Support Staff in Combat

Val the Gal

Lantern Swinger
It's not navy but here's a brilliant story found in a recent Irish Times article on the WWI battles at Ypres and Mons. Quartermaster Thomas William Fitzpatrick from Co. Cork, with a crew of 50 cooks, drivers and store men from the Royal Irish Regiment, held up the advancing Germany army at a crossroads outside Mons. A Celtic Cross dedicated to their actions is at La Bascule. There's a great film is that.

Val the Gal

Lantern Swinger
In all fairness to the storemen and drivers involved, they weren't all cooks. I've been digging deeper. Here's more of the story for those interested in war-time history (as opposed to messing :p).

Towards noon on Sunday, August 23rd, 1914, the day of the Battle of Mons, Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas William Fitzpatrick, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers - which, with the other three battalions composing the 8th Brigade, 1st Gordon's, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers and 4th Middlesex, held that part of the British line that lay between the western suburbs of Mons and St. Ghislain - reached the trenches with supplies. On hearing that the German army was on the way he asked permission to remain with the battalion. Since a QM sergeant is not allotted to the firing line, he remained on the road in front of which the Royal Irish were entrenched, watching the progress through field glasses. Towards 1:30 pm he saw that the Germans were enveloping his battalion on both flanks. He immediately collected all the cooks, drivers and so forth whom he could find and taking up position at a point where the road to Mons was intersected caused rapid fire to be opened over the heads of his comrades in the trenches onto the advancing Germans. This had the effect of checking the enemy immediately in front of him, but the trenches of the Royal Irish continued to be shelled heavily. By 3:00 pm those in the trenches on his left were obliged to retire and the Germans were working around his right flank. With 50 more men - most of the original party were now dead or wounded - he took up position once again and recommenced rapid fire with such excellent results the German advance again failed. Fitzpatrick was then told than one of the British machine guns was on the road abandoned, all its team killed. He retrieved it in time as the enemy advanced once more, with increased numbers. Between 3 and 4 pm the Germans made a desperate flank attack on the Gordon Highlanders, on the right rear of the Irish. The Germans were driven back in disorder and retired to about 700 yards from Fitzpatrick's party. Towards dusk they again advanced but well-directed fire from the machine gun held them in check. After this last attack, Fitzpatrick had only a dozen unwounded men left. Nevertheless they maintained their ground until about an hour before midnight, when the German retreat began and Fitzpatrick received orders to retire. He had been fighting almost continuously for more than 9 hours and that night he marched 17 miles.
[Note: he survived the war with 18 of his men. Retired a Lt-Colonel with DCM, Russian Cross of St George, French Médaille Militaire and Croix de Guerre, ended up Chief of Police in Alexandria and Cairo, Commandant Suez Canal, recalled to Regular Army 1946.)

Reading between the lines here, I'm assuming such an extraordinary man could not have been an officer back then because he was not a member of the upper classes and didn't have a college degree. And it seems obvious that this sergeant rose to fill a leadership vacuum when all hell was breaking loose around him. A real-life Sharpe!
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