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30th May 1999

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Monument to honour school's fallen heroes to be unveiled on June 2

Royalists to remember their war dead

By Commander Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, psc

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country" - President John F. Kennedy

Over the years Royal College, Colombo - the oldest, public school in Sri Lanka with a proud history of over 160 years has produced thousands of outstanding personalities. Traditionally many of the distinguished alumni, men who "Learnt of books and learnt of men", have been among those who gave of their best to the nation.

Of our island's 50 years of Independence, 15 years have been marred by an ethnic conflict. Many Old Royalists in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police have made the supreme sacrifice to keep our motherland as one nation and the consensus, in the context of Royal College, is that in keeping with the imperishable truths ingrained in our college song, ".... They have repaid the debt they owed, they kept thy fame inviolate....".

It was against this background that a special general assembly of the Senior School was held on May 20, 1998, graced by the presence of the next-of-kin of our fallen heroes and former Old Royalist Service Commanders and Inspectors General of Police. At this poignant ceremony, a foundation stone was laid for a monument honouring old Royalists who have died in the war by General D.S. Attygalle, MVO - the senior-most Old Royalist retired Service Commander.

Armed Services personnel are a brave breed, used to taking success and failure in their stride. When a courageous soldier, sailor or an airman with the finest military traditions and training risks his life he does so without question. Even though he may fear for his personal safety, he is always prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. His overriding concern is for the country he has to protect, the survival of his comrades-in-arms or the success of a particular manouvre.

In keeping with these high ideals, the monument is fittingly located right in front of the college main hall and takes pride of place in- between the two porches. It is based on a strong foundation finished with polished black granite on which the college crest and the roll of honour are etched. The square shaped base is of eight feet each at floor level. From the base rises a rough finished solid stone pillar, eight feet in height that carries the words of the last two lines of the second verse of the College Song. On the top is a stainless steel pyramid. Most of the construction materials symbolize the four elements: glass (water, the sword, courage, all of society), stone (earth, sorrow and rebirth), metal (fire, and change from the physical world) and wood (air, the spirit and transformation through death).

The Royal College Union's Committee for Commemoration of Old Royalists Killed in Action (COMCORK) constructed the monument in honour of the patriotic old Royalists mainly from the funds raised from the loyal old Royalists here and abroad. The unveiling ceremony is fixed for June 2. The next-of-kin and the parents of those killed will be the honoured guests on this occasion. The youngest old Royalist disabled officer would have the distinction of unveiling the monument.

The next-of-kin and the parents will place white lotus flowers at the base of the monument.

Royal College, founded in 1835 formed its Volunteer Corps in 1881. The Royal College Cadet Battalion formed in August 1881 was the first Cadet Battalion to be formed in schools. The first parade by the newly established Cadet Battalion was on July 2, 1881 at the College prize-giving.

World Wars

The First World War (1914-1918) saw many present and past Royalist Volunteers serve in the British Army in France and the Near East (Iraq and Persia). Some made the supreme sacrifice. The first student from Ceylon was a young Royalist, W.E. Speldewinde who was drowned when the Troopship "Villa de la Ciotat" was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean Sea while proceeding to England. This ship carried mostly schoolboy volunteers from Royal College and Trinity College.

According to records, five others had paid the sacrifice during World War I. A total of 88 past and present Royalists served in World War I and six died in the war.

As in World War I, many Royalists, all former cadets, served in World War II from 1939 to 1945. Amongst the Royalists decorated on overseas service was Capt. (Dr.) A. Thenuwara of the Royal Army Medical Corps who served in the Middle East and Malta under the British Army. He was awarded the "Africa Star". Major A.N. Weinman and Wing Commander W.G.L. Wambeck had the distinction of serving in both Wars.

Since gaining independence half a century ago and with the formation of the Royal Ceylon Army, Navy and Air Force, mostly former cadets of the Royal College Cadet Corps have ventured to join the armed forces. Out of them, Major General B.R. Heyn, General D.S. Attygalle, MVO, Lieutenant General T.I. Weeratunga, VSV and Lieutenant General G.D.G.N. Seneviratne have served as the Commanders of the Army. Rear Admiral R. Kadirgamar, MVO, Rear Admiral D.B. Goonasekera and Vice Admiral A.H.A. de Silva, VSV have served as Commanders of the Navy. Air Vice Marshal W.D.H.S.W. Goonetilleke went on to be the solitary Old Royalist to become the Commander of the Air Force. Three more Old Royalists, Messrs. S.A. Dissanayake, G.A.D.E.A. Seneviratne and L.G.D.C.L. Herath headed the Police Department.

Roll of Honour

38 old Royalists have made the supreme sacrifice during the last 14 years or so. The first to be killed in action was Major W.D.M. Fernando of the Army in Omanthai on January 6, 1986. The last was Captain D.C.M. Wijemanne of the Army who was killed in action in Mankulam on September 29, 1998. Lieutenant-Commander (S) S. Gunasekera became the first Naval Officer to be killed whilst Flight Lieutenant R.B. Kulatunga was the first Air Force Officer. Amongst those killed, the senior-most was Major General W.I.V.K.M. Wimalaratne, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP.

In the Roll of Honour two patriotic heroes Lieutenant A.W.M.N.M. de Silva of the Army and Flying Officer U.R. Fernando (Jnr) of the Air Force have been decorated with the Weera Wickrama Vibhushanaya for their individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery. Some of the other heroes have been awarded the Rana Wickrama Padakkama and the Rana Sura Padakkama for the gallantry they have displayed in the face of the enemy.

"Those who gave their lives for us did so in order that we might live in peace".

Lest we forget.

(The writer is an Old Royalist and the Secretary of the Committee for Commemoration of the Old Royalists Killed in Action)

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