Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Singapore Mutiny of 1915

By James Patton

On 15 February 1915, members of the 5th Light Infantry (Indian Army) mutinied in Singapore. The British called this incident the "Singapore Mutiny," but in Singapore it was called the "Sepoy Mutiny" or the "Indian Mutiny", notwithstanding that the 1857–8 uprising in India was also called the "Sepoy Rebellion" or the "Indian Mutiny."

This event was a part of the Indian independence movement that the British labelled the Ghadar Conspiracy. A key goal of the Ghadars was to incite discontent in the Indian Army. In January 1915 such a plan involving the 130th Baluchis was averted by a timely warning. Studies more than half a century later found that the Singapore Mutiny may have had strong support from factions based in India, keen on weakening British control in the region. The Ghadars in Singapore were allegedly led by a Gujerati Muslim coffee-shop owner named Kassim Mansoor,  a religious leader named Nur Alum Shah, and three Indian VCO’s, Subedar Dunde Khan, Jemadar Christi Khan, and Jemedar Ali Khan.

In October 1914 the all-Muslim 5th LI (comprised of Rajput Ranghars and Pathans) had been dispatched to Singapore to replace the 1st Bn King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which was rushed off to the BEF. The 5th LI was not combat ready; morale was low, communications poor, and leadership lacking. The commanding officer, Lt. Col. E. V. Martin, had been recently promoted from within the regiment, an unpopular choice even with the British officers. 

Orders came for the 5th LI to leave Singapore for Hong Kong on 16 February. So little was Martin trusted that rumors flew that the 5th LI was going to be sent to the Middle East to fight against Muslims, contrary to the Fatwa of Mehmet V. 

The 5th LI was guarding the 309 prisoners from the SMS Emden and other interned Germans, and one named Lauterbach, a reserve Oberleutnant who spoke Urdu, allegedly encouraged the troops to mutiny, promising German cooperation.

By plan the mutiny started around 3:30 P.M. on the 15th. The four Rajput companies of the 5th LI plus about 100 men from the Malay States Guides Mule Battery swarmed out, killing the two British duty officers. The mostly Pathans of the remaining four companies refused to participate and laid low. 

Lt. Col. Martin's House Still Stands

The mutineers divided into groups. One was sent to obtain more ordnance from the Tanglin Barracks magazines, another to kill Lt. Col. Martin and other officers at their residences and the last to release the Germans, held at Alexandra Barracks. There the sepoys killed ten British soldiers, three Sultanate troops, and one German. Three British soldiers and one German were wounded but survived, as did the eight RAMC personnel in the hospital, one of whom managed to escape under heavy fire to raise the alarm. The sepoys expected the Germans to join them, but they declined, even refusing to accept rifles. About 35 Germans did choose to leave the compound, contemplating escape. 

Meanwhile, more officers had been killed, although not Martin, who attempted to rally the Pathans but failed. The Tanglin Barracks occupied 210 acres and were too big for the mutineers to fortify, so the sepoys roamed the streets, targeting civilians randomly. But without strong leadership and without German assistance, the mutiny never had a chance of success. 

Since it was the middle of the Chinese New Year, the majority of the Chinese in the Singapore Volunteer Corps were unavailable, but a scratch force of  British garrison personnel, Royal Marines from HMS Cadmus and some Sultanate soldiers fought desperate little running skirmishes with the mutineers throughout the 15th and 16th.  On the 17th, 158 Japanese marines, plus French and Russian sailors, came ashore and promptly defeated the largest group of the sepoys in a sharp battle after which many surrendered and the rest dispersed into hiding. 

On the 20th the 1/4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry arrived from Burma and cleared the pockets of resistance. By the night of 22 February all was secure.

Execution of the Mutineers

A Court of Inquiry was convened on 23 February, first held in secret but later publicly, which concluded on 15 May, resulting in 47 death sentences (including Kassim Mansoor), 184 prison sentences and several transportations. Public executions were conducted at Outram Prison, witnessed by an estimated 15,000. 

Casualty lists vary, but at least 40 loyal soldiers and as many as 18 civilians died. Mutineer casualties are not known.

Lt. Col. Martin was cashiered. The remnant of the 5th LI was sent to Africa, then to Aden and served credibly. Nevertheless, it was disbanded in 1922.

After the Singapore Mutiny the British were unwilling to garrison colonies exclusively with Indian units, which placed a further strain on their manpower. All Indians residing in Singapore were required to register, causing ill feelings among a mostly loyal community. In order to enhance Singapore's internal security, the British passed the "Reserve Force and Civil Guard Ordinance" in August 1915, requiring compulsory military service from all male subjects between 15 and 55 years of age who were not already serving  in the armed forces, volunteers, or police. 

The mutiny is commemorated in Singapore by two tablets at the entrance of the Victoria Memorial Hall and four plaques at the St Andrew's (Anglican) Cathedral.

Sources: Singapore Infopedia, Wikipedia

1 comment:

  1. "Japanese marines, plus French and Russian sailors" - a snapshot of a truly world war.