James Connolly


‘Soldiers of the Queen’


Workers’ Republic, 15 July 1899
Recently republished in Red Banner, No.2 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6)
Transcribed by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The opprobrious epithet ‘hired assassins’, so often applied to the Army by Socialist propagandists, seems to many people in Ireland – accustomed as they are to the double-dealing of the Home Rule press – as a somewhat harsh characterisation of the military forces of the Crown. We have been so long accustomed to see our capitalist patriots playing fast and loose in this matter, so long been inured to seeing and hearing the journalists and politicians who profess to hate our English masters, devoting whole columns of space in their newspapers to ‘Garrison Gossip’, and other tittle tattle relative to the Army, so often seen our Home Rule Corporations petition the British Government to allow the permanent establishment of a military force in their towns, are so familiarised with the strange spectacle of Irish MPs rising in the British Parliament to demand better treatment for those British soldiers to whom Ireland had the misfortune to give birth, that the public mind of this country has almost lost sight of the grim and ugly fact that the British Army in Ireland has only one reason for existence – that reason being the desire of the governing and oppressing classes to possess ready for use a body of highly disciplined armed men, who, on the first sign of an active desire on the part of the oppressed to get rid of their governors and oppressors, can be relied upon to proceed without asking questions to cut the throat of, or otherwise destroy, every man so aspiring to freedom. In other words, the Army is, in plain matter-of-fact language, what the Socialists so bluntly describe it to be, viz., a body of hired assassins, creatures in the shape of men, who, upon enlisting as ‘soldiers of the Queen’ agree in exchange for the sum of 8d or 1/- per day to take the life of any person, be it man, woman or child, whom our rulers desire to get rid of. Of course, unlike private assassins who only murder under the influence of passion, the Army performs its work under the approval of a Christian hierarchy – bishops bless its banners, churches pray that the army of their particular nation may cut enough throats to secure a victory, and each battalion carries upon its payroll a clergyman whose especial function it is to assure the delights of Heaven to such of the gallant heroes as fall in the course of the work of murder. We admit the presence of clergymen amid such surroundings, although in glaring contrast to the teaching of the Master they profess to serve – “Thou shalt not kill” – is not without precedent. The brigands of the Middle Ages usually had attached to their bands some disfrocked priest, who also, like his modern prototype in the Army, issued absolution to the wounded members of his band of marauders.

The soldier then is, no matter in what light we examine his position, a ‘hired assassin’ – his first duty, he is told, is to ‘obey’. To obey whom? His superior officers, who in turn must obey the Government. When the mandate goes forth, ‘Kill’, he must kill and dare not ask the reason why. The government under whose orders he serves may have been elected to power on some question of internal administration in England, Local Option [1], Franchise, or Disestablishment [2], but as soon as it is in power it has the right to launch all the military and naval forces of the Crown into a war of aggression in the interest of the possessing class, even if it should be upon a people with whom the vast majority of its constituents desire to live in peace. It has also the legal right to use its power against the working class in its own land should they become restless under the system of wage slavery. Whatever be the excuse for ordering out the Army, the soldier has no option but to obey. Whether it be Egyptians revolting against oppression, Boers defending their independence, Indians maddened with famine, or Irishmen hungering for freedom; whether the human being coming within his line of sight be stranger or friend, father, mother, sister, brother or sweetheart, the soldier has no option but to press the trigger, and send the death-dealing instrument on its errand of murder. He is only a ‘hired assassin’, and must earn the wages of his hire. What is a hired assassin, properly defined? One who engages to take human life without having personal injury to avenge, at the command of whoever pays him for doing so. Does not this description suit the soldier exactly?

The demoralising effect of this occupation is further exemplified in the life and language of the soldier himself. The moral atmosphere of a barrack room is of the most revolting character, as is the ordinary language of the soldier the most bestial conceivable. The Army is a veritable moral cesspool corrupting all within its bounds, and exuding forth a miasma of pestilence upon every spot so unfortunate as to be cursed by its presence. The most degraded races within the wide-spreading British Empire sink lower in the scale of humanity after peaceful contact with the British Army; indeed it may be truthfully averred that a desolating war would inflict upon a country less injury than a peaceful occupation by the ‘Soldiers of the Queen’. Do our Irish mothers, who see their sons enlist in this sink of corruption without erasing their names from the family roll, do the Irish maidens who give themselves up to the embraces of this hireling soldiery, realise the awful depravity hidden beneath the gaudy uniforms and dazzling trappings of the British garrison? A standing army anywhere, in any country, is first of all unnecessary; secondly, a tool in the hands of oppressors of the people; thirdly, a generator of prostitution, but the British Army is in the last particular the most odious on the face of the earth. Witness the OFFICIAL STATISTICS, which tell us that the rate per 1,000 of admissions to hospital for venereal diseases is

In the

Prussian Army


... ...

French ...


... ...

Austrian ...





British in India


or nearly every second man; ten times as many as in the French Army.

‘Soldiers of the Queen’. Gallant Army, noble Queen.

Many people will, no doubt, question the propriety of our action in dragging this unsavoury subject into the light of day in this manner, but our action is prompted by the desire to awaken in the minds of our Irish workers such a real and abiding hatred of this instrument of tyranny, mingled with loathing of its character, as will serve in the first place to destroy the prospects of recruiting in Ireland, and in the second place to fire their brains and nerve their arms against the day when we will wipe the foul stain of its presence from our midst. This is our purpose, and to place within reach of our Irish girls a knowledge of the constituent parts that go to the make-up of a British soldier, that they might flee from his polluting embraces as from a thing accursed.

Should we succeed in planting in the breasts of our fellow wage slaves a tenth part of the hatred we ourselves feel for this blood be-decked tool of our tyrants, we shall feel confident that the day is not far distant when the long standing account between the Irish worker and his exploiters will be paid in full.



1. The right of local areas to legislate for themselves, especially in regard to licensing laws.

2. Disestablishment of the Anglican Church, that is.


Last updated on 29.7.2007