independent

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Wexford born soldier was Angel of Mons hero in the Great War

Sergeant Thomas Fitzpatrick, who held up the German advance for hours against vastly superior opposition, is remembered 100 years on

GE angel of mons sergeant Thomas Fitzpatrick
GE angel of mons sergeant Thomas Fitzpatrick

By David Medcalf

A Wexford soldier who fought in Belgium and France in the Great War is being remembered one hundred years on.

Duncormick born, Enniscorthy educated Thomas Fitzpatrick is referred to as the 'Angel of Mons' for his heroics in a bloody battle at the start of the war.

The title was enthusiastically adopted by the popular press at the time as the newspapers looked for good news in the carnage.

Born in the south of County Wexford in 1879, son of a policeman serving in the Royal Irish Constabulary, Fitzpatrick was an unlikely hero.

A career soldier, he joined the Royal Irish Regiment at the age of 18 after leaving St Aidan's Academy in Enniscorthy.

He was dispatched by the British Army to serve in India and he was aged almost 35 before the call to arms in Europe came in 1914.

He was working at the time as a quartermaster, responsible for supplies rather than expecting to be in the front line.

However, the members of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) found themselves retreating in the face of superior German numbers and chaos ensued.

The escape from Belgium reached a critical point at Mons where the BEF was in danger of complete annihilation or capture that autumn.

A Celtic Cross memorial outside the town of Bascule marks the place where the fighting involving the Royal Irish Regiment, which continued for almost three months, was at its fiercest.

The legend of the Angel started after a rag-bag collection of 50 cooks, store men and drivers found themselves in the thick of the action.

Quartermaster Sergeant Fitzpatrick took command of the group who somehow managed to hold up the German advance for 11 hours.

They dug a trench for themselves and acted with admirable coolness under the fiercest of pressure.

Most of those in the trench with Sergeant Fitzpatrick were from the southern counties of Ireland.

He escaped relatively unscathed from Mons - one of just 17 of the 50 who survived - but at one stage the following year he was close to death in France after being gassed and brought to a hospital in Boulogne.

He emerged to continue in uniform, rising over the years to the rank of major before he eventually retired in 1949.

Among his postings around the world was a stint as chief of police in Egypt. He died in 1965, a resident of a nursing home at Putney in London.

Among those who visited him there was his grandson and namesake Tom, who now resides in North Dublin. Other relatives of the war hero of 100 years ago live in County Cork.

The Angel of Mons was recognised at the time for his achievements, awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal by the British, not to mention a Medaille Militaire by the French and a high Russian honour, the Order of St George.

The old soldier wrote later of his experience, commenting wryly: 'I honestly think that not one of my men had the faintest idea what they were fighting for...They were there to fight without thought of clan or creed or how well they responded to the call of duty and the traditions of their gallant regiment.'

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