Singapore as a child was a magical place. Seemingly full of little stalls and shops owned and run by people from everywhere. The food from the eateries was quite simply amazing in many ways it was the commonwealth in miniature. None of the big multinationals here, there was but as a kid I never noticed. No Starsucks, or Cafe Zero. it was small independent, self made traders who stopped and chated to their customers. Despite the Japanese occupation Singapore was relatively unchanged from the Great War. Then it was a microcosm of Empire. An Empire ruled by and large by bluff, or power by proxy. occasionally this system broke down, the bluff was called. The Empire would called for help and as in the case of the Singapore Mutiny, foreign help would duly appear. In this case, French, Japanese and Russian warships with their marines. After the incident a few trials and British rule would be seen to be reimposed. There would be stories told of the valour of British soldiers, and a few heros added to books about deeds that thrilled the empire. Few mention the guy that sells the coffee, in Singapore that man was Kassim Mansur.
Mansur was a successful coffee shop proprietor from Bombay. He also own a small estate on the side of Pasir Panjang Road. His coffee shop was very popular with soldiers from India. A touch of home in a foreign land. On the way home in his gharry Mansur used to stop at the small guard and often went inside to talk to the troops. He also chated to the troops in his coffee shop. All good customer service. This small acts were very much part of service during those days and were good for business. Mansur also wrote letters on behalf of the soldiers. Very probably he never gave much thought to those letters. He would write them, they would sign them, and almost certainly post them. One of these letters, posted on the 28th December 1914, was intercepted by the authorities. on the 23rd January 1915 Mansur was arrested.(1) He was held at the civilian prison on Outram Road awaiting trial.
On the 15th February a few hours before they were due to sail, half of the 5th Light Infantry, Indian Army, mutinied. The mutiny itself had two ringleaders Subadar Dunde Khan and Jamadar Christe Khan. Both of the 5th Light Infantry. Christe is recorded as ending his talks to his men with the phrase, “You take care, there is very little left of the English kingdom now.” The plan for the mutiny was to seize the principal military centres of Singapore. These were the barracks at Alexandra and Tanglin. after capturing the Guard Room at Alexandra some of the mutineers marched on Tanglin. At Tanglin they released the Germans, mostly sailors from the SMS Emden, held in the Prisoner of War Camp. if there was an expectation the Germans would help the mutineers it did not materialise. The Germans did help the wounded British soldiers and civilians. Several did escape to Java and Sumatra. Apart from that the Germans gave no help to the mutineers. The rapid deployment of other soldiers rapidly contained the threat posed by the mutiny. Perhaps the crucial part was the capture of a practice trench on Keppel Road by the mutineers. Here they stayed awaiting the arrival of a German Warship. A British survey ship, the Cadmus, arrived instead. 90 marines disembarked and made their way in lorries to Keppel Road. After a brief skirmish the mutiny was effectively over. Although clearing up operations with the help of French, Japanese and Russian marines were to last for just over a month. The mutineers were also detained in Outram Road Prison.
Mansur could hear the sound of the mutineers being executed, but it did not seem to worry him. He was being charged with 9 counts of treason, 1 charge of giving away intelligence to the enemy, and 1 charge of attempting to wage war against his majesty the king. He had Vincent Devereux Knowles in his defence team.
Mansur was eventually brought before the Field General Courts Martial on the 3rd May 1915 for his trial, confident he would be acquitted. He was after all just the man who sold coffee. His defence team argued that Mansur was a civilian and the court had no jurisdiction over him. They also argued they had no knowledge of the grounds on which the charges were based. During the trial the 9 charges of treason were dismissed. Then the letter that was to hang Mansur was produced.
The letter was with other letters to his son. There was a covering slip in Mansur’s own handwriting asking his son to take care unless the handwriting could be traced back to him. Addressed to his son with a request for it to be forwarded to the Turkish consul in Rangoon the letter was written in Urdu and translated as follows;
“There is a regiment here belonging to the English in Singapore called the Malay States Guides. In it is a mule battery, and all the members are Mohammedans and are not willing to serve the English. They say “We want to join the Turkish Forces, and we want someone to be kind enough to enable us to join the Turkish Forces. We have the money to meet our travelling expenses, and do not want one pie even for expenses, but we want someone to show us the way whereby we may reach Turkey. That is what we want. ” This letter is written to you as on your side Ahmad Madin is the Turkish Consul, so as to enable that gentleman to write to the German Consul at Bombay on direct to Stamboul in order that a man of war may be sent to Singapore. Then the sepoys can board the Turkish man of war and be ready to fight in the battle of Europe. The manager of the German firm of Behn, Meyer and Company was the German Consul in Singapore, but as all the Germans have been arrested and imprisoned on a hill opposite Singapore, so that they are helpless. Those Mohammedan sepoys are prepared to risk there lives. If the Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment tries to exert his authority by force, at once we are prepared to fight. But we do not desire to fight against the Turks on behalf of the English. On behalf of Turkey we are willing to fight both the English and the Russians. Therefore, they entreat some Mohammedan to help them for God’s sake and enable them to reach the Turkish Forces.. All we ask is not to let us fall into the hands of the English while leaving Singapore. Accordingly as you are the Turkish Consul, kindly let us know by which way these sepoys my leave Singapore and where they might go. You sir will get much honour. if we fight against the English on behalf of Turkey and die then we will become martyr. Therefore be kind enough to pay attention to our petition and reply soon. Address as follows to write to us.”
The address was for a Bengali baker who lived in one of the houses on Mansur’s estate in Pasir Panjang. It was signed by two “Havildars” from the Malay States Guides, Osman Khan and Sikandar Khan.
It was enough for the court to find Mansur guilty of the charge of guilty of the charge of attempting to wage war on the King. (2) He was hanged at 8 am on the 31st May 1915.
Kasim Mansur in all probability was a simple man caught up in complicated times, he sold coffee, and befriended Indian soldiers. He was from Bombay, so what. Apart from serving them coffee he had no connection to the mutiny by the 5th light Infantry. this was the second time the 5th had mutinied the first was in 1857 when the regiment was known as the 42nd Bengal Native light Infantry. coincedently half the regiment mutinied then to. This is the reason it was not disbanded. After the Singapore Mutiny the regiment fought in Africa.
Mansur also appears to have no connection to the leading Indian Independence activist and member of the Ghadar movement Nur Alam Shah although he may have attended the mosque where Shah was Iman. Nur Alam Shah was not put on trial, but was detained and then deported. was there a Ghadar conspiracy? doubtful although the enquiry into the mutiny suggests there was. It is more likely the mutiny was caused by distrust of the officers and a refusal to believe they were being sent to Hong Kong but to Europe. It is not good policy to hang Iman’s. and the British needed someone to hang to make it seem that their authority had been reimposed . Apart from which Mansur was only the man who sold coffee, no one would really miss him, or start another rebellion if he died.
Behn Meyer and Co was founded in 1840 by two men from Hamburg. It is still in business today. Ghadar Movement, militant indian independence movement founded on the west coast of America. May have had links to Irish Nationalists. Gharry, horse drawn cab. Jamadar, Junior officer in Indian Army Vincent Devereux Knowles, Knowles was a well respected defence lawyer. His book “Evidence in Brief” is still readily available in the second hand book market. knowles had once successfully defended a pawang, accused of trying to poison two suspected thieves in a poor Indian part of Singapore. Perhaps this is how Munsar had first heard of knowles. Malay States Guides, refused to serve overseas as their terms of enlistment was for alaya only. After the mutiny they were sent to the north of Malaya were they forcibly put down a local rebellion in Kelantan. They pioneered many of the techniques used in modern counter insurgency. The insurgents were Muslims. Pawang, magician/shaman type figure. Subadar, officer in Indian Army.
(1) Between 2 Oceans (2nd Edn): A Military History of Singapore from 1275 to 1971. By Malcolm H. Murfett, John Miksic, Brian Farell, Chiang Ming Shun, page 130 (2) http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19150531-1.2.56.aspx