Posted on November 18th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Cdn-2010-tag---In-Focus---i_3.jpgHistory means knowledge acquired by investigation or study of the past. History is also referred to as an academic discipline used as a narrative to examine and analyse sequence of past events objectively. Apart from historians-â„¢ approach to modern history such as the emergence of coffee and tea plantations in Sri Lanka during the colonial era, stories common to a particular culture or a place are classified as legends which do not support the discipline of history.

Although Ceylon-â„¢s past history has been compiled into text form by many erudite historians, there are certain occurrences that have never been publicised in manuscript style with regard to the special camaraderie that had existed between the British Royals and the -Ëœgood old -ËœCeylon-â„¢.

Young Peter Wijesinghe and his German wife

It-â„¢s true that of late relations between the British and Sri Lankan administrations have been bruised in certain instances which can only be regarded as occasional hiccups, but the two countries robust historical affiliation is long lasting, Sri Lanka being one of the oldest members of the Commonwealth.

Sour areas

One incident that made the situation sour between the two countries was when the late President R. Premadasa created history by expelling the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, David Gladstone, and making him -Ëœpersona non grata-â„¢ when the diplomat was found to be interfering with local politics, an unacceptable act which was regarded as going over the diplomatic boundaries.z_p05-FACTS01.jpg

Of late, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa managed to obliterate the internationally recognised most ruthless terrorist outfit, The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) perpetrated by megalomaniac Prabhakaran in lock stock and barrel in 2009, some British politicians, who are hard up for parliamentary votes, have become innocent prey by having to depend on ghettos of Tamils in their constituencies which ultimately has made a stir at the Geneva Human Rights Council by the formation of a group of Tamils calling themselves as the -ËœTamil Diaspora-â„¢.

These are some of the Tamils who have managed to escape from heinous crimes committed by the same LTTE egomaniac who was obsessed with his only goal of dividing Sri Lanka, leaving aside any sympathy towards his own people, which was evident from his merciless killings of anyone who did not toe the line with his hostile policy and/or who objected to the recruitment of underage Tamil youth to make them cannon fodder.

After -Ëœsojourning blissfully in salisbury climes-â„¢, leading contented and relaxed lives and calling themselves the Tamil Diaspora they suddenly seem to be concerned with the Tamil people in the North and East whilst the Sri Lankan administration is busy in clearing thousands of landmines which had been planted by terrorists and telescoping a program of new house building and simultaneously transforming those Tamil -Ëœghost-â„¢ towns into a modern world from its infrastructure to resettle those displaced innocent Tamil civilians who had to undergo macabre experiences due to the fanatic terrorist leader-â„¢s illusions of grandeur to divide the nation.

London scene

Sir John ‚ in conversation with former GG of Ceylon Lord Soulbury

Some of the interesting aspects of the -ËœCeylon history in London-â„¢ have not been recorded much. This column has unearthed few bygone minutiae, thanks to an ex employ of the Sri Lanka High Commission who holds a record of a continuous service of 54 years -” from 1948 to 2002 (by continuing his services after his retirement and being contracted out).

Peter Wijesinghe was taken to England by Sir Oliver Goonetilleke as his batman in late 1940s. Later he was absorbed into the Sri Lanka foreign service by Sir Oliver to work in the Ceylon House. Peter-â„¢s vivid memory goes as far back as 1948 when the first Ceylon House started operating from No. 28 Cockspur Street, London SW1 with Sir Oliver as the High Commissioner. He left the government service in 2002, during Mangala Moonasinghe-â„¢s term of office as the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London. His photographic memory of events and people is amazing.

King-â„¢s visit to Ceylon House

He remembers how King George VI participated at the Ceylon High Commission for tea during the inaugural ceremony in 1950 with Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) and little Princess Margaret. Peter-â„¢s facial expressions become vivid with delight when he begins to explicate how the Royals, often Lord Mountbatten, visited the Sri Lankan High Commission soirƒ©es, and in particular how he was privileged to serve tea to the King of England, in a Blue China tea set especially bought for the occasion.

The Crown Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip soon after their marriage planned to embark on a royal tour to Kenya and from there, enroute to Ceylon in 1952 to declare open a Grand Colombo Exhibition. Prior to leaving London the royal couple had paid a courtesy call on the Ceylon High Commissioner E.A.P. Wijeratne. Reciprocating the gesture the High Commissioner had gone to Northolt airport to wish the Royal Couple Bon Voyage.

Prior to the emergence of London Heathrow, Northolt has been the only airport in use; the Royal Couple was flown by a BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) plane to Kenya. While the princess was enjoying the holiday from Treetop Hotel in Nairobi, the shattering news about her father-â„¢s sudden death reached the royals which forced her to cancel all her scheduled programs and immediately return to the UK to shoulder the responsibilities of being the Queen of England.

It was such a coincidence that when King George VI died in London, his daughter Princess Elizabeth was crowned as the Queen Elizabeth II of England, while in Ceylon the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake expired at the same time, his son Dudley Senanayake succeeded as the Prime Minister!‚ 

Buckingham Palace had gone specifically into great lengths for a long period of time in checking out weather forecasts to arrange a suitable dry day for the Coronation. The month of June being bright and sunny in the British calendar, meteorological experts had advised the royal household, after going through past records, that the most suitable day for the Coronation as June 2, 1953, which was officially confirmed.

Invitations to the Coronation ceremony went to all the Commonwealth countries inclusive, and the list of Ceylonese invitees sent to the Sri Lanka High Commission from Buckingham Palace ran into pages, but due to space restrictions it is not possible to include here.

However, one significant event that had taken place on the day of the Coronation was that despite all the research and recommendations by weather gurus, it had started to pour down cats and dogs with hailstones, thus the reigning Queen earning a teasing nickname as the “Raining Queen” as well!

Queen Elizabeth II completed her scheduled tour of Ceylon in 1954 after her Coronation. Twenty seven years later she visited Sri Lanka again in 1981 to open the new British Council Library in Colombo.

One hundred and eleven years earlier in 1870, Sir Charles Henry de Soyza, one of the richest businessmen and a philanthropists in the country entertained Queen’s great grand uncle Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, to a extensive meal at his Bagatelle Walawue where the cutlery of the entire banquet was gold, silver; studded with rubies, emeralds and pearls. The large mansion with extensive gardens was later named ‘Alfred House’ in honour of the Royal visit by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. In 1875, to commemorate the visit of H.R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales Sir Charles Henry de Soyza named two schools he built in Moratuwa as Prince and Princess of Wales.

Diplomatic immunity in London

Diplomatic Immunity, prior to the Geneva Diplomatic Convention, had been published by the Commonwealth Relations Office, Downing Street, London SW1 in the form of ‘The London Gazette’. On October 31, 1952, page 5820 carried the following names under CEYLON as follows:

“His Excellency Mr and Mrs. E.A.P. Wijeyeratne, Sir V. Coomaraswamy CMH and Lady Coomaraswamy, Mr & Mrs. C.E.P. Jayasuriya, Mr. A.I. Perera, CBE and Mrs. Perera, Miss. D.M. Perera, Mr. R.C.S Koelmeyer, Mr and Mrs. Ratnasiri Perera, Mr and Mrs. F.L.F. de Seneviratne, Mr. D.T.E.G. Abeysinghe, Mr. P. Buluwela, Mr. S.P. Christian, Miss. E. Garvin-Mack, Mr. L.D.T. Jayasinghe, Mr. and Mrs. S.C.A. Nanayakkara, Mr. & Mrs. Gunapala Ranasinghe, Mr. K. Ratnasamy, Mr. T.Sivarajan, Mr & Mrs. E. J.H. Thiedeman, Mr. P. Wijesinghe – Domestic Staff V. Saranelis, R.M. John Singho, M. Punchi Menika and H.T. Somawathie”.

During this era England used food ration cards for various commodities like Butter and Margarine etc for the diplomatic staff.

Such cards issued by the Ministry of Food carried the words: Diplomatic Body, Available anywhere in the United Kingdom. Simultaneously a National Registration Identity Card issued by the National Registration Office along with a separate Certificate of Identity with a photograph, designation, the name of the High Commission and the holder’s home address had been issued to all the High Commissions in London by the Head of Protocol, Foreign Office/Commonwealth Relations Office.‚ 

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