Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2011), Letters, Volume 19

Sir,—I would like to thank Donal Kennedy for sharing his memories of the FCA (Letters, HI 19.5, Sept./Oct. 2011). When the force was stood down in 2005 it was found that there was a dearth of such personal reminiscences and historical matter at unit level. With regard to the Lee-Enfield: while its ten-round magazine and relatively high rate of fire made it the best rifle of World War I, by World War II it was already being outmoded by such weapons as the American semi-automatic Garand and the German StG 44 assault rifle. By 1960 almost all major armies had abandoned bolt-action rifles; the armies of the Communist bloc not already equipped with the famous Kalashnikov were equipped with the semi-automatic SKS, the US Army was armed with the fully auto-matic M14, while other NATO countries had adopted a variety of assault rifles.The Irish Army did bring Lee-Enfields to the Congo in 1960, just as they were obliged to wear bullswool battledress. From 1961 Irish battalions deploying to the Congo wore tropical uniforms and were armed with the modern FN-FAL assault rifle. The Indian Army was indeed still armed with Lee-Enfields and they suffered for it when they took on the Chinese in 1962.As for Dublin units bringing their rifles home, while admitting that Mr Kennedy was there and I was not, Dr Louis O’Brien’s excellent history of the Pearse Battalion notes that ‘during the period 1946–1959, rural units of An Forsa kept their rifles at home with five rounds of ammunition . . . Two Dublin units, the North County Dublin and South County Dublin battalions, were considered rural . . . and it was quite common to see these rural people cycling with a rifle across their backs to their local parade.’There was no doubting the enthusiasm of the FCA men who had not ‘joined for the boots’. Incidentally, the stalwarts of the 11th Cavalry Regiment mastered not only the driving and maintenance of their armoured cars but also the operation of its very complex Vickers gun, an achievement that entailed considerably more than just two hours’ training a week.—Yours etc.,TERENCE O’REILLY


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