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Military TermsBackground

The following list provides brief descriptions of military terminology.



atapattuwa: name of a class of militia who acted as the king's bodyguard (see also: maduva)


banquette: firing-step behind a parapet.
barbette: a raised terrace from which mounted heavy guns may fire over a parapet.
bastion: part of the inner enclosure of a fortification with an outward pointing angle made by the conjunction of two walls; a projecting tower at the angle of two walls in a fortification.
battering train: the men, guns, ammunition and specialist equipment to move and mount siege artillery for laying seige to and breaching a fortified place.
battery: gun emplacement.
bomb: mortar-shell; loosely applied to all explosive projectiles.
breastwork: protective parapet or barricade.


caffree (also kaffir): African native, brought to Ceylon as a slave or mercenary soldier by Portuguese, Dutch or British.
cantonment: that part of a town occupied by the garrison; permanent military town.
carronade: large-calibre, short-range cannon.
casement: chamber in a fortress wall.
cavalier: raised gun platform, usually inside a bastion.
citadel: fortress in or near a city.
commissary: supply-officer
counterscarp: outer sloping wall of the ditch or the area between the parapet and the glacis.
creese (also kris): dagger or knife with a curved blade used by Malays.
countersign: password.
curtain: main wall of a defensive work or the part of a rampart between two bastions


demi-lune: see ravelin
ditch: linear trench, either wet (moat) or dry, intended as an obstacle to attackers or a sheltered line of communications for defenders.
: covered chair or palanquin, often used to carry a sick person [India/Sri Lanka]
durg: fort [India]


embrasure: opening in a parapet to permit gunfire through the wall.
enceinte: area enclosed withina defensive works main line of ramparts, but excluding its outworks.
enfilade: fire that rakes a line or position from end to end; flanking fire.
escalade: scaling of walls by attackers using ladders.


fascine: bundles of brushwood or branches; used to retain the earthen walls of trenches or in batteries.
face: exposed outer surface, particularly a bastion's wall between its salient angle and flank.
firelock: musket
flank: side or wing of an army; a body of soldiers on the extreme right or left of a formation; part of a bastion betwen its face
flank company: grenadiers and light infantry of a line battalion.
Forlorn Hope: a small group of soldiers that went ahead of the storming party into the breach to cover the placement of ladders etc.
fort: structure designed primarily for defence.
fortress: important fortified complex, often designed to surround and protect an entire city.


glacis: long, gentle slope below the ramparts, kept clear to provide no cover for attacking troops (from French glace, meaning "ice").
gingal (also jingal): small-bore cannon or swivel-mounted large musket; fired from a tripod: also called a "grasshopper gun".
grenadiers: elite attack soldiers formed into a unit within a regiment.
grog: mixture of rum and water.
gun-metal: 'brass' of cannon, generally 8-10 parts tin to 1000 parts copper.


half-pay: pay accorded to an officer who held a commission but had no employment.
HEIC: Honourable East India Company [English], established in 1600.
: native soldier [Sri Lanka]
howitzer: short-barrelled cannon designed for high-angle fire.


lascar: deck-hand on board ship; also labourer employed in dragging artillery or pitching military tents ( i.e. "gun-lascar").
lascarin (also lascareen): term used by the British to describe Sri Lankan auxiliary troops; inferior in discipline to a sepoy.
: triangular fortification on or beyond a glacis.


maduva: Kandyan military force - divided into several departments to form a
small standing army or militia.
Malays: originally came to Sri Lanka as soldiers of the Dutch army in the C18th.
de Meuron Regiment: Swiss mercenaries employed by the Dutch who defected to
the British in 1795.
martello tower: small circular or oval stone tower, often used in coastal defenses. Construction of three towers was commenced near Trincomalee c.1817.
mess: a group of military personnel who eat together regularly.


non-commissioned officer (NCO): enlisted member of the army who holds rank by appointment than than by commission or warrant.
nulla: watercourse.


outwork: defensive work located beyond the glacis, but close enough to receive protection from the main fortification.


palisades: stakes of split wood approx. 3 metres long fixed one metre in the ground in rows.
parapet: defensive wall of earth or stone; breastwork designed to cover troops from observation and fire.
park of artillery: a place chosen for the assembly of artillery, ammunition and associated equipment; artillery reserve.
pattamar: a lateen-rigged ship, with one. two or three masts. Common on the western coast of India.
pettah: town attached or adjacent to a fortress; pettah sometimes separately fortified.
picquet: infantry outpost or sentinel.
piece of ordnance: a gun, howitzer or mortar.
picker: wire needle for clearing musket touch-hole.
pioneer: regimental artificer or carpenter.
post: outpost, sentinel.
postern [sallyport]: tunnel providing access to a ditch ot outside fortified work; may be intended for sorties during a siege, as a means of escape or a shortcut during peace.
prize agent: military official appointed to calculate the distribution of money and jewels seized during a military campaign; cargo or vessel for a naval action.
prize money: allocation of money and jewellery to army officers and soldiers; naval personnel rewarded with calculation of the value of a seized cargo or vessel.
putrid fever: early colloquialism for typhus.


rampart: earth or masonry wall forming the main defensive work of a fortress, usually surmounted by a parapet.
ranker: colloquialism for a member of the rank-and-file, a private soldier.
ravelin ([or demi-lune]: an outwork on the far side of the ditch or moat of a fortification and located between two bastions. Built in the shape of an arrowhead, facing away from the fortification, with an opening towards the wall; defensive purpose was to protect the ground in front of the main fortification.
redoubt: detached fortification.
revetment: retaining-wall of a fortification.


salient angle: outward pointing angle of a bastion or defensive work.
sallyport: see postern.
scarp: inner wall of a ditch or the wall in front of the rampart.
: Indian private soldier (of infantry), commonly used as an adjective (e.g. 'sepoy regiment') or in the plural to describe Indian soldiers in general.
spike: to drive a spike or similar object into the touch-hole of a cannon to make it impossible to fire. Soldiers were issued soft-iron spikes that could be driven into the touch-hole and broken off.
stand of arms: a complete set of arms for one infantryman.
star-fort: fort with earthworks, bastions etc., arranged in the shape of a star.


terreplain: wide upper part of a rampart.
tiffen: midday meal.
trace: ground plan of a fortification.
triangle: framework of half-pikes (spontoons) to which a prisoner was tied before being flogged.


vedette: mounted sentry placed in front of an outpost.

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73rd Regiment

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