On 27 June 1920, it was hot in Jalandhar, in the Indian state of Punjab. It was not the fact that for days the daily temperatures often exceed 105° Fahrenheit; that was to be expected in June. It was not the fact that the area then, as it is today, bordering on the modern state of Pakistan, was often a flashpoint for conflict. No, the temperatures were rising in the barracks of one of the most storied regiments in the British Army, the Connaught Rangers. There was mutiny in the air.
Tracing its history back to 1793 and recruited in Ireland’s province of Connacht, the deeds of generations of Irishmen had covered the regiment in glory; it would be easier to list the battles they had not participated in than the ones it had. In WW I, they had lost over 2,000 men, a third of their number, having participated not only in the disastrous landing at Gallipoli but also all along the Western Front, including the retreat from Mons and the Somme. Their courage in battle had earned the regiment the nickname of “the Devil’s Own.”
All that now had changed. Private Joe Hawes, a veteran of the First World War, had returned home to Ireland on leave before rejoining the regiment. He told his bunkmates of the Black and Tans’ brutal oppression he had witnessed when shutting down a hurling match. Many in the barracks had also recently received mail from relatives in Ireland describing similar injustice at the British’s hands. The question was asked, “What are we going to do about it?” Hawes and three others agreed they could no longer act for Britain in India as the Tans were acting in Ireland; they would no longer soldier for Britain.Hawes and his party gave their home addresses to a comrade; if they were shot out of hand, they wanted their families to know why. They then marched to their Colonels offices, and with the added contempt of smoking a cigarette, Hawes announced their decision to surrender themselves as they could no longer soldier for England out of sympathy for Ireland. Word of the action spread quickly. When the remainder of the company formed up for the parade, another soldier stepped out of line, announcing that he wanted to join his comrades in the guard room. With that, twenty-nine more members, including embarrassingly the armed duty guard, joined the protest.
‘All the honors in the Connaught flag are for England and there are none for Ireland, but there will be one today and it will be the greatest of them all.’— Private Joe Hawes
Now desperate, the Colonel brought Hawes and the other original protesters before him and the assembled men. He attempted to shame them, recounting the regiment’s glorious history and shaming them for their dishonor; at one time, the Colonel worked himself into tears. The Colonel then offered to forget the whole matter if the protestors returned to their bungalows. Hawes stepped forward and defiantly replied, ‘All the honors in the Connaught flag are for England and there are none for Ireland, but there will be one today and it will be the greatest of them all.’ With that, the whole camp went over to Hawes. Not wishing violence, they grounded their arms and secured them in the armory. They sent a man to the local bazaar and bought cloth so the regimental tailor could replace the Union Jack with the Irish Tricolor.
Fatefully, they sent representatives to another outpost in Solon, where another Rangers company was stationed. Among the Solon garrison was Private James Daly, a brother of one of the original mutineers. Despite being only twenty years old, Daly soon convinced his comrades in the Solon garrison to “ground arms” and refuse to soldier. As in Jalandhar, the men returned their weapons to the armory and returned to barracks now rechristened “Liberty Hall.”
Unfortunately, this is where the so far peaceful protest took a tragic turn. The mutiny at Jalandhar ended peacefully when detachments of the Seaforth Highlanders and the South Wales Borderers surrounded the barracks; the mutineers surrendered and were transferred to a makeshift internment camp. A rumor spread back to Daly and the men in Solon that the Jalandhar garrison had been surprised and massacred. Rashly, Daly decided to reclaim their weapons rather than (in their erroneous belief) being helplessly slaughtered. The attack ended tragically with two privates killed (one who was merely watching). Another survived despite a severe chest wound.
Retribution was swift and severe. The mutineers were sent to the infamous Dagshai prison, where even British officers protested their cruel and inhumane treatment. With the typical British love of symbolism, eighty-eight mutineers, the number originally assigned to the regiment, were court-martialed: seventy-seven were sentenced to imprisonment, and ten were acquitted.
That left one man to die, 20-year-old James Daly, and for the most cynical of reasons. It was believed that if no one were executed, it would set a bad example for the British Army’s Indian regiments. On 2 November 1920, James Daly was shot by a firing squad, the last British soldier shot for mutiny. It concluded a week of tragic legacy: Terence MacSwiney had died on hunger strike seven days earlier, 18-year-old Kevin Barry had been hung on 1, November, the day before Daly’s execution. All had died for Ireland.
The outrage of the world at the brutality of that week finally drove Britain to the negotiating table culminating in the treaty that secured partial independence for Ireland. With the signing of the treaty, the Connaught Rangers and other Irish regiments of the British Army were disbanded, and the mutineers still in prison released. After a long campaign, those of the Rangers who took part in the mutiny received pensions from the Irish State to make up for the British Army pensions they forfeited. Daly, Sears, and Smythe’s bodies were repatriated to Ireland in 1970 on the 50th anniversary of the mutiny.
“These boys fought for England with me, and I was ready to fight for Ireland with them.”— English Connaught Ranger Mutineer Sergeant Joseph Woods
However, the men of the Connaught Rangers are still victims of injustice. As soon as the incident became public, the British government attempted to slander the participants while distancing themselves from the injustice in Ireland that was so manifest that one of its steadiest regiments was compelled to mutiny. They began fabricating myths that the mutiny was the result of raw recruits in an inhospitable climate who “were not soldier enough to take it,”; deliberately ignoring that many of the men like Hawes were long-serving soldiers who had endured WW I. More contemptibly, modern revisionists have now gone a step further, claiming that the surviving mutineers exaggerated their nationalism only after the event to get a pension from the Irish State, ignoring facts such as the raising of the Irish Tricolor at the time of the mutiny. Perhaps, the best witness to the ConnaughtRangers mutineers’ true motives can be found in the testimony of an English Sergeant Joseph Woods. Woods had earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions in France. When asked by the Court Martial why he, an Englishman, had joined the mutiny, he replied, ‘These boys fought for England with me, and I was ready to fight for Ireland with them.’
Neil F. Cosgrove, Historian
An RTE documentary with interviews of the survivors of the Connaught Rangers Mutiny may be found HERE.