Thursday 19 September 2019

Congo massacre survivor: Army must tell real story

JEROME REILLY

ONE of the two survivors of the Niemba massacre in the Congo in 1960 has broken his silence about what he believed was a mix-up in the aftermath of the greatest loss of life of Irish soldiers on UN peacekeeping duties.

In the week of the 40th anniversary of the massacre November 8 former trooper Thomas Kenny believes that the full truth has yet to emerge; the truth of what really happened when nine men were butchered after their 11-man patrol was attacked by Baluba tribesman. On November 22, 1960 the funeral of those who died some clubbed to death, others struck by poisoned arrows attracted one of the biggest crowds ever witnessed in Dublin since the deaths of Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Collins.



In the wake of the Niemba Massacre, a legend grew up. It was the legend of 20-year-old trooper Anthony Browne, an unmarried soldier from Rialto, Dublin, who, it was claimed, had laid down his life to save that of his comrade, a married Private, Thomas Kenny from Ballyfermot. As a result Army top brass decided that Trooper Browne was to be the first recipient of the coveted Medal of Honour. But the legend fostered by the Army and deflecting from what was a military disaster was false.



Trooper Anthony Browne did not die at the scene of the Niemba massacre, nor did he die later on of wounds sustained there. Most importantly, as far as trooper Thomas Kenny is concerned, Trooper Browne did not give up his life so that Kenny could survive.



"I am not trying to denigrate the bravery of Anto Browne during that attack when it was every man for himself, I saw him firing and fighting with the best of them. But everyone believes he died to save me and that is not the truth," Mr Kenny told the Sunday Independent.



The former soldier, who is now in his mid-60s, says that he revealed all this in his initial statement to Army officers on his return from the Congo but that original statement was "lost" and another version of events gained credence. It is now accepted that Browne's body was not among those recovered at the scene in the days following the massacre, which took place near a crossing of the River Luweyeye. Those who died at the spot were: Lt Kevin Gleeson from Terenure; Sgt Hugh Gaynor, Leixlip; Cpl Peter Kelly, Templeogue; Cpl Liam Dougan, Cabra; Pte Matthew Farrell from Swords; Pte Thomas Fennel, Donnycarney; Pte Gerard Killeen, Rathmines and Pte Michael McGuinn from Carlow.



As well as Trooper Kenny there was another survivor, Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick. Neither man has been honoured, while the eight others who died along with Anthony Browne were posthumously awarded medals in 1998. The tragedy of Anthony Browne's death became known at official level two years after the massacre.



Following a chance conversation between an Irish army officer and a Belgian lawyer in the Congolese city of Elisabethville, the whereabouts of Browne's remains was established. The story that emerged was that the wounded Browne had wandered into the jungle after the incident at Niemba and got lost. He emerged several days later, hungry and thirsty, and begged some local Baluba tribeswomen for food and water. According to Belgian and Congolese sources, the women brought the Irish soldier something to eat and drink but they also brought along tribesmen who attacked Browne and killed him. Browne's remains were eventually located and identified almost two years after the massacre, several miles from Niemba. That discovery effectively demolished the official "myth" that Browne sacrificed his life to save Private Thomas Kenny. However, the Army, which had already awarded the Medal of Honour to Browne's parents in Dublin, did not change the official version of events.



Thomas Kenny told the Sunday Independent last week: "It is a terrible burden for everyone to think that the reason I am alive is because someone gave up his life to save me. It just isn't true and I want what really happened to become public knowledge rather than just among the Army, who have never came out and said what really happened."



In a recent letter to a former commanding officer, Mr Kenny sums up his dilemma: "You have the power to set the record straight before it is too late. I am begging for your compassion to lift this untrue burden from my shoulders and let me live out the rest of my life in dignity. I know someone had to be picked out as a hero but why should I have to be a scapegoat? I am not looking for any honours. I did nothing brave. All I did was survive with the help of God and the good training I got in the Army."



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