1915 Indian (Singapore) Mutiny
In the midst of the First World War, on 15 February 1915, the Right Wing (Rajput) of the 5th Light Infantry (Indian Army) revolted, killing more than 40 British officers, British residents and local civilians. The mutiny came to be known as the “Singapore Mutiny”, and locally as the “Sepoy Mutiny” or “Indian Mutiny”. But is not to be mistaken for the “Indian Mutiny 1857-1858” also known as the “Sepoy Rebellion” which occurred on Indian soil.
Active propaganda for Indian independence from British rule by the Ghandr Party in India during the early 1900s had generated unrest amongst overseas Indians, affecting troops stationed in Singapore. The Muslim 5th Light Infantry was one of these. The troop’s morale was constantly at a low, afflicted by poor communication, slack discipline and a weak leadership. A certain Kassim Mansoor, a Gujerati Muslim coffee-shop owner, had also influenced the troops in negative feelings towards the British. The troop had been stationed to guard the military prisoners from the German ship, Emden, at the Alexandra Barracks. Their duties at an end, they were slated to leave for Hong Kong by 16 February 1915. However, rumours amongst the troop had it that they were to be ferried to fight against Muslim Turkey instead. The misunderstanding led to greater disaffection which was fanned further by the German prisoner, Oberleutenant Lauterbach, who encouraged the troop to mutiny against their British commanders.
With a single rifle shot soon after 3 pm by Sepoy Ismail Khan signalled the start of the mutiny. Being the middle of the Chinese New Year, the majority of the Chinese Volunteers were on leave, leaving Singapore almost defenceless in the face of the Indian mutiny. Officers at the Tanglin barracks were massacred. An estimated 800 mutineers roamed the streets of Singapore, killing any Europeans they came across. However, without strong leadership and with their German supporters having escaped, the mutiny soon lost direction. It however continued for ten days and was not suppressed until support came from the Singapore Volunteer Artillery, additional British troopers, military men brought in by the Sultan of Johor and men from the Allied forces including Japan.
A Court of Inquiry
was held on 23 February 1915, first in secret but then continued publicly, concluded by 15 May. A total of 36 mutineers were executed, including Kassim Mansoor, and 77 officers were transported with another 12 imprisoned. The public executions were conducted at Outram Prison, witnessed by an estimated 15,000.
Subsequently, all Indian residents were required to register, causing ill feelings amongst a majority loyal community. Studies more than half a century after the event imply that the mutiny may have had strong support from factions based in India, keen on overthrowing British forces in the region. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of internal security and the need for a civilian force trained in defence. To commemorate the event, two memorial tablets have been placed at the entrance of the Victoria Memorial Hall and four plaques at the St Andrew’s Cathedral.