As most of the CPRC men were commissioned there is wealth of information to be found in surviving officer dossiers held by The National Archives in London. Many details herein have been extracted from these records which must be consulted hard copy. More readily available are the Medal Index Cards which can be accessed in digital format on the internet. The Australian War Memorial have now digitized the relevant War Diaries for World War One and although the CPRC have no War diary in either the UK or Australia, ANZAC and other war diaries do provide glimpses of the work of the CPRC from time to time.
The men of the CPRC were educated and patriotic. All has volunteered as part time soldiers before the war so they were interested in matters military. Little wonder they flocked to the depot when the call for mobilization went out. Little wonder they drew high praise from Birdwood and on some occasions were befriended by him. Their courage and enthusiasm was unquestionable although more than one or two left the service with bad marks against their name. it is pleasing to find that at least four of their number were Australian or had strong Australian connections – Bill McCulloch , Clarence Dawson, Henry Hopwood and Francis Troupe. Most were born and educated in Great Britain and after enjoying fine middle class upbringings and education made their way to Ceylon to manage the plantations of the Small Colonial country. Some went further a field to India, Africa and elsewhere. The longevity and influence of the Ceylon Planters Association is testimony to the esprit de corps and camaraderie of these men.
Lt Col, CBE, MC, VD: CPRC, (formerly Royal Dublin Fusiliers). Born 3 Dec 77, Banagher, Kings County, Educated Belvedere College, Dublin & Clongowes wood College, Sallins, County Kildare, Ireland. Occupation: Ireland. Engineer with Messers Davidson & Co, Colombo, Ceylon. Moved to Ceylon 1905, with a Belfast firm. Joined CPRC as Tpr, Sgt 1914. To CPRC Overseas contingent Sep 14. Served in Egypt Oct 14 to Mar 15. Participated in defence of Suez against Turks Feb 15. Landed with ANZACS in Gallipoli 25 Apr 15, Sgt in charge of CPRC, bodyguard for Gen Birdwood. 2nd Lt 1 Bn R Dub Fus 20 July 15. Served at Cape Helles, Gallipoli. WIA Suvla Bay 7 Aug 15. Served Caucasus Sep 16. Served in Palestine Sep 17. A/Capt 26 Mar 18. Served in France Aug 18. Awarded MC for action at Le Cateau 17 Oct 18 vide LG of 4 Oct 19. Later OBE. Recommended for VC. Discharged 1919. Later
Davidson & Co tea dryer still in use in southern Sri Lanka 2016.
Records of the CPRC are scant. According to its Onetime commanding officer, (CO), Colonel Thomas Y Wright, VD, MBE (1904 -1912) the CPRC sustained overall losses of 80 killed and 99 wounded in the First World War. And extract from Lucas’s The Empire at war provides casualty figures for all Ceylonese that served follows.
- Europeans: 1573 served in overseas theatres with 285 killed and 355 wounded.
- Ceylonese: 609 served overseas with 35 killed, 13 drowned (on the villa de la Ciotat, torpedoed in the Mediterranean on 24 December 1915) and 82 wounded.
The Hills of paradise by S N Breckenridge includes a rare photograph of the CPRC Contingent marching through Kandy en route for the war. Similarly Ceylon in my time 1889 – 1949 by Boer War veteran Colonel Wright includes quite a few photographs of the CPRC in the Boer War period. Some historical material is also to be found in The Planters Association of Ceylon 1854 – 1954 by unknown authors. This work was compiled to pay tribute to the many of the Association who for over 100 years had helped to establish and maintain the tradition of service which had contributed so much to the agricultural and economic development of Ceylon. Many of their number had served with the CPRC in World War One.
Uniquely Ceylon was the only British Colony to award a medallion for war service in World War One. It read:
- Presented by the governor of Ceylon to those who voluntarily gave their services overseas in the Great War of 1914 – 1919.
Called the Ceylon Volunteer Service Medal it was not designed to be worn so created little interest even though it was named on the reverse thus: D E Smith, P J Rollason and so on. Only 450 of this medal are said to have been produced. Doubtless the readily identifiable hat and collar badge of the CPRC is also rare. It is based on a bronze badge with tree tea plant leaves above the motto and the corps name in full. Shoulder titles are simply CPRC.
From their new depot at Galle Buck the CPRC was mobilized once more when World War Two started in 1939. Although primarily deployed for home service defense in Ceylon the CPRC was a fine source for office reinforcements, providing an estimated 700 volunteers to be commissioned as officers in the British Army and British Indian Army. Between August 1940, and July 1942, the CPRC dispatched six contingents amounting to 172 soldiers as officer reinforcements to the Officer Training School at Belgaum India.
Ceylon having gained independence from Britain The Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps was disbanded on 11th April 1949 along with the Ceylon Defense Force. These events in turn led to the formation of the Ceylon Army and from 1972, the Sri Lankan Army. The CPRC had an annual dinner until the late sixties when most European planters left. In 1984 on request of planters in the highlands, the Sri Lanka Rifle Corps was created, based on the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps. Two battalions were raised in Pallekele and Neuchatel Estate Neboda.The Rifle Corps has since then been deployed both in the central highlands and other parts of Sri Lanka due to the recent Civil War, with its numbers coming from the highlands and the plantations.
With the Centenary of World War One upon us and thoughts of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli sharpened, it is timely to reflect on the Tea Leaves of the CPRC. They were the other ANZACs from Ceylon who rightfully deserve a place in the legends established on the beached of Gallipoli by the men of Australia and New Zealand.
Our thanks go out to Lt Col Neil Smith for allowing us to share his work. We look forward to seeing him in London this year. – Dananjaya.