to look up his old "buddy" General Maxwell Taylor - then Commander of the U.S. 8th Army, of which the Commonwealth Division was a part, but whom Red claimed had once been his C.O. when he served in the U.S. Army. In order to do this, he left our platoon area in the front lines, and was not seen for several days - by which time, he was reported A.W.O.L. On his return, he was brought up before the C.O. and charged with multiple offences - but, again, managed to talk his way out of it because he had so mesmerized officers at 8th Army H.Q., who wanted to know when he was returning for another visit!

7. We were subsequently assigned the responsibility of manning a forward position on the north side of the Imjin River and arrived with 48 hours rations and a large jug of rum - much to Red's delight! We gave each of the troops a small shot of rum, which still left a large quantity in the jug, and Red and I spent the evening finishing it off. Two days later, a 3/4 ton truck arrived with more rations, but no rum, so Red called up the Quartermaster to complain - only to be told that the rum was supposed to have been issued to troops on night patrol, as an addition to their water bottles, and was meant to last for the whole month of our assignment!

8. Shortly after that incident, I was called back to Company H.Q. for a meeting with the Company Commander and left Sgt Cushing in charge. Unfortunately, during my absence, the Battalion C.O. arrived for an inspection and found that Red (who was an enthusiastic member of the Sergeant's Mess Football Team) had organized a football match, which was in full swing just a short distance from the enemy positions - about the only thing he didn't do was to invite the North Koreans/Chinese to form an opposing team! By this time, you will have begun to see what I mean about "reliability".

9. In reading through the regimental magazines for the period, I came across a few interesting quotes:

"That international figure, Sgt Cushing..."
"The only goddam yank in the mess was Sgt Red Cushing (now back with us once again)"
"Sgt Cushing is never really a total loss, for wherever he goes he leaves memories of his indomitable character and ever-ready fund of entertaining stories and unquenchable thirst. His latest proposed adventure is to join the Kenya Police. With a twinkle in his eye he informed his Company Commander that "I may yet have the privilege of arresting you, sir. God bless you, sir:"

As you can tell from the above, which represented a period of only one year, he certainly had the material for an interesting book in him and I would dearly love to read it.

Hope the above is of some help to you in your research.

Fri, 19 Jul 2002 11:41 Peter Lunt "Red" Cushing

Dear Ciaran:

Although my personal involvement with "Red" is covered in only ten pages, if the rest of the incidents in the book are as inaccurately described as those with which I am familiar, then the title should probably be changed to: "Soldier For Hire" - a work of fiction, written by Charles Connell, loosely based on the experiences of an Irish soldier by the name of "Red" Cushing.

Although "Red" talks in the prologue about "buying half a dozen exercise books, a second-hand dictionary and a ball point pen", there is no doubt in my mind that he did not write the book - many of the words used would have been totally foreign to him, even with the use of a dictionary, and the grammar is not at all reflective of the way he spoke. What I suspect happened is that the "queer fellow" he met in the pub at East Grinstead was, in fact, Charles Connell or someone who put him in touch with Connell.

Cushing, having been promised some fame and monetary gain from the venture, then told Connell about some of his experiences, without being too particular about whether or not he got his facts straight. Connell, without checking other sources, then tried to assemble the stories into a readable format and the result is, indeed, quite an entertaining book.

When the book was first published in 1962, most of the people who had served with "Red" were still around, and must have reacted as I have to the incidents outlined in the book - i.e. "that's not the way it happened!". Knowing "Red", this probably would not have concerned him in the slightest, but I thought it was interesting that almost all references to people are to their titles - e.g. Commanding Officer, Company Commander, R.S.M., etc. - very seldom are they mentioned by name, which would have made it easier to double-check the facts.

Having said that, I suspect that most military biographies tend to glorify the individual being portrayed - Mountbatten and Montgomery are two People whose faults and failures were smoothly glossed over in their official biographies, and even Churchill (whose picture stares down at me from the wall as I type this letter, and whom I have always greatly admired) was not without his faults. Let's just say that "Red" is in good company!

The chapter (Castles in Spain) from his book.

The last days of Lieutenant Jakov Stalin Colin Simpson and John Shirley, Sunday Times 24th Jan. 1980. This recounts the period when Cushing 'was' in the POW camp and witnessed the death of Stalin junior.
I checked through his book for dates, here are a few notes.

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