ANAVETS Shoulder to Shoulder

July 2017

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Page 26 of 33

W ith all the news of the Vimy Centennial going on these days, story's of soldiers and their deeds abound, and every once in a while you come across a story about a soldier that needs to be told. Such is the case of Major Gilbert W. Nangle, MC. Gilbert, known to his friends and family as Bill, was born in 1902 at Aurangabad, India. His father, Kenlis, was a Lt Col in the Indian Army. Sent to England at the age of seven, Gilbert spent the next decade in various UK schools and eventually won a place at Sandhurst, The Royal Military College, and in 1924 was attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 7th Rajput Regiment, then stationed on the North West Frontier on active service. For the next four years he lived the life of a typical Indian Army Subaltern. No matter what regiment a young subaltern joined, the Officers Mess would be the centre of his regimental life. It was his home away from home; it was a place of refuge for all officers. Most regimental messes dined together every night – women were not al- lowed in the Mess at all, with the exception of special guest nights, and most often they were not particularly welcome then either. Routine prevailed. Officers entered at the Mess at 7.30 pm in full regimental mess dress – stiffly starched shirt, tight trousers and jacket – it was probably midnight by the time they left the mess. During peacetime a boring routine charac- terised the officer's working life: an early morning parade before the heat of the day, a small breakfast, then the morning spent dealing with charges against individual soldiers or resolving grievances, followed by a large lunch and a long nap. After that there were games at the Club. Sporting activities appeared abundantly on a daily basis: principally sports like polo, field hockey and cricket, but officers also had access to all sorts of wild game hunting. Polo was a particular favourite of many officers in the Indian Army, and since officers had the right to ten days' leave every month, there was plenty of opportunity for rest and relaxation. Interestingly Thursdays and Sundays were whole day holidays, and Saturday a half day. Apart from an annual holiday of sixty days, every three years the officer enjoyed a home leave of eight months. It was a life of great privilege unknown to the rank and file. In 1928 Gilbert went home to the family estate in Ireland on leave, and towards the end of his leave he visited France and bored with soldiering on the North West Frontier, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. He believed that once he told them he was a serving British Army officer they would discharge him. However, when he reached the Foreign Legion Depot at Sidi-bel-Abbes in Algeria he was told he had a five-year contract to serve before they would release him. This was the real "Beau Geste" period of the Legion when they were on constant active service in the North African deserts. But due to his mothers determined persistence, Edward, Prince of Wales, got the ear of the correct French authorities and had Gilbert released in the spring of 1930 after two years service. Returning to his Regiment in India he was engaged on anti-terrorist operations in East Bengal and in Waziristan before returning to Ireland for a second period of extended leave. After his leave he returned to India and the Regiment but was unable to settle down to routine peacetime soldiering and in 1934 resigned his commission. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he and a friend, who had served as an officer in the Irish Guards, went to Spain and were interviewed by General Franco at his headquarters at Caracus. They were given temporary commissions as Lieutenants in the Spanish Foreign Legion. Gilbert was now posted to the 5th Bandera of the Legion. He joined the column under Major (later a general) Castejon Espinosa. He immediately became involved in the fighting in the Battle of El Casa de Escalona in which he distinguished himself and was subsequently mentioned in a citation in Orders for the Day. For the next two years, with the exception of a period in 1937 when he was attached as a liaison and training officer to O'Duffy's Irish Brigade. He was actively engaged in the often fierce fighting of the civil war including the relief of the Alcazar at Toledo and the advance on and subsequent siege of Madrid. He was twice seriously wounded, the second time resulting in his being granted indefinite sick leave, as a result of which he returned to Ireland early in 1938. At the end of the summer of 1938 he was commissioned into the Palestine Police and spent the next two and a half years with them in Palestine being in active operations as a result of the Arab rebellion. When the Second World War, having broke out in 1939, he rejoined the British Army, serving for a short time with the Palestine Regiment, known as the "Palestine Buffs" before being transferred back to the Indian Army and the 7th Ghurkha Rifles. Early in 1942, he joined the recently formed Indian Long Range Squadron and served with it as part of the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa. For his service in the ILRS during this period he was mentioned in dispatches. During the winter of 1943-44, he joined the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Ghurkha Rifles which was being formed in Lebanon as a company commander. He went with them to Italy and was soon involved in heavy fighting at Cassino where he won the Military Cross. During the early months of 1944, Cassino witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the Italian campaign. The town of Cassino and the dominating Monastery Hill proved the most stubborn obstacles encountered in the advance towards Rome. It was there that he was killed at the age of forty-one on the 2nd March 1944. His company of green inexperienced Ghurkhas were jittery, ready to run after a long and protracted barrage fired at their position. To calm the young men, Gilbert sat outside his foxhole, puffing contentedly away on his pipe while he cleaned his rifle. A single mortar bomb landed near where he was sitting, and Gilbert, who had survived so much, in so many battles, and in so many wars, died without a single enemy in sight. He was buried in the Cassino War Graves Cemetery, Ghurkha Section. 26 SHOULDER TO SHOULDER 7th Ghurkha's Cap Badge Major Gilbert W. Nangle, MC By Bill Nangle CD

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