The Ceylon Planters’ Rifle Corps
Ceylon Planters’ Rifle Corps in the First World War
By the dawn of the 20th century Ceylon was a prosperous colony. Tea and rubber plantations produced a great deal of the island’s wealth. Spread mainly in the misty highlands, on land seized by the Crown and sold to British investors at nominal rates, the sprawling estates were originally planted with coffee. But a blight decimated the bushes in the 1870s and tea (Camellia sinensis) was planted in lieu. This proved successful, with Ceylon Tea gaining a reputation as the world’s best in a few years’ time.
The backbone of the industry was its indentured labour, mostly brought in from southern India, who lived on the estates. They were supervised by British ‘planters’, usually recruited at a relatively young age directly from Britain. The class-system was firmly in place, with planters being exclusively British (i.e. ‘white’) and from ‘good’ schools. Planters’ Clubs were scattered around the hill towns in Ceylon. Equipped with tennis courts, rugger grounds and bars, the planters would congregate there on weekends, taking a break from what must have been a lonely, albeit comfortable, life on isolated estate bungalows — at least for the bachelors.
The Ceylon Planters’ Rifle Corps (CPRC), based in Kandy, was a group of volunteers formed in 1900, some of whom saw service during the Boer War. It was part of the Ceylon Defence Force (CDF). Ceylon had been at peace for more than 50 years and did not have a large professional army at the outbreak of the war.
When war was declared in August 1914, most of the CDF immediately volunteered. The Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI), the only full-time regiment, was retained in the country for its defence. One young man never left, having passed away just a few days after joining up. He lies in the Kandy CWGC graveyard.