‘I was there on that momentous day’

This year as we celebrated our 63rd anniversary of Independence, Vere Wickramasuriya recollects memories of that historic day in 1948

I am proud to mention that I was one who witnessed the very first ceremony at Independence Square on that great occasion on 4th February 1948, when Sri Lankans celebrated with much grandeur our independent state.

The Duke of Gloucester represented his brother King George VI of England to officially declare Independence to Ceylon. Other dignitaries from various countries participated at the right royal ceremony at Independence Square.

A special temporary structure was built for the occasion where Independence Square now stands. The decorations of 'Ralipahan' and of other Ceylonese arts and crafts showed off to fullest splendour our Ceylonese culture, with Kandyan dancers and the sounds of traditional drum beats. Here was also the grand ceremony of hoisting the national flag - the Lion Flag.

On the dais was the Duke of Gloucester together with the Duchess, who was dressed in a white flowing gown of shimmering satin. With them were Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake and his wife, dressed in rich Kandyan attire, as well as the other representatives. Invitations to this historic event were extended to politicians and families, and to Government Heads of Departments and their families, making it a unique event for me to be present at with my parents and family.

Independence cast a lot of responsibilities on the Ceylonese, as we were called then. Our first Prime Minister, D.S. Senanayake, was one of the determined personalities who fought for this independence. More than several centuries of foreign rule, first by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British who controlled the entire administration of the country and kept us Sri Lankans under their rule, came to an end on this day, though a good word must be said about the development they did in the hill country and its tea estates and the opening of new roads in those areas.

There were difficult times too as when Martial Law was declared in 1915 for a trivial cause, because they felt that it would be an easy way for them to get rid of prominent citizens who were fighting to gain independence. Many were shot and killed and many more imprisoned without trial. One patriot who was the leader of the Reform Movement decided he would risk his life to save his beloved country. He was none other than E.W. Perera of Kotte (a first cousin of my father) who agreed to undertake the arduous journey by ship to war-torn England in the midst of World War I, to inform His Majesty's Government of the situation in Ceylon.

The document with the "shoot-at-sight" order by the British Governor in Ceylon was hidden in the sole of 'E.W's shoe. With courage in his heart and faith in God, he finally reached England safe and sound.
E.W. was also instrumental in getting back the Lion Flag which had been taken by the British and kept in a Museum there.

A few such people fought selflessly for this beautiful country of ours. I am indeed honoured that E.W. visited our family some time later and spent several days in our company in our home in Tangalle, where my father H.P.O. Perera was Mudaliyar of West Giruwa Pattu, our present President Mahinda Rajapakse's territory now. I would also like to mention that I found my "partner for life" Vimal Wickramasuriya, later High Court judge there.

Some of our patriots who led the struggle for freedom and independence include D.S. Senanayake, F.R. Senanayake, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, Anagarika Dharmapala, D.B. Jayatilleke, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, G.G. Ponnambalam, D.R. Wijewardene, E.W. Perera, Sir James Peiris, Dr. T.B. Jayah, Sir Razik Fareed and Colvin R. de Silva.

Sri Lankans of any generation have and never will be short of courage and love for their country. This has been proven over the years, time and time again. It is indeed a great heritage that we, the Sri Lankan people, have inherited from our fathers of long ago, and there lies our confidence of a blessed future for our younger generation.

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