“Ceylonese” Fighting for Britain during the Two World Wars

Michael Roberts

Following the recent publication of the book Volunteers from Ceylon who served in the British and Commonwealth Forces during World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945) . I asked the assiduous compilers of this work to provide a convenient statistical summary of the number of personnel from Ceylon who decided to serve the British Empire in its hour of need (with all the political and cultural implications of these decisions in my ‘compass’).

So, Thuppahi can now present the statistics courtesy of Kumar Kirinde (ex-Trinity College and SL Air Force).

A NOTE FROM Kumar Kirinde ..… with page references to the Volunteers book

WW I   – Volunteers from Ceylon 1,250.       ………….. page 6

WW II   – Volunteers for Ceylon Defence Force 14,900  ……. page 56

Volunteers for British Army 6,000 …… 2,000 served in Ceylon and 4,000 served overseas                                                                                     … page 57

Volunteers for Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve 1,200  ... page 58

WW II   – Volunteers for Ceylon Defence Force 14,900          …..page 56

Volunteers for British Army 6,000 …… 2,000 served in Ceylon and 4,000 served overseas                                                              ……  page 57

Volunteers for Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve 1,200… page 58

Volunteers who joined the RAF – 60 plus                               …. page 135

These Ceylon Volunteers belonged to two categories: British who were settled in Ceylon and the Ceylonese. The British element consisted of two types: those born and raised in Ceylon and those who were working or serving Ceylon in mercantile or other establishments …. vide page 54, para 3.

An EMAIL NOTE from Hiran Halangode

Let me know whether there is a link to the book by Arnold Wright entitled TWENTIETH CENTURY IMPRESSIONS of CEYLON. We are hoping to have a database with all the links that were available to Kumar in the production of the book and include any new inputs as well.
Please note all this effort in producing the book has been with the support of 3 retired ex servicemen and 3 others who supported us. The book was produced by the Naval Printing Unit at cost on reimbursement. Our next objective is to have two plaques giving the details of the Ceylonese volunteers in WW 1 & 2 at the Cenotaph which many pass by daily thinking it is a British memorial. I am also trying to build an image about the Sri Lanka Armed Forces contribution to the defence of Ceylon/Sri Lanka through a database and images of the forgotten servicemen. I also intend to invite the schoolboy cadets of these four schools to lay a wreath at this year’s Remembrance Day and to become friends of the Cenotaph in the future. All this will take effort and resources, mainly finance. Your efforts of publicising the book are appreciated.
Page 666 from A. Wright (comp) Twentieth Century impressions of Ceylon (1907) presents a collage of officers of the Ceylon Defence Force as it was then constituted  (with appreciation of David Sansoni’s effort from Sydney in improving the reproduction of the page). In my reading of the 21 listed therein, 13 are Burgher, 06 Sinhalese … and de Zylva is probably a Sinhalese, while Bawa was a Moor-Burgher mix from a well-connected and  urbanised family (which lineage generated the talented brothers Geoffery and Bevis who enlivened the Sri Lankan society scene in the middle decades of the 20th century).  This note from Wikipedia indicates the genealogical lines, while delving into it further will provide glimpses of Geoffrey Bawa’s illustrious career: “Geoffrey Bawa was born in Colombo on 23 July 1919,[4][5] the youngest of two sons to Major Benjamin Bawa, Sri Lankan lawyer, who was of part European parentage,[6][7] and Bertha Marianne née Schrader, a Burgher of mixed Sinhalese, German and Scottish descent.[4][8][9] His older brother, Bevis, became a landscape architect.”


















Kirinde et al: Volunteers from Ceylon who served in the British and Commonwealth Forces During World War War I (1914-1918) and World war II (1939-1945), Ragama, Naval Printing Unit, ISBN: 978-624-6207-01-4 … https://thuppahis.com/2022/09/02/fighting-dying-for-britain-during-the-two-world-wars/

Thuppahi Editorial Addition:

Some References

Arnold Wright (ed.) 1907: Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon, London: Lloyds’ Greater Britain Publishing Services, pp. 857-62 … a section entitled “Military and Volunteers.”

Punsara Amarasinghe 2022:  “Two Distinguished Indians schooled by Trinity College, Kandy,” https://thuppahis.com/2022/02/16/two-distinguished-indians-schooled-by-trinity-college-kandy … reproducing the item listed below.

Punsara Amarasinghe 2021: “How Trinity College Kandy in Sri Lanka moulded two great sons of India?” Indian Defence Force Review8 October 2021,

JP Lewis 1913 List of Inscriptions on Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon, first published in 1913 …with reprint in Delhi, 1993 by Navrang, with an “Introduction” by HAI Goonetilleke.

Samson Abeysooriya (compiler)Who’s Who of Ceylon, 1918-1920, https://www.worldcat.org/title/whos-who-of-ceylon-1918-1920/oclc/84001549

Samson Abeysooriya (compiler)Whos Who of Ceylon, 3rd edn [1929?] …. Copy with Michael Roberts (front pp missing)

Wikipedia: Geoffrey Bawahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Bawa

David Robson: 29 May 2003 “Geoffrey Bawa Obituary”The Guardian, ……. … retrieved 29 January 2022.


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