By PRO IUNVA
In this article we remember the four peacekeepers from A Coy, 36 Inf Bn who were killed during combat operations in Elisabethville in the Congo during Dec 1961.
The main body of 36 Inf Bn arrived in the Congo between 5 and 24 Dec 1961 in twenty chalks transported by USAF in Globemaster aircraft and started to deploy in Niemba and Nyunzu in North Katanga to take over from two Coys of 35 Inf Bn. On 6 Dec Brig KAS Raja, OC Katanga Comd, informed OIC Advance Party, Comdt Timmy Ryan by telex that plans had changed and the unit would be stationed in Elisabethville. On arrival in Elisabethville elements of the battalion manned trenches at the airport before being transported to Prince Leopold Farm to take over from elements of 35 Inf Bn who were homebound.
The death of Cpl Michael Fallon
On 8 Dec, Prince Leopold Farm came under heavy mortar fire and Cpl Michael Fallon was killed instantly by shrapnel wounds to his chest, Sgt Patrick Mulcahy and four others were wounded in this attack.
Cpl Michael Fallon (18) was from Lucan, Co Dublin and his parent unit was 5 Inf Bn. He was survived by his mother, Mrs Margaret Fallon, his brother Cpl James Fallon, whose parent unit was 2 Fd Engr Coy and he also served with A Coy 36 Inf Bn, a second brother, Peter, who was an electrician with the RAF and a sister Josephine.
Cpl Fallon’s remains were flown from N’djili Airport, near Leopoldville and they arrived at Dublin Airport on 18 Dec. An Taoiseach was represented by his ADC, Capt Jack O’Brien, the Minister for Defence was represented by Comdt F Neill, the COS, Maj Gen Sean Collins-Powell, the AG Col PJ Hally, OC E Comd Col PJ McNally attended the funeral. The Requiem Mass was celebrated at 1000 hours on 19 Dec in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Arbour Hill and he was buried in the Congo Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.
The death of Sgt Patrick Mulcahy
Having received medical attention for his wounds, Sgt Mulcahy insisted on re-joining his platoon. Four days later, on Tuesday 12 Dec, he was wounded for a second time by mortar fire and died of his injuries on Saturday 16 Dec, the day 36 Inf Bn mounted Operation Sarsfield to seize the Kasenga Tunnel.
Sgt Mulcahy (36) was a native of Thurles, Co Tipperary, he joined the Army during the Emergency in 1943 and he served with 1 Fd Arty Regt until Nov 1945. He re-enlisted in Nov 1946 and served with Dep Arty, 2 Fd Arty Regt and 6 Fd Arty Regt. He lived at McKee Pk Blackhorse Ave Dublin with his wife Marie and their four children. He departed Dublin on 18 Nov 1961 as a member of the Advance Party of the unit.
The deaths of Lieut Patrick Riordan and Pte Andrew Wickham
Operation Sarsfield to seize the Kasenga Tunnel commenced in darkness at 0400 hours in torrential rain on 16 Dec 1961, it was part of a two Bde operation. The 36 Inf Bn mission was to seize and hold the area of the road network known as Triangle GFD Chaussée de Kasenga – Avenue des Savoniers – Avenue Luxembourg and, on order, to seize and hold the Tunnel after the capture of the area of the road network in order to secure the right flank of the Swedish Bn whose task was to capture the Katangese Gendarmerie stronghold at Camp Massart. As A Coy advanced to take the Tunnel, it encountered Gendarmerie dug in and in railway carriages. The advance faltered at 0545 hours as they were pinned down by Gendarmerie mors, these were neutralised by Irish and Indian Mors. As the advance continued, Lieut Patrick Riordan, the Pl Comd 1 Pl, was killed by MG fire. A Coy put in a company-in-attack using 84 mm anti-tank recoilless rifles, energas and hand grenades against the railway carriages. As the fire fight continued, Pte Andrew Wickham, Rdo Op 1 Pl, was hit in a volley of fire and he died from his wounds. The Tunnel was taken by A Coy before 0630 hours. It was later estimated that the Gendarmerie had deployed six companies in the Tunnel, in railway coaches, dug in on the tracks and sidings and around the railway station. By Tuesday 19 Dec, ONUC controlled the whole city, Moïse Tshombé escaped to Kipushi and he agreed to have talks with the central government.
Lieut Patrick Anthony Riordan (25) was born in Cork city but he spent all his life in Dublin. He joined the Defence Forces as a Cdt with 29 Cadet Class, he was commissioned on 26 Nov 1956 and his home unit was 5 Inf Bn. He married his wife Eithne in May 1960 and they lived at College Crescent, Terenure, Dublin.
Pte Andrew Wickham (25) was from Clonard, Barntown, Co Wexford, he joined the Defence Forces less than six months before he deployed overseas. His parent unit was 2 Grn S&T Coy. He was survived by his wife, Eleanor, and six young children, Andrew (5), Garry (4), David (3), Deirdre (1 and a half) and Imelda (6 Months), their home was at Landen Rd Ballyfermot, Dublin. His brother, Cpl Richard Wickham, parent unit McKee Bks Coy had just returned from the Congo in Nov having served with 1 Inf Gp.
On 3 Jan 1962, the coffins with the remains of Lieut Patrick Riordan, Sgt Patrick Mulcahy and Pte Andrew Wickham were flown from Leopoldville via Pisa in Italy where the Italian Air Forces rendered honours. They were escorted from the Congo by Capt Colm Kelleher and Sgt T Wilson and when they arrived in Dublin in an Italian Air Force C119 aircraft, they were taken to a temporary mortuary in Collins Bks.
On Friday 4 Jan 1962, Requiem Mass was celebrated at the Church of the Sacred Heart Arbour, the chief celebrant was Fr Patrick Duffy Acting HCF and he was assisted by Fr Joseph Clarke CF, Fr Phelim McCabe CF, Fr Patrick Bresnan CF, Fr Gregory Brophy CF, Fr Joseph Fagan CF and Fr Colum Swan CF.
The chief mourners for Lieut Riordan were; Mrs Eithne Riordan (widow), Mrs Josephine Riordan (mother) and Frank Riordan (brother). For Sgt Mulcahy: Mrs Marie Mulcahy (widow), Mrs Nora Mulcahy (mother) and Michael Tobin. For Pte Wickham: Mrs Eleanor Wickham (widow), William Wickham (father), Cpl Richard Wickham and Martin Wickham (brothers), Mrs Maureen Durrance and Mrs Patricia O’Reilly (sisters).
Attendance included ADCs representing the President and the Taoiseach, Maj Gen Seán Collins-Powell COS, Col PJ Hally AG, Col JJ McPeake QMG, Col RJ Callanan ACOS, Col JP McNally OC E Comd and Lieut Col WJ Bergin OC 5 Inf Bn. They were laid to rest in the Congo Plot, Glasnevin Cemetery, 2 Mot Sqn provided the firing party. The Italian aircrew marched in the funeral cortege.
Lieut Riordan was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal with Distinction, his citation reads:
“For distinguished service with the United Nations Force in the Republic of Congo, in displaying courage and leadership during the period of hostilities in December 1961. Lieutenant Riordan was tireless in his task in insuring the efficiency and welfare of his platoon under very trying circumstances, and it was while actually leading his platoon in an attack that he met his death”.
Sgt Mulcahy was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal with Merit, the citation reads:
“For distinguished service with the United Nations Force in the Republic of the Congo, in displaying leadership and devotion to duty to a high degree. Although painfully wounded during hostilities in December 1961, he refused to leave his platoon and subsequently whilst looking after his men, he received the wound from which he died.”