Ceylon and the First World War

What We did during the Great War.

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Remembrance Day is just around the corner and we here at YAMU thought that it'd be nice to remind you exactly what you're remembering when you buy a poppy wreath and stick it on the front of your vehicle.

Photo Credits: www.europeana.eu

Sri Lanka honors Remembrance Day in May and the practice of having a Remembrance Day in November comes amidst a bit of controversy. However, Remembrance Day/ Poppy Day is a day to remember those who suffered during the Great War. Although we didn't play a massive role in the war, our tiny island did take a part in it, and here's how. 

World War One or the Great War is a result of the assasination of the Archbishop Franz Ferdinand in 1914. It resulted over 16 million deaths, and was combatted by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States. 

Ceylon, as a part of the British Empire suffered very little in comparison to the other countries involved. India alone suffered the deaths of over 65,000 people. Sri Lanka offered the service of approximately 1000-2000 volunteers, and 442 among them did not survive. Their names are recorded in the Cenotaph War Memorial that resides in the Colombo Public Library premises. 

Picture credits:nzhistory.govt.nz

Although not necessarily "Ceylonese", the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps played quite a large role in the World War I. As a volunteer based regiment force originated in Kandy, the CPRC comprised mainly of European Rubber and Tea Planters. They were the first regiment from Ceylon to head overseas during the war and they are also affiliated with being a part of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. The regiment disbanded in 1949 along with the Ceylon Defense Force to make way for the Sri Lankan Army. 

Photo Credits: www.the-saleroom.com  (Volunteer Service Medals awarded during the First World War.)

Eventhough we are sure of the number of the deceased during the war, we have no proper idea of how many young people went to serve the British Empire during their hour of need. However, there is an estimate which has been recorded that nearly 50% of the volunteers of Ceylon, were commissioned off as officers during the war. All that because they had prior connections to military regements and battalions and such. Amonst them, records specifically demonstrate the numbers of young men (330) of four English medium schools, namely - Royal College, Trinity College, S.Thomas' College and Kingswood College. 

Stories about the young men involved were found on various occasions in (our) the search for what really happened to the Sri Lankans who fought in the World War I. Sir Richard Aluwihare, the first Ceylonese Inspector General of Police and Ajit Rudra, a Major General in the Indian Army were two of them. 

Photo Credits: www.trinitycollege.lk

After the war, in 1919, Sir Henry Manning unveiled a German machine gun at Trinity College, Kandy on behalf of King George the fifth to memorialize their sacrifices to the war. 

Apart from the service of the volunteers who left the island to help the Empire, Sri Lanka has little to do with the Great war. Records have been shown that military groups were formed in Colombo during the war in the case of an attack and the sinking of the German World War I raider SMS Emden are some of the only indications that the world was at war. However, we did manage to find a website that gives a rather precise and informal decsription of an incident that took place during this time when a floating mine drifted to the coast of Wadduwa and ended up exploding and wounding over hundred people.

So, there you have it, everything we could find about what Sri Lanka did during the Great War. If we missed anything, please do let us know in the comments.