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BRAVE VETS MEDAL SHAME; Our jungle fighters honoured.. with award they had to pay for themselves.

Byline: DECLAN POWER

IRELAND'S Congo vets had to strike and pay for their OWN medal after being snubbed by top brass, the Irish Sunday Mirror can reveal today.

The retired soldiers, members of Post 20 of the IUNVA, the Irish United Nations Veteran's Association, designed the medal themselves and even had to borrow the EUR5,078 needed to strike it from a local Credit Union.

The surviving members of the force were awarded the medal by Public Enterprise Minister Mary O'Rourke at Columb Barracks, Mullingar earlier this year.

The ceremony was the first of its kind. It included serving and retired members of the Defence Forces who paraded alongside members of the Gardai who also served with the UN.

The medal was designed by retired army quartermaster-sergeant and IUNVA member, Eddie Robinson.

Mr Robinson, who is also chairman of Post 20 of the UN vets association in Mullingar, proudly told the Sunday Mirror how he and some of the other vets had recently presented a silver edition of the medal to President Mary McAleese at Aras An Uchtaran.

Afterwards many veterans spoke of their disappointment at the way they are regarded by the Government, the media and the public.

Mr Robinson agreed, saying he is angry there is "so little recognition for those who served". He said: "We were delighted to go to Dublin and honour our Commander In Chief.

"Indeed she gave us a brilliant reception, but it was a pity the media couldn't have shown more interest considering veterans in their 70s and 80s had attended.

"In fact, what makes this worse is that some of the UN vets were among the men who had fought to their last round of ammunition to defend the village of Jadotville in the Congo, 34 years ago.

"This is in complete contrast to the actions of some Dutch UN troops - a recent report found them guilty of complicity in the 1995 massacre of over 7,000 Bosnians at Srebrenica.

"The report found Dutch peacekeepers guilty of "collaboration" by not fighting to defend the village.

"But 34 years ago Irish peacekeepers found themselves in a similar situation protecting Jadotville.

"Unlike the Dutch, those troops stood and fought. They were eventually captured after running out of food, water and ammunition - but not before all the civilians had been safely escorted from the area.

"These men, include retired Sgt Bobby Allen, 73, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on his second tour of duty in the Congo in 1962."

Mr Allen and two of his comrades, former Gunner Tom Cunningham and retired Sgt Billy Ready were recently awarded peace medals by the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA).

The men were a part of A Company, 35 Infantry Battalion, the first Irish troops to be captured by enemy forces following a fierce battle which took place in the Congo during September, 1961.

The battle began when the Irish troops dug in around an area called Jadotville under the command of Kerry man, Commandant Pat Quinlan.

They were soon attacked by a large force of Katanganese para-commandos and gendarmes - troops ably led by European mercenary officers, including the famed Irish mercenary, Col "Mad Mike" Hoare.

Mr Allen recalls the attacks that were launched at him and his comrades: "There were mountains of them coming at us. They weren't very well trained - but there was so many and they just kept coming."

But for the fact that Quinlan had ordered his troops to dig slit trenches, Mr Ready believes that he and his fellow troops would have been slaughtered.

Mr Allen praised Cmmdt Quinlan's leadership and foresight and added: "Without him I wouldn't be talking to you now."

As the attack began, Mr Ready, now aged 61, and two other soldiers noticed the Katanganese troops attempting to sneak up on the Irish positions.

Mr Ready said: "As we were under UN control and following their rules we couldn't fire directly at the attackers until we were fired upon, so I fired warning shots."

As a result of his quick thinking Bill had ruined the enemy's advantage of surprise and warned his comrades of their approach.

However, by firing he had given his position away and become a target.

He was wounded in a later exchange of gunfire when a bullet hit his right leg and shot up and across his stomach.

Fortunately, a rifle magazine strapped to his chest stopped a second bullet from finishing him off.

Tom Cunningham, 62, an Army veteran with 34 year's service, remembers the battle for Jadotville well.

He said: "We were under attack for six days and five nights.

"In addition to constant fire from the ground, we were being strafed by a Fouga jet as well."

But for the 157 men of A Company the position was hopeless. They had no air support or anti-aircraft weapons and were at the mercy of the enemy jet. On the ground they were outnumbered three to one.

After the Irish held off the first attack, they found themselves surrounded and cut off from help.

An attempt to reinforce them by UN troops in a nearby town ended when the relief column was beaten back by heavy fire.

Cmmdt Quinlan faced a difficult choice: He and his men were running desperately short of food, water and most important of all, ammunition - and he had already spurned one request to surrender his position.

An attempt by UN HQ to resupply the beleaguered Irish troops ended when a Swedish helicopter landed under heavy fire and only delivered a couple of jerry cans of water.

Despite risking their lives, it turned out the brave Swedes efforts had been in vain - the water had been polluted by petrol.

By now the Irish were taking casualties and no longer had the means to defend themselves.

Without ammunition, Cmmdt Quinlan knew he could no longer defend Jadotville. Since all civilians had by now been evacuated he did what any sensible commander would do - he saved his men.

A second offer to surrender was accepted and the Irish marched out of the village and into captivity.

However, within a month a prisoner exchange was arranged through the Red Cross. A Company was again free, only to find themselves in action again at the Battle Of The Tunnel.

Yesterday the three UN veterans who spoke to the Sunday Mirror were in no doubt who the hero was.

Mr Allen said: "Comdt Quinlan saved our lives through his leadership and negotiation skills."

Tom Cunningham summed it up for all of the others when he said: "He was great leader.

"He went in with 157 men and he brought home 157 men, I'd have gone anywhere with him."

However, the Army didn't see it like that at the time. The three men recall a lot of stick being given to the soldiers who had fought at Jadotville.

Mr Allen said he was met with such a lack of understanding when he came home that: "I felt I had to go back to the Congo to redeem my self-respect."

Even now Mr Ready says one of his fellow veterans recently accused him of surrendering without firing a shot.

He said: "I told him from one who was there how untrue that was, we were under fire constantly for six days and five nights."

Now the three veterans are calling on the army to have a day of commeration for the Battle of Jadotville and recognition of the leadership of Cmmdt Quinlan who died in the late 1970s.

Bill added: "We would like to see Comdt Quinlan's memory honoured as it should be."

Anyone wishing to make a contribution to IUNVA should phone 01-679-1262.

CAPTION(S):

MEMORY LANE: Dessie Robinson, medal designer Eddie Robinson and Larry Poynton, President of IUNVA march to the ceremony; PROUD MOMENT: Gunner Tom Cunningham, Sergeant Bob Allen (DSM), and Sergeant Billy Ready display their medals; PRISONERS: Commandant Pat Quinlan, centre with a moustache, was praised by his men for achieving his objective and keeping them all alive while under intense fire. Inset is the medal the men struck
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 5, 2002
Words:1349
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