LETTING THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG A peep into the past
Posted on June 7th, 2015

Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Part 6

Following are excerpts from an interview the writer had recently in Kandy with Wijesim Pelige Bandiya.

Carlisle Place London

Sir R.S.S. Gunawardena bowing down to H.M.Queen Elizabeth II

Upon returning to London from his travels in India and meeting up with his children and grandchildren, Sir Oliver became quite busy with his Lloyds Register Insurance work, which involved frequent travels to many parts of the world.

He was still sharing the flat at Carlisle Place with Peter and Hannah, was owned by Sir Oliver’s friend, Mrs. Saunders. Peter Wijesinghe was always at his disposal in running about and getting Sir Oliver the requisite visas from various foreign embassies and high Commissions in London. It helped Peter with ease, being an employee of the Ceylon High Commission, and the fact that he had already built up a lot of useful connections with other foreign missions in London.

Out of devotion

During such operations Peter had Mr. Rex Koelmeyer’s blessings, who was the Councillor attached to the Sri Lanka High Commission at the time. Additionally Mr. Koelmeyer was completely ‘ devoted’ to Sir Oliver Goonatilleke. Rex Koelmeyer was always willing to release a third person note” to Peter to help him in his expéditions to obtain necessary visas for Sir Oliver – on one strict condition that he did not let the cat out of the bag!

This procedure helped both Sir Oliver and Peter to a greater extent until Sir Oliver had to obtain a visa to visit Burma on business.

One fine morning, quite innocently, Peter Wijesinghe as usual walked up to the Burmese embassy visa counter in London with the necessary documentation and a 3rd person note to apply for an entry visa for Sir Oliver Goonatilleke to visit Burma.

Awkwardly, the Burmese embassy staff having noticed that Sir Oliver Goonatilleke as the former Governor General of Ceylon became highly overwrought.

Sir Oliver’s letter to Peter Wijesinghe from Bombay – 16 February 1964

They, in turn, informed Rangoon to this effect, and the news spread thick and fast like wild fire and ended up in a prominent slot in a Burmese national newspaper on the following day. Obviously the cat was let out of the bag, and the news hit the national newspapers in Ceylon as well, which naturally made matters worse for Sir Oliver.


After the Burmese visa confusion, things began to be somewhat difficult for Peter Wijesinghe. The whole under cover operation exploded overnight with regard to Sir Oliver’s obscured living in London. Sir R.S.S ( Senarath) Gunawardhana, who is said to have been S.W.R.Bandaranaike’s ‘best man’ at his wedding, was the High Commissioner in London at the time. As a prominent Lawyer, Gunawardhana had presided over some of the Committee Meetings on drafting the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which finally came into effect in 1961.

Senarath Gunawardhana questioned Rex Koelmeyer, a senior diplomat at the High Commission, about Peter’s involvement and, of course, he (Koelmeyer) had to spit the truth and the whole story out to the High Commissioner. The High Commissioner’s advice was to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and suggested that Sir Oliver Goonatilleke left the flat immediately, and instructed Peter Wijesinghe to ‘lie low’.

When such a calamity was taking place in London, Sir Oliver Goonatilleke was actively engaged in business activities in Spain, during his country-to-country travel. Peter had no option but to inform Sir Oliver about the latest developments in London; it compelled Sir Oliver to stay put in a flat in Malaga for some time before returning to London.

After postponing his return trip to London, Sir Oliver was back in Bombay with his rich entrepreneur friend Sidambaran Adayar. On 16th February 1964 Sir Oliver wrote once gain to Peter Wijesinghe, on one of Adaya’r personal letterheads; Peter and his wife Hannah were getting ready to embark on a holiday in Ceylon for the first time after the couple got married.

Adayar’s House

Madrás 25

16 February 64

My dearest Hannah & Peter

I may need to use your back of the flat whilst you are in Ceylon. So please leave the bedroom, and living room open for me. You can lock up everything else.

It will be myself who would be the occupant.

Kindly keep all this to yourself. If the need arises, I will get Mrs. Saunders’s approval of course. Nothing will happen till after both of us are back in London.




A reciprocal favour

Sir Oliver returned to London from India to Mrs. Saunders’s flat at 3A Carlisle Place, Victoria, London SW1 (which was adjoining the Westminster Cathedral) while Peter and Hannah were holidaying in Ceylon for the first time after they were married.

Sir Oliver had, in advance, instructed his daughter Sheila in Colombo to help Peter and Hannah with any amount of money the couple needed while they were in Ceylon.

This was one way of showing his gratitude to Peter for all the help and assistance afforded to Sir Oliver in London at the hour of need, however Peter and his wife did not need any extra funds during their holiday as they stayed at the Baptist Mansion at Rawatawatte, Moratuwa where they had a reunion with his former master Rev. T. A. de Silva who taught him first to read long years. Rev. de Silva happened to be the Parish Priest at the Rawatawatta Baptist Church and Peter had kept his communication channels open with the Reverend right throughout.

Sir Oliver continued to live at 3A Carlisle Place, Victoria, London for some time.

During this period his elder daughter Joyce and children arrived in London and stayed with him. 3A Carlisle Place, Victoria was a two-storey building where Sir Oliver always occupied the upper floor during his stay in London.

Consequently, Sir Oliver Goonatilleke got married to Phyllis Miller, who had been the Secretary of the Soulbury Commission, whom he had befriended during the period of the Commission around 1944. Phyllis Miller was a well-heeled and affluent lady who owned a plush apartment at No. 14 Albion Gate, Bayswater, facing the famous London Hyde Park, situated only a stone’s throw from the Sri Lanka High Commission building at 13 Hyde Park Gardens. Ultimately, Sir Oliver moved to 14, Albion Gate apartment and lived with Phyllis Miller.

By early 1970s Peter and Hannah moved to their own house in Neasden, North West of London. It was a period even in Ceylon things began to change. Firstly, the name of the country took place from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, followed by the emergence of the JVP, and problems became escalated and widespread. As part of the measures to deal with the volatile situation created by the JVP, the government introduced the special Criminal Justice Commission Act where 130 JVP insurgents were sent to jail including the leader of the JVP, Rohana Wijeweera. The government however, could not lay a hand on the Queen’s official representatieve in Ceylon, Sir Oliver Goonatilleke.

The latest Criminal Justice Commission Act introduced by Felix Dias Bandaranaike in 1972 had repercussions on several other people as well, who were not connected with the JVP at all! The Act extended its powers to include anyone who had been violating Exchange Control Regulations of the country which meant that many prominent figures such as Sir Oliver’s daughter Sheila, his son in law Sathanandan (Sheila’s husband), popular businessman the late Rajaratne Gopal, among many others, were imprisoned.

For further investigations on money laundering, a special CID Officer, one Wettasinghe, was sent to London to interrogate many in the UK including several officers at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London. It was then that the CID Officer Wettasinghe questioned Peter Wijesinghe and Brenda Fonseka in detail, but Guy Amirthanayagam, a very senior diplomat, profusely refused to co-operate in such an investigation!

At the age of 82, Sir Oliver was tried in absentia in Sri Lanka, under the Exchange Control Regulations Act of 1972. He was finally sentenced to 4 years of rigorous imprisonment with hard labour with a fine of Rs.950,000.

However, when J.R. Jayawardena came back to power in the nick of time he abolished such penal codes that helped Sir Oliver Goonatilleke to get back to Sri Lanka.

Upon arrival to his roots in Sri Lanka once again, Sir Oliver Goonatilleke’s vigor started to deteriorate and his health began to deteriorate.

Finally, Sir Oliver Ernest Goonatilleke, the prominent Sri Lankan and a powerful figure, died in his own country on 17 December 1978.


– See more at: http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=archives/2015-06-04#sthash.izbF6ibA.dpuf

One Response to “LETTING THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG A peep into the past”

  1. Christie Says:

    Namaste: “Exchange Control Regulations Act of 1972”. At least there was law now only cops decide: FCID. Jai Hind

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