On our trip to Paris to discover more about The Wild Geese in France, we found three names on the famous Arc de Triomphe. This monument commemorates soldiers who have fought for freedom and justice in France and who shaped the country into the centre of European power.
Standing out amongst the names were Kilmaine, Clarke and Dillon – Irish soldiers and heroes in the service of France.
Charles Edward Jennings de Kilmaine, known as ‘Brave Kilmaine’ served the French army in the eighteenth century. It was a difficult time for the country, that went through many changes over the century. So too did Kilmaine.
He won numerous victories and built a strong military career. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming Chef d’Escadron, the equivalent to the rank of Captain-Major.
Of his most celebrated victories was at Mantua, during Napoleon’s Italian campaign. Kilmaine went up against forces commanded by Austrian veteran Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser – a brave man, who’s reputation preceded him.
The two titans first met in October 1796, where Wurmser had killed Kilmaine’s horse and rumour spread across Europe that Kilmaine had been mortally wounded.
But Kilmaine was relentless. Napoleon remarked:
‘The brave General Kilmaine made his arrangements for an attack, … but he had scarcely begun to march when the enemy evacuated their camps’
In early December, Wurmser led another attack on Kilmaine’s forces. A ferocious battle that lasted most of the day. Like Patrick Sarsfield before him, Kilmaine prevailed. The two forces would fight until February 1797, when Wurmser surrendered to Kilmaine.
This victory was celebrated across Paris and Kilmaine remained in command of Mantua for some time after its capture.
Like the original Wild Geese, Kilmaine also faced adversity. During the instability of revolutionary France, many of his troops were without pay. They faced the prospect of severe poverty and lynching from civilians. But Kilmaine tried hard to keep order among his troops. He frequently dug deep into his own funds to support them and ensure they could be sustained from day to day.
It is no surprise that Kilmaine’s name is remembered on the Arc de Triomphe. He believed in the same principals of The Wild Geese who went before him and was a keen supporter of freedom, liberty and justice.
One of Kilmaine’s comrades, French General Charles Tristan remembered Kilmaine:
‘Brave and noble Kilmaine, beig an excellent cavalry officer, had coolness and forsight, he was well fitted to command a corps of observation, detached upon those arduous or delicate commissions which require spirit, discernment, and sound judgement’