Preparing for an invasion

I suppose it was the reading of the security arrangements for the arrival of President Bush that set my mind thinking of the time when this country was on red alert about 65 years ago and we were all doing our bit to repel invading forces from whichever direction they came.

It must be remembered that we could be invaded on two fronts, (1) the east, south or west of Ireland and (2) across the border from Northern Ireland. We had declared our neutrality and hoped against hope that the Germans would respect it and not use us for a back door into England and on the other hand, we hoped that the British would do likewise and not come pouring across the border to take back our ports which they had returned to us a short time before. As it happened both sides kept out for their own reasons and we came through the war with comparatively little damage. The first bombs to fall on Irish soil fell on the creamery in Campile in south Wexford and the biggest death toll we had was when the north strand area of Dublin was bombed in May 1941.

By the time the LSF had been formed and thousands of men throughout the country had joined, thousands were also joining the regular army. With the closing down of horse racing in England, fears that the Irish sweepstakes would also be forced to close as the races on which the sweep was run, the Casarewitch, the Grand National and the Derby would not take place until after the way. Then there was talk of their off loading some of the trains arriving at Hartcourt Street and Westland Row (the board trains) containing large numbers of women and children from Holyhead and Fishguard. Word from other Irish ports told of about 8,000 men (reservists and soldiers on leave) departing from Dun Laoghaire, North Wall, Cobh, Cork and Rosslare for Britain. All leave in the Irish Civil Service, in the Department of Defence, and in associated departments had been cancelled. Leave in the principal departments of the Dublin Corporation - fire brigade, housing, public health etc were also cut down. Rationing was now being considered although Ireland, being mainly an agricultural country, food supplies were not as scarce as in other lands. This meant that hoarding was not advised at that time although later such thins as sugar, tea, butter, along with other imported goods were really in short supply and along with petrol, and other imported goods was strictly rationed.

It was at this stage that the Department set about making it difficult for an invading army to find its way through the country. All road signs were removed and place names on post offices, railway stations, garda barracks, and public buildings were removed or painted over. This removing of road signs meant that for those who did not know the country they were travelling in, it was easy to take a wrong turning and add miles to our journey, especially at night time. This was added to by the fact that locals were advised not to tell strangers the name of the place or to direct them if they were asking too many questions. This often caused tempers to get frayed when the simple question of ‘which road should I take for Carlow’ (or some other town or village) and the answer would be ‘now where are you from yourself’ or ‘I haven’t got an idea’. Then there was the erection of ‘Pill Boxes’, especially on raised position where they could cover a strength of straight road. There was a slit across the front of the box about six inches wide. This is to allow the barrel of the machine gun to spray the enemy coming along the road.

Another precaution was the staking of the big field. This was to prevent enemy aircraft have a smooth landing. In the coastal regions the beaches of certain resorts were booby trapped with tank traps and other methods to delay the landing parties. In the beginning test blackouts were held in Dublin and other cities when the drivers of cars (those lucky enough to have petrol) were asked to drive with only the wing lights on.

As far as the LSF were concerned, they were divided into two classes. The LSF (Local Security Force) and the LDF (Local Defence Force). The former had to make sure that, in the event of an invasion, lights were out, food supplys were out of reach of the enemy. Local people did not give important information and that the older people were looked after. The task of the LDF was to assist in every way the regular army. This meant spending nights on watch when aircraft were heard overhead. This happened several times during the way. The sound of engines overhead always meant that the place or planes were from the potential enemy, as the Irish air force could not afford to use fuel at night time.

This was found out to be no invasion but some poor airman for whom the war was over. More often than not they were members of a bomber crew that had been hit over Liverpool or one of the British west coast cities. In my own memory the greatest nights activity was the night that the Germans made the big raid on Belfast. It was a little after 13.00 hours (one o’clock) in the morning when the first sounds of aero engines were heard. Now that I look back on it the local group were assembled and ready to go out on their various patrols in a very short time. That night was actually very frightening with the hundreds of planes travelling up the east cost of Ireland having come in over south Wexford in order to avoid the antiaircraft fire and night fighters over Britain. The sound of so many engines actually caused those of us on the hill top feel the vibrations as they passed over head. They were flying so low and the night was clear so we could see them in the moonlight.

I often look back on those days of danger to our country and think of the little hall in my native village with the lads lined up from wall to wall. There was a spirit of comradeship in the group and a sense of belonging that somehow it is hard to find in any other company. Then there is a saying that danger brings its own rewards.

Well, thank God we never had to find out what would have happened if the worst had come to the worst. Most of the younger members of the group joined the FCA at a later date and were later still joined by their sons in the organisation. Perhaps the trips to Courtown, Gormanston, Baldonnell, Kilkenny and the many other camps have left memories that will never be forgotten. At times when we go through the role of honour and recall the names of those for whom the last Post has sounded, and who were really good comrades, we cannot be blamed for becoming a little sentimental.

So we end this short spell of returning to other days and hoping that it revived memories in the lads of A, B, C and D company’s of the old 10th Batt and that if ever good men are needed they will be as true as the men of the FCA.

Courtesy of the Carlow Nationalist
12 July 2004