One of the most extraordinary acts of defiance against the British Empire took place in India on 28 June 1920 when four Irish soldiers, members of the British army, thousands of miles from home, decided to protest against the suppression of the independence movement in Ireland. The soldiers belonged to the Connaught Rangers and were stationed at the north of the country in the Wellington Barracks, Jullundur (modern day Jalandhar). At eight a.m. that morning, Joseph Hawes, Patrick Gogarty, Christopher Sweeney and Stephen Lally, all members of C Company, approached an officer they felt they could trust, Lance Corporal John Flannery, and told him that they wished to ground arms and cease fighting for the British Army due to the oppression of their friends in Ireland.
Joe Hawes had been on leave in Clare in October 1919 and had seen a hurling match proclaimed by troops with bayonets drawn. He had spoken about this with his colleagues (plus another man, William Daly) the night before and had made the point that they were doing in India what the Black and Tans were doing in Ireland. Their garrison was only ninety kilometres from Amritsar, where a massacre of Indian civilians had been carried out by British Indian soldiers less than a year earlier.
The four men wanted Flannery to have their addresses in Ireland in case their protest would led to their immediate execution. If they were going to die, they wanted to the true reason to be made known to their families. Then reporting to the guardroom, the protesters voluntarily asked to be arrested for being ‘in sympathy with Ireland.’
Joe Hawes and the start of the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers in Jullundur 1920
This initial action, however, rapidly changed from being one where a few individuals would prefer imprisonment and the risk of execution to continuing in their role as British soldiers to a full-blown mutiny of hundreds of men. Soon after the protest had begun, excited groups of soldiers gathered here and there in barracks talking about the stand being made by their four comrades. At that time, half of C Company, fifty men, were away in the Solon barracks (guarding an important route from Delhi to Simla). This left forty-six soldiers of the company who formed up for parade at nine a.m., with Hawes, Gogarty, Sweeney and Lally conspicuously absent. Another soldier stepped out of line, Jimmy Moran, and announced that he wanted to join his comrades in the guard room. With that action, the discipline of the remainder of the company shattered and twenty-nine more members of C Company, plus the (armed) duty guard himself joined the protest.
Now thirty-five strong, the mutineers entertained themselves by singing rebel songs and shouting ‘Up the Republic!’. When the two-hundred strong B Company, who had been away at the nearby rifle range, returned and heard the commotion, the soldiers – still bearing their weapons – made their way to the guardroom and a lively discussion took place with the prisoners. Colonel Deacon, officer commanding, thought he could successfully challenge the mutineers in front of his men and so ordered B Company to sit on the steps of a bungalow nearby.
Deacon then had the protestors line up in front of the sitting men and proceeded to harangue the rebels, attempting to shame them with the great history of the Connaught Rangers; working himself up to tears with the regiment’s proud record; all their various honours. The colonel then offered to forget the whole matter if the protestors returned to their bungalows. Hawes, a private and therefore on the lowest rung of the military hierarchy, nevertheless stepped forward, uncowed and defiant, and confronted the senior British officer: ‘All the honours in the Connaught flag are for England and there are none for Ireland but there is going to be one today and it will be the greatest of them all.’ A resulting attempt to isolate Hawes was thrown back by the mutineers marching off in good order back to the prison with their hero safely among them. Humiliatingly for Deacon, when he now attempted to order B Company to move on, they refused to leave. Instead, they swarmed over to Hawes and his friends, leaving Deacon distraught. The other senior officers, along with NCOs hurried away as the rank and file soldiers realised they had the upper hand and could take over the whole barracks.
Rebel British soldiers form a committee and take over the Jullundur barracks
Urging Hawes to lead them, the crowd of Connaught Rangers released all the protesters from the guardroom and rallied as many other soldiers as they could. A rebel muster took place with around 300 participants. They elected seven soldiers to be their committee: Joe Hawes and Patrick Gogarty – two of the original protesters – along with John Flannery as messenger to the officers and Jimmy Moran, J.A. McGowan, Paddy Sweeny and James Davies as the other members. The Union flag was removed from a bungalow occupied by the rebels and replaced with a hastily sewn Tricolour.
Now in firm control, the mutineers doubled the guard; distributed the task of making regular patrols; placed a permanent guard to monitor the senior officers (to ensure they didn’t attempt any rash action that might lead to violence); put a guard on alcohol; and commissioned a hundred green, white and orange rosettes from the local bazaar. According to an army telegram of the time, the attitude of the men was respectful but ‘obdurate in their refusal to perform any military duty.’ That day, too, they sent messengers off some two hundred kilometres to A Company, who were stationed at Jutogh and the other half of C Company, who were in barracks at Solon.
Frank Geraghty of Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan, was one of the mutineers who travelled to Solon and his background gives the lie to the official account of the mutiny by a regimental historian anxious to dismiss it as the action of ‘green recruits’. As Geraghty said in an interview, ‘I had served in France from January 1915 to the end of the war and had been wounded twice. And despite all my service, by mutinying, I knew what I was doing. But the news coming from Ireland disturbed my mind to such an extent that I was quite prepared to suffer anything, irrespective of what it might be.’
Of the sixty-one men subsequently tried for mutiny, most were veterans of the Great War, and, indeed, thirty of these had been in the British Army for more than five years: five bitter years in which several of them had fought at the Battle of Loos in 1915 and in a grim, cholera-stricken campaign around Baghdad from 1916 – 1918, before moving towards Egypt and engaging in a fierce encounter with German and Turkish troops near Jaffa in 1918, not to mention their notable achievement in capturing a Turkish artillery column.
These veteran soldiers were not afraid of fighting, nor had they mutinied as a result of inexperience and dismay at what being a soldier actually meant. They were profoundly aware of the vast power of the British war machine and up until 1920 had played their part in it. Now, however, times had changed. Joe Hawes later explained, ‘When I joined the British Army in 1914, they told us we were going out to fight for the liberation of small nations. But when the war was over, and I went home to Ireland, I found that, so far as one small nation was concerned – my own – these were just words.’
In the face of these politically resolute soldiers, it was difficult for the authorities to regain control. Major N. Farrell of ‘B’ Company, Connaught Rangers, tried to get his men to obey their officers once more and warned them that the mutiny would play into the hands of Indian nationalists and that they would all be slaughtered. To this, Hawes answered spiritedly, ‘if I am to be shot, I would rather be shot by an Indian than an Englishman.’ Local Indian feeling was, in fact, sympathetic to news of the mutiny of Irish soldiers in the British army. In Delhi, the popular newspaper Fateh reported the mutiny of the Irish soldiers as an implementation of Gandhi’s strategy of civil disobedience, demonstrating ‘how patriotic people can preserve their honour, defy the orders of the Government, and defeat its unjust aims.’
Some of those involved in the mutiny felt, too, that there was a real hope of an alliance with those involved in India’s struggle for independence. Stephen Lally, one of the leaders of the Jullundur mutiny and later a member of the IRA, recalled: ‘I thought we might as well kill two birds with the one stone, and if we could get the Indian National Movement with us it would mean a great victory not alone for Ireland but India as well . . . we could have officered the Native ranks and in a very short time India would have gained her freedom.’
The mutiny spreads to Jim Daly and the Connaught Rangers in Solon
For the first two days, it did seem that momentum was with the rebels. Frank Geraghty recalled his mission to spread the mutiny to the rest of C Company in Solon.
On the 30 June 20, I with private Patrick Kelly, were detailed to go to Solon in the Simlar hills to communicate the fact that the troops in Jullundur had mutinied and to give the reason for the mutiny and to give instructions also that the mutiny, if they did mutiny, would be on the lines of passive resistance with no violence. I appealed to James Joseph Daly whom I approached as the most competent man and whom I knew personally wished to carry out an effort to start a mutiny. Daly, I knew, was inclined to the republican movement in Ireland.
Borne in Ballymoe, County Galway and raised in Tyrrellspass, Mulingar, County Westmeath, Jim Daly, was an ‘active sympathiser with Sinn Féin’ and responded with determination to the news from Jullundur. According to the version of events Daly later told to Hawes while they were in prison together, the men from Jullundur had been arrested on arrival at Solon but Daly could hear enough of their messages shouted through the bars to realise the situation. Although only 20 at the time of the mutiny and one of the youngest soldiers, that night he rallied about forty men and marched to the bungalow of the Commanding Officer to announce that they were taking over a bungalow in protest at repression in Ireland. In response, the C.O. told the men they were insane and switching between threats and inducements attempted to return the men to their duty as he saw it. The strongest argument at his disposal was that the action would be futile as they were thousands of miles from Ireland. After a long, hard silence Daly gave a curt response: nothing the C.O. said would avail. The mutineers left for their bungalow, which they named ‘Liberty Hall’, and as with their comrades at Jullundur, took down all the Union flags, hoisted the tricolour, made and wore Irish rosettes on their British Army uniforms and sang rebel songs.
Next day, early on 1 July 1920, Major W.N.S. Alexander and his officers arrived at Liberty Hall and managed to get the mutineers to form up to listen to his address. The Major thought that his arguments were having an influence when:
A man named Daly stood in front of the parade; he informed me that similar action would be taken simultaneously by every Irish Regiment in the Army, and that the news would be published in every paper in the United Kingdom: whatever influence I had said may have had on the less determined of the mutineers was promptly wiped out by this man.
Colonel Woodbridge tried next but again, ‘Daly intervened and succeeded in wiping out the good impression made.’
On the night of 1 July 1920, scouts set by the mutineers at Solon, detected the imminent arrival of British troops. On this news Daly and his followers made a mistake, deciding to offer armed resistance to the recapture of the barracks. Lacking genuine contacts in the Indian nationalist movement, the best hope of the soldiers was not to escape and definitely not to fight against vastly superior forces but, as Hawes had urged, to keep the protest peaceful (despite serious risk of execution).
Led by Daly, about twenty rebels went to the company magazine building to attempt to get hold of their rifles. Earlier in the protest, Fr Baker, the camp priest, had urged the men not to carry arms. Lieut. C.J. Walsh, told the subsequent Court of Enquiry: ‘I was officer I/C of an armed guard mounted on the magazine. At about 2200 hours, four mutineers approached the magazine and tried to rush the Sentry. I covered the leader with me revolver. I cautioned these men and warned then that if they approached any nearer I would shoot them. They went immediately in the direction of their bungalow. About five minutes later an attack was made on the magazine by a number of mutineers armed with naked bayonets. By this time the sentries on the magazine were reinforced by the remainder of the Guard, and all Officers living in the line. The mutineers pressed on toward the magazine, they were challenged at least three or four times, they took no notice of the challenge, and, as a further warning I fired two shots from my revolver into the air. This had no effect, so I fired into the attackers who then withdrew. Shortly afterwards three men were removed on stretchers to the station Hospital, two of whom I heard were dead, and one wounded.’
The dead mutineers were Pte Peter Sears, The Neale, Co. Mayo and Patrick Smyth from Drogheda, who was spectating, rather than participating in the rush. Eugene Egan lived, despite having been shot through the right chest. Following a final desperate challenge by Daly to a bayonet duel with anyone on the other side, the mutiny at Solon was effectively over. With the arrival of loyal troops, the participants were placed under arrest.
British officers try to regain control of the mutinous Connaught Rangers
Meanwhile at Jullundur, Colonel Jackson had arrived to take charge of the crisis for the British army. He was in regular contact with the Commander-in-Chief for all India, General Charles Munroe. Under a white flag, Jackson entered talks with the leaders of the Connaught Rangers mutiny and insisted that they could not win: that the British army was intent on retaking the barracks, even if it required very soldier in India. This was almost certainly the policy decided upon by the authorities as they had already mobilised two battalions, the South Wales Borderers and the Seaforth Highlanders, both of which arrived with artillery and machine guns on 1 July 1920.
Militarily, the position of the rebels was now hopeless, but they continued to protest through passive means and in particular, were resolved not to give up the leaders of the mutiny for fear they would be executed: a very realistic appraisal of the thinking of the senior officers. Although some eighty soldiers abandoned the mutiny at this point, the others, over four hundred strong, marched out to prison camp together and refused to allow their leaders to be isolated. This defiance nearly cost dozens of lives, as the camp was designed to ensure hardship. It had almost no protection from the Indian summer sun and the water supply deliberately inadequate. ‘Inhumane’ was how a Captain Kearney put it and only the intervention of the Connaught Rangers’ medical officer prevented lives from being lost from sickness.
A more immediate prospect of death for the mutineers came from the threat of violence. In the process of being moved to another camp on 2 July 1920, Major Johnny Payne made another attempt to separate the leaders from the body of mutineers. He called out twenty names, which included the seven men on the committee. No one moved, so Payne ordered thirty soldiers to pull out one of the people he had identified (Tommy Moran) from the crowd. These soldiers failed and were disarmed in the physical tussle, leading Payne to order fixed bayonets and soon after, the final order before ‘open fire’, that of ‘five rounds, stand and load.’
Fr Livens, the seventy-year-old army chaplain rushed across to Payne and pleaded with the major, managing to delay the crisis by interposing himself between the soldiers with raised rifles and the prisoners. This was a crucial moment, where just in time a rider came hurriedly over, blowing a whistle to gain attention. This was Colonel Jackson who rebuked Payne in public and took over the command of the loyal soldiers.
Major Payne still had a hand in the subsequent mistreatment of the mutineers, forcing some of them to lie on the bare stone ground for hours with little or no food or clothing. James C O’Shea of Derry contracted a gastric illness that remained with him for the rest of his life. In trying to assert his rights, Payne told O’Shea he was entitled to ‘steel and lead and nothing else.’
Over the following days the British officers managed to whittle down the number of mutineers by offering free pardons to those who returned to duty and assuring the rest that they would face death by firing squad. By mid-July there were 48 former Jullundur Connaught Rangers in prison at Dagshai, where they were joined by Jim Daly and 40 men from the Solon mutiny. Conditions in Dagshai were harsh and they were deprived of all but the most basic sustenance. Private John Miranda died there and his case draws attention to the fact that a number of the mutineers were English rather than Irish. John Miranda was from Bootle in Liverpool. An English Sergeant Woods, who had earned a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his behaviour in France, explained his reasons for joining the mutiny to the Court Martial, ‘These boys fought for England with me, and I was ready to fight for Ireland with them.’
At one point, thanks to the sympathy of the Indian staff at the jail, a group of six rebels, including Hawes and Daly, were able to get outside. In order to address the scarcity of provisions, especially cigarettes, Hawes and Daly decided to raid the canteen at Solon. A successful overnight mission saw them return to the comrades in the prison with their ill-gotten cigarettes. Hawes later explained why they did not simply try to abscond:
It might be wondered why we did not make a break for freedom that night or any other night, but you must remember that we were in an alien country, thousands of miles from home, even unable to speak the language. Everyone would be our enemy both the king’s men and the native Indians to whom none of us could explain our position over the language barrier. Soldiers were not popular in India at that time.
The Court Martial of the Connaught Rangers who joined the mutiny of 1920
The court martial of the rebels, beginning with those considered to be the main leaders of the mutiny, began on 30 August 1920. Eventually 59 Connaught Rangers were given fifteen-year prison sentences, while thirteen men were sentenced to death. Fortunately for most of them, the political situation had swung in their favour. By the end of 1920 a radicalised Irish population were driving back British authority in the country and the generals considered it inexpedient to kill all thirteen out of concern for the possible public response. One man, however, they were determined to carry out the sentence upon: Jim Daly. The problem with commuting Daly’s sentence, as far as a review by Major-General Sir George de Symons Barrow was concerned, was the effect leniency might have on equivalent mutinies of British Indian soldiers. Barrow needed to retain the threat of execution as a palpable one.
On 2 November 1920, Jim Daly, then 21, was executed at Dagshai jail where a curfew was in place to avert a rumoured Indian attempt to free him from jail. Years later one of the rebels, Michael Kearney of County Clare could still recall the horrible details of the execution.
I was awakened around dawn by the shattering bang of the death volley from the firing party of twelve. The governor of the prison, a humane man, lets us out of our cells later in the day and we had the melancholy experience of seeing the wall of execution.
The poor body had been almost truncated and some of the men gathered tiny portions of human flesh which adhered to the wall. These sad scraps were laced in a little matchbox and given to Father Baker to be buried with our heroic comrade.
With the Treaty negotiations at the end of 1922 came discussion of an amnesty on both sides and the Connaught Rangers who were in prison as a result of the mutiny were specifically included in it, leading to their release on 9 January 1923. Thereafter, however, it was a struggle for many of the men to obtain employment or state support. A campaign for a pension to be allowed the men led to a government report in 1925 that showed fourteen of the ex-mutineers were without work. Following the government refusal of the pension, mutineer John Lyons wrote that ‘those who fought for Ireland fought in vain’. Again, in 1933, a pension was discussed and investigation into the men’s circumstances found that four of the mutineers had died in Poor Law Unions, with six men being out of work. James Devers, who had been among those trying to attack the magazine at Solon was described as being in ‘desperate need.’ Only after the passage of the Connaught Rangers (Pensions) Act of 29 April 1936, were the men were able to claim military pensions from the Irish state based on the time they spent in prison.
Commemorating the Connaught Rangers’ mutiny of 28 June 1920
It should be obvious that the act of defiance by these Irish soldiers was an heroic one that deserves to be remembered and celebrated. To some extent, throughout the twentieth century there were moments that gave the public a chance to express their appreciation of the bravery of the mutineers in risking execution rather than continue to serve in an army that was repressing the national movement. On their return to Ireland there were celebratory meetings and a great deal of enthusiasm for the stand they had made. A poem in the Roscommon Herald, January 1923, gives a flavour of the public mood:
Minced with bullets, their comrade’s
Is spat into their ace,
As if to crush their Irish hearts
Or kill the spirit of their race.
Hopelessly the ruse met blank dismay,
Their determination stronger grew.
Their vows were made and sealed that day
To die for Roísín Dubh.
Had not kind Providence stepped in
And saved them from their doom,
Their hearts would now be lying still
Within the convicts tomb.
On 18 March 1928, a play by M.P. O’Cearnaigh, Flag of India,was performed at the Royal Theatre, Dublin to support the ‘Connaught Rangers Distress Fund’. Veterans of the mutiny paraded along O’Connell St c.1936.
In the 1950s a campaign grew up to bring back the remains of Jim Daly, the Offaly-Westmeath Old IRA Memorial Committee voting in June 1954 to petition the government to make arrangements for Daly’s body and that of other mutineers to return to Ireland. Soon afterwards a number of local government bodies passed similar motions. The government, however, was not willing to raise an issue that might harm Anglo-Irish relations. In the run up to the 1966 commemorations of the Easter Rising the issue came back to public attention, this time with a precedent having been set in the reburial of Sir Roger Casement in 1965.
Thanks especially to the work of the National Graves Association, not only Daly but Sears, Smythe and Miranda were included in a growing public campaign for the return of the Connaught Ranger mutineers. Ultimately, the campaign was successful (except in regard to John Miranda, who had no family in Ireland) and ceremonies were held in 1970 at Tyrellspass for Daly and Glasnevin Cemetery for Sears and Smythe. Joe Hawes, then aged 77, gave a speech at both events.
As we approached the centenary of the mutiny, an event was planned, which involved the erection of a monument to three of the mutineers who were from Sligo (James Gorman, Martin Boy Conlon and Jack Scanlon) and a series of short talks. Here, however, it should be noted that the effort to find ‘balance’ which caused the Fine Gael government to try to honour the RIC marred the event. For there are many British historians (such as Charles Townshend) – and plenty of Irish ones too – that have very little sympathy for Ireland’s revolutionary past and who construct arguments that belittle the role of figures like Joe Hawes and Jim Daly.
Downplaying the extent of radical Irish nationalism in the mutiny
One of the invited historians was Mario Draper, Lecturer at the University of Kent. Draper’s thesis is that the mutiny was less about Ireland than about discontent with local conditions. He dismisses the explicit testimony of the men that they were braving execution for the sake of Ireland’s national struggle as a ‘narrative of convenience’. In later life, he argues, these men were exaggerating the political side of their protest so as to get adulation and pensions. Instead, it was about local difficulties and poor communication between senior officers and the rank and file. Draper does not provide eye-witness reports to confirm an approach that would no doubt portray Spartacus as a gladiator who was merely disaffected over poor quality food, rather than the existence of slavery.
I, on the other hand, do value the testimony of the men themselves and I do give serious value to the importance of ideals in motivating human behaviour, to the point that people throughout history have been willing to risk their lives to challenge injustice and oppression. So when ‘Tom’ Tierney told Sam Pollock, ‘I didn’t think it was fair that our country should suffer what we fought to stop the Germans doing’, I believe that gives the answer to the apparent contradiction between someone fighting for the British army and yet protesting against the policy of that army in Ireland.
There was many an Irish soldier who joined the British forces during the Great War in the belief they were stopping Germany from exploiting small nations and were earning a reward for Ireland. When, by 1920, it was clear that Britain was straining to the utmost to prevent independence for Ireland and was deploying the Black and Tans in a cruel effort to intimidate the population the same soldiers could experience a deep crisis and a determination to get out of the British army and help the volunteers. This was a journey that is well known for figures like Cork IRA leader Tom Barry and it is entirely plausible that the same considerations shaped the mutiny in the Connaught Rangers in 1920.
It is a profound insult to Joe Hawes and his comrades to doubt this was the real reason for the mutiny and to say that in later life they played up their desire to support Ireland’s struggle against the British empire because it suited their self-interest to do so.
Moreover, the contemporary evidence of the British themselves confirms that it was the mistreatment of Irish civilians that was troubling the hearts and minds of the soldiers. Lieutenant-Colonel H.F.N. Jourdain, wrote to the London papers, saying that the men had been ‘led astray by the accounts they had received about the Black and Tans.’ If the real issue behind the mutiny was local discontent why did the mutineers sing rebel songs? Wear green, white and gold rosettes? Fly the tricolour? During the court martial, the men from England who joined the mutiny were asked why they had protested on behalf of Ireland. None of them replied that they had other grievances. Rather, they expressed loyalty for their Irish comrades and sympathy for Ireland.
It is unlikely that the Connaught Rangers who mutinied in 1920 got the 100 year commemoration they deserve from the current event. Fortunately, relatives who have organised in a Facebook group have managed to communicate a more inspiring message than, ‘it was only really about the men being given too much work’.
The mutiny of the Connaught Rangers was an incredibly brave and principled act on behalf of Ireland’s struggle for independence, one that was almost sure to lead to the participants facing the firing squad or many years in prison. That the men were willing to make this stand, rather than continue to serve an army behaving brutally in Ireland, should have been properly honoured in 2020.
Haiku from Gabriel Rosenstock on the Connaught Rangers
With permission from Gabriel Rosenstock, we share this bilingual haiku which was written in response to Lady Butler’s representation of recruitment for the Connaught Rangers in the west of Ireland.
Éire scriosta ... fir thréana ag teastáil i gcríoch na Gainséise Ireland in ruins ... strong men required where the mighty Ganges flows
Recording of the online public meeting on the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers 28 June 2020
If you enjoyed this feature, you might like to read Conor Kostick’s account of the Kilmichael Ambush, in which the IRA scored their biggest victory over the Auxiliaries, the key British fighting force in Ireland in 1920.