IT WAS a cold winter morning on November 2, 1920, that Private James Daly of the 1st Battalion of The Connaught Rangers was brought out of the guard room in Dagshai prison and shot dead in the rear compound by a firing squad.
Daly remains the last soldier of the British Army to have been shot dead for mutiny.
It was an Irish mutiny which took place in Jalandhar and Solan 100 years ago in support of the Irish freedom movement.
The Connaught Rangers
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 is 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 second Battalion suffered such heavy casualties, and in December 1914, it had to merge with the first Battalion. This was redeployed to Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in January 1916 and also fought in Palestine in 1918. Post war, the first Battalion spent most of the post-war period in India.
“In June 1920, some of the regiment’s men mutinied in Jullundur (now Jalandhar) cantonment in Punjab. They were protesting against the behaviour of the ‘Black and Tans’ during the Irish War of Independence (1919-22). The ‘Black and Tans’ were members of the Irish constabulary which had been recruited from Great Britain and mostly comprised of demobilised soldiers who had fought in the First World War.
Of the 88 men involved, 77 were sentenced to imprisonment; only the ringleader, Private James Daly, was shot,” NAM states. 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.
The mutiny 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 Tans,” 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 under the excuse that he was suffering from sunstroke. While nothing further happened over the next two days, on June 28, more and more troops of the battalion turned up at the guardroom asking to be put under arrest in support for their country.
A piquant situation arose in the Jalandhar unit where only two companies of the battalion — B and D — were stationed at the time. C company was stationed in Solan in the hills while A company was at Jutogh near Shimla. 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 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.
The mutiny in Solan
The two men who had slipped away from Jalandhar reached Solon 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’, 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. The injured man, Private John Miranda, later died in Dagshai on December 22, 1920, of enteric fever.
The court martial
Around 400 soldiers of the Connaught Rangers had mutinied in Jalandhar and Solan but only 88 of them were put through court martial. The General Court Martial was conducted in Dagshai in September 1920 and was presided upon by Lt General Sidney Lawford and three other officers of the ranks of Captain and Major. Several of 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.
Thirteen soldiers were sentenced to death, but twelve 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.
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 T B Baker, a Catholic priest stationed in Solan, had been called to Dagshai for the last rites of Daly. He has given a detailed account of his execution to Lance Corporal Flannery.
“On the night of November 1st, 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 coax 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 took 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 one 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 waved 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.
The 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers remained stationed in Jalandhar till they were sent to Rawalpindi in 1921. They remained there till the regiment was disbanded in 1922.
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 at Dagshai.
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