HL Deb 02 March 1915 vol 18 cc604-6

My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Marquess who leads the House a Question of which I have given him private notice—namely, whether he is able to give us any further information with regard to the serious outbreak which took place a few days ago in the 5th Light Infantry Regiment at Singapore. A certain amount of information has already been given in the newspapers, but it is not very conclusive either as to the origin of the outbreak or its extent. It remains, for instance, not easy to discover how the civilian population and some local Volunteers were involved in the disorder and sustained a certain number of casualties. We should also, of course, be very glad if the noble Marquess was able to tell us that steps had been taken sufficient not only to quell the disorder but to render any renewal of the trouble very improbable.


My Lords, I am afraid I am not able to give any full account in reply to the noble Marquess's Question, although I can quite understand that there exists anxiety to know so far as possible the causes and circumstances of this lamentable outbreak, which is in such painful contrast to the loyalty and devotion to duty which the Indian troops have shown in many parts of the world during the progress of the present war, not least the Mahomedan troops whose comrades are unfortunately involved in this particular incident.

This 5th Light Infantry Regiment, to which the noble Marquess has alluded and in which the unhappy outbreak took place, is a Mahomedan regiment recruited mainly in the districts not very far from Delhi—some of the districts to the East and some to the West of that city—and comprises recruits of different classes. I call attention to that fact because the discontent which caused the outbreak was, I take it, undoubtedly due to some internal regimental feud between different classes composing the regiment and concerned with questions of promotion, upon which jealousy has existed. It is important to make that clear, because it might easily be supposed that an outbreak of this kind in a Moslem regiment might conceivably be due to some spread of what is known as a Jehad feeling—a sympathy with the altogether unau- thorised declaration of a Holy War which some who profess to represent, Islam have endeavoured to make but which has been not merely not accepted but absolutely denounced as false by those who are best qualified to represent the true Mahomedan feeling.

This regimental difficulty, however, existed, and of its actual cause and genesis I am not able to say more at this moment because that will be the subject of a most complete and careful inquiry. The regiment, or a great part of it, as noble Lords will have seen in the Press, broke out on February 15, attacked the commanding officer in his house, and created a condition of much local disorder which involved, as the noble Marquess has stated, the death of not a few civilians who in the general and evidently much excited mêléc which ensued fell victims to the violence of the rioters. A company of Volunteers was under instruction close to the quarters of the commanding officer. They assisted him, and enabled the attack which was made upon his quarters to be driven off and subdued. It took something like the best part of three days to quell the mutiny altogether—if mutiny is the word, and I think, on the whole, it is not the proper word to use. The violence was rather of the nature of a regimental riot than of anything which could possibly be described as a mutiny. The rioters fled in all directions to the plantations about, and it took a considerable time to round them up, although there are now not many, I fancy, who are still in hiding. By February 21 six companies of one of the Territorial regiments from India were disembarked at Singapore. Some fifty of the rioters were killed or wounded; and now the greater part of those who broke out have been segregated on one of the small islands in the harbour at Singapore. A company of the Malay State Guides was at Singapore at the time, and of these a certain proportion joined the rioters and have also been interned. A company of a Sikh regiment which was passing through assisted the authorities in quelling the disturbance; and it is important to bear in mind that a considerable proportion of the 5th regiment itself remained quite stanch and stood by the authorities in the restoration of order. A summary Court-Martial has been sitting to deal with some cases which could be dealt with on the spot, but an experienced General officer is coining from India to hold a fuller and more formal investigation, assisted by a strong Court. That, I think, is all the information which I can give the House at this moment. Whenever I obtain any more I shall, of course, be prepared to communicate it.

The precise circumstances in which the casualties occurred to the civil population have not yet been sent home, but, as I have stated, it was evident that a mêlée of a general character took place with not a little indiscriminate shooting, and I take it that it was in those circumstances that the officers of the Telegraph Company and others lost their lives—a matter, of course, of particular regret not merely to the colonial authorities but also to those of us who are responsible for the character and conduct of the Indian troops. I am anxious for the House to understand that the disturbance undoubtedly was of a purely local and special character connected with regimental matters, and that the sort of colour which in some quarters was endeavoured to be put upon it—the suggestion that it was of the nature of a racial or religious rising against the British Government—is in no way sustained by the circumstances. It is important that that should be known. Although the whole of the circumstances are most lamentable and disastrous, the fact that the trouble was isolated and formed no part of a general state of feeling or general movement is in itself so far comforting.

House adjourned at five minutes part Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.