Thursday 11 September 2014
Guest post 3 - The beginning of the end?
Deighton’s short story, of course, is about the British Empire and the men who maintained it, the soldiers of the British Army. This tale recalls the execution of a soldier of the Connaught Rangers, an Irish Regiment that had served the British Empire with distinction since 1793. This is a beautifully crafted story about a remarkable event. It hardly needs to be said that killing is the business of soldiers but the duty that has fallen to these men, to be part of a firing squad executing a political prisoner, is a very cruel one but these are the men who kept the Empire going and this was how that was done.
In 1920, the period of the story, some members of the Connaught Rangers mutinied as a protest against the introduction of martial law in Ireland. This was the time of the Irish struggle for independence and , by way of reprisals,Irish civilians were being punished (beaten up and terrorised), in Ireland, by the Black and Tans. These men were a force of mainly English and Scots ex-soldiers, supposedly in place to keep order. One soldier of the Connaught Rangers, now serving in India was James Daley, he was the leader of a group of mutineers who protested against this treatment of their friends and relatives back home. Daley, as the leader, was executed by firing squad. According to the new introduction it is from an eye witness account of Daley’s execution that Len’s short story is based.
Prior to the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922 the British Army had had many Irish units. In fact, the Connaught Rangers are closely associated with one of the best known of the British Army’s marching songs, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary". And, in the First World War, 2500 Connaught Rangers had died fighting for Britain.
But things, including national borders, can change very quickly, as the Germans discovered in 1990. And if the Scots leave what next? Northern Ireland and Wales? Never mind the British Empire, what will be left of Britain? Will we still be British? We might have to start referring to ourselves as the English, and that has a rather unpleasant ring too it!