Charles and Edward were easy to track down, as they were drinking in the famous Lamb & Flag Pub, in Covent Garden when the Military Police came in. Three burly individuals that spanned out, the man on the left heading straight to Charles, having noticed his rank. Patrons put down their glasses, eager to see what we up.
“Captain,” said the Sergeant, without saluting. “Orders from Brigadier-Colonel Maconchy, Sir. All staff must report to barracks immediately, for urgent shipment to suppress an Uprising in Ireland, Sir.”
“Calm down, man,” said Captain Huffington, rising off his seat and looking the Sergeant over. He was unimpressed. “You are saying that the Brigadier wants us to run over to Ireland and punch those idiots on the nose, is that right?”
“That’s about the size of it, Sir. All hell has broken loose, with rivers of blood flowing through Dublin and the Germans landing on the east and south coasts, Sir. Our trains and equipment are scattered all over Britain, because of the Bank Holiday. We’ve been rounding up the 59th North Midland Brigade since noon, Sir.”
“Ah, well there you are, Sergeant. Edward and I are 178th Brigade; South Staffordshire you see. It’s a case of mistaken identity.”
“Please I implore you, Captain. We have lorries outside and are to make no exceptions. You can take it up with your commander but I have strict orders to get you to him immediately. Please understand, Sir. You must be delivered by any means necessary, if you catch my drift.” He extracted a wooden truncheon from his coat and dropped it repeatedly into the palm of his free hand.
“Well, Edward,” conceded Charles, “We’d better agree with this Sergeant’s suggestion and take his lift to Colonel Oates.” He downed his untouched Whisky and Soda in one go. Seven men were led out of the pub, to whistles and cheers from the rest of the clientage. “Are to seriously taking us to Regimental Headquarters in a lorry? It looks awfully uncomfortable.”
“There is a train waiting at Euston Railway Station, Sir. It will take you to Liverpool where you will embark for Dublin. Your Staff Officers will join you in Liverpool. Do have a safe journey, Sir,” said the Sergeant, banging the side of the lorry to signal the driver to move off. They jostled and bounced their way across London, the noise preventing conversation until they were settled on the train. It moved off quickly, as soldiers were still trying to board. Luckily, there was an officer’s carriage, so at least Charles and Edward got seats. There was all sorts of units represented in their compartment and all sorts of rumours about why the alarm had been sounded.
“Let’s get some shut-eye, men. We’ll find out what’s happening in Liverpool,” said Charles, folding his greatcoat into an improvised pillow. He spent the journey thinking of Sarah. He obviously had no chance to talk to her, and now no news to put in a letter. What would she think, when he was not at the morning service for fallen comrades? He composed a letter in his mind, assuring himself of getting the chance to post it before the ship left port. He never got that chance, rediscovering his scribbles in a jacket pocket in Dublin. The size of the force heading to Ireland was very obvious as soon as they reached Liverpool’s Riverside Station. There were units from all over the Black Country, especially from Staffordshire. There were also Royal Engineers and lots of Medical Corp personnel. He willed to see Sarah among the medics, but of course she wasn’t. After walking around for a bit, Edward shouted to him to join their briefing. He arrived by Edward in time to see Major-General Sandbach address them.
“This is a most regrettable situation men,” he began. “Stand easy. It looks like the Irish have joined with the Hun against us. There has been a number of incidents in Dublin that the local military have requested our help in eliminating. Let’s do a clinical, professional job that His Majesty can feel proud of. Get you men and equipment on board as quickly as possible. We sail on the evening tide and being late is not an option. Get to it, dismissed.”
Charles and Edward spent the trip across the Irish Sea out on the deck. Most of the troopers choose to stay outside. There was a known treat from U-Boats, who ran a cat and mouse fight with the Royal Navy. Within the Irish Sea, World War One submarines were at a distinct disadvantage compared to surface ships. They could be outrun by most of the Royal Navy’s fleet and tended to use their deck gun to attack slow-moving trawlers and solo runners travelling towards them. This military transporter, however, had a two destroyer escort and was running flat-out, at almost eighteen knots. After an hour at sea, Colonel Oates called his officers astern, for his briefing. After telling them to stand easy and to smoke if they wish, he filled them in on the situation in Dublin.
“Gentlemen, there is an armed Uprising in Dublin, which started last Monday when armed men from James Connolly’s trade union force assaulted the Castle. It failed completely and General Lowe is now in charge of His Majesty’s forces, containing the Irish in each of their occupied buildings. We are the anvil to General Lowe’s hammer. We are showing both the Germans in Flanders and the Irish in Dublin what overwhelming response is brought down on anyone that threatens the Empire.” He paused to drink some water, which had arrived from the ship’s galley.
“If everything is under such control, what will we actually be doing,” wondered Charles out loud. The Colonel heard his uttering and was glad to reply.
“That’s a good question, Captain. We will be achieving a number of objectives on this little adventure. Many of our troopers are untried in the field. This will be a way of blooding your men for the Western Front, under controlled conditions. Equally important is to deter any further unrest in Ireland for a hundred years. Now these insurgents had some early encouragement as the military was standing easy for the Easter weekend. Have no doubt that you will be fighting in Dublin, and it’s not as easy as you might think. The Irish are by no means a reliable military force, but they can still kill you; so remain alert to trouble. We will not be sailing into Dublin Port, but to the fine harbour at Kingstown, just south of the city. Once we have sorted our men and kit on dry land, we will be marching north in two columns, but I will give those details in Kingstown. For now, relax your troops, but install in them a suspicion of all things Irish. They don’t eat, drink or socialise with anything outside the English military while they’re in Ireland. That’s all, gentlemen. I will see you in Kingstown for breakfast and I give you the marching orders. Have a good night, and dismiss.” While the officers dispersed, Charles and Edward stayed at the stern rail, silently watching the ship’s wake.
“It’s my first time back, Charles you know? What a messed up country it must be. Don’t they know how well off they are?”
“I’d forgotten that you were Irish, Edward.” Charles was grinning meaning the ribbing to be no more than friendly teasing. “The difference between you and them, Edward is that you got out; you got an English education and a career in the military. It’s the ones that stay are the problem. Illiterate, drunken and easily tempted astray. There is no helping them. They reproduce like vermin, for God’s sake. How come you’re an only child?”
“There was a problem with my birth, which nearly killed my mother. As a result of the operation, the doctors convinced her that she could not survive another pregnancy.” Charles laughed at that.
“I bet that pleased you father no end!”
“Shut it, Charles or I’ll be forced to shut it for you.” There was no humour in his voice as he defended his parent’s reputation.
“Geez, Edward! Scratch the surface and you’ll find the Paddy. Are you up for this fight or would you rather stand aside?”
“I know my duty, Captain Huffington,” said Edward Cole and he walked away without looking back.
to be continued