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World Record Military March 1944

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  • World Record Military March 1944

    I've just seen comments about this march on another thread (now locked). Here is a link to an account of it on, it was originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ March 1945. It's post number 6 on the thread.

    There are some great stories on that thread, it's worth clicking on the link.

    (I saw the link in "another place" (arrse). Apologies if it's already been posted on this site.)
    On the night of the 12th September 1944, forty five officers, NCOs, and men of the 4th Battalion set out to march 42 statute miles, each carrying 40 lbs of equipment. Nine covered the distance in 11 hours 49 minutes and all but four, who were casualties, finished in less than 14 hours.

    Our Battalion Sports were to be held on Sunday 16th September, and a cup was being presented for the best all-round company competing. It was decided, after much discussion, to have a marching competition for which a proportion of the marks for the cup would be allotted. For some years now a number of our officers, NCOs, and men have been anxious to show what they could do on a really tough march and to establish what might be a record for the Army. It was also felt that a number of men who had no specific athletic or sporting ability, but who had given valuable and faithful all-round service, should get a chance to show their worth. The march was therefore unique in that it was first and foremost a sporting event.

    The following rules were drafted:
    1. That all participants should be volunteers.
    2. That all should be medically examined before starting.
    3. Teams to consist of 1 officer, 2 NCOs and six men.
    4. Equipment: Rifles, respirator and full battle order - helmet to be carried but forage cap to be worn. Equipment to be weighed before starting.
    5. Course: 42 statute miles.
    6. Teams to start at half hour intervals. Transport officer to be time keeper.
    7. Order of starting to be drawn by lot.
    8. Choice of rations to rest with team.
    9. Arrangements for times and places of refreshment to be left to initiative of each team. All preliminary arrangements and assistance on the road to be debarred, the only concession being that any cooking utensils required would be carried on umpire’s bicycle.
    10. One officer umpire with a bicycle to travel with each team.
    11. Teams sustaining any casualties to be ineligible (this meant that each team had to march at the rate of its weakest member)
    12. Number of teams: five from each company.

    To put the march in its proper military perspective each team was to consider itself a fighting patrol detailed to march from a point 42 miles outside Fermoy Town to blow up Fermoy Bridge.

    Volunteers flocked forward - from the oldest to the youngest in the battalion - all were anxious to “have a shot at it.” About two days before the march teams were finally selected. Never has any sporting attempt in the history of the battalion evoked such interest and enthusiasm. Old soldiers were lavish with “tips,” grey haired experts passed on the fruits of their experience. Scarcely a man left camp on the night of the 12th - all were anxious to see the start and give last minute instructions. The headquarters of each team was like a jockey’s dressing room with willing assistants adjusting equipment, soaping socks, donating cigarettes and chocolate for the road and giving still more last minute advice.

    First team away from Fermoy at 2100 hours was B Company under Lieutenant George McEnery on the long road to Fermoy via Ballyhooley, Castletownroche, Skenakill CR - Fermoy. They were followed at half-hourly intervals by HQ Coy and then C, A and D Companies.

    The result is now history. B Company coming home at 0849 hours were winners in the remarkable time of 11 hours 49 minutes. Each team was met by pipers a quarter mile from the camp and the entire battalion was massed at the front gate to cheer them in, and proudly lead their own teams for a mug of the “Sergeant-Majors.”

    We learned an amount of useful. Data from the march of which the following will be of general interest:
    All men wore good worn boots, some half-soled, all studded. The night was cold and dark, rain from 0300 to 0600 hrs. One third of the road was second and third class, surfaces rough and stony which caused some difficulty in the dark, two thirds were first class tarred roads with good surface. There was no adverse report from MO on his inspection after march. Men were suffering from natural exhaustion but recovered quickly. No one came in in a state of collapse. The causes of four casualties were as follows:
    1. Exhaustion due to unaccustomed weight of equipment: this man fell out after 28 miles.
    2. Old operation wound started to give trouble.
    3. Badly blistered heel due to lack of practice in marching.
    4. Sick stomach due to eating too much chocolate on march.
    (first three were from HQ Coy)

    Points of interest from winning team:
    Ages: 2nd Lt McEnery (28), Cpl Courtney (26), Cpl Clancy (26), Pte Foley (32), Pte Ryan (26), Pte Kelly (25), Pte Walsh (23), Pte Galvin (29), Pte Harris (28)

    Socks: All old, in good condition, and changed once during the march. Eight of winning team greased socks with soap (socks were slightly damped, rubbed with soap and allowed to dry.) The remaining man did not avail of this device and suffered blistered toes.
    Rations: Winning team carried cold tea in water bottles and sandwiches.
    Formation varied to break monotony from tactical formation both sides of road to closed column.

    Bounds and rest:

    Distance Time Rest Period

    First Bound 16 miles 3 hours 40 minutes 15 minutes Sip of cold tea - no smoking
    Second Bound 7 ½ miles 1 hour 30 minutes 30 minutes Cold tea and sandwich - no smoking
    Third Bound 7 miles 1 hour 40 minutes 15 minutes Sip of tea - no smoking
    Fourth Bound 3 miles 55 minutes 15 minutes
    Fifth Bound 4 miles 1 hour 10 minutes
    Sixth Bound 4 ½ miles 1 hour 29 minutes 10 minutes

    Total 42 miles 10 hours 14 minutes 1 hour 35 minutes

    Total Time of March 11 hours 49 minutes

    The break of 10 minutes in the last bound was made near Labbacallee to permit a member of the team to fix his socks which had slipped down over his heel. Drank water from a nearby pump.

    It will be interesting to note that to a man the winning team did not smoke throughout the whole march.
    D Company brewed tea almost in a matter of seconds by use of an ingenious device which was jealously guarded. Roughly ¼ inch of methylated spirits was put in the larger part of a mess tin, lit, and water boiled in the smaller part. This was done by each man. Amongst the competitors who finished was one NCO of 52 and a man aged 46.
    As a participant in the march myself I found the greatest strain to be the weight of the equipment and suffered considerably from cramp and pains in shoulders and arms. Singing helped us but it was difficult to find songs suitable in rhythm. Most of our marching songs as sung at present seemed too much of an effort. All our mental faculties remained alert although tempers did not improve towards the end and little annoyances were magnified out of all proportion. The darkness of the night was exceptionally trying and a similar march in daylight would be a far less formidable task. All agreed we were capable of digging in or mining a bridge, but would scarcely be capable of sustained offensive combat without at least five hours rest. My most vivid recollection was the enthusiastic, emotion-charged reception which we got from the battalion as we marched home. The men who took part in this march were average infantry soldiers who received no special preliminary training and I know there are thousands of others who could have taken their places. No better proof that this cold be given of the fitness, morale and powers and endurance of the Army as it stands, and marches, today.

    Commandant MN Gill
    Originally published in ‘An Cosantoir’ March 1945

    Some forty years later, this march was recognised as the fastest military march carried out under peacetime conditions and was entered as such in the Guinness Book of Records.
    Last edited by Flamingo; 4 March 2010, 21:24.
    'He died who loved to live,' they'll say,
    'Unselfishly so we might have today!'
    Like hell! He fought because he had to fight;
    He died that's all. It was his unlucky night.

  • #2
    Great find, thanks for posting it.

    The headquarters of each team was like a jockey’s dressing room with willing assistants adjusting equipment, soaping socks, donating cigarettes and chocolate for the road and giving still more last minute advice.
    That must be the difference between the old timers and us young ''s too healthy we are

    Edit - just realised it was the winning team which didn't smoke...cancel my last

    4. Sick stomach due to eating too much chocolate on march.
    Last edited by concussion; 4 March 2010, 21:50.
    "Attack your attic with a seen on the Late Late Show..."


    • #3
      There was another famous march done in the war from Dublin to Cork.

      That generation were a tougher breed.


      • #4
        It'd be a great idea for the Reserve to organise, if every coy sized unit stood up a team for a competition as close as possible to the one above I think the public image and esprit de corps would be enhanced a lot.


        • #5
          Some good care of the feet tips there!

          And the idea that it allowed those of no sporting skill to 'show their worth'was an excellent one.

          That was quite a march - does this still stand?
          'History is a vast early warning system'. Norman Cousins


          • #6
            Royal Marines Officer 30 miler is done in less than 7 hrs.

            Could be a contender for fastest. But 42 miles does add extra weight to the claim
            "The Question is not: how far you will take this? The Question is do you possess the constitution to go as far as is needed?"


            • #7
              Looking at the times and distances of their bounds, they would have been coming in about equal to the Royal Marines Officer 30 milier

              First Bound 16 miles 3 hours 40 minutes 15 minutes Sip of cold tea - no smoking
              Second Bound 7 ½ miles 1 hour 30 minutes 30 minutes Cold tea and sandwich - no smoking
              Third Bound 7 miles 1 hour 40 minutes 15 minutes Sip of tea - no smoking
              So they did 30.5 miles in 7 hours, and took an hours rest, so when moving, they had the right pace.
              What are you cackling at, fatty? Too much pie, that's your problem.


              • #8
                I remember reading some where that they actually marched, there was no running/ jogging etc to make up time


                • #9
                  Of course, many of these would have taken part in the Blackwater manouevres
                  in (I think) 1942
                  "Well, stone me! We've had cocaine, bribery and Arsenal scoring two goals at home. But just when you thought there were truly no surprises left in football, Vinnie Jones turns out to be an international player!" (Jimmy Greaves)!"


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Vanguard View Post
                    That generation were a tougher breed.
                    It starts already.
                    The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.
                    (George Bernard Shaw, Playwright, 1856 - 1950)


                    • #11
                      No soft modern boots either, just lumpy hobnailers and clothing almost designed to gain weight in the rain.Not to mind the complete lack of compensation claims afterward.


                      • #12
                        Hi all,
                        members of the old 23rd batt. tried to break the original record around
                        1988-89. had a lot of twisted ankles, so it was put on the back boiler.


                        • #13
                          As a matter of interest, does the soaped socks idea still stand ?


                          • #14
                            I think both sock and boot technology has move on since then


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bravo20 View Post
                              I think both sock and boot technology has move on since then
                              You should have seen my lads feet last November !! OK, so soaps out. There must be some tips though ?