Wartime soldiers in Newry

I meant to ask Benny McKay the last time I saw him, but I’ll save it for the next! You see, his people lived along there by Magee’s Bar on Merchant’s Quay. I think Benny was born there. 

My mate told me anyway he remembered passing by and young Benny (well! It was a long time ago!) would call or wave from behind the protective board at the front door that saved the childer from runnin’ on to the street. Benny’s da saw this happening, I was told.

It was way back when the soldiers were here prior to the invasion of Europe. Indeed the British Legion Hall was in Basin Walk then and the young fellas of Linenhall Square remember the Yanks who were billeted there throwing coins, pennies and halfpennies, dimes and brass buttons across the canal at them. All were eagerly gathered and cherished as mementos.

We all remember the Welsh soldiers in particular, for they left their mark – taking Irish brides and having Irish children of their own. The Yanks are well-remembered too, for their bravado, their gifts of nylons (for the ladies), chewing-gum and their general wealth too, by comparison with us.

But this regiment was English. The commanding officer would brook no nonsense, well aware of the heavy fighting and difficult trials that lay in front of his men. He marched his men, heavily-laden with full kit, around the streets of Newry, unrelentingly. That day they wearily emerged from Lower Edward Street on to Merchant’s Quay. You remember Lockington’s in Basin Walk, and Crilly’s Butchers next to it? Well, instead of using the Sugar Island Bridge, the sergeant commanded his men to enter the Canal and swim across with full kit on their backs.

Well, they did. All but one. The poor lad, raw recruit that he was, was unable to swim. He drowned – in full view of his colleagues and whatever townsfolk were around at the time. Mr McKay, I’m told was one….

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