Backstabbing and diplomacy in London -Life Abroad – Part 109
Posted on December 18th, 2014

Dr. Tilak Fernando

Two years prior to Ceylon gaining independence, Sir George Claude Stanley Corea was appointed as the first ‘Ceylonese Representative’ to the United Kingdom in 1946 and served in that capacity until 1949. The position was akin to a ‘diplomat par excellence’. Subsequently in 1948, after Ceylon gained independence, he was appointed to the United States as the first ‘Ceylonese Ambassador’.

The Sri Lankan diplomatic service which has metamorphosed from 25 Grosvenor Square, London W1 to 13 Hyde Park Gardens, London W2 from 1949, the following personalities have served the Government of Ceylon/Sri Lanka as official High Commissioners in the UK. (See table)

HC Chandra Monarawala

Stressful era

Over a phase of over six decades, the most traumatic time a Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London had to face distinctive and extraordinary problems could be regarded as the period between 1984 and 1990, during Mr. Chandra Monerawala’s tenure when a malicious and spiteful propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka was in full bloom by the LTTE terrorist supporters in the UK along with other Western countries. Moreover, he had to withstand personal encounters and an offensive campaign against him by some political stooges of junior ranks appointed to the mission by the then Foreign Minister, who was regarded as ‘running the Foreign Ministry according to his own whims and fancies’!

One needs to concede the covert operations instituted by HC Monarawala to safeguard Sri Lanka’s image at the hour of need, and due credit should be given to him for executing furtively in a ‘diplomatic’ fashion by grooming several British Parliamentarians and Foreign and Commonwealth officials, which the general public was not aware of!

This he had to accomplish amidst vicious campaigns against him, to restrict his authority as the official High Commissioner, at times by various political henchmen in London appointed to the mission by the then Foreign Minister A.C.S. Hameed. Several attempts by one or two such insignificant minor staff who attempted to hinder his programs and authority, had ultimately to pay retribution in a big way by not only having to leave London but complete their ‘adopted’ foreign service career altogether!

Friends of Sri Lanka

HC Chandra Monarawala invited Sir John Fields, the ex. British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka (1979 -1984), upon his return to the UK, to initiate an Association called Friends of Sri Lanka during Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister A.C.S. Hammed’s time in 1987.

The aim of establishing such an organisation was mainly to ‘maintain close unofficial contacts between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka’; promote social activities including an annual dinner, receptions and regular meetings between persons interested in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. The idea was mainly to contribute to the spread of knowledge of Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom.

My friend, Sepala Munasinghe, a retired Barrister, who now lives in France, recollects how the High Commissioner, Chandra Monarawala requested him (Munasinghe) to join the Committee of Friends of Sri Lanka Association as he (Monarawala) feared it was becoming a more of an Anglo Saxon organisation! In fact, Sepala Munasinghe had most probably been the only Sri Lankan on the Committee of Friends of Sri Lanka Association at the time, sans Shelton Perera, another Sri Lankan solicitor who was a partner at Farrer & Co (Solicitors) at a much later stage after Sepala Munasinghe left London in 2004 to retire in France.

F. C. Rowan’s contribution

A senior partner F. C. Rowan, at Julius and Creasy Co, who happened to be a good friend of N.U. Jayawardena, was instrumental in introducing and sending Shelton Perera to Farrer & Co to manage and cultivate Sri Lankan businesses for Farrer & Co at the time. Shelton Perera, who had been playing the second fiddle to senior partner Bill Farrer, was made a partner at Farrer & Co. solicitors upon latter’s retirement.

Jenny Smith and her husband were solicitors in the UK. Her husband was a partner in a solicitors firm and had close contacts with Sri Lanka. Jenny Smith who had been an apprentice at Farrer & Co., initially worked as an under-study to Shelton Perera. However, when she became a fully fledged solicitor, she was sent to Sri Lanka to work at Julius and Creasy Co., in order for her to familiarise herself with Sri Lanka and also to become acquainted with all the important people at Sri Lankan Corporations, which the critics said it simply boiled down to a ‘Mafia’ to exploit Sri Lankan business”.

Jenny Smith took on the mantle of her husband after his death and established a school in Jaffna in his name. She then began to visit Sri Lanka frequently and work for Julius and Creasy intermittently to acquaint herself with Sri Lankan businesses for the benefit of Shelton Perera who was by then a partner at Farrer & Co. Farer Co managed to earn a lot of money through Sri Lanka!

It is mentioned that initially Farers took an active role in supporting the Friends of Sri Lanka – it was a quid pro quo for the work they were doing for Sri Lanka. Those who were familiar with what was happening at the time tend to believe, for any altruistic reasons, Shelton Perera was merely a pawn in it – and a very lucrative pawn too for that matter!!

British assistance

Barrister Sepala Munasinghe recollects how some meetings of the Friends of Sri Lanka Association were held at the offices of Farrer & Co, but they never allowed it on a recurrent basis. As an alternative arrangement, meetings of the Association had to be convened in the home of John Fields in Notting Hill.

During Sepala Munasinghe’s time at the Association as a committee member Rt. Hon the Baroness Boothroyd OM PC, who was the Speaker of the House of Commons in the UK once, hosted a cocktail party. The Rt. Hon the Lord Naseby PC, (alias Michael Morris, the former Conservative MP) being a Patron of the Association had been a genuine supporter of Sri Lanka. He has appeared once on a TV debate arguing against the LTTE terrorism and their false propaganda against Sri Lanka. It was felt at the time that a certain section of the Conservative party did not take very kindly to the MP’s approach at the time. Much later, in 2009, Sir Christopher Ondaatje OC CBE has been welcomed to the list of Patrons of Friends of Sri Lanka Association.

The first annual general meeting of the Association was held on 10 June 1988 where the objects and functions of the Association were formally set out to remain a non-political organisation whose aim was to foster friendship, goodwill and understanding in all spheres of national life between the people of the United Kingdom and the people of Sri Lanka.

The membership of the Friends of Sri Lanka Association was made up of people of all ages and all races and creeds who shared a common interest – i.e.: Sri Lanka. The Association organised several events each year, the majority of which were held in and around London.

Two regular annual events were the Annual General Meeting held at the High Commission of Sri Lanka in London, and the annual lunch held in autumn, which became a popular event, free of speeches and any formal and other official process, but was seen as a wholesome opportunity to meet up and intermingle with old and new friends while enjoying a splendid Sri Lankan meal of rice and curry.

The Association also had organised three or four other diverse events each year, all of which were focused on a specific Sri Lankan theme. Once, Victoria Glendenning has articulated about Leonard Woolf, who spent eight years in the Ceylon Civil Service before returning home to marry Virginia Stephen in 1912; Likewise, Richard Gombrich, Professor of Sanskrit at the Oxford University, has spoken about aspects of Buddhism; Shruti Chopra has taken the members round the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, showing and explaining the variety of plants endemic to Sri Lanka

“It is natural to face many impediments, difficulties while progressing towards success. If one gets disheartened and withdraws from the goal, the joy of success would be unattainable”

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