James Connolly


Let the Wastrels Go


Irish Worker, 5 September 1914.
Republished in Red Banner, No.6 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6).

Transcription: Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.

At the present moment every nerve is being strained in Ireland to obtain recruits for the British Army. Employers are bringing all sorts of pressure to bear upon their workpeople, so-called charitable associations are ferreting out particulars of every family in the tenement houses visited by their agents and setting recruiting agents like sleuth hounds on the track of every young unemployed man. The Home Rule Press lends its aid by giving startling prominence to every anti-German lie that the fiendishly unscrupulous Press of England can invent, and a thousand diabolical agencies are at work to coax, coerce, or seduce Irishmen to fight the battles of the Empire. All this is good, I say that deliberately and, as the lawyers would say, with malice aforethought. It is good, because in the first place it reveals as nothing else could the stricken condition of the enemy.

For reasons of clearness and to avoid too undue repetition of the words ‘British’, ‘English’, or ‘British Empire’, I propose hereafter to refer to the Government of this country and of England simply as ‘The Enemy’. It will simplify matters in more ways than one.

These frantic endeavours to secure recruits are then a sufficient indication that The Enemy is in a bad way. He is smashed up by land, and is now endeavouring to retrieve his lost reputation by columns of flamboyant description of a petty victory on sea. The weaker he becomes the stronger becomes every revolutionary force at home, as conversely the stronger he becomes the more defiant and unyielding he will be to every influence for good in Ireland.

That he is smashed up by land is apparent to everyone who cares to study the reports. True, the Press tells us continually of the “fine position” of the allies, of the “brilliant stand” of the British troops, of the “strategic movement to a new base”, and so on, writing always in such a manner as would make the ordinary reader believe that the allied troops were carrying all before them.

But the “fine position” is always about 20 or 30 miles behind the last “fine position”, the “brilliant stand” is invariably a preliminary to what the historian will describe as a headlong retreat although the Press reporter describes it simply as a “withdrawal”, and the “strategic movement to a new base” is by all the signs of warfare a panic-stricken rout of a beaten force. Read this from the Special Correspondent of the London Times:–

Further to the right along the Sambre, and in the angle of the Sambre and the Meuse, the French, after days of long and gallant fighting, broke Namur fell, and General Joffre was forced to order a retreat along the whole line. The Germans, fulfilling one of the best of all precepts in war, never gave the retreating army one single moment’s rest. The pursuit was immediate, relentless, unresting. Aeroplanes, Zeppelins, armoured motors, and cavalry were loosed like an arrow from the bow, and served at once to harass the retiring columns, and to keep the German Staff fully informed of the movements of the allied forces.

The reader will remember that when the British retreated broken and baffled from Spion Kop the Boer general with mistaken humanity refused to fire upon the retreating army as he declared it would be unscriptural to do so. [1] This humanity lost the Boers the war. It is conceivable that The Enemy believed that he would find the Germans equally ready to allow the British a monopoly of ruthless severity in the field of battle. If so the movement narrated in the concluding sentence of the above extract will show how ruthlessly he was undeceived. The result, as well as the completeness of the defeat of the British is told in the following quotation from the same article. Perhaps in the mess of war reports you have missed the significance of this report. If so study it now, and realise the plight of The Enemy:–

The British force fell back through Bavai on a front, between Valenciennes and Maubeuge, then through Le Quesney, where desperate fighting took place southwards continually. Regiments were grievously injured, and the broken army fought its way desperately with many stands, forced backwards, and ever backwards, by the sheer unconquerable mass of numbers of an enemy prepared to throw away three or four men for the life of every British soldier. In scattered units, with the enemy ever on its heels, the fourth division, all that was left of 20,000 fine troops, streamed southwards.

Our losses are very great. I have seen the broken bits of many regiments. Let me repeat that there is no failure in discipline, no panic, no throwing up the sponge. Everyone’s temper is sweet, and nerves do not show. A group of men, it may be a dozen or less, or more, arrives under the command of whoever is entitled to command it. The men are battered with marching, and ought to be weak with hunger, for of course, no commissariat could cope with such a case, but they are steady and cheerful, and wherever they arrive make straight for the proper authority, report themselves, and seek news of their regiment. I saw two men give such reports after saluting smartly. “Very badly cut up, sir,” was the phrase one used of his regiment. The other said: “Very heavy loss, I’m afraid, sir,” when asked if much was left.

Apparently every division was in action. Some have lost nearly all their officers. The regiments were broke to bits, and good discipline and fine spirit kept the fragments together, though they no longer knew what had become of the other parts with which they had once formed a splendid whole.

In addition to this report there was a short report which I read in Reynolds’ Newspaper on Sunday, in which a British soldier who took part in the battle of Charleroi is quoted as saying that there were only 20 or 30 survivors left out of 2,000 with whom he set out to take up position in that morning. It is then clear that the real extent of the casualties is being most carefully hidden from the public. That public is bewildered by flaring posters, by the exaggerated description of every trifling skirmish in which it can be claimed that the British gained an advantage, and by the almost ceaseless repetition of tales about the losses of the Germans – a matter of which the British are completely ignorant. A victorious army occupying in their advance the ground formerly occupied by the beaten enemy can certainly arrive at a rough estimate of the enemy’s losses by counting the dead and wounded they have left behind, but a retreating beaten army knows little of the losses of those before whom they are flying, and any statements to the contrary are merely attempts to cover their own discomfiture.

I am not writing this because I glory in the tales of the British dead. Those poor rank and filers were, and are, no enemies of mine, of my class, nor of my nation. But as far as they are items of the forces with which the Enemy keeps this country in subjection, and in so far as the success of that Enemy is, as I believe it is, a menace to the peaceful progress of the forces of democracy in Europe, the enthronement of Czarism as the dominant force on the Continent, and the perpetuation of the degradation of Ireland, to that degree and for that reason I rejoice with all my heart at British reverses, and acclaim German victories as the victories of the most enlightened nation in Europe – the nation whose democracy is most feared by the cunning capitalist rulers of the world.

For another reason I wish to give prominence to the real state of affairs at the front. I wish that no man shall be seduced to go to that front in ignorance. Let the truth be known! Let those who wish to sacrifice themselves for England – for The Enemy – know the extent of their sacrifice and risks, and then if they go let them know that their country disowns them.

But let them go – let the dupes go – Ireland is well rid of them. There will be more room for the good men who remain behind.

I have just come across the limit – the finest specimen of the tactics of the Enemy yet to hand. It is in the form of an advertisement for recruits, and lest it be forgotten in the future I propose to enshrine it for immortality in the pages of the Irish Worker. We print it ‘free gratis and for nothing,’ as the saying goes – for the fun of the thing:–



Men are immediately required for the two new battalions of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (i.e., the 6th and 7th Service battalions), for 3 years or the war. Old Soldiers, Special Reservists, and untrained men of every class are wanted. The true defence of Ireland at the present moment is undoubtedly the defence of the frontiers of France, where we are in touch with our common enemy. Do not waste time. As soon as you have read this apply to the nearest Recruiting Office, or the Head Recruiting Office, Brunswick Street, Dublin.


G. DOWNING,       
Lieut.-Col., commanding
7th Service Battalion,
Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Is not that the limit for pure unadulterated hypocrisy? The cry of “God Save Ireland” owes its immortality to the fact that it first came defiantly and spontaneously from the lips of the Manchester Martyrs, condemned to death for the crime of loving Ireland and daring to serve her. In the name of the king these three men were hanged for daring to work for Irish Nationality, and as the cry broke forth from their lips it reached its way to and lodged ineradicably upon the hearts of every true Irish man and woman. And now in its extremity the power that hanged them, the power that would as readily hang the apostles of a true Irish Nationality to-day, that power blasphemously couples the holy prayer of our martyrs with the official formula it signed at the bottom of their sentence of death.

O, have we not heard ad nauseum about the noble British ruling class, their haughty nobility, their dignity in the face of danger, their unbending courage in the front of adversity, their stoical heroism, etc., etc.? Have we not heard all those things until we almost believed in them, and almost despised our own class in consequence? But the above advertisement gives the true index to the character of our rulers; couple it with the frantic letters in the Irish Times from landowners and ‘officers and gentlemen’ appealing to you to stand up for the Empire and you have a true picture of the nature of the creatures who for so long have ruled and robbed us.

There you see our rulers mad with fright, panic-stricken at their losses and keenly alive to the possible failure of their conspiracy against the life and civilisation of a peaceful people, turning to the Ireland that they hate and exult in browbeating, and changing their sneers into prayers, their open venom into fawning flattery, their threats against the unity of our country into more dreadful because more loathsome invocations to God on its behalf.

The snivelling, hypocritical, dastardly bullies! Remember how those “officers and gentlemen” who now beg for help threatened mutiny at the Curragh against your National freedom; remember how they feasted and toasted the gallant general who on their behalf declared he and they would not serve against the Ulster Orangemen who threaten to disrupt your country [2]; remember all the truculent threats of the officers of the army against the unarmed forces of Home Rule, and contrast it with the abject whine for assistance they have set up in a thousand ways when confronted with a nation of armed men. And remembering all this let the beggars whine – and whine in vain for your aid.

Mr Asquith and all his friends in and out of the Government are now wroth with the London Times for publishing the news to which we have given prominence at the beginning of this article. They are in a blue funk lest the truth be known about the awful plight of their beaten and demoralised army. The effort to discredit the story was made all the more ridiculous by the publication on Tuesday morning in the Times of the circumstances attending the first printing of the report. It was there shown that the Censor, Roughrider F.E. Smith, Mad Carson’s blatant lieutenant from Birkenhead, had actually begged the Times to publish it, and had even written some of it himself.

The lesson to be drawn from this incident, and from the statement of Mr Asquith that more severe censorship would be exercised in future is, and mark it well, oh, ye recruits, that the news is too awful to be told.

Would it not be better for all capable of bearing arms to resolve to fight, and if need be to die, for Freedom here at home rather than be slaughtered for the benefit of kings and capitalists abroad?

We echo again the historic words of Fintan Lalor:

Who strikes the first blow for Ireland, who wins a wreath that will be green for ever?




1. The British suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Boers at Spion Kop in January 1900.

2. Officers at the Curragh military camp resigned in March 1914 when ordered to act against the Ulster Volunteers.


Last updated on 19.8.2007