[1967:] [The] most famous, most persistent and best-loved of all our army songs of disaffection. [...] We may take it that McCafferty was composed very early in the second half of the nineteenth century. [...] Again, the author was presumably an Irishman, to go by the ballad's atmosphere, its hero's name, and the fact that its tune is a variant of that favourite Irish air for unruly texts [...] The croppy boy (from which the "I have no father" motif is lifted). McCafferty has seldom appeared in print but there is hardly a regular soldier who does not know a version of it, and during the Second World War it was adopted as the anthem of a parachute commando regiment, the 2nd Special Air Service. It is said of McCafferty, as of other dissident songs, that it was a punishable offence to sing it in the army; but that is legend. (Lloyd, England 246)
[1973:] Legend has it that it once was an offence to sing this song in the British Army, even without its inflammatory last verse
So come all you young officers, take warning by me
Have nothing to do with the British Army
For bloody lies and tyranny
Have made a murderer of McCafferty
but of course Queen's Regulations have so many escape clauses in them that even singing The British Grenadiers could be an offence if they wanted it to be. (Define 'dumb insolence.') It is clearly a terrible story and its use of the Irish rebel tune, The Croppy Boy, can't have helped its popularity with the military powers-that-be. An old melodeon player I met in the British Legion club in Ripley, Surrey, one boozy night told me it was one of the most popular songs with the troops in Salonika during World War I. The events in the ballad were supposed to have happened in 1882. Bob Davenport says McCafferty actually served with the 47th Loyal Lancashire Regiment and he has collected a version in Suffolk which says so. (Dallas, Wars 171f)
[1977:] At first sight, this song seems to tell a highly coloured and improbable story, yet it enjoyed a very wide oral circulation, with no assistance from print, for about a century. Our version [substantially P 26, apart from the last two lines] was learned by a Mr Roy Harris while he was serving in the Royal Artillery in 1951. The song was often held in a certain awe: 'I started singing that song', said May Bradley of Ludlow, 'and a man jumped up and said, "Mrs Bradley we mustn't allow that song in this house." And I said, "What's that got to do along o' you?" and he said "If you was found singing that song you'd get ten years in jail."' This happened in the 1930s (F. Hamer, 'Green Groves', 1973, p. 48). In the army itself it was widely believed that to sing the song was a chargeable offence. [...] The notion might well have been based on a charge - and it would be very interesting to find documentation - under the compendious clause of Queen's Regulations which forbade 'conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline'. [...]
The reaction to the song might be that it is a piece of folklore - in the pejorative sense of the term - albeit with interesting overtones. After all, the final stanza is unequivocal. Astonishingly enough, however, the song relates to a story which is basically true. Patrick M'Caffrey - the name appears, not only in the ballads, but also in the contemporary press, in a variety of spellings - was born in Ireland, near Mullingar. His family later moved to Carlow, where his father was the governor of a lunatic asylum. His mother died, and his father left for America, where he seems to have disappeared without a trace, after a minor scandal. Young Patrick soon moved to Mossley, near Stalybridge, in Lancashire, to join the household of a Mrs Murphy, who had wet-nursed him as a baby. He worked for a time in cotton mills at Mossley and Stalybridge, and then, inflating his age by at least a year to reach the statutory eighteen, enlisted in October 1860 into the 32nd Regiment (not the 42nd). This was the Cornwall Light Infantry, which had ist depot at Fulwood Barracks, Preston.
On Friday 13 September 1861, M'Caffrey was acting as picket-sentry near the officers' quarters. The adjutant, Captain Hanham, came out to complain to M'Caffrey about the noise of some children playing, and asked him, first, to remove them, and second, to find out their parents' names. Hanham felt that M'Caffrey's complied with his orders in a half-hearted way, and sent him to the guardroom. [...] M'Caffrey appeared before his C.O., Colonel Crofton, the following morning, and was sentenced to fourteen days' C.B. [confined to barracks]. He seems to have gone quietly afterwards to his barrack room, taken his rifle, knelt outside, and coolly shot at Captain Hanham as he was crossing the barrack square with Colonel Crofton. Both officers were in fact hit, with the same shot, and mortally wounded. Making no resistance, M'Caffrey was handed over to the civil police for trial. Among his few remarks were: 'I didn't intend to murder, and I didn't intend it for the colonel, but for the captain.' An inquest jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against M'Caffrey, a lugubrious coincidence being that:
-- At the moment the foreman of the jury gave in the verdict to the coroner, the notes of the Dead March in Saul were heard in the court. The head of the cortege conveying the body of Colonel Crofton from the Fulwood Barracks to the railway station for conveyance to the family vault at Leamington had just then arrived opposite the House of Correction. [...] --
M'Caffrey's trial was set for the Liverpool Assizes, where he appeared in December. The result was a foregone conclusion, though the defence was particularly inept. [...] The sentence was carried out on Saturday, 11 January 1862, in front of Kirkdale Gaol, at Liverpool. This is part of the account of the scene from the 'Liverpool Mercury' (13 January):
"[...] Immediately after the clock had struck twelve, the wretched culprit, followed by Calcraft [the hangman], walked, apparently firmly, upon the scaffold, whithe he was accompanied by Father Lanns, reciting prayers suitable to the occasion. A smile seemed to play upon his youthful countenance as he took a farewell look at this world. He was dressed in the prison garb, consisting of a grey jacket and trowsers. His mild countenance and boyish appearance elicited the sympathy on the part of the immense crowd. As soon as Calcraft, who was dressed in a suit of good black, had produced the white cap, the priest took from his breast a small crucifix, which the wretched culprit kissed with much fervour. His lips were observed to move in prayer until the rope was adjusted round his neck. The priest then shook him by the hand, Calcraft also bade him farewell in a similar manner, and everything being arranged, the bolt was withdrawn, and the unfortunate young man was launched into eternity, having been kept standing at the trap a much longer time than usual. He seemed to suffer a good deal, his struggles being great. The last words he uttered were - 'Blessed Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and soul. Jesus and Mary, have mercy on me!' When the bolt was drawn, shrieks burst from many of the spectators, and several of the females left the ground weeping and wringing their hands, apparently suffering intense agony at the spectacle they had witnessed. Thus ended the mortal career of one of the youngest criminals that ever expiated his guilt upon the public scaffold. After hanging an hour on the scaffold the body was cut down, and in the course of the afternoon was interred within the precincts of the gaol. Calcraft completed his disgusting task amid yells, hisses, and fearful imprecations from the mob [...]. It is supposed that there were between 30,000 and 40,000 persons on the ground. It was remarked that there were only three or four soldiers present to witness the execution."
The sympathies of the crowd were clearly with M'Caffrey, and the presence of so few soldiers can also be taken to be a favourable manifestation. Soon after the crime, an attempt was made to engage popular feeling for the victims [via a song that styled them 'heroes']. However, it was the home-made production which found the popular ear, to such an extent that it continued to circulate for a century or more afterwards, for most of the time without the assistence of print. (Palmer, Soldier 120ff)
[1983:] [At the Lancashire Regiments museum, Fulwood Barracks, Preston, there exist] copies of the newspaper accounts of the affair, in particular the "Extraordinary Edition of the 'Preston Mercury'" dated Monday September 16th 1861 (price 1/2 d). From a perusal of the various accounts the story began to emerge ...
Patrick McCaffery was born in Co. Kildare in October 1842. His father was an asylum governor who, upon being cleared of charges of misconduct, took off alone for America. Mrs. McCaffery was unable to support the boy, so she sent him to England to stay with a friend, Mrs. Murphy of Mossley near Manchester, where, at the age of 12, he started work in the mill. After a while he left the mill and drifted to Liverpool where he seems to have had occasional minor brushes with the police. During this time he befriended a police constable who was to reappear briefly later in his life. Eventually he returned to Mossley and was employed in a Stalybridge cotton mill as a piecer. It was this job that he left on October 10th 1860 to take the Queen's shilling and list in the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry). After enlistment he was sent to Fulwood to train with 11 Depot Battalion and then posted to 12 Coy, the 32nd Regiment.
As a soldier he was undersized (5' 4/4''), reticent and withdrawn. He was frequently in trouble for his dress and behaviour, and appears to have failed to make any friends amongst his fellow men. Also, and more significantly, he fell foul of the depot Adjutant, Captain John Hanham. John Hanham had purchased, for £ 1.800, a captaincy in the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot. After being wounded during the Sikh Wars he was posted as adjutant of the depot at Fulwood. There he appears to have been something of a disagreeable, domineering martinet, to the extent that even the Commanding Officer appears to have been under his influence. Colonel Hugh Crofton had commanded the 20th Regiment of Foot during the Crimean War and had led his men in the battles of the Alma, Sevastopol and Inkerman. In the last he was severely wounded and invalided out. He spent the next two years retired on half pay until he was offered command of the training Depot at Fulwood, which he eagerly accepted. Irascible but infirm, he seems to have been the weaker of the two and frequently deferred to the younger man's opinion; unfortunately he was to defer to it once too often.
There is evidence that Hanham tended to pick on McCaffery and to inflict excessive and humiliating penalties for relatively trivial offences. At all events McCaffery had spent some time confined to barracks and had had his head shaved for sundry alleged breaches of military discipline.
On Friday 13th September 1861 McCaffery was on guard outside the officers' quarters. In previous weeks children had broken windows of the officers' mess and the inhabitants had grown somewhat disgruntled at having repeatedly to pay for the repairs. So McCaffery's task was to keep people away from the area round the officers' quarters. During the afternoon children belonging to soldiers of the battalion came out to play nearby. Out from the mess stormed Captain Hanham: "Why have you allowed those children to play there?" "Got no orders against them being allowed to do so." "Then get their parents' names."
As McCaffery lumbered off to comply, the children (who, like all kids, knew trouble when they saw it) legged it and McCaffery was able to get only one name. (The balladeer suggests that this was a deliberate act of defiance [???], but this is not borne out by eye witness accounts, nor sworn testimony, nor more particularly by the turn of events.) Hanham promptly charged McCaffery with neglect of duty and he was marched off to spend the night in cells before being brought up before the Commanding Officer the following morning to answer the charge.
At 11 o'clock the following morning McCaffery was duly marched before Colonel Crofton who heard an account of what had happened from Hanham's lips. Persuaded by Hanham's argument and his overbearing presence, Crofton sentenced McCaffery to be confined to barracks for fourteen days. This was a harsh punishment, involving extra inspections, and four hours extra drill a day and another Buster Bloodvessel hairdo, but no loss of pay, contrary to most versions of the song. It was, nevertheless, a deeply resentful McCaffery who, smouldering with a deep sense of injustice, trudged off to the armoury to draw his musket to clean it for the first of those many inspections due to take place later that day.
So it was that at about twenty minutes to twelve McCaffery was returning to his barrack room carrying his musket when, through an open door, he saw the loathsome Hanham walking across the infantry square deep in conversation with Colonel Crofton.
There was his enemy, there his gun, and his opportunity. It is most unlikely that the premeditation was of any greater order than this, but although the ballad maker has taken minor liberties with the truth hitherto, when it comes to the nub of the matter he is smitten with a severe dose of understatement.
McCaffery loaded, aimed and fired, and, at a range of 65 yards, "the bullet struck Colonel Crofton in his right breast and, passing through that region, then went into Adjutant Hanham's left arm, entered his breast and lodged in his spine. Adjutant Hanham put his hand upon the wound and then coolly walked off to the officers' quarters. Colonel Crofton stepped back a few paces, threw up his arms and said "Oh my God, I am shot". He then walked up to his own quarters with the aid of a little assistance", at least according to one account in the Extraordinary edition of the 'Preston Mercury'. However another, more prosaic, eye witness account has a less stiff-upper lipped version.
"... a shot was fired and Colonel Crofton was observed to stagger and was caught in the arms of some persons who noticed it. Adjutant Hanham at the same time staggered and fell. Both were at once removed ..." After firing the shot McCaffery quietly handed his weapon to a comrade and was led, unresisting, away. He was to maintain till the end that he had not meant to hit the Colonel, only Hanham.
Nevertheless Colonel Crofton died at 11 p.m. the following evening and Captain Hanham died on the Monday at 11.30 a.m., just in time for the Extraordinary edition of the 'Preston Mercury' to record the fact.
Hanham's final departure was ignominious. The townsfolk of Preston turned out to watch as the coffin-clad corpse was taken to the railway station and, as it passed, the crowd turned their contemptuous backs on it. His troubles were not yet over; he was then put on the wrong train and eventually arrived late for his own funeral, and had to be buried by torchlight. As a final humiliation they could not round up enough local volunteers to fire over his grave the 60 shots to which his rank entitled him.
So, Hanham died unloved, while McCaffery became something of a cause célèbre. There were several reasons for this: first, that area of Lancashire had a large Irish population; second, the Army was in Lancashire to keep the peace and had frequently in the not too distant past used violence to break up mill workers' meetings (cf. Peterloo) and third, the recent botches in the Crimea and India had left the officer caste in very low public esteem. And now the soldiers who hitherto had had little to do with McCaffery, at once began to speak up for him, to the extent that the 'Preston Mercury', which had denounced the murders in outraged tones, was induced to concede "... We are assured on good authority that (and as impartial journalists we must state the truth, however painful it may be) both Colonel Crofton and Adjutant Hanham have been guilty of great tyranny in the government of the men, to such an extent indeed that the soldiers express sympathy with the murderer. Many instances in proof of this have been related to us."
On December 15th 1861 McCaffery stood trial at Liverpool Assizes. Charles Russell, later Lord Russell of Killowen, his defence counsel, handled the case incompetently, as he later admitted, (though not so incompetently as to prevent his eventually becoming Lord Chief Justice [maybe because?]) and failed to get the charge reduced to manslaughter. McCaffery was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. The execution was carried out publicly at Kirkdale, Liverpool before a crowd of 25.000 on 11th January 1862. He died friendless, except for the policeman he had befriended in Liverpool who visited him in his condemned cell. There were no other visitors and nowhere is there any mention of a girlfriend, but friendships with the police are not the stuff of which folk songs are made, so off with the helmet and boots and on with the frock, and lo!
1861 had been a bad year for officers. Apart from McCaffery's brace, a gunner had shot his adjutant in Malta, elsewhere two privates had shot their sergeants, and the 'Preston Mercury' prefaces its McCaffery story by pointing out the resemblance to "the occurrence in the South of England a few months ago when a private at one shot killed two of his superior officers". Yet it is only McCaffery who is remembered in song for his efforts, and it was McCaffery's case in particular that is considered to have played a small but significant part in bringing about the military reforms that were effected a few years later, one of which was the abolition, in 1871, of commission by purchase. (Davie Redman, Southern Rag 16, p. 21)
[1990:] The song (with the victim's name assuming various forms) seems to have circulated without being printed for the best part of a century. My father heard it in the Leicestershire Regiment in the 1920s. [When] Cyril Nuttall joined the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment at Fulwood Barracks (the scene of the original incident) in 1938 he heard it sung by an Irish soldier and was told that it was forbidden. At about the same time in India, according to John Gregson, if anyone sang McCaffery in the canteen a man was posted at the door to see that no NCO or orderly officer was in the vicinity.
[...] Gordon Hall sang it during his national service, also with the artillery, in the Middle East. [...] He was serving a sentence of twenty-one days in the regimental guardroom, and while taking a shower sang it so loudly that it could be heard all over the camp. Shortly afterwards the regiment was paraded for a 'pep-talk' to counteract the subversive influence the song was felt to exert. (Palmer, Lovely War 56f)
[1992:] There's a myth that British Army soldiers are not allowed to sing or listen to McCafferty [...] but I've hardly ever sung the song except in British Army clubs. (Imlach, Reminiscences 158)