1915 Singapore Mutiny
Many young men still sought their fortunes in the early years of the 20th Century in the British Colonial Territories. Among these were three of the Ferrers brothers associated with Baddesley Clinton House, now a National Trust Property. Edward returned from Singapore in January to take up his Commission with the 4th Battalion East Surrey Regiment and Francis returned from South Africa to take up a Commission in The Royal Engineers. The youngest brother Cecil Ralph sailed for Singapore on 25th July 1914, probably aware of the ‘storm clouds’ gathering over Europe.
In late September 1914 the 1st Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry sailed from Singapore and arrived in Southampton on 9th November. They were replaced by the 5th Light Infantry Regiment of the Indian Corps. Unusually for 1914-15, it was an entirely Muslim Regiment, half were Ranghars (Muslims of Rajput origin) and the other half were Pathans from the North West Frontier area. There were British and Indian Officers.
Other forces on the island were the British Artillerymen manning the coastal guns at Penang and those guarding Singapore, as well as a few Royal Engineers. There were also British, Chinese and Malay Volunteer Forces and the Malay States Guides. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 meant that Anglo-Japanese and Russian Naval dominance rendered Singapore all but untouchable by enemy forces from the sea.
From the outset there were issues relating to leadership and discipline within the 5th Light Infantry. Much of this stemmed from the promotion from Major to Lt. Col. and Commanding Officer of E.V. Martin. He was reportedly unpopular with his fellow officers and inspired little respect among the men. The Indian Officers were also unhappy following the promotion to Commissioned rank of a Colour Havildar (equivalent to a sergeant).
In addition to these issues there were many external pressures on the Muslim soldiers. The Ghadar Party aimed to oust the British from India by armed revolution. They actively encouraged Indian Soldiers posted to Singapore to mutiny against the British. Mehmed V the Sultan of Turkey supported the Germans when war broke out, and when Britain declared war on Turkey, Muslims including those in Singapore, were urged to oppose the British by a Fatwa issued by the Sultan.
A local coffee shop owner Kassim Mansur visited the Sepoys and invited them to his home, and with a local religious leader Nur Alum Shah, was reported to be encouraging anti British feelings.
When Colonel Martin announced on January 27th that the 5th Light Infantry were to be transferred to Hong Kong, three Indian Officers later identified by a Court Of Inquiry, spread rumours among the men that they were being transferred to Europe or even to Turkey to fight against fellow Muslims.
On the morning of February 15th the General Officer Commanding Singapore addressed a farewell parade, and referred to their departure, but not to Hong Kong as their destination. This proved to be the catalyst for action, for that afternoon the four Rajput Companies of the 5th Light Infantry mutinied. The four Companies of Pathans took no part but scattered in the confusion.
The first two British Officers to be killed were those who initially sought to restore order, but at Tanglin Barracks where German sailors from the SMS Emden were interred thirteen British troops were killed and one German internee. Although 35 internees escaped the Germans refused to join in the mutiny.
With the alarm raised, the British attempted to re-group declaring Martial Law. Marines from HMS Cadmus came ashore to join the States Volunteer Rifles and a small number of British regular troops. The British Vice Admiral sent a radio message requesting support from any allied warships nearby.
A group of mutineers went on a killing spree in two area killing 14 European and local civilians, but their route to Singapore Town was barred by the Volunteer Rifles, supported by ‘all sorts of oddments’ some coming straight from the tennis club and golf course. The Ladies assembled at Raffles Hotel and had sandwiches, lemonade and ginger beer before being transferred to ships in the Harbour.
On February 16th the Volunteer Rifles retook Alexandra Barracks and the Tanglin Detention Centre and took charge of the German internees. On February 17th sailors from the French Cruiser Montcalm, a Russian Cruiser and two Japanese warships fought fierce battles with the mutineers. On February 20th men of the 1st/4th Kings Shropshire Light Infantry arrived from Rangoon and quickly rounded up any remaining mutineers. The mutiny had resulted in the deaths of 33 British Military and 14 civilians, with many wounded including one French and three Russian sailors.
More than 200 sepoys were tried by courts martial, 47 were executed and 64 were transported for life, probably to the prison colony on the Andaman Islands, while 73 were given terms of imprisonment ranging from 7 to 20 years. The executions took place in front of a large crowd outside Outram Prison. Perhaps most shocking are the pictures showing how poor the executioners shooting skills were, with some prisoners still alive and others dead beside them.
Colonel Martin was heavily criticised by a Court of Inquiry and retired from the Army. The remnants of the 5th Light Infantry left Singapore in July 1915 and saw active service in the Cameroons and German East Africa.
All Indian nationals in Singapore were required to register, causing ill feeling amongst a largely loyal community. From August 1915 compulsory military service was introduced for all males between the ages of 15 and 55 in the States Volunteer Rifles. Cecil Ralph Ferrers joined the Malay States Volunteer Rifles in March 1915 with the rank of Lieutenant.
The Times February 7th 2015
Singapore Mutiny by Edwin A Brown and Mary Brown.
Google – Images of Singapore Mutiny.
TOBACCO FOR THE WOUNDED
Very quietly and very efficiently, an organization has established itself for the purpose of supplying our wounded with the cigarettes and tobacco for which they crave. ‘SSS’ is its name (Smokes for Soldiers and Sailors), and 4 Buckingham Gate, London, its address.
Already eight million cigarettes, 14,200lb of tobacco, 20,000 cigars, and 1,160 dozen pipes have been distributed free to over 700 field dressing stations, hospitals and convalescent homes at home and abroad as well as hospital trains and ships. Five shillings and fourpence (26p) sent to the SSS will buy 1,000 cigarettes, and they will be grateful for the smallest donation.
The Times, February 7 1915.
REPORT FROM THE DARDANALLES.
Father F Devas S.J. Chaplain at the Dardanelles writes: ‘the men are all wonderful, the Doctors tireless, the wounded heroic. The Officers give such an example, refusing all special attention. Their courage under fire, so the men tell me, was marvellous. One young fellow told me he used to be a bit of a Socialist, but he said, ‘I am done with that now, I see you want the gentry in war, none could lead us as they do’
The Tablet, July 1915.