The Bolt-Action Rifle from a Dead German Soldier

Stolen During The Great Depression

Article by Frank Jardim

George Irish was an independent-minded man. In 1917, he was 25 years old. He made a living as a jack-of-all-trades in Summers, Conn., just across the border from Massachusetts. He wasn’t married and America had just become involved in what became know as World War I.
He volunteered for the army. He was assigned to an artillery unit and trained in the Midwest before crossing the Atlantic in an improvised troop ship. In France, he didn’t work the guns, instead he kept the doughboys who labored over them fed. He was a muleskinner, and his job was to drag loads of artillery ammunition and supplies across the open barrage, along swept roads and paths, from the supply dumps to the front-line artillery positions.

It was hard work hitching up the mule team and driving the animals through the shell-torn terrain and digging out the wagons when they got stuck in the mud. Mules cannot take cover, and if they were killed or wounded by shell splinters or machine gun barrages or poison gas, he had to calm the other animals and unhitch the casualties so the supplies could move on.

Gas attacks were especially miserable. First he had to put on his own mask, and then try as fast as he could with limited vision through cloudy eyepieces to get them on mules. It was not glorious work, only hard and dangerous.
On one trip over recently taken ground, he saw a dead German officer in a shell hole. By that time, he was no stranger to the dead. What caught his attention was the officer’s beautiful sniper rifle. It was a custom-made bolt action with dual-set triggers and a telescopic sight, in a European caliber unfamiliar to him.
He recovered the rifle and all the ammunition the officer had on him, and stowed it on his wagon. If he got home, it would be a fine and very practical souvenir. Though the Germans never got him, the Spanish flu that killed millions worldwide in 1918 almost did. He spent three days sick in bed but recovered.



After the armistice, he mustered out in Springfield, Mass., and with his helmet, gas mask and the finest hunting rifle he would ever own, walked the 30 miles back to his home town. He wore out his uniform and boots working in the year that followed, and he hunted with the fine rifle to put food on the table.
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He was an excellent shot, and the ammunition he’d taken from the officer lasted him into the 1930s. Unfortunately, during the Great Depression, someone broke into the mountainside cabin he’d built for himself and his wife, and stole the rifle. I wish I could see that rifle, but it’s been gone a long time.

The greater prize is really knowing who George Irish, Sr. was. There have been few like him before or since. He lived into his early 90s, outliving his wife who was 20 years his junior. All but his last few years were spent in the home he’d built into the side of the mountain that never had running water, indoor plumbing or electricity.
These amenities were things he never felt he particularly needed. He grew his own food, and when his legs could no longer carry him up the hillside to his garden, he dragged himself with his hands. He was the kind of man who was so remarkably tough and talented, it is hard for modern Americans to have a frame of reference to appreciate it.