Ireland is commemorating 100 years of the mutiny by a British Army battalion stationed in Jalandhar and Solan in Punjab in support of the Irish freedom movement.
Here is a look at the momentous events which took place in June and July 1920 and culminated in the execution of an Irish soldier, Private James Daly, making him a symbol of Irish resistance against the British.
Which Irish unit mutinied in India?
A British Army battalion belonging to the Connaught Rangers was the one in which Irish soldiers mutinied in Jalandhar and Solan in Punjab. Solan now lies in Himachal Pradesh but in 1920 it was part of Punjab. The Ist Battalion of the Connaught Rangers was stationed in Jalandhar since January 1920 after it had taken part in the First World War.
The Connaught Rangers were raised during the British Army reforms of 1881. The National Army Museum (NAM) of United Kingdom (UK) states that the 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers) merged with the 94th Regiment of the Foot to form a new two-battalion unit. This new unit took its title from the 88th Foot, which traditionally recruited in the Irish province of Connaught.
According to NAM, both battalions served in the First World War on the western front in 1914-15. The 2nd Battalion suffered such heavy casualties that in December 1914 it had to merge with 1st Battalion. This was redeployed to Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in January 1916 and also fought in Palestine in 1918. Post war, 1st Battalion spent most of the post-war period in India.
Why did the mutiny take place?
The troops of The Connaught Rangers were protesting against the behaviour of the ‘Black and Tans’ during the Irish War of Independence (1919-22). The Black and Tan were members of the Irish constabulary which had been recruited from Great Britain and mostly comprised demobilised soldiers who had fought in the First World War.
The Irish soldiers felt that they must rise in solidarity with their compatriots back in Ireland and hence in June and July 1920 some of the regiment’s men mutinied in Jullundur (now Jalandhar) cantonment and later in Solan in Punjab.📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
How did the mutiny begin in Jalandhar?
According to the testimony of Lance Corporal John Flannery, available with the Bureau of Military History of the Irish Army, the unrest in the 1st Battalion of Connaught Rangers started in Jalandhar on the afternoon of June 25, 1920.
“Private Dawson, B Company went to the battalion guardroom and asked to be placed under arrest, giving as his reason to the guard commander that he is in sympathy with his country in its fight for freedom and that he was taking this step as a protest against the atrocious deeds committed on the people of Ireland by the Black and Tan,” states Flannery.
There was an attempt in the battalion to cover up the incident as though Dawson was taken under arrest, he was later shifted to the military hospital with the excuse that he was suffering from sunstroke. While nothing further happened on the next two days, on June 28 more troops of the battalion turned up at the guardroom asking to be put under arrest in support for their country. Soon other troops refused to parade as the news of the mutiny spread.
According to Private Joseph Hawes, a soldier who was stationed in the battalion at the time, the soldiers were singing rebel songs and shouting ‘up the republic’. The Commanding Officer of the battalion, Lt Col HRG Deacon tried to control the mutineers by addressing them and referred to his 33 years of service in the regiment and named all the different battle honours won by the battalion and regiment.
“He had made an eloquent appeal and I was afraid he might convince the men so I stepped forward and said, ‘all the honours on the Connaught flag are for England, there are none for Ireland but there is going to be one today and it will be the greatest of them all’,” said Hawes.
However, despite the unrest there was no violence in Jalandhar as all the troops willingly deposited rifles and ammunition in the guardroom and listened to the voices of reason including that the General Officer Commanding of the Jullunder Brigade. However, two men from the battalion slipped away to head for Solan to give the news of the mutiny to the C Company stationed there and to ask them to do the same. While the soldiers in Solan mutinied, those stationed in Jutogh remained loyal.
What effect did the mutiny have in Solan?
The B and D Companies of the Connaught Rangers were stationed in Jalandhar while the C Company was in Solan and A Company in Jutogh near Shimla.
The two men who had slipped away from Jalandhar reached Solan on the morning of July 1, 1920 but since the military authorities in Solan had already been alerted about the mutiny in Jalandhar, they were on the lookout for visitors. These two soldiers stayed low till dusk and then reached the unit lines and informed the soldiers present about the events in Jalandhar.
Both were subsequently arrested and sent back to Jalandhar but not before they had done their job and cause a mutiny in Solan which turned out to be violent leading to loss of lives. Private James Daly emerged as the leader of the mutineers in Solan.
In the book ‘A Coward if I return, A hero if I fail: Stories of Irishmen in World War 1’, the author Neil Richardson states that Private Daly led a group of 70 soldiers to mount a raid on the unit armoury where all the arms and ammunition were stored.
“However the hill station’s officers-all Irish-defended the armoury and refused to let Daly and his followers gain access to their weapons. Two mutineers were shot and killed during the fight — Private Peter Sears and fellow Irishman Private John Smyth — while a third was badly wounded before the revolt was finally suppressed,” writes Richardson.
How did the British react to the mutiny?
Around 400 soldiers of the Connaught Rangers had mutinied in Jalandhar and Solan but only 88 of them were put through court martial. A General Court Martial was conducted in Dagshai in September 1919 and was presided upon by Lt General Sidney Lawford and three other officers of the ranks of Captain and Major. Several of the the mutineers, including James Daly, were lodged in the Dagshai jail and a variety of sentences were passed by the court martial ranging from life sentence to death by firing squad.
While 13 soldiers were sentenced to death but 12 of them got reprieve as their sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Only James Daly did not get a reprieve and was ordered to be shot by a firing squad on November 2, 1920. He remains the last British soldier to have been shot by a firing squad.
Where and how did the execution of James Daly take place?
James Daly and other mutineers were lodged in Dagshai jail, near Solan. It was and remains a quaint little cantonment town and was very isolated at the time.
Three days before the date of execution James Daly was shifted from his cell to a guardroom of the barracks outside the Dagshai jail and was brought to the guardroom at the main gate of the jail a day before on November 1.
Reverend TB Baker, a Catholic priest stationed in Solan, had been called to Dagshai for the last rites of Daly and he has given a detailed account of his execution to Lance Corporal Flannery.
“On the night of November 1, I heard his last confession, gave him the Apostolic Blessing and promised him I would give him the last anointing if I possibly could,” recalled Reverend Baker.
The execution was fixed for dawn on November 2. Daly was ordered to be brought out at 6 am. “The cell door was opened. There was Daly, pale and somewhat thinned, unwashed and his clothes-oh, so old and dirty. He had on a pair or army boots unpolished, a khaki coat and trousers, a warm jersey below the coat and another thinner jersey below this, not one shred of which had had a wash since the 2nd July previous and, it looked like it,” Reverend Baker said.
Daly refused to have a black serge bag put over his head as he was being taken inside the prison for his execution, saying, “I don’t want this. I’ll die like an Irishman”. Baker managed to coaxe him to wear it and before he wore it Daly requested to see his friends lodged in the jail. This was refused by the Colonel commanding the prison.
Daly rook the bag off and looked around the prison compound when his leg touched the chair on which he was to sit before being shot. Baker states that he was highly disappointed when told he could not meet his friends last time.
“He said nothing, but his head fell on my shoulder and for the first time he gave way. It was all so heartrending… He then, without a word, took from his coat the farewell letter which the other prisoners wrote to him the day before and which one of the prison officers was kind enough to have delivered to him, as couple of cigarettes, a few annas in silver and nickel and his green silk handkerchief, the token of leadership,” says Baker.
Daly refused to be tied down to the chair when one Sergeant approached. Baker waived off the man while a medical officer came and fixed a white paper target over his heart and move aside.
“The officer in charge of the firing party then motioned me aside and I stationed myself just outside the firing line with my eyes fixed on this officer. As he let fall a handkerchief, the volley was fired, and a bullet found its mark in Daly’s heart and passed out of his body with a great spurt of blood. I immediately rushed forward and snatched the bag from Daly’s head. He cast a look at me and as he did so I anointed him on the forehead. His body leaned a little to the left, and he was dead. His shoulder blade caught in a corner of the chair and thus he remained sitting,” Baker described the execution.
Private James Daly was buried in Dagshai cemetery along with Private Peter Sears, John Smyth and later John Miranda who died in December 1920 of enteric fever while lodged in Dagshai jail.
What was the aftermath of the mutiny and the execution?
The 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers remained stationed in Jalandhar till they were sent to Rawalpindi in 1921.
In 1922, following the independence of the Irish Free State, all battalions of the British Army that were recruited there, including The Connaught Rangers, were disbanded.
In 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the mutiny, the remains of James Daly, Peter Sears and John Smyth were exhumed from the Dagshai cemetery and re-interred in Ireland in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.
Private John Miranda was English and perhaps that is why his remains were not taken to Ireland.
He still lies buried in the cemetery in Dagshai.
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