Black and Tans. Chapter Two. Training

  1. Tall Northern Irish sergeant. Ian  North. Yorks.—————————————-


2. Short Londoner soldier – blond sergeant aged 40. George Short. Anti Irish anti everyone—————————


3. Davies. Benedict’s. Benjamin  David. Scotland. Not sectarian. Rangers fan—————————


4. Watkins. John Watkins. Wales—————————————


5. Tavi Moise. Octavian More. Southampton. Anti Catholic——————


6. swimming pool guy from school. Alexander   Brokenshire. Liverpool. ————————————


7. Major Neil.  Edward MacNeil. Geordie. Half Irish Catholic but raised Prod. ————————————–


8. Col Olley. Oliver Sergeant.  Berks.—————————————————


9. Mike Cunningham.   Mark Cunningham. Newcastle.————————————–


10. Relu Marichenano.  Richard  March. Lancs. Catholic————————————-


11. Richard chemistry pilot. Older officer. Richard Dixon. Suffolk.——————————


12.  Louis Limtay. Born 1890. protagonist.—————————————————-


13. Williams Bulkeley. William Bulkeley.


14.    Blairmore teacher. Blair Teacher                  anti Catholic. Scots.——————————



Louis arrived at Liverpool docks. He cast his mind back to the song – the Leaving of Liverpool. Where was Prince’s Landing Stage? But there was little time to daydream. Louis knew he must not miss his ferry. Being late to his new job would not make a positive first impression. He soon embarked on a ship to Dublin. Up the gangplank walked all sorts.

There were Irish people returning to Hibernia. There were English folk going there for various reasons. There were navvies, seminarians, students, servants, the jobless, widows, babes in arms, barmen, a businessman carrying and attache case surgeons.

Louis found himself a seat. His travel warrant did not extend to a berth. He might manage a short rest. Chewing the fat with Mr Mather on the train had meant he had not dozed as he usually would on a length rail journey.  The ship began its voyage over the swelling wave. Louis saw no harm in chatting to a middle aged Irishman. After all it was Louis’ duty to get to know these people and to save them from the dangerous revolutionaries. The kindly old chap wore some rosary beads around his neck. Passionately religious it seemed but there was no malice in this old man. Louis had met some Protestants who were equally fundamentalist but for some reason that seemed to bring out malice in them. This elderly Catholic agreed to guard Louis’s seat as he walked out onto the deck to hear the chatter of several people wandering around there already.

The ship soon weighed anchor. It slipped through the oily waters of the harbour – out past ferries, cargo ships, fishing vessels, tugs and all manner of craft. Out the ship sailed to the open sea and the lively waves beyond. Louis looked back as the lights of the huge maritime port receded. The tall and stately buildings that lie along the waterfront still had a few lights on. It was extraordinary that so many people had electricity. When Louis had been a boy no one in his town had electricity.

The Irish Sea was unusually rough that night. Louis felt the ocean undulating beneath the ship. The night was silent but for the sound of the mighty ship slicing through the foaming waves. A year and a half ago German U boats had been here – sinking ships sailing between Ireland and England. What were the Sinn Feiners doing then? Helping the people who were drowning hundreds of Irish civilians. Louis saw the lights on the mainland recede from view. He was alone on deck. If he fell into the deep no one would miss him till morning. He stayed well back from the rail. Then the wind picked up and began to wail. His reception by Ireland seemed portentous to him. He slept in his chair.

It was dawn as the ship sailed into Dublin Bay. Louis woke with a mild crick in his neck from sleeping in an awkward position.  Louis walked out onto deck – the sun was to the stern. His saw the gorgeous city with its domes and steeples. The seagulls circled round cawing and he breathed deep of the salt air. So this at last was Ireland – the first time he had clapped eyes on it. He gazed on the strands and headlands as well as the cityscape. In the foreground lay the City of Dublin. He knew it was a noble city – much more impressive than his unremarkable home town. Dublin was a city of antiquity. The brick and tile of this city could look London in the face – so he had heard. What a panorama of Dublin Bay he had. The seagulls cawed over him and he saw a few rusty fishing boats head out for their catch.

The ship became deadslow as she negotiated her way to the wharf. The water was coated with oil. Finally the gangplank went up and the complement disembarked. It was mid morning. Louis buttoned up his British warm and looked up at the leaden sky. So this was it – the land of 40 shades of grey. Ireland was the only place rainier than England. On the horizon he saw the darkness of the Dublin Mountains. They looked idyllic.

Louis asked his way to Beggar’s Bush Barracks. No one batted an eyelid. Louis had wondered whether it was shrewd to ask? Was it not imprudent to let on that he was joining the police? One of these people could be a Sinn Feiner who would cut his throat. He saw a few soldiers in uniform. Not all of them were armed. It was a sign that Dublin was not as dangerous as he had been led to believe. Dublin seemed no different to any English city had had seen – and he had seen them all. Was Ireland really a foreign country? The accent was more or less Liverpudlian. The signs were virtually all in English. The Irish language was supposed to be the quiddity of Ireland’s separateness and yet it was all but non-existent.

There was nothing belligerent about the people. Did they really want to fight? Louis called to mind a ditty of G K Chesterton ”Now the Irish Gaels are the men whom the gods made mad/ For all their wars are merry and all their songs are sad.”

He recognised the types of people and the behaviour. Had he not been told this was Ireland he could easily have believed that he had not left England. France had been different. He had visited Germany before the war and that had been visibly different. During the war Louis had briefly served in Egypt. That had been another world. But Ireland and England? Peas in a pod.

Louis reached Beggar’s Bush with his duffel bag in hand. He wiped some perspiration from his brow – he had been walking fast with his heavy suitcase.  He carefully smoothed his hair into place. Louis approached the diminutive young sentry on duty. The sentry stiffened as he approached and seemed to prepare to raise his bayonet. ”Good morning, excuse me” Louise said diffidently. ”I am here to join the Royal Irish Constabulary. I have the travel warrant and the…”

”’Oh yes” said the sentry relaxing visibly.”You are the third one this morning.” said that man in an indistinct northern English accent. The sentry threw a glance behind him ”Officer of the guard!”, he said loudly.

Out came an officer – perhaps 23 years old. His uniform was spotless and his revolver was burnished. He threw up a quivering salute. Louis was nonplussed. He was no longer a soldier. He hesitated a moment before dropping his bag and saluting back.

”Good morning – Lieutenant Miller’,’ said the young man introducing himself. Lieut Miller was a shade under 6 foot tall. He  had jet black hair, a high forehead and small dark eyes. There was an astonishing degree of self assurance to him. Even fully clothed it was evident that he was a muscular man.

”Louis Limtay sir, I am here to join the RIC.”

”Very good to have you here” said the Lieut Miller shaking his hand with vigour. Louis had never been greeted so cordially by an officer. ”First of all you must be exhausted from your journey”

”Yes, sir I am” said Louis

”Where did you come from?” said Miller

”London, sir.” Louis answered timidly.

”Ah London – I am a Surrey man myself. That is not a London accent I am hearing” said Miller warmly.

”No sir, Worcestershire” said Louis astonished that Miller’s amicable tone/

”First off, get you some breakfast” Miller said leading him in ”then a few hours shuteye. Then show you the ropes before handing you over to the RIC.”

Louis was already feeling the RIC would turn out to be a much better experience than the army. He remembered his first day in the army. Could he ever forget it? Bawled at, verbally abused, made to march  to and fro then and march about some more, to scrub the floor – constant hassle, futility, mindlessness criticism and exhaustion. Bawled out for this and shrieked at for that. Everything done double quick. The fact that he could write was held against him. Denigration and punishment seemed to be the army way.



Next day Louis was given khaki trousers to wear. He was issued with an RIC shirt and a bottle green RIC cap. In the army barracks there were several other men who had been recruited into the RIC.

At breakfast next morning Louis sat beside a man with a Cockney accent. ”Morning” said the man in a nasal voice. He had close cropped blond hair and looked about 40. He had pale blue killer eyes and very white skin. His face was deeply lined and his yellowing teeth grinned menacingly. ”George Short” he said holding out his hand.

Louis shook George Short’s hand. Short was 5’8” and very muscular. In Louis’ mind’s eye this was not what he had envisaged of his fellow recruits.

”Good morning. My name is Louis Limtay.”

”All right Limtay” said Short as porridge was dolled out to them. ”Fucking ‘ell – I ain’t never been in Scotland before” said Short apropos of nothing.

”No, this is Ireland we are in. You mean Ireland.” said Louis delicately.

”No, Scotland init?” said Short. Louis deduced by his interlocutor’s facial expression that Short was not joking. So it must be a mistake. A slip of the tongue?

”No, honestly we are in Ireland.”

”Ireland or Scotland? Oh what ve ‘ell. It is all ve ruddy same to me. They’s a rum lot. I never knew nuffink about Scotland. I don’t like the Irish too fucking much. A bunch of fick Micks if you ask me” said Short and then gave a hacking smoker’s cough. ”I can tell you is sound as a bell me old china” said Short. Louis was pleased that he had passed some sort of test already in Short’s estimation.

Louis was stunned that George Short could be so spectacularly ignorant as to not know which country he was in. Short was patently not the sharpest knife in the drawer if he did not know that Dublin was in Ireland. How had this man got through the composition test?  Had this man not cogitated on the word ‘Irish’ in Royal Irish Constabulary? Short’s shaky grasp of geography might prove to be a problem.  Louis ruminated on Short’s lack of diplomacy – mouthing off about his animus for the Irish while they were in Ireland. More than a few soldiers in the barracks were Irish.

He was then driven by lorry to an RIC depot. Then he was allowed a few hours to sleep in a dormitory which compared to an army barracks was cozy.  In the army a leak proof roof was a rare glory. Louis was impressed. There was none of the uncaring attitude of the army. None of the institutional stupidity in which the army seemed to specialise.

That evening he was given a quick tour of the barracks.

The next morning Louis, Short and a couple score of others were shown into a large assembly room. They were sat in chairs which were laid out in rows. Then an RIC head constable came in and gave them a talk.

A slender, bronzed middle aged man of average height with a black tooth brush moustache spoke in a slow Connaught accent:”Gentlemen – you are now officer cadets of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Welcome. You have come from Wales, Scotland and England. I know there are two Australians present. There is also a Canadian amongst you. Some of you have lived in far flung corners of the empire such as Rhodesia and India. You are about to embark on a 3 month training course. You are not here for ordinary policing duties as you know. You will not be here to find lost children or to catch pickpockets. You are being sent to dangerous areas. For most of you this is your first time in Ireland. Let me fill you in on the situation in Ireland. Apologies to those of you who have been here before in case you know all this already.

There are two police forces in Ireland. The Dublin Metropolitan Police covers Dublin city and county. The RIC covers the remaining 31 counties of Ireland. The RIC got its prefix royal for defeating rebels in 1867. We are proud of our service to the crown and for our even handed defence of law and order. We are both Catholic and Protestant. We make no distinction between men of any religion, party or class. We are impartial.

The DMP conduct normal policing duties in Dublin such as directing traffic and catching burglars. The DMP is divided into seven divisions. Divisions A, B and C operate in various districts of Dublin north of the River Liffey which bisects the city. Divisions D , E and F operate in different districts south of the River Liffey. Then there is G Division. G Division is what you might call the Criminal Investigation Department. G Division concentrates on organised crime. Members of G Division are called G men and they usually do not wear uniform. G men have to deal with a lot of crime that is politically motivated. They keep and eye on all political organisations and the Orange Order.

As many of you know there is an organisation called the Irish Volunteers founded in 1913. The Irish Volunteers have lately taken to calling themselves the Irish Republican Army – or IRA for short. These fellows organised the Easter Rising back in 1916. We put down that brawl pretty fast: six days. The army licked them. The IRA all surrendered in six days. Anyway the government then made the mistake of letting them all free after a few months. They caused a lot of disturbance during the war. Just as the Treaty of Versailles was being negotiated the IRA started attacking police patrols in the countryside. More and more police patrols have been attacked.

Some policemen reach retirement age every year. That is no problem so long as we have enough young whipper snappers recruited into the RIC. But lately recruitment in Ireland has dropped off to a trickle. A few hundred RIC officers have been shot dead. Some of our fellows have been shot but survived so badly wounded they had to retired – invalided out of the force. 

The IRA are there to shoot you in the back. They are desperadoes. They have no compunction about shooting a man in front of his wife or killing an unarmed man.

There are problems in the North. As you know the Protestant minority in Ireland are almost 30% of the population. Most of them live in the north-east. Almost every Protestant is a loyalist. Some of these loyalists are anti Catholic. There are some Catholics that support the IRA. The IRA are Catholics almost to a man. Loyalists have set up their own IRA called the Ulster Protestant Association. The UPA is a terrorist organisation the same as the IRA. The UPA are cut throats and bigots. They will shoot dead an unoffending Catholic man – even if he is not connected to the IRA. So the security situation in north-east Ireland is bad too. The UPA do not attack the Crown Forces. You men from England, Wales and Scotland are not being sent to the north-east. The regular RIC are to keep down the UPA. Protect the Catholic population from these thugs. Not doing a good job of it I admit. But anyway, you fellas will be sent to trouble spots in the south of Ireland where the IRA are attacking Crown Forces. 

It gets even more confusing. There is a secret society inside the IRA called the Irish Republican Brotherhood. IRB. For the moment that distinction need not bother us. Some fellows in the IRA are also in the IRB and some are not. Our sources tell us that there is squabbling in the IRA between those fellows who are in the IRB and those who are not. We have informers inside these organisations.

The IRA are corner boys and bandits. Make no mistake about that. These marauders are creating havoc in the countryside. They are carrying out armed robberies every night saying they are searching for arms. They are taking shotguns off old farmers saying that these guns for IRA use. In fact they are doing this to steal valuables from vulnerable old folks.

Some counties are particularly badly affected by IRA violence. These are places such as Cork and Tipperary – South Riding. There are some areas of these counties where the RIC do not patrol even in daylight hours.

Some police barracks have been stormed. We have been obliged to abandon the smaller police stations. No sense in having a 3 man police station if 50 IRA men surround it at night. We could be picked off one station at a time. We have withdrawn from the smallest villages and concentrated police strength in fewer rural stations that we can actually hold.

The RIC in the countryside in some counties scarcely leave their barracks at night. That leave rural areas almost unpoliced. The IRA can therefore rob at will. Other criminals are also robbing houses and carrying on all manner of crime. The IRA have set up their own police. They say if someone wronged you then you do not come to the RIC you come to us. But make not mistake. The IRA so called police are a bunch of thugs same as all IRA. They cannot investigate or take fingerprints. They have their kangaroo courts. Beating confessions out of people. They have no gaols. So they beat youngsters to within an inch of their lives over an allegation of petty theft. Tie them up outside church railings overnight with a sign around the neck saying thief. Likely as not he will get pneumonia in the rain. How do the IRA decided guilt? If the fella is a Protestant he is guilty. If he is an ex soldier he is guilty. The word of an IRA supporter will trump that of ten neutral people. 

If the IRA do take someone into custody as they say it is kidnapping. If they lock someone up for a few hours it is false imprisonment and the IRA can be prosecuted for that. 

It is our job to uphold the law.  We are not a political organisation. Whether we are to have Home Rule or not or a republic or there is to be one Ireland or two. That is not for us to decide. That is for politicians to decide.

You men are ex soldiers. As Churchill said you are gendarmerie. You are to be sent to the worst affected counties. You task is to combat the IRA. Arrest them if you can and kill them if you cannot. Expect no quarter from the enemy.

Now – things to look out for. This:

He held up a green, white and orange Tricolour.

 This is the Sinn Fein flag. Sinn Fein is a subversive organisation. The IRA and Sinn Fein are basically the same thing. We tend to call them Shinners. This flag is NOT the Irish Flag. The Flag of Ireland is the gold harp on a background of St Patrick’s blue. Anyway – if you see someone with this Sinn Fein Tricolour you know he is bad news. More than likely mixed up with the republican movement. 

Then he held up a newspaper.

This newspaper is called An tOglac. It means ‘the volunteer’. IRA men call themselves volunteers. The title is in Irish but most of these blighters cannot even speak Irish. I do speak Irish. My mother tongue! This newspaper is mostly in English. ANyway – if you see a fellow with this newspaper arrest him. This paper means he is in the IRA or else a supporter at the very least.

You can arrest people for possession of documents likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty. Notice we do not have to prove that the documents actually do cause disaffection to the king. But only that the documents are LIKELY to cause disaffection. Any pro IRA newspaper or document is evidence enough.

 We have caught a few thousand IRA men. They courts cannot cope and witnesses and jurors are intimidated by the IRA’ bloody reign of terror. The government has been compelled to suspend habeas corpus. So those who strongly suspect of being in the IRA have been locked up. Tha gaols are full. We have an internment camp in the north called Ballykinler. 

There are other organisation to watch out for. The IRA has its women’s section called cumman na mBann. These cowards used women to smuggle guns around for them because we cannot carry out a physical search on a woman. They are also using children’s coffins to move guns and bombs around cities and evade road blocks. We have searched children’s coffins. Trouble is 99 times out of a 100 in a child’s coffin we only find a dead child. When we search a coffin and there is no gun in it we have offended a grieving family. The IRA want it that way. They cause this upset to innocent families by using an underhand tactic which obliges us to search the caskets. 

There is also Fianna Eireann  which is the junior IRA. That is for boys under the age of 16. These boys will be unarmed usually. They will be spying on your movements and warning the IRA there is a search in the offing or else telling the IRA that you are approaching so they can set up an attack. If you see a teenage boy looking at you intently he may well be in Fianna Eireann.

Watch out for the Gaelic Athletic Association – the GAA. This is a sporting organisation but it is also anti English. The GAA is xenophobic. No English dancing, music or sports are allowed. It is definitely anti police and pro IRA. No policeman or retired policeman is permitted to join. The GAA overlaps with the IRA. We have to watch its matches. Whole clubs have joined the IRA. The GAA uses it matches as a cover to allow IRA training or to block roads and allow the IRA to get away after a hit.

Men, none of you have served in the police before. You are all ex soldiers or ex sailors. One of you was even in the Royal Flying Corps or the  Royal Air Force as they call it now. Do not worry that policing is a little new to you. You will be right as rain. We have excellent instructors. You have been carefully chosen for your courage and nous. You will soon pick it up. Your tasks will not be too dissimilar to soldiering. 

Make no mistake. You are not here as boy scouts. You face a perilous mission.

The men went out on a cigraette break. The Cockney George Short said ”IRA and IRB is there a ruddy IRC?” Again it was not a quip. It seemed a fair point. The whole situation was even more puzzling than Louis had first realised.

It made Louis think back to the words of an Irish wag he had read. In Ireland the inevitable never happens and the impossible constantly occurs. Ireland of saints and scholars. So far there seemed to be too many scholars and not enough saints.



”Right men – how do you arrest someone?” The head constable from Mayo held up handcuffs. He instructed the men on how to do it. He demonstrated. They were all issued with handcuffs. They had to practise handcuffing each other and undoing the handcuffs. They handcuffed two men together. The handcuffed men to bars etc….



After luncheon Louis and Short were told to take their suitcases to a dormitory. The head constable showed them the way. Several other men were already installing themselves in the dormitory.

The head constable said, ”Limtay and Short ; these men will be in your unit.  Although we are police we will be running your part of the RIC on army lines. You are all familiar with that. So this is your section. Men, I shall leave you to introduce yourselves.”

A spare man of 6 foot approached them. Even for a former soldier his police uniform was notable immaculate. His hair was jet black and cut shot. He had a narrow nose and a slim face. It was evident that he was a very fit man and he had slightly reddish skin. His eyes were hazel and his manner direct.

”Ian North” he said in a Yorkshire accent. He pronounced North as ‘Norf’. He shook hands with both of them. ”Ex Coldstream Guards” he blared as if automatically. His bearing was rigid. Having announced himself he was suddenly – at ease. North struck Louis as soulless – the perfect drill soldier. Could be a windup tin toy 6 foot tall.

”Areet” said a broad shouldered man of about 21. He was 5’10 and had black hair. His eyes were brown and set deep in his skull. His skin was pale and his mouth was slightly ajar. He had an innocent and almost dim look on his face. He spoke from the back of his throat ”Me name is Benjamin David” he said in a comprehensible Glaswegian accent. David shook hands with them both. He was clearly very strong too. ”Glad to meet youse” he said with a lack of expression in his voice. ”Do you play rugby either of you?”

”Yes, I used to” said Louis ”but I am no great shakes at it.”

”No football me. Millwall supporter, int I?” said Short smiling.

”Oh I am wanting to set up a rugby team. I am a prop see. Millwall? I support Rangers said Benjamin David.

”QPR” said Short knowingly.

”Queen’s Park Rangers ? No, Jimmy. Glasgow Rangers.”

”Never heard of them” said Short. ”Where is Glasgow”

”It is in Scotland, Jimmy” said David – exasperated at the man’s stupidity.

A very short man with thick dark brown hair then spoke in a southern English accent. ”David – you support Rangers? Ah good. I do not like Papists either. My name is Metcalfe by the way.”

”Metcalfe, I have no problem with Catholics. I had Catholic neighbours. Boys in the work were Catholics. In the South Scottish Borderers we had Catholics. As good as anyone else.” said David.

”I thought all Rangers fan hate Catholics’ guts.” said the other Scotsman.

”Some do sadly. I am not like that. I love football. I love to see us whip Celtic. No need to hate the Catholics”, said David.

Metcalfe continued  ”I am from Southampton. Luckily we don’t got too many Papists about. I don’t like em. I am in the National Association of Protestants. Got to stop the Romeward trend in the Church of England. That is what has caused all this trouble. Papists are damnable.” He then turned to Limtay and Short. ”Sorry should have introduced myself. My name is Metcalfe, Octavian Metcalfe.”

Short and Limtay shook his hand.  Metcalfe had small black eyes which dazzled with an intelligence that seemed to sit oddly with his pronounced anti Catholic views. His complexion was average and his forehead was prominent.

”How are you?” said Short and then without waiting for a response ”Which regiment was you in?”

”I was in the Princess of Wales Regiment” said Metcalfe.

”I was in ve King’s Royal Rifle Corps”, Short said puffing out his chest.

”’Watkins, John” said a slender man of 5’10” stepping forward and almost standing to attention. He proferred his hand to the two newcomers. He had mousy coloured straight hair that was  little floppy. His skin was pale and his eyes were light blue. His small head with set on a very weak neck. Watkin’s mouth was too narrow for his face.

Limtay and Short shook hands with him. Short looked at him askance. Watkins seemed to be too feeble and excitable to be a soldier or a policeman.

”All right Watkins. Which regiment was you in then?” asked Short dubiously.

”Royal Welch Fusiliers” said Watkins. He had only a vestigial Welsh accent.

”All Welsh” said Short as if making a judgment. Limtay sensed that Short did not think highly of the Welsh – just as Short despised the Irish. ”How come you don’t got no Welsh accent?”

”I moved to London when I was 12. Then the war broke out. I enlisted underage – lied about my age. Anyway I was back with Welshmen aged 16 so I got kind of a mixed up accent.” said Watkins. He perceived Short’s disdain for him and spoke almost apologetically. Limtay perceived that Watkins had consoled himself about leaving Wales by joining a Welsh regiment.

A man of 6’2” stepped forward. He had a very dark complexion and a broad nose. His brown eyes were small and a faint smile curled in the corners of his mouth. He spoke quietly in a Liverpool accent. ”Aright. Me name is Brokenshire. How you doing?” he said extending his hand. Brokenshire appeared to be a quarter African.

”Brokenshire” said Short respectfully. Short gauaged the strength of the other man’s sinews by his handshake. Here Short had met his match though Brokenshire made no bid to overawe him. Short studied the man’s nose for a second too long – as though comparing the broken part of the man’s surname to the broad bridge of his nose.

Limtay shook Brokenshire’s hand and smiled timidly. ”Do we do Christian names in this unit?”

”Alexander” said Brokenshire softly. His gentle voice belied his height and muscularity.

”I bet you was in an excellent regiment like me” said Short

”Royal Navy” said Brokenshire calmly.

Short felt a regular soldier’s disdain for the navy. ”Royal Navy?” he said disbelievingly.

”Yes, then I was put in the Royal Naval Division. We had more sailors than we needed for ships so I served on land. Fighting on the Western Front. That’s how I lost this” he held up his left hand and showed his ring finger was missing.

The fact that Brokenshire had fought on land redeemed him in Short’s estimation.

”MacNeil” said a short and pear shaped man. He shook their hands. He was only 25 but his brown hair was already receding at the temples. He had narrow eyes and a toneless voice.

”All right MacNeil where you from then?”

”Well I am from Newcastle like but me father is Irish,” he said in a Geordie accent.

”You are not a Catholic are you?” asked Metcalfe in disgust. Louis was stunned that Metcalfe was so openly insulting in his tone. It was as if he wanted to start a fight.

”Well my father is but I was brought up a Protestant” said MacNeill defensively. Louis was a perceptive judge of liars and he deduced that MacNeill spoke the truth.

This was only slightly better in Metcalfe’s eyes.

Short seemed to gloss over the fact that MacNeil was half Irish. Despite Short’s pronounced anti Irish prejudice somehow this did not apply to MacNeil.

”You got a Christian name?” said Short in an unusual display of intimacy.

”Yes, Edward” said MacNeill.

”Sergeant” said a well built man of 6 foot. He was 30 and wore glasses. His thick brown hair was short and carefully brushed into a side parting. His skin was slightly swarthy and his brown eyes were small. He was composed and very neat.

”Oh. Sergeant”, said Short saluting.

”No, I am not a sergeant. The name is Sergeant. Oliver Sergeant” said the man smiling at the misapprehension.

Short laughed at himself, ”Well pleased to meet you. Fankin you ” , he said shaking Sergeant’s hand. Short had instant confidence in Sergeant whose hulking shoulders rivaled those of Brokenshire.

”Cunningham”, said another man from several metres away. His brown hair was greying and close cropped. He was slender and in his 30s.

Short stepped forward. ”Pleased to meet you like” said Cunningham quietly while not making eye contact. Cunningham had prominent teeth and a far away manner.

Short inspected him up and down. He did not make much of Cunningham.

”Which regiment you in then?”

”Duke of Northumberland’s” said CUnningham ”then they put me in the Royal Flying Corps.” Cunningham spoke in a Northumberland accent.

”Right” said Short growing more self assured. He was confident that he could bully this one. ”Much good as soldiers is they?” he asked chortling.

”Field Marshall Haig said the Geordies were the bravest of the lot” said Cunningham.

Short was about to cackle when a very short man introduced himself.

”March” he said. March was 5’2” and had black spiky hair and little round steel rimmed glasses.

”Yes why don’t you march off?” said Short contemptuously.

”No my name is March” said the fellow in a Lancashire accent. He stood absolutely upright as though to get every inch of height out of his miniscule frame. Louis was most surprised to see such a little fellow in the unit. The police were only supposed to recruit men over 5’6” – they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel to let this nipper in.

”You were in a bantam battalion were you?” said Short.

”Yes, I was.” said March – not at all intimidated.

”Oh yes they do any fighting did they?” asked Short sneeringly.

”Yes we did. Then I was in the Tank Brigade. We can fit better in tanks. We are the won that won the war” said March.

”Oh yeah  – you won the war did you?” Short chuckled in frank mockery.

”If you doubt me we can take this outside” said March staring daggers at him. Short looked at him. He was astonished to see no fear there. Short had heard this about the bantam battalions. These men were small and they made up for it by being ultra aggressive. Faced with determined resistance Short decided on discretion.

”I know you were. I was just thinking of seeing some Germans crushed by tanks. That is what made me laugh” Short said unconvincingly and shook March’s hand.

March kept eyeing him menacingly. ”It is Richard March.”

The handshake ended. Then March said to Metcalfe ”And by the way I do not want to hear any of your anti Catholic bull all right? I am a Catholic.”

”You Irish are you?” asked Metcalfe.

”No, English through and through. We stayed true to the faith” said More.

”I dinnae like Papists too much meself” said a gravelly Scottish voice. At 5’10” a slender red faced man with a black tooth brush moustache stood there. A confrontation could have developed between this man and March.

Limtay stepped in to defuse the situation. ”Hello there. My name is Limtay, Louis” in a jovial tone.

”Teacher” said the man shaking his hand dourly. ”Blair Teacher since you insist on Christian names” said the thin Scotsman.

”Right. I see. From Scotland are you?”

”Aye the Highlands. A wee place called Tomintoul.”

”Tomintoul. That is where Topliss was caught”

”Aye it certainly is” said Teacher. ”Hope they catch the bastard again and shoot him. My mates got killed in the war. Why should a deserter live even in prison?”

The North said. ”Fellas, I think it is time for the next lecture?”

They all agreed that it was and hurried off.



A 6’3” slim middle aged bald man stood up. He was a head constable in the RIC. He had a brown moustache and ramrod straight bearing. He began to speak in a southern Irish accent which could not be traced to a particular country. His voice emanated from the top of his pallet.

”Now men – how to question a suspect. What do we want? We want information out of him and as fast as possible. We want to know where the guns are hidden for example. Why do we want it instantly? Because the longer it takes to extract this information the longer the enemy has to move the guns.. I also said information – not disinformation. If you torture a man he may well tell you nonsense – anything to stop the pain. I am not saying that torture never works. Sometimes it does. He might tell you something verifiable. If he says so and so is hiding at such and such and address and we raid the address and find the wanted man then torture has worked. By they way torture is illegal.

There has been a rash of IRA attacks in the past few months. Let me be honest – situation is getting worse. I hate to say it but not all local RIC men can be entirely trusted. 

We want information out of these IRA men and we want it fast. If we get information but it is a week after arrest then the information is stale. If he tells us where the arms cache is they may well have moved it by then. If he tells us where the wanted men are in hiding they will have moved on after a week or even a day. If an IRA man is arrested then the IRA will expect him to break under questioning so they will move their men and their arms before we can get information out of the arrested man. So we want information as fast as possible before the IRA can render that information useless – before they even know we have arrested the man.

We are not allowed to torture. I am not saying that it never happens. There is no law against blindfolding. In fact if there are 2 RIC men and 10 prisoners it may be the only way to control them especially if we do not have enough handcuffs.  By the way if you have one pair of handcuffs and two men then handcuff them together. They find it hard to fight or run like that. There is now law against keeping him in handcuffs overnight.  Handcuff them behind their back and not in front of them. Much harder to make a break for it like that and how they going to fight with hands behind them? With hands in front in manacles they sometimes manage to punch.  We can put fetters on them too if we really need. We are allowed to strip them naked to search them. We do not have to give their clothes back. We can make them cold or make them hot. We can make them stand. We can deny them food and water all day. We can deny them the chance to use the kazi.

If you get suspects first thing you do is you separate them. Imagine if you fell into the hands of the enemy. Would you rather be with a mate or on your own? You would rather be with a mate. So split them up. They feel weak and scared. If there are two of more of them together their morale will be higher. 

Best if we have two interrogators. There is shit and sugar. Shit goes in very nasty – shrieking and threatening. Blindfold the suspect  – maybe strip him naked. Have him stand up. Wave your revolver in his face. Threats to kill his mates. Tell him he is going to hang. Tell the suspect that he has already lost. Once he believes he is worthless he will not resist. Offer him a lifeline. If he informs we will free him. Sugar can be just nice. Talk about anything. Get him to relax – see you as a mate. Talk about friends, family, hobbies – anything.  Just get him talking and in a round about way come back to the subject. You can find out a lot about him. This gives ammunition to shit if necessary. 

Then sugar comes in. Take the blindfold off. Let him put his clothes on. Sugar says sorry for shit. Says shit is a bastard. Offers a cigarette. Says I am Irish too – I agree with your cause. Help me to help you. Help me and I will let you escape. Or I want to end this senseless fighting. I am a moderate on my side. I know you are a reasonable man. Let’s help each other against the extremists on either side. 

The contrast between the two makes each seem better or worse than he really is. If the suspect does not respond to shit he should respond to sugar.

If it is still not working shit can get nastier. If that does not work then sugar comes in. He then loses it and slaps the suspect. The suspect is worried that his one friend in the world is turning against him. Sugar says – I am trying to protect you from sugar. But I do not think I can hold him back much longer. Shit wants to kill you. Shit’s best mate got killed yesterday. Better tell me some valuable info – that is the only way I can save you from his fury. 

If a fella denies all you say – we know you are in the IRA. We know it. We know it. Do not lie to me. We know it. You are caught. Caught red handed. We have informants. We know it. You are guilty. Admit it – admit it! In that case almost everyone will admit it. 

Lie to the bastards. Tell him – the other fellow has spilled the beans. You might as well tell us everything. Save yourself. That is the best way to help yourself – tell the truth. Why be loyal to you comrade when he had dobbed you in? Turn King’s evidence and save yourself from the noose. So we get these fellas to turn against each other. Divide et impera. If we can have a written confession from one fella implicating the other it can be most useful. 

We can also say – we are going to tell the others that you are an informer even though you are not. The IRA will treat you much worse than we will. IRA will tear you limb from limb and kill your whole family.  You had better tell us what is what and then we will protect you. That is why we have infiltrated the IRA. We have some idea of what they are thinking and what they will be doing. 

We can make promises which do not have to be honoured. Tell us everything and you will not be prosecuted. Or tell us everything and we will free you today. Tell us everything and we will let your brother out of gaol or your pal out. We will give you 100 pounds and put you on the boat to Australia under a false name – beyond the reach of the IRA. Sometimes we even keep those promises. Depends on circumstances. Your priority is not to send the IRA boy on holidays to New South Wales. Your job is to get this rebel to help us beat the other rebels. 

We use some stool pigeons. Get an RIC man in mufti especially if he has not shaved in a few days. Got to be torn, cheap old clothes like they tend to wear. Then he can pass unnoticed among IRA suspects. He is in a cell with an IRA man. Then chat to him and get him to reveal all. 

By the way fellas when you have the IRA in a cell take their belt off them in case they try to hang themselves. Take their shoes and socks off them. Floors tend to be of very smooth material. He cannot then attack you – he would slip all over the place and his trousers are falling about his ankles.

If you want to recruit an informer you find which one is weak willed. The young boy in the IRA who is scared. You can see him trembling when you arrest him. He will crack easy. There are other fellows we have the dirt on. We found out he is having an affair. We found out his is stealing money from the IRA. Does he want us to tell the IRA? The IRA will tear him apart. We find out a fellow is a sodomite. Roger Casement was. A lot of these republicans are like that. Maybe Michael Collins too.  They are dirt birds. The IRA have a women’s organisation. We might find out that an IRA woman is having an affair. Maybe she had a baby out of wedlock a few years ago and gave the baby up for adoption. We can offer to find her child. We can threaten to expose her as a slut Whatever it is we can work on these vulnerabilities. Turn him. Let him out. Regularly arrest him along with the usual suspects. That way he can tell us what is going on. That way the IRA cannot pin any one man as the source of the information we are getting. He cannot be seen coming to the police voluntarily or that will arouse suspicion. Then he will be called a traitor and end up in a bog hole. 

Other ways to run informers. Dead letter drops. He writes a letter with information and leaves it at a designated place such as in a wreath on a grave. This place is discretely checked every day to see if he left something there.

 We sometimes pay informers at dead letter drops. Not too much or it will arouse suspicion.

 We can have them write in secret ink. Write a real letter over it. Write to certain addresses in Ireland or England. Sometimes write to a government office about a bland subject such as tax. 

All sorts of things you can do. Get them drunk. Very difficult to lie when drunk. Fellows do not think when they are tight. The words just come tumbling out. 

Right later we will do a role play. Some of you will be assigned the role of IRA prisoners. Others the role of interrogators. Shit and sugar.

Now men – the IRA are filth and we need to clean the house. We got a rogues gallery of IRA men – but we only have photos of the top few thugs. We estimate there are 15 000 IRA. Trouble is we do not know who they are or where they are. The cowards wear civilian clothes and blend in with the people. We cannot tell friend from foe. ”

The lecture was too long for Short who had switched off. Subtlety was not to be his forte it seemed to Louis. They hastily headed out for cigarettes.  They were permitted to smoke inside of course but they preferred to smoke outside despite the chilly January weather and stratus cloud.

By way of conversation Louis said to North ”You know this idea of us joining the RIC – it was Winston Churchill’s idea.”

”Winston bloody Churchill” said North ”That is a name I do not want to hear again. Damn fool. Sent me brother to get killed in Gallipoli. That Churchill – heard he went to the trenches with the Royal Scots. Only served a month. I remember when there was them anarchists shooting in the East End of London – Churchill sends the Scots Guards in to sort them out. Why is Churchill posing with a gun himself? Glory boy. Liberal – Tory – Liberal. What is he?” He almost spat.

”Yes, I know. Cannot figure him out. Arriviste maybe. I like his journalism though. I heard him speak at Birmingham City Hall once” said Louis.

Louis was glad there were no more sectarian spats. March remarked to him ”I am a Catholic. I do not go around insulting Protestants. I respect the Pope – God’s vicar. Why do some Protestants feel they must offend my religion. It is not right. It is that talk that drives Irishmen into the IRA”

”Quite right.” said Louis ”Maybe I can have a word – persuade Teacher and Metcalfe not to speak like that. Bad for unit cohesion”

There was some badinage after that but not more religious slanging – for a while.

The undercover agents that the RIC man had mentioned within the IRA – that enthralled Louis. This was a contest fought in the shadows. All smoke and mirrors  since the enemy did not wear uniforms. If this was not to be a war as such maybe it called for more cloak and dagger. How could he approach a captured IRA man?



There was some drill. They did plenty of time on the rifle range. They also learned to fire revolvers. Most of them being enlisted men in the army had never handled a revolver.

At dinner Louis and his new mates discussed their mission.

”These IRA jokers – you reckon they will really fight? They are ambushing patrols of 2 men or 4 men. Occasionally they attack a police station. Not much to worry about. Not bad compared to Paschaendaele” said one.

”They don’t have the fighting spirit. That is why they did not join up for the war much. That is why there was no conscription here.” said another.

Louis piped up ”I remember a line from G K Chesterton;   Now the Irish Gael is the man whom the gods drove mad/ For all their wars are merry and all their songs are sad.


They were suddenly deeply impressed.

Later in the barracks they had a few drinks. They decided on an evening of glee singing. Some they canticled together. Then it was time for solos. They did a noble call. One man belted out a song and then called on another to sing for his supper.

Louis sang The Land Song.

”That is the Liberal song isn’t it?” said Ian North.


”I grew up in a Liberal household. I am a Labour man now.” said North

An Ulsterman RIC regular then said ”I know a song with the very same melody as the land song.” He then sang ”We are, we are/ We are the billy boys/ Hello, hello/ You’ll know us by the noise/ We are up to our knees in Fenian blood/ Surrender or you’ll die.”

Fenian? Louis knew that word. They Irish Republican Brotherhood were called the Fenians sometimes. But somehow Louis sensed that this fellow was not alluding to the IRB.

The Ulsterman then said ”I glad you boys are here to stay. Show the IRA that there will be no Home Rule for Ulster. What happens in the South of Ireland I do not much care. It is becoming a foreign country to me with all those Sinn Fein flags”

What was this with a new flag Louis wondered. He knew of the Irish Flag – a green flag with a gold harp. He had seen it in sports. Was this fighting the birth pangs of a nation? Some Irish had been agitating to break with Britain totally. But that was only a handful of lunatics. It would never happen. The government would not speak to Sinn Fein. There would be no horse trading. Nothing matched the British Army. Yes, they had needed American help in the war but the IRA was not exactly mighty – not like the Kaiser’s legions. Louis wondered if he was being too jingoistic. WOuld it be that easy?

Louis found himself picking up Irish idiom. He warmed to the Irish – their joviality and their banter. Maybe a happy compromise could be found between Home Rulers and Unionists. The RIC men of different churches and different political outlooks seemed to get along famously.






About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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