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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

William John Coote - a Connaught Ranger Mutineer

After the last blog post about Patrick Lopeman, I was contacted by James O'Kelly, asking how may he get a story on the site. It quickly transpired that James is the grandson of another Connaught Ranger mutineer, and he wanted to share his story. So in today's guest post, James tells the life of his grandfather, William John Coote.

William John Coote, known as Bill, was born in Dublin on the 13 July 1890. He was one of eight children born to Charles Coote and Margaret Coote (née Lees), three of their children died at a young age. Bill’s mother died from Typhoid on 4 September 1900, when he was just ten years old, although his father was still alive, he was unable to look after the five remaining children, so the family were separated. Bill was sent to an orphanage for protestant boys in Grand Canal Street, Dublin.

On 15 May 1906 at the age of 15, Bill joined the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, but claimed he was 17 years old upon joining. On 8 October 1906 he transferred to the regular army, joining the Connaught Rangers.

He served with the Connaught Rangers for 12 years and 91 days, serving in Malta, France during the Great War and later in India. He was discharged on the 6 January 1919 but reenlisted the following day on the 7 January 1919 and went on to serve a further two years and 229 days. Bill was a keen sportsman and won several boxing trophies for his company, while in India.

Bill married Johanna Quinn in Kinsale County Cork on the 25 November 1915, whist stationed at the barracks in Kinsale. They went on to have five children.

While serving in India, Bill was involved in the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers, on the 28 June 1920. The 1st Battalion was stationed at Wellington barracks, Jullundur, Punjab. A group of men in the regiment had heard news of martial law being imposed in Ireland, and stories of brutality by the “black and tans” so as a simple act of defiance a number of men lead by private Joseph Hawes refused to obey orders and grounded their arms, in peaceful protest. This then escalated throughout the camp, and a serious situation soon evolved, the British Union Jack was removed from the flagpole, and replaced by the Irish tricolour.

News then spread from Jullundur to the Rangers outpost in Salon, where a second protest broke out led by Private James Daly. Some of the men here also grounded arms and refused to obey orders, their demands were that they would refuse to serve in the British army until British troops were removed from Ireland. The soldiers handed in their arms to the armoury on the advice of Chaplain Father Baker, but then having heard rumours of a massacre at Jullundur attempted to recover their arms from the armoury, they were warned not to approach by the guards there, but they charged forward, and were fired upon, resulting in the deaths of two men, privates Patrick Smyth and Peter Sears. Another Private Eugene Egan was wounded, the rest of the men were arrested and taken to Dagshai prison.

Meanwhile in Jullundur, Bill and the rest of the men had been subjected to harsh treatment in makeshift holding camps, these were compounds surrounded by barbed wire and guards. With canvas tents, in the hot Indian summer the men were suffering great hardships, with lack of water and proper cover, some of these men were suffering from sunstroke, so on the advice of the medical officer Dr Carney the men were returned to camp. They were then sent off to prison in Dagshai, the men were then sent for trial, and got varying degrees of punishment, ranging from one year to life in prison. 14 were sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to life in prison, apart from private James Daly, who was shot by firing squad, on 2 November 1920, aged 22 years.

Bill was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour. He served most of his sentence in Sialkot prison which is now in modern day Pakistan. He was sent back to England on 30 July 1921 onboard the SS Morea to serve out the rest of his sentence at Maidenhead prison, the ship departed from Bombay, calling at Aden, Suez, Port Side, Marseilles, Gibraltar, and docked at Plymouth on the 22 August 1921.

Following his release Bill returned to Ireland to live in Kinsale. Work was very hard to find as Kinsale was still a garrison town, so on the 1 August 1921 He joined the Irish Free State Army. He served for 4 years and 280 days, and was discharged on the 13 May 1927. Work was still very hard to find at this time. In July 1927 Bill joined the merchant navy and was employed as a fireman/trimmer in the boiler room, he went on to serve almost four years, travelling most of the world, after his last voyage in August 1931 Bill and his family moved to Dublin, where he found work as a boiler man in the Botanical gardens in Dublin. He we went worked there until his retirement in 1958. Bill and his wife then moved back to Kinsale, Johanna’s home town where they lived happily until his death on the 14 February 1973, Johanna passed away on the 27 August 1978, they are buried together at Duderrow cemetery, a few miles from Kinsale.

Bill’s name along with his fellow mutineers is inscribed on the memorial in Glasneven cemetery Dublin, and also on the memorial in Tubbercurry Co Sligo, which was unveiled in 2021 by President Michael Higgins

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