12 February 2012

Agent Double O Cushing

One thing I have promised for a long time is to finish the chronicles of Thomas   "Red" Cushing, an Irishman who took part in a number of major events in the first half of the 20th century.

In 1962 he wrote a wonderfully entertaining autobiography called "Soldier for Hire". It is long out of print but it is not too hard to pick up a copy. While you have to take what he says with a pinch of salt, that he took part in many of the things he took part in are a matter of historical record

Born in 1909 in Carrick on Suir he played a small role in the 'Troubles" and the Civil War ( a very small one given his age) before emigrating to the United States and enlisting in the US army. His US army days appear to be a tale of promotion to NCO, drinking, fighting, demotion, drinking, fighting, promotion... and so on.

After leaving the US army he took part in the Spanish Civil war on the Republican side, before coming to the UK and enlisting in the British Army. He was part of the British Expeditionary Force and was taken prisoner in June 1940. 

It is a matter of historical record that the Germans attempted to lure Irish POWs to throw their lot in with the Reich. As in WWI when Sir Roger Casement attempted to persuade Irishmen held at the Limburg POW camp to join an Irish Legion (53 Irishmen joined but saw no service on the German side in WWI), the German Intelligence Service Abwehr set up a special camp at Friesack for Irish POWs.

One of the soldiers sent to the Friesack camp was Red Cushing.

Cushing was sent there after a stint working in a coal mine (see The Good Soldier Cushing Part ii - fear not there will be an index to the Cushing stories following these last posts)..

When he discovered that prisoners from Eire were to be segregated and given preferential treatment vis a vis rations and light work duties, Cushing smelled a rat, remembering vaguely "of an incident in the First World War through the medium of Roger Casement, the Germans had formed an irish Brigade to fight for Ireland's Freedom. According to my father that brigade had ended up fighting for Kathleen ni Houlihan on the Russian Front " (Not actually true that they fought on the Russian Front but everything else is true - my grandfather would have heard Casement speak at Limburg).

Cushing suspected that the Germans were up to no good he discussed with a friend Pat Patterson about stringing the Germans along until they could get an opportunity to escape.

Cushing reckons that there were about 120 Irish soldiers collected together, His main achievement in the first stage of what would be a lengthy selection process. His main act at this stage was to promote himself from corporal to sergeant.

At a second camp he describes as about 20 miles outside of Berlin (almost certainly Friesack) he and another sixty other Irishmen were screened for the profesions of loyalty to both Ireland and Germany. After a potentially disastrous encounter with someone who purported to be IRA leader and International Brigade fighter Frank Ryan (Ryan was both and had been sentenced to death by the Nationalists. His sentences was commuted and he was subsequently removed from Spain to Germany by Abwehr. He died in Dresden in 1944 but I digress). Calling out the person as a fake may have been the  end of his escapades but it seems he got lucky.

A little later he was approached by a Colonel McGrath (Major John McGrath of the Royal Engineers was the Senior Irish officer at Friesack) who asked him to keep a check on the goings on at the camp and to reportback to him. In effect McGrath had given him carte blanche to be a double agent (This is not totally implausible given that Cushing was not only reinstated to the British Army after WWII, he continued to serve for many years after, srising to senior NCO rank). Anyway, Cuhsing was given authority to choose half a dozen other prisoners to act as agents for McGrath.

Cushing and his band of "double agents"were given training in Morse code, cipjers, sabotage and the like. They did their best to prove that they were not only "first rate saboteurs but also that we had fallen hook, line and sinker for the German line of propaganda"

The Germans were pleased with the Irishmen's performance  as they were taken to a hose in Berlin. After a few days of leisure Cushing was interview who ed by a von Halle (presumably Kurt Haller) who discussed is military service and postings, especially those with the US Army in Panama. It was at this point that von Halle told him that he and his team were off to Hamburg for  a final briefing for his first mission.


Kay Dennison said...

I have to get this book!!! I love renegade types!!! Big surprise there, huh? LOL

jams o donnell said...

Haha that doesn't surprise me Kay. He was a larger than life character