Early in 1922, after the elapse of 750 years it was our proud privilege to enter the city with native troops and take it back for the Irish nation.
We did not come to the city with any ceremony but drove into the back of the town in lorries and took possession of the Infantry Barracks just vacated by the Devon Regiment of the British army. The main building of the barracks was the officer's quarters, two long wings connected from here enclosing a very large barrack square. Other buildings comprised the married quarters, the hospital, the transport shed, the magazine and some other buildings for stores. Just inside the barrack gate was a small building marked Early Treatment Station". This, we speculated was for the precautionary treatment of Venusian diseases; needless to say, we had no use for this exotic place.
Our maintenance party, as we were modestly first described, was a company of 82 men. The right half company was composed of men with column service (the Old Guard.). The left half of picked men from the brigade. I had four junior officers, one who acted as barrack quartermaster and another who looked after our paper work. And I had a prince of a Sergeant Major who ran the whole internal show for me. Sergeant Major Jim Power had been a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Scots and had waded through half the mud in Flanders. On being de-mobbed at the end of the war he had immediately joined the Volunteers. He was most competent and quite indispensable and never liked to be far away from my right elbow.
Next I rate in importance the famous Nipper. The Nipper was just a nipper as he was quite young and small in stature - that is, physically. His column service was from the very beginning. The "Nip" was my driver and he followed me around like a shadow.
We acquired a most admirable chef, John Phelan, who had been a ship's cook; he always referred to his kitchen, which he was quite proud of, as "the galley". John usually wore spotless ducks and he had only one failing, if it could be called that, he had a strong addiction to grand opera. Sometimes on returning to the barracks at night, in a gay mood, he would start his arias at the guardhouse and would continue his high notes all through the barrack square and far into the night. We remonstrated and he quit in a huff and only returned after we had humiliated ourselves. Afterwards he sang to his heart's content.
In addition we had four bugler boys as well as four stray dogs that the men adopted. The boys received lessons from an old ex-service man and in time became quite proficient in the various bugle calls.
For transport we possessed three Crossley tenders, a battered Lancia armored car (a death trap) and a Buick touring car.
There was quite a lot of cleaning up to be done after the Devons and then we got the men into uniform. The sergeant Major gave them all the basic drill, and plenty of it, and after that slow-motion guards drill. Soon we had a company of crack troops.
Next to the officers quarters was a room I used as an office and which was at times the Orderly Room. Here minor breaches of discipline would be punished with confinement to barracks and extra fatigue duties. I also read the men a lecture on the moral dangers involved in speaking to girls they might meet in the street. The poor fellows took it all in good part.
My position was an anomalous one. The country was as yet without a government, or had five different governments, and bitter dissension was going on all over. I almost forgot to add that across Barrack Street was the Cavalry Barracks, which we occupied with thirty temporary police. So I became, under the circumstances, a kind of military governor on my own without the benefit of any civil advice or instruction.
When the Nipper drove me outside the town we changed places and he gave me driving lessons. When I wanted to create an impression on the populace I sat in the back of the car, with my driver and my batman in front. I must have looked like a twenty-one year old brass-hat and if at this tender age I had a mild case of swelled head who would blame me.
There were, of course, a number of trying incidents and I will confine myself to just two as both had happy endings.
It became necessary for me to place a section sergeant's guard in the central post office. For one thing, all telephone calls between the headquarters of the Free State army in Beggars Bush barracks and their forces in Kilkenny had to pass through our post office telephone exchange where I had agents to tap the messages and keep me informed as to what was in the wind. (The Kilkenny troops were always threatening to move in on us.) As soon as the guard was posted the postmaster called the staff together and led them out of the building. Now the city was left without a postal service, a telegraph service and a telephone service. After the lapse of three days the citizens got very irate indeed. And there was another disruption; Waterford had a large number of British ex-service men whose war pensions were processed through the post office. A deputation of the ex-soldiers waited on me and in very impolite terms demanded to know what I intended to do about it.
This was the last straw and I was very annoyed, in fact, I was quite mad. My driver drove me over to Newtown, the residential section of the city where the postmaster lived, and we had a brief interview. The postmaster said hastily that he would go back and I returned my Luger to its holster. Everybody was happy again.
Author: George Lennon