In Singapore on this day in 1915, Indian soldiers launch the first large-scale mutiny of World War I.
Some 800 soldiers in the Indian army’s 5th Light Infantry Brigade broke out of their barracks on the afternoon of February 15 and killed several British officers before moving on to other areas of the city. By the time the revolt was quashed, several days later, by British, French and Russian troops, the mutineers had killed 39 Europeans—both soldiers and civilians. British soldiers executed 37 of the mutiny’s ringleaders by gunfire.
The Singapore Mutiny was intended by its organizers to be part of a general uprising being engineered by Sikh militants in neighboring India against British colonial rule. The Sikhs—whose religion combined elements of Hinduism and Islam—had earned favorable treatment from the British after their refusal to take part in an earlier mutiny in India in 1857, but some still chafed against the constraints of the empire. The Indian rebellion in 1915 enjoyed encouragement from the Germans, whose ship, the Bayern, had recently been intercepted by the Italians with a cargo of 500,000 revolvers, 100,000 rifles and 200,000 cases of ammunition intended to aid the militants. The rebels in India were betrayed in March 1915 by a police spy, and the leaders were arrested before they could signal the start of the revolt. Eighteen were hanged.
Despite such insurrections, many Indians from across the country continued to volunteer to serve the British empire in World War I. The first Indian Victoria Cross for bravery had been awarded on the Western Front in January 1915. Mahatma Gandhi, champion of passive resistance and leader of the struggle for Indian home rule, played an active role in the recruitment of Indian soldiers during World War I, writing later that If we would improve our status through the help and cooperation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need.