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'It would be closure for everyone': Jadotville survivors still in talks with government over bravery medals

Soldiers who were recommended to receive distinguished service medals after Jadotville in 1961 have yet to receive them.

Veterans at a 2017 event
Veterans at a 2017 event
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE SON OF the commandant of the 35th Battalion A Company who fought in Jadotville in 1961 has said it “doesn’t make any sense” for the survivors of the 1961 siege not to receive the distinguished service medals as was recommended.

Leo Quinlan told TheJournal.ie that talks are ongoing with the Department of Defence and the army for the survivors to receive their medals and said it would act as closure for the former soldiers and their families.

He was speaking before a talk at Trinity College last night to highlight the human side of the soldiers who fought in Jadotville and their families, and the effect it had on them.

The siege of Jadotville saw the 158 men of A Company in Congo-Léopoldville, fighting against 5,000 of Kantanganese troops to survive.

As they lay stuck in trenches, fighting off the approaching men, their supplies of ammunition, food and water dwindled over the course of five days. Several of the soldiers were in their teens, and the event had a huge impact on the men, some of whom said later they suffered from PTSD and depression.

The entire group of soldiers who took part in the siege were awarded a unit citation last year and an accompanying medal, An Bonn Jadotville, in 2017. However, the government hasn’t granted the distinguished service medals that had been recommended to be given to 33 soldiers in the aftermath of the battle.

One of them was Private Charles Cooley. He told TheJournal.ie that he was stationed in the Congo for just three months before the siege began. 

He and his fellow soldiers served with distinction, but acknowledgement for their actions failed to materialise in the subsequent years.

“When we came home from the Congo, we were called ‘cowards’,” he said.

Leo Quinlan’s father Pat was later promoted to Colonel and the lack of medals given to the men as he had recommended was a source of disappointment for him.

“A Company was involved in more activity and action than any other unit in the Congo,” Leo said. “To this day, Charlie’s company has seen the largest battle that the modern Irish army has ever been involved in on foreign soil. It’s likened to the Battle of the Alamo. ”

In an answer to a parliamentary question last month, Minister with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe said the issue of the award of medals to the men of A Company was “comprehensively addressed in 1965″.

“A properly constituted Medals Board considered the various cases presented and made a decision that no medals would be awarded,” he said.

He also said that a “number of measures” have taken place to honour and commemorate the events of Jadotville, including the awarding of the An Bonn Jadotville medal in 2017

Quinlan, however, said there was precedent whereby a minister to award distinguished service medals at a much later date, when then-Minister Willie O’Dea awarded medals posthumously to helicopter pilots in 2008.

“We hope that the right thing will be done,” he said. “This is a no brainer. It can be a win-win for everyone. A win for the government. A win for the army.

And most importantly, a win for Charlie and other veterans and their families. It doesn’t make any sense not to give it. The mechanism is there to do it. 

Cooley added: “The [2017 medal award] was a recognition. Not the full thing… It would be closure. Closure for everyone.”

With reporting from Aoife Barry

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Sean Murray

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