Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Johore Military Force and the 1915 Singapore Mutiny


Extracted from "The Johore Military Forces: The Oldest Army Of Malay Regulars In The Peninsula" by Tunku Shahriman Bin Tunku Sulaiman Journal Of The Malaysian Branch Of The Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 77, No. 2 (287)(2004), Pp. 95-105

Malaya was not much affected during the initial outbreak of the First World War as the countries surrounding her were either friendly to Britain or neutral. However, Sultan Ibrahim gave 'a most graceful proof of his loyal goodwill' when he placed himself and the Johore Military Force (JMF) at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding of the Troops, Straits Settlements. The Officer Administering the Government, R. J. Wilkinson, accepted his offer and from 10 August 1914, 112 officers and men were utilized at Woodlands, Kranji, and Seletar in Singapore where it was noted the men had done their duties 'willingly, cheerfully and smartly'. However, the Sultan's decision to send his men to Singapore had huge repercussions on the JMF, as it was there that the soldiers faced one of their biggest challenges to date.

In February 1915, the Singapore-based Indian Regiment, the 5th Light Infantry, was under orders to leave for Hong Kong. The sepoys (Indian Muslim soldiers), however, heard rumours that they would instead be sent to Europe or Turkey to fight fellow Muslims. There was already some resentment among the sepoys against the British for being at war with the Ottoman Empire which sided with Germany. The sepoys' anger had reached boiling point on 15 February when 800 Indian Muslim soldiers decided to stage a mutiny against the British.

When the decision to send the sepoys to Hong Kong was made, the acting General Officer Commanding of the Troops, Straits Settlements, Colonel D.H. Ridout, and the Sultan arranged for a contingent of the JMF to assist in garrison duties in Singapore. A detachment of 190 officers and men under Captain Cullimore was to guard the Kallang and Thompson Road reservoirs, the Tanjong Katong and Labrador cable stations, and to watch the enclosure in which German prisoners were confined at the Tanglin Prisoner of War camp. Apart from 200 rounds of ammunition held by the troops guarding Tanglin Barracks, those stationed elsewhere were without protection. Ever the conscientious ruler, the Sultan had accompanied his men and stayed at the Barracks until dark to ensure every-thing was in order. Only when he was satisfied did he return to Johore Bahru.

Neither the Sultan nor his men had any inkling of the mayhem they were to face on 15 February, a public holiday in celebration of the Chinese New Year festivities. The government perceived no signs of unrest or disloyalty among the 5th Light Infantry and, in fact, got the 'most positive assurances as to the loyalty of the Regiment'. All changed at 3 pm, however, when their officers were caught off guard after having a lie off after tiffin. A shot was fired at the Quarter Guard, signalling the start of the Sepoy Mutiny. Among the first victims were the regiment's own officers, Lieutenant H. S. Elliot and Captain M, F. A. Mclean.

From Alexandra Barracks, a party of 100 mutineers advanced towards the Tanglin detention camp with the intention of releasing the German prisoners. The guards at the Tanglin Barracks, consisting of the Volunteers under Second Lieutenant Montgomerie and the JMF, were unprepared for the uprising, which was to account for the high number of casualties, including Captain Cullimore. With almost no ammunition, the guards were forced to retreat to 'Woodneuk', the Singapore residence of the Sultan of Johore.

When the Sultan was alerted of the mutiny, he immediately left for Singapore with 150 of his troops and volunteers, but speedily returned to Johore Bahru when he heard that the mutineers had crossed over to his state. Despite their limitations, the Johore troops were successful in arresting and forcing the surrender of the mutineers both in Johore and Singapore. By 20 February, the Johore Forces and volunteers had captured 180 men, as well as taken 81 rifles, 75 bayonets, and 3,000 cartridges. 

The Sultan himself was responsible for the surrender of four mutineers in Kulai when he was told by a Tamil labourer of the odd sight of an Indian clad in Chinese clothing. With just two other men, Major Daud and an Afghan sergeant, he persuaded four mutineers armed with rifles and bayonets to surrender. They were taken to Johore Bahru in the Sultan's own car. The rebellion ended after ten days with approximately 40 people killed. Eventually, 36 sepoys were publicly executed.


The loyalty and bravery of the Johore troops were recognized when the Governor of Singapore, Sir Arthur Young, thanked them and the Sultan. Among other things, he said: 'Your Highness, as the representative of His Majesty the King, I wish to express to you my warmest thanks for the manner, the practical manner, in which you have shown your firm loyalty to the king and I thank you on behalf of the colony for the good work you have done for the Colony.

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