Causes of the #Singapore Mutiny #FWW

The mutiny was not confined to the Rajputs wing of the 5th NLI  (Native Light Infantry). Soldiers from the Malay States Guides Took also part in the mutiny. It would seem that the Soldiers from the Malay States Guides (MSG) were coerced by men from the 5th NLI. But see, Kassim Ali Mansoor, who was under arrest and imprisoned in the Goal on Outram Road.

Primary Cause?

  • Subversion

Secondary causes?

  •  Rations
  • Non-promotion of Imatiaz Ali
  • Colonel Martin -Officer Mismanagement. Dissention among British Officers, and amongst Indian Officers. As the letter written by Mansoor shows the 5th NLI were not the only unit involved. A few soldiers from the Malay States Guides took part. On the 15th February 1915 they may have had to be coerced but a willingness to defect was shown by at least two Havildars of the MSG who signed the letter apparently on behalf of others.  p62, p69 Indisipline, Mutiny in Singapore

An army marches on its stomach. If the food a soldier is given is of a low quality or rations are barely adequate moral suffers. In Singapore, the 5th NLI sepoys found their rations were not as good as they were in India. Back in India, the rations contain a large quantity of goat meat plus plenty of milk. In Singapore, both goat meat and milk were in comparatively short supply. The sepoys could supplement their rations with meat and milk purchased locally. However, they now found themselves station in Dollar, rather than a rupee economy with a higher cost of living.(Singapore Mutiny p23 M &H).

Poorly fed soldiers tend to be unhappy and are more prone to suggestions of ways to either improve their lot or find ways of punishing those they feel responsible. So while not a main cause. rations or rather inadequate rations should be included in factors which led to the rebellion.

Non-promotion of Imatiaz Ali. Imatiaz Ali was a Rajput who was promised promotion when the next vacancy occurred

Colonel Martin. The Commanding Officer of the 5th NLI. If the 5th NLI was a family, as the majority of British army regiments claim they are, the 5th NLI was a dysfunctional family. Martin often acted as the Sepoys friend in disputes and when men were brought before him in disciplinary matters (Singapore Mutiny p24 M &H) This would have eroded the NCOs and the officers in the regiment’s authority over the men. Martin himself thought that all the officers were against him (page 23 Singapore Mutiny). There was also friction between the Left and Right Wing of the Regiment, (Singapore Mutiny p23 M &H)

Colonel Martin was responcible for the Regiment, but that is not the same as saying he was a primary cause of mutiny. Neither was he responsible for the feelings and thoughts of the men in the Malay States Guides.

Subversion of the 5th NLI is a primary cause of the mutiny, but the question remains, Subversion by whom?  There are five  candidates.

  • The Gandr Movement/Foreign Agents.
  • Kassim Ali Mansoor
  • Nur Alam Shah
  • The Crew of the Emden.
  • Christi Khan

The Gandr movement was an Indian Nationalist movement form by Indian ex-pats on America’s west coast. Its aims were to overthrow the British Raj by armed insurrection.  Germany had started to form links with the Gandr before the outbreak of the war. After the start of the war, the ties between Germany and the Gandr movement grew. The Germans providing funds, offices under the guise of the Indian Political Department, part of the German War and Foreign offices. German agents also distributed the Ghadr, which was the Ghadr’s movement’s official publication.  The movement sent agents to all parts of the British Empire in Asia as well as Japan. (P9 Singapore Mutiny Harper and Miller)

Kassim Ali Mansoor, the man who made the coffee. His coffee shops was a place where many of the Indian officers and men had coffee. Mansoor had befriended the Officers and men from the 5th NLI..He also chatted 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. Mansoor 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.http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19150531-1.2.56.aspx (source checked 17/02/2017))

The letter was with other letters to his son. There was a covering slip in Mansoor’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 their 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  Mansoor’s estate in Pasir Panjang.     It was signed by two “Havildars” from the Malay States Guides, Osman Khan and Sikandar Khan. (http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19371121-1.2.110   (source checked 17/02/2017))

Nur Alam Shar was the Imam at the mosque in Kampong Java Road. Shar was a charismatic figure regarded as a prophet by a number of the sepoys. He was also a member of a group of Indian nationalists in Singapore.(Singapore Mutiny p7-8 M &H)

The between 23rd January and the 12th  of February the crew of the Emden and other Germans interned at Tanglin were guarded by approximately 50 other ranks of the NLI including Imatiaz Ali (p30, Singapore Mutiny,Harper and Miller) and Sepoy Ismail Khan.(page 71 TheSingapore Mutiny Sho Kuwajima) Ismail Khan fired the shot that signalled the start of the mutiny. Lt Lauterbach an officer on the Emden who in his fictionalised book, Rogue Raider did claim responsibility for the mutiny, denied in 1917 being responsible for instigating the mutiny.

" Before my eyes they sank the collier. My crew and I were taken as 
prisoners to Singapore. The natives of this island city were very friendly 
toward us. I had soon gained their confidence sufficiently to know that 
an attempt to escape would not miscarry. But I wanted to make prepara- 
tions to take my crew with me when I fled. We then began to dig a tunnel 
under the wire fence that surrounded our prison-camp. We had scarcely 
completed our work when the famous revolution among the natives in 
Singapore broke out. The English blamed me for inciting the blacks 
against them. I herewith declare that this blame is founded on untruths. 
When the revolution had been settled, we completed our tunnel, and, 
during the following night, nine of us gained our freedom.

(Source 282 THE AND’ENTURE.S OE lIEUTENANT LAUTERBACH (N.WAL RESERVE) 284 “Ayes HA”, Full text of “Proceedings of the united States Naval Institute” Vol 43, February 1917 (http://www.archive.org/stream/proceeuni43168unit_djvu.txt. (checked 17/02/2017))

The Japanese Consul in a report he sent to the Japanese Foreign Minister. Kato, based on talking to two Japanese barbers who worked at Tanglin Camp did say that ” The Indian Muslim soldiers took their final decision in consideration of their religion, and responded to the German instigation” (page 71 The Singapore Mutiny, Sho Kuwajima)                     Christi Khan

Jemedar Christi Khan, was heard on many occasions to sow the seeds of doubt about the British War effort.  He was overheard saying to his men, ” Why should we fight for England and be killed in Europe when we are paid half a coolie’s wage and our wives and children are left to starve on two or three rupees a month?” (P35 Harper & Miller). Harper and Miller also give other examples of christi Khan undermining the war effort to his men.

Imatiaz Ali and Christi Khan were executed by firing squad.

Ismail Khan was killed during the rebellion.

Kassim Ali Mansoor was hanged.

Nur Alam Shar exiled.

Notes

  1. The mutiny was planned. the mutineers split up into three main groups who appear to have clearly defined objectives, and that would take planning.
  2. The timing of the mutiny after the speech by Col. Marting informing the Regiment that it was to embark overseas given the day the Mutiny started is significant. The Ghandr movement claimed it was the day a general rebellion against British rule would start. There appears to be no evidence this was the case.
  3. The speech informed the regiment that they were about to embark for service. There appears to be no surviving record of the translation of the speech. Therefore we do not know exactly what was said, only what was meant to have been said.
  4. If the men were told that they were to sail “East” They either did not believe this, or they were not looking forward to another Garrison posting. If the men were informed they were going where ever the Empire felt they were needed they may not have believed this and thought they were going to fight the Turks. There are possibly other reasons as yet not known (by me)

This blog will be updated at some point.

 

 

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