The Singapore Mutiny,echo of India's freedom struggle!!

public executions,Singapore sepoy
During the First World War India, then, under the British rule was also drawn into the war for two main reasons: 1. India, part of the British Empire, had a duty to obey the orders from the British Crown, and 2. The Indian soldiers were brave and daring and had substantial experience in many aspects military operations and had the ability to adjust themselves to any war situation. Obviously, Indian troops were sent overseas on military assignments. A large contingent of Indian soldiers had been stationed in Singapore, a British colony to help the British military face threats from Germany and her allies.

 The 1915 Singapore Mutiny, involving up to half of 850 sepoys from India against the British in Singapore during the First World War, took place on  15 February 1915. The first overseas mutiny by Indian soldiers lasted nearly seven days and in the wake of it  47 British soldiers and local civilians were killed. At last, it was put down by British forces and Allied naval detachments. The Indian soldiers involved belonged to the 5th Light Infantry of British India. Also referred to as the 5th Light Infantry, the rebellion was in protest against the British in Singapore linked with the 1915 Ghadar Conspiracy.

Since much importance was not given to The Ghadar party (Ghadar is an Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi word for "mutiny" or "rebellion"), we have no idea whatsoever about its role in India's freedom struggle. Frustrated with the British's oppressive rule and unabated exploitation in India, some patriotic Indians worked hard to get India freed from the British yoke. Some formed secret parties and took to violence by way of instigating rebellions against the British rulers. The Ghadar party was founded in the United States in 1913 by Har Dayal, with the aim of forcing the British to leave India, by armed revolution. The Ghadrites ' Modes Operandi' was to convince the  Indian soldiers posted overseas to join them in their freedom struggle, and successfully turned them against the British. 

With the outbreak of WWI, the Ghadrites had an opportunity at their doorstep and never failed to capitalize on it. On 21 January 1915, they made an attempt to incite elements of the 130th Baluchi Regiment at Bombay to mutiny. Having become aware of their plan to incite trouble, beforehand the shrewd British administration relocated the regiment to other outposts as a precaution. The Ghadrites, this time, never wanted to miss the chance and now focused their attention on the Indian soldiers in Singapore, whose regular garrison at this time consisted of only a single regiment of Indian soldiers plus a few British artillerymen and Royal Engineers, protecting British strategic interests.
Indian 5th Light Infantry.

The 5th Light Infantry Regiment of the Indian Army had been part of the military since 1803 and during the period 1914–15 it was entirely a Muslim unit -Ranghars,- Muslims of Rajput  and Pathan origin. In October 1914, they landed in Singapore to replace the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which had been assigned to France. The 5th Light Infantry Regiment was commanded by British and Indian officers. Already dissatisfied Indian soldiers, now haunted by poor communication between them and their commanding officers and prevailing racial discrimination against Indian officers made them perform their duties with less dedication. The on-going freedom struggle in India and the instigation by the Ghadar Party in India to fight against the unjust foreign power had created a deep impact on them and induced the dormant spirits to fight for India's freedom. The unexpected appointment of unpopular Lieutenant-Colonel E. V. Martin added fuel to the fire. However, the Ghadar factor had created an explosive situation which was further aggravated by the entry of Turkey into the war. Mehmed V, the Sultan of Turkey, widely regarded as the leader of the Muslim world, supported Germany in the first world war.

Mehmed V,  was one of the three emperors of the Central Powers during the First World War. When Britain attacked Turkey, the Sultan issued a fatwa. The Muslims, including those in Singapore, obliging the Sultan opposed the British. Besides, a local influential  Gujarati coffee-shop owner and a religious leader told the sepoys to rise against the British.

Rumors were thick in the air in the third week of January 1915 that the 5th Light Infantry would be shifted to Hong Kong for further garrison duties, replacing another Indian regiment. Actually, it was only a ploy employed by the British, and the Indian soldiers would be sent to Turkey to fight against the Muslims. At the farewell parade on the morning of February 1915, the senior officer in his farewell speech failed to mention the destination of Hong Kong. Driven by further suspicion, the 5th Light Infantry made of four Rajput companies of the eight companies and 100 men of the Malay States Guides Mule Battery around 3.30 pm same day started the rebellion. The Pathans from the other companies did not join the rampage but stood there stupefied.  Two British officers of the regiment on duty were killed.
The rampaging sepoys divided into three group, one group - about 100 soldiers went to Tanglin Barracks to get arms and ammunition. You may recall the sudden raid by German warship Emden on Madras on 22 September 1914 and its capture and the crew in the Coco Islands by the Australian warship. The crew members about 309 from the German Cruiser, had been interned by the British here. At Tanglin Barracks,  the rebels killed 10 Britishers and wounded three British and one German. The confused Germans refused to join the rebellion, many remained neutral and 35 Germans escaped. 

At Keppel Harbour and Pasir Panjang, 18 Europeans and local civilians were killed by the rebels. Martial law was imposed and British Vice-Admiral Sir Martyn Jerram sent a radio message, seeking help from any allied warships nearby. The town was in the middle of a holiday and it was an added advantage for the Indian Sepoys. Since the road to Singapore was blocked, Lieutenant-Colonel E. V. Martin and his supporters were held till in the morning. Later they overpowered the rebels who were now pitted against the volunteers, marines, and sailors.

Only three Indian officers, Subedar Dunde Khan, Jemedar Christi Khan, and Jemedar Ali Khan, were subsequently to be listed by a court of inquiry as key conspirators in this matter.

On17 February, the French, Russian, and Japanese naval forces responded and came to the rescue of the stranded British soldiers. Finally, the rebels were rounded up by these forces and others by the army of Johore Sultan who had joined them later. By 20th the remaining rebels were caught. Because of lack of leadership, poor execution, and coordination, the Singapore Sepoy Mutiny in the last stage fizzled out.

On 23 February 1915, a court of inquiry was initiated in secret and later publicly. The trial lasted until May 1915. The cause of the mutiny was not well established. Anyway, there was a general consensus that the soldiers were surreptitiously instigated or misled by unwanted elements. In addition, they were overwhelmed either by their patriotic zeal or religious sentiments to fight together for injustice. The path chosen by them by inciting violence and murder was beyond the realm of human tolerance and dereliction of duty.

More than 200 sepoys were tried by court-martial, and 47 were executed. The public executions by firing squad took place in March 1915 at Outram Prison under  Captain Tongue and Lieutenant Blair and Hay. It was witnessed by an estimated 15,000 people, The Straits Times reported. One Nur Alam Shah who had links with the Ghadar activists was finally deported to subdue the fury of Muslims. Imprisonment ranging from seven to twenty was awarded to 73 convicts. Two memorial tablets were erected at the entrance of the Victoria Memorial Hall and four plaques in St Andrew's Cathedral in memory of Singapore Mutiny.


01. The British community in Singapore had begun to question the reliability of Indian sepoys in Singapore.

02. The Indian community in Singapore got a bad rap.The British were criticized for the public execution of ex-British India army soldiers right before a huge gathering.

03. This mutiny exposed the weakness of British rulers in the colonies and shook their strong hold on India.

04. The world silently witnessed to what extent the British rulers had been despised by the Indian in the subcontinent. 

05. Caught off-guard, the British masters in India were shaken up by the behavior of the Indian army in Singapore.

06. To improve the internal security of Singapore, military service was made compulsory in August 1915 for the males between 15 and 55 years of age, if they were not enlisted in the police or volunteer organization or armed forces.

07. The court of inquiry in Singapore came down heavily on Colonel Martin and later he left the army.

08. The 5th Light Infantry was disbanded in 1922.