CHARTERHOUSE has been to stay with the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Rangers — in Berlin, It is a regiment from Northern Ireland, the only infantry one that survives. It seems to have achieved something that Ireland itself ha .s not yet achieved. The Catholics and the Protestants live easily side by side — give or take a Saturday night fracas. (They use other words for that sort of tete a tete in the Army.) By Catholic Herald standards. I have always been a bit of a .1 admire the soldierly ethic. With Chesterton, I believe there is a purity in the sword. Wars are made, not by soldiers, but by politicians and mobs and journalists and popes. Only soldiers, who, from being servants of the state, suddenly see they can doff their obedience and become masters, then suddenly become dictators. But they were silly soldiers, and even an alarming number of them went to Sandhurst.
The Rangers were formed. in 1968 out of the economically oaaickv amalgamation of the Enniskillen Fusiliers, the Ulster Rifles and the Irish Fusilier's. (I do not give their full titles, else we would be here for ever.) But I dined the first night in the mess with the young officers. The older ones live out. They were sophisticated and civil to a portly journalist and they teased each other at times about their religion — or lack of it.
When I commented on this later, I think some were a bit worried. Many, many years ago I was in a different Irish regiment. That was during the war and long before this latest round of the Troubles. We never talked about religion except to try to get our extremely well connected chaplain (RC) from Downside to try to arrive on time — for anything.
But these officers in very undress, pleasantly and civilisedly teased one another. And it delighted me that Christians and people in the Christian tradition had not forgotten, could not only sit together and laugh together and drink (in moderation) together, but also not be sundered by their, usually, hereditary beliefs. That is a great journalistic edifice to build upon an amusing dinner in an officer's mess, but I thought that the foundation was strong enough to bear it.
In fact, there are 629 souls in the Battalion. There are 197 Catholics (on paper) in it. Twelve of the officers are Catholic. Some of them come from the South, from the Republic, some via England. They make no great thing of this. One of their recruiting officers was murdered in the North fairly recently. But in no way are they a small, miniature image of the Six Counties.
The Rangers are in one great political quandary or crisis of identity or in some other sort of state of agonised spiritual indecision. (1 exaggerate and put it in terms that they would find odd.) they, a Northenr Irish regiment, have never served in Northern Ireland. But should they go'?
The Irish Guards will never go there. It was a place they always avoided, except for recruiting, because of the strain of the local and tremendous and bloody loyalties. It would be hard on the Rangers to go there and yet, the officers I talked to. seemed to want to go. But this might have been mere military decency, because it is the foulest posting that a British soldier can get just now.
But Chesterton had it right. There is a special virtue in disciplined and dedicated soldiers. And it has nothing whatever to do with conquest or cruelty.
When 1 was in Berlin, there was also going on what they call the "Katholikentag". But, like all foreigners, it seemed to run on a bit. Not a one day "Catholic Day" but about five with nearly 100,000 of them crowding. singing, young, happy, blocking the traffic lights like soldier ants do jungle paths, taking over Hitler's Olympic Stadium, with 90,000 at Mass, hot, steamy having a ball. intolerably young, cheerful, given to song, stripped to the waist, walking behind crosses, making our religion look as if it mattered.
They had come from all over Germany, for Berlin is not at all a Catholic City. This was the capital of black, beastly, Protestant Prussia. But then Charterhouse is devoid of all prejudice and his tolerance is positively offensive.