Admin edit: The author of this memoir is Dermot Bradley, who is sadly no longer with us. Dermot went on to be a highly respected historian and decorated civilian in Germany. His honours included the Verdienstkreuz 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bundeswehr Cross of Honour in Gold (1993) and Honorary President of the Association of Defence and Security Policy in Nordrhein-Westfalen.
It was a great day for our “army”, having used tank operations of the German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Colonel General Heinz Guderian. After 24 hours of “fighting” we had won the day. This was in September 1959. The eldest of our “soldiers” was just under 16 years of age. We were well (-self) trained soldiers, having read everything available about the First and Second World Wars and Ireland’s policy of neutrality. We were the born soldiers, divided into two groups. All the local boys played our War Games. It was clear that we decided things so that our “German” group should win more frequently than the “Allied” group.
Some days after our “victory” we were astounded when the superior of Oatlands College Rev. Brother Spellacy, came into our classroom to announce that a new centre of the F.C.A. was to be opened in the school on the following Sunday morning 6th.September 1959.
The idea of establishing a unit of the F.C.A. at Oatlands was born at a staff conference of the South County Dublin Battalion in 1956. Two officers, Lt. P. Rochford and Lt J. Doyle were asked to seek an interview with Rev. Brother Collins, the Superior, and to discuss the matter with him. After some consideration, Brother Collins felt that the matter should be left for a year or two.
So in 1959 with the approval of the new superior, Rev. Brother Spellacy, a decision was taken to commence recruiting a platoon, for the South County Dublin Battalion at Oatlands. Notices were put up in the school. The first parade was arranged for 11 a.m. on Sunday 6th. September. Brother Spellacy, being very enthusiastic, personally requested many of the senior students to attend one of the parades and think of enlisting.
On a bright and glorious Sunday morning we arrived at Oatlands at the appointed time, excited and full of expectations. Lieutenant, Pat Rochford O/C. of the new centre, was waiting to sign on the first group of students. Of these nine first recruits to the new centre two later became F.C.A.-Officers: Dr. Dermot Bradley and Captain John Bigley.
The first parade was mainly taken up by administration. The “new” soldiers were given a briefing by the N.C.O.’s and were then sworn in for the standard five-year-term. Before this each “young” soldier was asked if he knew the meaning of an oath. Towards the end of 1959 the new centre had a platoon of some 25 students.
In those days there were no difficulties about the age of a soldier in the F.C.A. The official age was 17. Nearly the whole Oatlands’ contingent was under age. We merely added one or two years to our ages and everyone were satisfied.
Integration (1st.October 1959) of the Regular Army with the F.C.A. meant very much more than just a different name for the F.C.A. Before integration most of the training was done by F.C.A.-Officers and N.C.O.’s. Apart from Lt.P.Rochfbrd the establishment at Oatlands consisted of three N.C.O.’s Sergeant Major Tom Byrne, Company Sergeant Joe Kinch and Sergeant Pat Reynolds.
With integration the old South County Dublin Battalion became “B” Company, 21st Infantry Battalion, F.C.A. With the change came a staff of regular instructors, training officers and executive officers. In addition there was access to all modern training, arms and equipment of a modern regular army.
The Oatlands Parade took place in the college grounds from 11.00 am. to 1.00 pm. It was an ideal venue for us. In Oatlands the recruits immediately began their basic training with football and lectures. In October came the eagerly awaited uniforms, web equipment and rifles so beginning years of spit and polish in the College. Incidentally it was an indication of the quiet times that all men, even the youngest, were allowed to take home their rifles. For Mass on Sunday, the soldiers took along their rifles into the Church. There were always smiles of understanding and words of approval from those inside or outside the Church: “Those young lads are our soldiers”.
Having become efficient in arms and foot drill, the recruits then began training in weapons, as for example the hand grenade, the rifle, the Bren light machine gun, the Vickers medium machine gun, the Energa anti- tank grenade, the Gustaf sub-machine gun and the 81 mm. Mortar. In addition the recruits learned the essence of field craft and tactics.
The annual camp was a very important feature on the F.C.A. calendar. It usually consisted of a fortnight spent in some barracks, and was devoted entirely to training or courses. The Oatlands platoon camped variously in Kilkenny, Waterford and Gormanston.
In camp the soldiers were categorized into “recruits” and “trained men”. This meant that they would spend their fortnight doing basic training such as drill and weapon training instruction, or the more advanced field craft or maneuvers.
Ceremony was not neglected. Each year the company selected men from various platoons to march in the military parade on Easter Sunday. This event was preceded by some six weeks training and rehearsal, perfecting the drill movements and the personal appearances.
Other ceremonials included a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dun Laoghaire and the ceremonial Guards of Honour in Corpus Christi processions. Oatlands also provided Guards for Mount Merrion, Kilmacud and Cabinteely parishes.
Moving out of Gormanston “B” Company 21st. Battalion, including many Oatlands men took part in the Guard of Honour for Cardinal Agagianan at Croke Park in June 1963.
In 1962 four soldiers from Oatlands went on a potential N.C.O. course. Private John Bigley, Dermot Bradley, Paul Duffy and Aidan Haslam were successful, with Dermot Bradley taking second place among twenty two participants. The promotion to Corporal followed shortly afterwards. In 1964 Michael Coleman and John Bradley (younger brother of Dermot Bradley) were both successful on their course.
On 24th. March 1964 a future Chief of Staff, Colonel Thomas Leslie O’Carroll, chaired a debate in Oatlands College on the motion; “That the Irish Defence Forces do not play an important role in Ireland”.
1967 saw Corporals Dermot Bradley and Paul Duffy being selected for a Potential Officers Course at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin. Both distinguished themselves and their company on the course. With effect from 15th. February 1968 Dermot Bradley was promoted to 2/Lieutenant, being the first Oatlands man to be commissioned. Paul Duffy left the F.C.A. for health reasons.
Commandant Michael Nestor, an Oatlands man (Leaving Certificate 1964), was killed by land mines on 25th September 1982 on a mission of peace for the United Nations in Lebanon.
Dermot Bradley went on to Germany to become a military historian. Many articles of his were published in “An Cosantoir”, including his long series “Great generals and masters of the art of war” (1968-1970). He is general editor of various series on military history and has written various books. He was awarded a Ph.D. for his work on Colonel General Heinz Guderian and the Second World War.
He was awarded three of Germany’s highest decorations.
DR. Michael Coleman became a lecturer for English at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, where he has done specialized research on the Indian in American history. Back in Ireland in 1965 Michael Coleman had designed a new cover for “An Cosantoir” and the prestigious American military magazine “Armour”. His painting of a German Leopard tank was presented to a German Officers mess.
I am writing this in October 2000. It is 41 years since I became acquainted with Commandant Patrick J. Rochford on that day back in September 1959 in Oatlands. It was a stroke of very good luck for us that he was our Centre Officer. We were well looked after by him. An officer and a gentleman in every since of the word, he moulded us into good soldiers. Paddy is himself a great soldier. Long lines and generations of F.C.A. soldiers bear witness to that.