Boy soldiers

You know, when you think back to your childhood days and some things that you considered then as a serious matter, now appear quite humorous?

One such incident when I was a child always stands out in my mind. It was the time that my old childhood buddy Charlie (now Councillor) Casey attempted to join the British Army – on behalf of all of us mates.

In those days we had a gang of four.  They were Charlie Casey, my brother Davy, Joey Devlin and me.

Charlie as eldest was always the leader.  He was always thinking up some crazy stunt or other for us to play at, like his self-invented pigeon trap. It consisted of a length of string and some Indian corn that we procured from Sand’s Mill.  The idea was that you tie the string into a running noose, place the corn in the noose and when the Pigeon walks into the noose to get the corn you pull the string, and ‘Hey Presto’, you have caught yourself a pigeon.

I didn’t like this idea. A pigeon can be dangerous, can’t it?  I mean it could peck you to death or if it flew up into the air while you were still holding the string it could take you up with it. 

At that age you tend to worry about little things like that.

One of Charlie’s most silly ideas was that we all should join the Army. The local Territorial Army base in Newry in those days was near to our home in Linenhall Square, just across the Canal and river at the back of the present telephone exchange.

In those Post War days the Army still used the old bugle to call the soldiers to and from their various duties. The bugle call could be heard quite clearly from Linenhall Square.  I seem to remember there was two bugle calls in the afternoons, one around dinnertime and the other about fifteen minutes later.

Charlie, who was a mine of information, knew all about things like that.  He informed us that the first bugle call was to let people know it was time to join the Army and that the second call, well, that meant you were too late, joining up time was over for today, come back tomorrow.

We decided to join up; Charlie said it might be fun. Everyone appeared to think it was a good idea.  I wasn’t too keen – it could be dangerous.  I mean they could send you to Germany or something, supposing the war started all over again.

Not wanting to appear to be a cry-baby I didn’t say anything to the others. Our decision? That was Charlie’s decision of course. It was that we meet at Erskine Street gate the next day and head off to join the Army. 

‘But first you must tell your mum that you are joining up, just so as she won’t be worried what happened to you,’ said Charlie.

The next day Davy and I informed our mother that we were going to join the Army and that we wouldn’t be coming back home, well not for a long time anyway.

‘That’s all right!’ said Mum,

‘I shall know not to put any dinner on for you then.

But remember to wash behind your ears and to clean your teeth every day’.

‘Right, off you go and be good boys then!’ she said with a laugh.

We all met up at Erskine Street gate in preparation for our great adventure. Charlie gave us all a crash course in the finer points of military marching and drills – how to swing your arms, tramp your feet and such like.

We were that taken by our own efforts at square bashing and how to march like proper soldiers, that we almost missed the first bugle call. 

‘Hang on a minute! I forgot something,’  said Charlie.

He rushed off back down the block to his house.  After a few minutes he came back out of the house and marched proudly up to us, arms swinging wildly, just like a real soldier, or so we thought.

‘I almost forgot my uniform,’ he said pointing to his shoulder.

Attached to his right shoulder with a huge safety pin was a set of British military style chevrons, sergeant’s stripes cut carefully from someone’s uniform, Charlie’s Dad’s probably, a family souvenir that Charlie had borrowed for the occasion.


 I am the Sergeant so you all have to do what you are told!’  he informed us.

‘We have to hurry or we shall miss the final bugle.’

So off we went marching in single file with arms swinging, just as we had been shown at drill practice a few minutes before.  Just like real soldiers! Well it was, to our minds anyway.  Down the hill past the Bosco club, right turn round McGurgan’s Corner and along Canal Quay we went.

All of us following Charlie in a ragged line, arms flaying like pistons, the chevrons on the arm of our intrepid leader flapping about like some demented seagull.  As we approached Sand’s Mill, we met two men, who were working there – one of them up in the mill sliding bags down a wooden slide, the other standing on the back of a lorry receiving the bags and building them on the back of the truck.

They stared at our childish-looking military style approach.  Charlie’s flapping seagull-like attire caught their eye.

‘Where are you off to lads?’  one shouted.

Charlie stopped suddenly – so suddenly that we all cannoned into the back of him. 

‘Don’t do that!’ he reproached us.

‘Sorry’, we said.

‘You’re supposed to say, ‘Sorry! Sergeant’!’ our leader replied.

We explained to the man that we were on our way to join the Army and how we had to get to the camp before the second bugle call.

‘You’d best be on your way, then.’ he replied.

‘We wouldn’t want to keep you back or anything like that’.

So off we marched again along Canal Quay towards Sugar Island.  We were really approaching our official ‘out-of-bounds area’ now; mum would kill Davy and me if she knew how far we were straying from the Square.  I suppose that didn’t matter any more.  We were all off to become soldiers, weren’t we?

Just as we reached the junction with New Street the strident sound of a military bugle was heard.  Charlie stopped dead in his tracks: once again we all piled into the back of him.

‘That’s it,’ he said, conclusively.

‘We are too late! Joining-up time is over for today.

We had better head back home.’

Secretly I was a little relieved.  I didn’t really want to join the Army.

So off we went back home again.  When we came alongside of the two men who were working at Sand’s Mill, one of them shouted down to us,

‘What happened boys? Too late, were you?

Never mind! You can always try again tomorrow. 

I only hope the next war doesn’t start before then’. 

As we walked back down Canal Quay we were followed by the sound of laughter from the two men.

We couldn’t think what they thought was so funny about it all.”


Dick’s Emigrants …



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