IN the history of the British armed forces, two mutinies took place. One was the famous naval mutiny, well known as the Mutiny on the Bounty, and the second but lesser known was the mutiny by an Irish regiment in India shortly after World War I in the summer of 1920. This mutiny, which lasted for a month, had its roots in the political struggle of the Irish people.
The rebellion or mutiny by the famous Connaught Rangers, running parallel to the Irish freedom movement under De Valera, was considerably influenced by the Indian struggle for Independence. Nearly a thousand Irish men who rebelled had no real reason for that action except their deep love for their motherland and passionate patriotism. They strongly felt that British colonial rule was perpetrating grave injustice by crushing their countrymen. Hearing of the ugly happenings in Ireland, where the Britishers were hunting down, torturing and executing freedom fighters, the Irish soldiers inwardly simmered.
The British ensured that the newspapers in India did not cover Irish incidents, but news of the cruel and inhuman measures taken by Britishers against the Irish occasionally filtered into the barracks of the Connaught Rangers in Jalandhar cantonment where they were stationed. During that turbulent period of Irish history, many pitched battles were being fought between the Irish Republic Army — the Sinn Fein — and the British security force — Black and Tans. The news of these battles reached Irish soldiers, thousands of miles away in India where a similar wind was blowing.
The fuse blew when one of the Rangers got the shocking news that his brother in Ireland was hanged by the Crown for giving shelter to rebels. He went berserk and beat up an English officer. This set off a chain reaction. The soldiers captured the armoury, took English officers as hostages, declared Jalandhar cantonment as the seat of the ‘free Irish Government-in-exile’ in hardly two days. Caught unawares, the British Government in India was shaken to the core.
The Irish soldiers in India were not fighting for a piece of territory, but for a fundamental principle. Therefore, when they felt confident that they were the masters of Jalandhar cantonment, they started negotiations for the freedom of Ireland in lieu of returning the hostages, releasing the armoury and returning the territory of the cantonment. How could the British pay heed to such nonsense? To them it was tantamount to an act of mutiny, but to the Irish soldiers it was a "protest" against the Crown’s cruelty and breach of the repeated promise of giving Ireland its freedom.
In the barracks, a lot of argument and heated discussion went on to decide the next course of action. One of the major groups was for capturing more territory and strengthening their positions so that the British could be taught a lesson and the world would know of their plight and Ireland’s struggle for freedom. Some level-headed men, however, argued that as violence would be self-defeating, the only way to tackle the British would be through negotiations. The most vocal of this group was one Jim Daley.
He pointed out to his enraged comrades that as long as they did not take to arms, it would not amount to a mutiny, but would be a "sit-down protest" to express their concern for the motherland. Eventually, they wrote a long petition to the King and ceremoniously handed it over to British officers. But no reply ever came. The King obviously never received it!
The British authorities and the top military brass, though caught unawares, reacted fast. They quickly moved eight White regiments from Amritsar, Ambala, Lahore and Simla cantonments and surrounded the Jalandhar cantonment with a tight ring of tanks, guns and infantry. Having cordoned the Irish, they cut off the supplies of food and provisions and finally switched off the water mains also. From a position of strength, the British now asked for a peaceful surrender by the ‘mutineers’. The Irish however, had enough provisions and water from one or two wells inside their ‘territory’ to withstand the siege. Thus, for a while, it was checkmate. In the meantime, all the Indian regiments were moved away from Jalandhar. A tight censorship was clamped with the excuse that some secret war exercise was being conducted in the area. Thus, neither the Indians nor the outside world knew of the high-tension drama taking place in the heart of India.
Having taken all security precautions and after tightening their grip, the British sent a deputation to demand an unconditional surrender. The team was flabbergasted by what they saw when they reached near the regimental barracks. The scenario that greeted them was one of total abandon and gaiety. The Irish tricolour flew majestically not only on the tall flag mast of the regimental quarter guard but atop every single barrack. Most of the Irish soldiers were singing patriotic ballads in the barracks while some danced to Irish jigs instead of listening to the British delegation.
This act of defiance and rowdy behaviour angered the British but they felt that attacking the Irish would be politically suicidal. What would the world say to white men killing white men on Indian soil where the situation was already explosive! It would not only tarnish the British image all over the world but also ignite innumerable political fuses. Thus, having an upper hand, they preferred to wait.
In August, 1920, court martial proceeding against 800 men began. The proceedings were conducted at the army headquarters at Simla. Day after day, sentences were passed. Hundreds were to be shot, many sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining awarded 10 to 20 years of hard labour in lock-ups.
Back home in Ireland, the struggle for independence was gathering momentum. The British knew that they would not be able to hold down the valiant Irish for long. The Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief of India deliberated on the situation, and took a political decision. This decision was considerably influenced by the situation prevailing in India which was not the least comfortable. All those who were to be shot were pardoned. Sentences of imprisonment were reviewed and remitted. The famous Connaught Rangers were disbanded and their colours shipped back to the King in England where they still hang at Windsor Castle. However, there had to be a show of military discipline and justice. Any defiance by a soldier amounted to an act of mutiny and this had to be firmly established for the dignity and honour of military tradition. To achieve this, somebody had made a scapegoat — symbolic of fair but firm treatment.
The one so chosen was Jim Daley. He was led blindfolded to be shot by a firing squad in one corner of Jalandhar cantonment in November, 1920. Under security cover, the body of Daley was buried in an inconspicuous place, without a cross, and then forgotten. He, who should have been awarded a Nobel Prize for peace, was instead awarded bullets. The other soldiers were packed off to England to serve their respective sentences.
Later, in the fifties, Jim Daley’s mortal remains were dug out on the request of the Irish Government and interned in a churchyard of Simla. They were finally sent to Ireland a decade later, to be buried with honour in the bossom of his motherland.
Does anyone know any more about this event?
Who were these men and who was Jim Daley- did any of them return to any prominence in Ireland either during the war of independence, civil war or later?