Bull's Wool


"Did you see the picture of the new army uniform in The Irish Times the other day?" asked one Old Fogey of another. "They showed two new uniforms (camouflage colours) and in the centre what the caption called the old one. The Old? Now when you and I were on the Curragh all those year ago - The Emergency - we wore what really was the old. We weren't in the army for comfort, but what took the biscuit was that in summer, if it was raining cats and dogs, your protection was a thick "bull's wool" overcoat, the same, of course, that you wore in the winter. Yes, there was a groundsheet, but that meant nothing in the face of the Curragh rain. There, it came not from above, but horizontal to the ground, in roaring gusts. No matter what way you walked, the rain was in your face. At least that's my memory of it, when walking into Newbridge for a meal in the evening and back. And you've heard the story about the American soldier, down for a break from the North, saying to one of our men who was in his overcoat on a wet, wet summer day "Are they sending you to the Arctic, Pal?"

The other Old Fogey cut in here. "Will you ever forget the day we arrived for the officers' course? We came into Newbridge by train and when we arrived about twelve it was Darkness at Noon. Black as night. A snowstorm. We were put into lorries and brought to the barracks where we were to spend four or five months. After dumping our gear we were lined up on the square for roll-call. Snow around us was a foot deep. It soon went, for this was May and maybe a call to Brendan McWilliams would tell us how much of the country was similarly affected - for, some of you may remember, weather news was not published in our newspapers in case it would give away to the combatants on either side valuable information. Odd, for hadn't both of them planes regularly flying in or near our skies."

The two went on exchanging stories and both of them retain affectionate memories of their time on the great plain. On a sunny day in early autumn they might have a break in a field, along the hedges of which grew lovely red crab apples. Even crawling on the grass with your nose near the sheep droppings, you could still smell the whins. They had caring officers; and the traditional and necessarily-ferocious-seeming sergeants, were, after hours, great crack with memories of the army's early days. The date of arrival they could not agree on. May 9th? Ask the expert. Y