The Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps was a volunteer force that compromised entirely of European Planters. The Unit served in the Boer War and with ANZAC (Australia, New Zealand Army Corps) forces in WW1.
Recently when searching for information about this unique band of men, I came across the extremely well researched work by Lieutenant Colonel Neil Smith in the “The Empire’s Other Anzacs.”
Lt Col Smith has been kind enough to share his work with readers of PMD’s blog. The following is from his book.
The Ceylon Planters Rifle corps was surely one of the most unique British Commonwealth regiments of the 20th Century. Not only did its members serve side by side with the Australian and New Zealanders on the Gallipoli peninsula as a part of the ANZAC Corps but an exceptionally high percentage of members went on to become commissioned and win other accolades in world war one. Yet it was only a small, part time volunteer regiment little more than company strength within the Ceylon Defense Force housed in a Kandy depot. The corps was unusually selective by today standards with recruits being accepted only from Europeans who were tea and rubber planters in the hills of what today, is known as Sri Lanka.
After the disbandment of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment (CRR) in 1873, the only locally raised regular outfit, some British planters and mercantile elite tried to create a volunteer infantry unit loosely known as the Matale Rifle Volunteer Corps but only months later it was disbanded. In 1900 new regiment named the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps was established in Kandy with an armory at Galle. Both the officers and other ranks were made up of white Caucasians who were mainly planters from the central highlands of Ceylon. Few had a military background although the first Commanding Officer was Colonel A J Farquharson, a retired naval captain. The regiment was entirely volunteer and available for mobilization under internal emergency or for deployment overseas. Their hat badge based on the design of a tea plant bore the motto “Unitas Salus Nostra – Unity our Salvation”
The regiment first deployment was in 1902 when a detachment was sent to South Africa arriving just before hostilities ended. In the event they experienced no combat in the second Boer War although some of their countrymen form other Ceylonese contingents had been committed much earlier in the conflict. The overall conduct of Ceylon troops however received accolades from Lord Kitchener In 1903 who affirmed, The Ceylon contingent did very good work in South Africa I wish we had more of them.
West Australian born Neil Smith served 24 years in the Australian Regular Army including a tour of duty in Vietnam with the 8th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, plus 12 years Explosive Ordnance Disposal duties. Neil was awarded the AM for his EOD work in the Solomon Islands in 1983. At one point Neil also flew Army helicopters rather badly (he says) and took to jumping out of aeroplanes for a spell.
He is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Science in England and Staff College Canberra where he successfully completed a Graduate Diploma in Strategic Studies. Neil was also a munitions Proof Officer and later undertook logistic related duties.
As a passionate military history researcher, Neil has 23 years experience in Australia and the UK. He has researched in detail over 23,000 individual service men and women. He has authored over 60 books and monographs, all with the focus on those who served.
Neil has been a cruise presenter, Master of Ceremonies for various military commemorative activities, provided expert commentary on ABC TV coverage of the Melbourne ANZAC Day March for 17 years, has written and appeared in TV documentaries and written a series of articles and blog posts for FindMyPast and Inside History magazine.
In his spare time, he is a member of the Military Historical Society, the 8th Battalion Association, the Returned Service League, the Order of Australia Association, the Royal Australian Regiment Association and is a committed jogger.