The Last Firing 25pdrs in Europe

Last firing of 25 Pounder Field Guns in Europe

At the end of July the Irish Army bade farewell to one of its’ main artillery pieces for the last 60 years – the 25 Pounder gun/howitzer of WW2 fame.

Ireland bought 48 of these guns in 1949 after they had served through the 1939-45 War. Six of these were destined to fire live rounds for the very last time on the afternoon of Thursday 30th July in front of a large crowd of veteran gunners gathered in the Glen of Imaal to witness their passing. This very picturesque spot in the Wicklow Mountains became a firing range in the days of Empire and has been used by the Irish Army since.

As members of The Garrison we were very privileged to be invited to Ireland to provide a display centre piece for the event and witness the final shoot.

We had travelled the day before and taken Mike Peacock’s Morris Commercial CDSW Gun Tractor which is a rare survivor of 19 bought by the Irish Army in 1938. This was transported, with a limber, on the back of Jeff and Melvyn Bean’s company DAF from Leeds to Liverpool, and then via P&O cargo ferries to Dublin. I kept Melvyn company whilst the other members went via the Holyhead Ferry.

As guests of the Director of Artillery, Colonel Ray Quinn, we were extremely well looked after throughout our time there. For our accommodation we had the delights of a barrack hut, in Coolmoney Camp, a few miles from the range. In the event this proved very spacious and comfortable and we all slept soundly, but perhaps that was the Guinness!

The Morris and limber moved up to the range late morning to be coupled with a high gloss 25 pounder used for ceremonial purposes. Alongside was parked an French ALM 4.4 ? bought to replace the CDSW and also attached to a ceremonial gun.

Thursday proved to be a beautiful day apart from a very heavy shower, whilst the Army was serving a hot lunch. We were treated to one of their new 105mm guns being competently flown in by an Air Corps Westland Augusta helicopter and then fired. Apparently this was the first time this had been done.

Our host was the very friendly Lieutenant Colonel Eamonn Fogarty of Curragh Command whilst the welcoming address was made by Director of Artillery, Colonel Ray Quinn who is soon to retire. Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Dermot Earley, then replied. Both spoke affectionately of the 25 pounder and its long association with the Irish Army. The list of VIPs included the US and Russian Attaches.

The highlight, of course, was to see the final firing of the 25 pounder, albeit from a safe distance. Quite something, I must say, having previously only ever seen the same on film. The job of firing the very last round fell to Colonel Quinn himself, which no doubt will remain a very memorable event for him. The crowds soon dispersed afterwards, but we remained to pack up and see the 6 guns towed from the range.

A Barbeque at the camp followed, and then a great night was had by all at the local pub despite the cost of drinks. Even a Ceidlh band turned up at 10.00pm to help things along whilst earlier there had been a gunners sing along in the other bar.

Earlier The Garrison Chairman, and founder of the group, Jonathan Catton was presented with a 3.7” cartridge by the Director of Artillery in thanks for the help in setting the scene on the day with the CDSW and limber display, Jonathan passed the cartridge on to Melvyn to improve his 3.7” anti aircraft gun display!

Jonathan said of the occasion, “It was great to attend the event, a moment in history that we can say “we were there”. It was good to meet so many gunners and gunner / drivers and Sunrays (CO’s of batteries) with vivid memories of using this equipment. We can now tell another aspect of the life of the 25pdr field gun – the Irish link, when we display our gun detachments with blank firing displays of the gun. Surely this gun is a good example of value for money and those who designed the late 1930’s should be proud of producing such an efficient and reliable piece of equipment.”

A very early start on Friday was needed to catch ferries home, which limited any further discussion on the trip. The other members of the group were Chris Symth, Edward Seymour and Joseph Gabbott. We had been very privileged indeed to be part of a unique event and I for one had thought that I would never witness a live firing of the most famous field gun of WW2.


Mike Humphreys


Footnotes.

1. The Garrison – Living History group, a UK based group who re-enact with groups in Belgium and Malta , who have focused on re-creating a field battery of 25pdr guns and the life of gunners during the 2nd WW over the last 20 years.

2. 6 guns are to be kept in Ireland for ceremonial and State occasions whilst others will find new homes in museums at home and abroad.

3. These guns are still in service in Pakistan and that is where the ammunition was made for the firing.

4. After the WWII, the 25 pounder was used in the Korea, between Israel and Arab nations, and as recently as 2003 by Kurds against Saddam Hussein's army.

5. The last time a 25 pounder was used in action by the British was 1972. It was manned by SAS Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba, a Fijian, at Mirbat, Oman. Sadly Sgt Labalaba was killed in action. He had continued to fire the gun by himself, although seriously wounded, and his actions helped to keep the insurgents pinned down until a relief force arrived. You can see this gun at the Firepower Museum, Woolwich.
6. The creeping barrage laid down in the 1977 film a Bridge Too Far is being ‘fired’ by the Irish Army 25 pounders.