Only one Jadotville siege Army veteran to get medal

Commanding officer of A Company, Col Pat Quinlan, should receive DSM – review group

Col Quinlan also recommended that of the 33 men, five of them should also be awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG), the Irish army’s highest award.

Col Quinlan also recommended that of the 33 men, five of them should also be awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG), the Irish army’s highest award.

 

Only the commanding officer of those involved in the Jadotville siege in the Congo 60 years ago has been recommended for a medal.

An independent review group set up last year has decided that Colonel Pat Quinlan, the commanding officer of A Company, 35th battalion should receive the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).

However, the group chaired by retired Brigadier-General Paul Packenham has recommended that the 33 men from A Company, 35th Battalion should not be awarded the DSM as Col Quinlan had recommended after the siege which occurred in September 1961.

Col Quinlan also recommended that of the 33, five of them should also be awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG), the Irish army’s highest award.

In a 500 page report published yesterday, the review group concluded the award of DSM and MMGs would devalue An Bonn Jadotville (the Jadotville medals) given in 2017 to all the veterans of the siege.

Overwhelming force

In the original incident, a total of 158 men from A Company faced an overwhelming force of Katangese rebels backed up from French and Belgian mercenaries at Jadotville outside Elizabethville.

After the Congo was established as an independent state in 1960, the southern, mineral-rich province of Katanga tried to breakaway and UN forces were sent to maintain order.

A Company managed to hold out for four days by adopting a perimeter defence without loss of life while inflicting heavy casualties on the rebels. After surrendering they were held for a month before being released.

News of the Review group’s recommendation will come as a blow to those who have campaigned over the years for the Defence Forces to overturn its original decision not to award medals. It said reconsidering the matter would also diminish the actions of other members of A Company in Jadotville who were not recommended for a medal in the 1960s.

The report highlights the lack of support offered to Jadotville veterans following their release from captivity in the Congo and their return home.

“The Jadotville experience was wilfully ignored, and knowingly silenced, initially in the 1960s, and then in subsequent years,” it stated. 

Jadotville had been “swept under the carpet by the higher echelons” in the Defence Force. It was anathema to speak of Jadotville, A Company’s surrender was seen as regrettable and former officers and men of A Company were ostracised by their fellow soldiers, the report concluded.

The report stated that the Netflix 2016 film The Siege of Jadotville, gave a distorted view of the battle and coloured public perceptions of what really happened.

It said there was a lot of misconceptions about what happened at Jadotville with a tendency to inflate the numbers of the attacking Gendarmerie into many thousands and to exaggerate the number of Katangese casualty figures that were put forward without a “verifiable source” .

It concluded: “It is unfortunate that in 2021 the history and memory of the Battle of Jadotville and of the bravery of A Company 35 Infantry Battalion is clouded by fictionalised accounts, a populist groupthink and political agendas. This is not the way to honour this most unique group of Defence Forces veterans and their families.”

Having examined the evidence, the review group felt there was a “prima facie case” for awarding a posthumous DSM to Comdt Quinlan.

Analysis of battle

But based on an analysis of the battle the review group “is strongly of the view that there is no merit in reopening the recommendations of the Medals Boards.”

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, a Defence Forces veteran who has campaigned on behalf of the Jadotville veterans, said he was “absolutely gutted by the outcome”.

“I have to accept the choice of the board. I don’t fault the board. They did what they were asked to do. It is the organisation, the Defence Forces, that I have an issue with.”

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney apologised on behalf of the Government yesterday.

In a Seanad debate on the review the Minister said: “On behalf of the Irish Government I would like to sincerely apologise to the men of ‘A’ Company, 35th battalion who were not provided with the necessary supports or deserved recognition of their service on their return from Jadotville and to their families for the many issues that arose as a result, some with tragic consequences.”