This blog has its origins in a book. Death sentences passed by military courts of the British Army 1914-1924, revised edition edited by Julian Putkowski with a forward by Andrew Mackinlay MP. 2005, ISBN 1 903427 26 6. If you are interested in the men Shot at Dawn, it is a must read. Along with its companion book, British Army Mutineers 1914-1922, also by Julian Putkowski. They are should have books for anyone with more than a passing interest in the soldiers executed. Combined they not only give a good comparison between Sentences passed, and Sentences carried out. They contain a guide to other sentences the Military Courts passed and where.
“There has always been public disquiet about the fate of the men who were sentenced to death during the First World War” Andrew Mackinlay MP, the opening sentence of his forward in Death sentences passed by military courts of the British Army 1914-1924
The closing sentence of his forward reads “It would also be to the credit of those given to sustaining the officers’ version of military justice if, as a consequence of studying this book, they were to advance a more generous measure of compassion to the condemned, and to acknowledge the misery and grief simultaneously inflicted on the innocent families and dependents of the men whose names are recorded herein.”
It gives the impression that the book represents a complete list of those executed by the British Army. A plea of compassion for the men and recognition that their families were innocent victims of the war. Which they were.
However, not all Commonwealth Soldiers who were executed are listed in the book, at the memorial, or on the Commonwealth War Graves Registers. Which purports to list all those soldiers who died in the first World War regardless of how they died. It is as though they never existed. The books list only one man sentenced to death in Singapore. Private Chadwick, 1st Battalion King’s Own YorkshireLight Infantry. sentenced to death for cowardice on the22nd September 1914. His sentence was quashed. There is also a list of the number of executions by each offence. 55 Soldiers convicted of mutiny, 15 of whom were executed. At the back of the book, Appendix 2 p122, there are the number of condemnations executions by Division. The final group of entries on the page is headed Dominion Forces and other Formations. The last entry is ” Indian Army 54 (Condemnations) 5 (Executions)” It is by no means complete. It does establish that at least in some cases Capital sentences in Singapore were recorded by the Army and also by the Indian Army. Further evidence is contained in the book British Army Mutineers 1914-1922 that sentences for Mutiny were recorded in Singapore in March 1915. Malay SG (States Guides) Bty Gnr Ahmad Sultan Singapore 11/03/15 3 years Penal Servitude for Mutiny, Commuted to 18 months imprisonment. He is one of four listed on p120.
So the others, the soldiers sentenced to death and executed? It is difficult to acknowledge their deaths, or the misery, grief and shame imposed on their families if we do not know who they are. It seems if you want to erase history, first delete their names.
Two Shot on the 23rd February. Notice by his excellency Brigadier General DH Ridout, These men were found guilty in the act of shooting at peaceful citizens and has been tried by a properly constituted Court Martial (1) These two men were executed in public at the rear of Banda Prison. They were executed by a firing squad of Scots soldiers. Two volleys were required to kill one of the men. After the execution and the removal of the bodies, some of the crowd rushed forward to search the blood soaked ground for the bullets. (3) The nationality of the crowd, Singapore was as it is now a cosmopolitan country is not known. It is known that there was not a lot of disquiet amongst them on that day.
Two unknown were shot on the 28th February, (2)
Now it is possible to name some of the others.
Dunde Khan, Chiste Khan, Rahmat Ali, Hakim Ali, and Abdul Ghani. Sentenced on 22nd March 1915. The men along with others were marched out of Outram Prison that afternoon. Just before 5:10 pm. The five condemned men were tied to posts and the verdict of the Court Martial was read out. in front of a well behaved crowd estimated at around 6,000 of mostly Asians by Major Hawkins. “These five men, Subadar Dunde Khan, Jemadar Chisti Khan, 1890 Havildar Rahmat Ali, 2311 Sepoy Hakim Ali, and 2184 Havildar Abdul Ghani have been found guilty of stirring up and joining a mutiny and are sentenced to death”
Moments later Lieutenant Vyner of the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) gave the command. The firing squad of 25 men from the RGA commanded by Vyner and a sergeant fired. All five men executed slumped to the ground. From being marched to their execution posts the whole proceedings had taken just a couple of minutes.(4)
On the 25th March 1915, 22 were executed. 2112 Naick Munshi Khan, 1933 Naick Zaffar Ali, 2463 Sepoy Mahomed Baksh, 2715 Sepoy Rahim Dad, 2462 Sepoy Suliman Khan, 1886 sepoy Nawab Khan, 2406 Sepoy Suliman, 2457 Sepoy Jamal, 2457 Sepoy Jamel, 2574 SepoyBahar Ali, 2819 Sepoy Shafi Mahomed, 2544 Sepoy Faiz Mahomed, 2770 sepoy Umrad Ali, 2885 Sepoy Suleiman, 3048 Sepoy Lai Khan, 2824 Sepoy Shamsuddin, 2997 Sepoy Said Mahomed, 2652 Abdul Ghani, 2649 Bashart, 2982 Sepoy Rafi Mohamed, 2904 Sepoy inayat. 2856 Sepoy Moman, and 3113 Sepoy Nur Mohamed.(5) As with the executions on the 22nd March, the men were marched out of Outram Prison and tied to posts. The time was 5.25pm the order to fire was given at 5.30. This time the crowd numbered around 15,000 and consisted of Europeans as well as Asians. The firing part were 110 men from the Singapore Volunteer Corps. While the firing party was moving off Captain Fraser Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) examined each body. Several had to be finished off by a shot from a revolver. it is not known who fired the revolver. No other person was reported as accompanying Captain Fraser. There is at least one photograph of this execution. none of the men are wearing blindfolds. It is almost certain that no blindfolds were offered.
The Straits Times 3 April 1915 (6) list another six, 1905 Sepoy Ismail Khan, 1499, Sepoy Nathe Khan, 3051 Sepoy Nishan Ali Khan, 1754 Havildar Ibrahim Khan, 1352 Havildar Murid Khan, 2058 Sepoy Taj Mohamed Khan. All as in the previous cases tried in open court and executed in public in front of 1,000s.
Taj Mohamed was identified by a German prisoner of war detained at Tanglin Barracks. (6)
On the 19th April the Straits Times (7) gives the names of three more men executed. This time on the 17th April, Havildar Samand Khan, 2637 Lance Naick Feroz, and 2102 Lance Naick Fazel Ali.
Fazel Ali was badly wounded and he was shot inside the walls of Outram Prison. the other two men were executed outside in public. The two firing squads fired at the same time. No verbal order was given the executions were carried out on the lowering of a flag.(7)
In all 39 men were executed for their part in the Singapore mutiny, 38 shot and one hanged. The Imperial narrative describes the causes of the mutiny as dissatisfaction with their officers. Discontent over a promotion/rations, or a riot (8). Anything but a rebellion. All soldiers deserve to be named on the Commonwealth War Graves Register regardless of how or why they died. it is a gross error of admission for the men of the 5th Light Infantry who died as a result of the mutiny not to be included. Regardless of whose side in the mutiny they were on.
These men were not suffering from Post Traumatic Stress when they mutinied. Some but not all committed terrible crimes including murder, but so did some of the men pardoned and commemorated by the Shot At Dawn Memorial. This article is not about righting wrongs or part of a lost debate over should those executed be pardoned or not. It is about fairness. If others are commemorated so should they. Religion or race should not be a factor. They were part of the British Indian Army. It is time to prove we commemorate all regardless of race or religion and do it.
If you think that it was a rebellion, remember this. They died for freedom-this I know those that bade them fight told them so.(apologies and thanks to WN Ewer and his poem Five Souls)
(1) page 827 Secret documents on the Singapore Mutiny 1915 Dr TR Sareen
(2) page 826 Secret documents on the Singapore Mutiny 1915 Dr TR Sareen
(3) Japan Times 19th march 1915. Translation of which p 844.
(4) Straits Times, 23rd March 1915, p7 viewed on the web.
(5) Straits Times, 26th March 1915, p7 viewed on the web.
(6) Straits Times 3rd April 1915 page 10, viewed on the web
(7) Straits Times 19th April 1915 page 10, viewed on the web
(8) Introduction Secret documents on the Singapore Mutiny 1915 Dr TR Sareen