Mutiny in the Connaught Rangers
Overview of Chapter 8 of ‘Courage and Conflict: forgotten stories of the Irish at war’
'My dearest Mother: I take this opportunity of writing to you to let you know the dreadful news that I am to be shot on Tuesday morning, the 2nd of November. What harm, it is all for Ireland! I am not afraid to die, but it is thinking of you I am.'
- Private James Daly, Dagshai, India – 12th October 1920
During 1970, a burial ceremony was held in the Irish village of Tyrellspass, County Westmeath, for a young man named James Daly. He was a soldier in the Connaught Rangers Regiment of the British army and he had been executed by that army fifty years earlier while serving in northern India. Courage and Conflict tells the story of the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers and explains how Daly found himself blindfolded and awaiting his execution at Dagshai on that day in 1920. He was the last soldier of the British army to be executed in peacetime.
The Connaught Rangers had a long history of service within the British army and its origins can be traced back to 1793 when a regiment of soldiers from Connaught was raised by the Earl of Clanricard. They would later serve in the Peninsular War and the Crimean War. In 1881, the 88th (the original Connaught Rangers) Regiment of Foot and the 94th Regiment of Foot were amalgamated, forming two battalions and over the following decades the Connaught Rangers were deployed all over the British Empire, fighting in the Boer War before serving in Ireland and India in the years before the First World War.
They arrived in India in 1919 but by 1920 many of the regiment’s soldiers were increasingly perturbed by the actions of the government they served. The Irish War of Independence was raging and Ireland was in chaos. As this went on, the soldier’s received letters from home telling them of the violence carried out against the Irish population by the Crown forces and especially the Black and Tans. Through the summer of 1920 this news filtered through the regiment and one morning in late June, a small group of soldiers stationed at Jullundur Barracks decided that they could no longer serve the British army until the Crown forces ended their campaign in Ireland. They were immediately placed in the guardroom by a superior officer but this was a futile attempt to prevent the news from spreading. Although the soldiers of the Connaught Rangers were spread over a wide area word of the mutiny quickly passed from barracks to barracks.
One of the barracks was at a place called Solon and it was here that James Daly entered the story. Although he was only twenty years old, Daly seems to have been regarded by the other men as a natural leader and it was inevitable that those men would look to him. He was determined to stand by his comrades who had mutinied and he led an attack on a weapons storehouse in the barracks. This attack was repulsed and the army, after much drama, regained control of the situation. However, the events of that summer had the potential to destabilise British rule in an India already on the edge of revolt. Courage and Conflict tells the story of the James Daly and the Connaught Rangers by explaining who they were and why they mutinied. It follows the path of the mutiny, describes how the British army reacted and explains what happened to the main protagonists once the mutiny had ended. It is a remarkable story of Irish soldiers in the British army who risked and, in some cases, lost everything.