It was a great day for me, the 18th of February, when I got back to the brigade and started seeing all of the old faces again. I began in good style because, when I arrived at Divisional HQ to see the General, I ran into three of my late battalion of the Irish Rifles, now highly placed officials at Brigade HQ. I was glad to see my training had stood them in such good stead in a hard school, and I think I detected some signs of apprehension when they began to suspect that my presence meant more than a friendly visit.
I was delighted to see Nelson Russell again and hear about all the great exploits of the brigade since I had left it. He had kept me very well posted about his doings but it was best to hear the first hand description of what all the different chaps had done, and how well they had done it. Nelson had been fighting with the brigade now for nearly a year and a half with great distinction with hardly any let up. It would have been enough to undermine the health of many a younger man and it was obviously a great disappointment to him when the doctors warned him that it would be dangerous to go on. What was worse, I knew it would be a great disappointment for all the chaps in the brigade.
There was a brigade football match going on the next afternoon, which gave us a great opportunity of wandering around and talking to old friends, without yet having disclosed why I was there.
All the COs had changed since my day and also all the seconds-in-command. James Dunnill, who had been with me off and on in various capacities for the last two years, was commanding the “Faughs” with Hugh Holmes as the Second-in-Command. These were faces I knew well. The Irish Rifles were commanded by Ion Goff, with Bala Bredin as Second-in-Command. This was a new team to me but on the other hand, I knew the lads in the Irish Rifles so well that I did not feel it mattered. The “Skins'” were commanded by Bryar, late of the Kensingtons, our support battalion, with Smudger Maxwell as Second-in-Command. I found a good proportion of the old soldiers were still present in all the battalions and, of course, these are the people that keep the spirit as it should be.
Soon after I arrived, I imported Paddy Bowen-Colthurst as Staff Captain. I had fished him out of commanding a platoon in the Scots Guards last November and then was with him when he was an Liaison Officer, learning the job of Staff Captain, in the Hampshire Brigade. Having his origins in County Cork, he was a very suitable person to join the brigade, though why he was in the Scots Guards rather than the Irish Guards, I have never yet discovered, He relieved John Norman who, before coming to Brigade HQ, had had a long tour as Adjutant of the Skins. He went to a welfare job at 5 Corps and turns up every now and then to see how the party is managing to get on without him.
Nelson went off to hospital the next day, much missed by everyone, and I came out in my true colours, no doubt causing a great amount of misgivings among those who, as Nelson put it, had suffered from my abominable temper in the past. I always had a secret feeling that Nelson exaggerated this failing of mine because he or his staff had possibly met it more often that any of my subordinates. Nonetheless, others are the best judge of one’s own failings.
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