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An illustrious son of Sabaragamuwa



Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne (ex-Cabinet Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development)

Sir Edwin Aloysius Perera Wijeyeratne was born on January 8, 1889 in Rambukkana, and was a notable Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister and Diplomat. He passed away on October 19, 1968 in Kegalle.

Edwin was the eldest son of his parents. He was first educated at the village school of Rambukkana. He then went to Handessa Village School in Gampola.

He was nine years old then. He stayed at the home of his future wife Leela Pethiyagoda with Pethiyagoda Korala, at Meewaladeniya Walauwe, Pethiyagoda, Gampola.

He was at this school for two years. From there he went to St. Mary’s College, Kegalle. He completed his education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo where he passed the Cambridge Senior exam with Honours. He carried away 15 prizes at the last school prize-giving he attended.

He then left school. At this time he lost his father. He then became a teacher at Lorenz Tutory. Simultaneously he took to journalism too. He served under the greatest editor Ceylon had hitherto.

Armand de Souza, whom Governors feared and officials dreaded. Edwin then became political secretary to Sri Ponnambalam Ramanathan. While he was political secretary to Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, he became one of the co-founders of the Young Lanka League along with A. E. Gunasinghe.

He was already a marked man. This brought him more within the danger zone. Edwin was the chief livewire in the struggle for freedom. Now he got linked up with the newer hotheads. The riots of 1915 nearly brought a martyr’s crown upon Edwin. He was arrested. He nearly went the same way along with young Pedris. His activities brought him very much with the path of the law.

Others who had done nothing to court imprisonment but who were unjustly imprisoned on this occasion were Messrs FR, DC and D. S. Senanayake, Baron Jayatilaka, Dr. C. A. Hewavitarne and W. A. de Silva, Messrs Arthur V. Dias, John Silva, Piyadasa Sirisena, A. E. Goonesinghe and some others.

Edwin passed out as an advocate in 1929. He was able to build up a large outstation practice very soon. He entered the State Council in 1931 from Kegalle. Edwin served in the State Council for term till 1936. During this period he displayed great prowess in oratory and a consummate knowledge of parliamentary procedures.

He was the champion over the underdogs, and his industry was proverbial. He did not stand for re-election in 1936. His outstation practice was colossal and he remained at the Bar from 1936 to 1947.

When the Ceylon Congress was founded by Sir P. Arunachalam and Sir James Peiris, Edwin was one of their colleagues and a co-founder. By this time he had passed out as a lawyer and was having a flourishing practice in his hometown of Kegalle. He was an expert in Civil and Kandyan Law and in Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law. He was also a live expert in Civil and Kandyan Law and in Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law.

He was also a livewire in the Ceylon National Congress and was very close friend of D. S. Senanayake.

When the Soulbury Commission came to Ceylon, when the commissioners were on the way to Kandy, D. S. Senanayake had stationed Edwin, bare bodied, in a paddy field in Kegalle. There, he was introduced to the commissioners as a typical Sinhala farmer and who spoke in English to the commissioners and impressed on them the need for Ceylon to obtain self-government!

A special invitation was sent to Ceylon by Jawarlal Nehru and Indian Congress to visit India for a discussion regarding the independence of Ceylon, D. S. Senanayake, Edwin Wijeyeratne, George E. de Silva, J. R. Jayewardene, G. C. S. de Corea and H. W. Amarasuriya were among the delegates.

Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed President of Ceylon National Congress in 21st December 1940. His joint secretaries were Dudley Senanayake and J. R. Jayewardene. During this period he was chosen to lead the Ceylon National Congress delegation to London. The delegation created an excellent impression on Conservative and Labour Parliamentary groups.

In 1947 Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed to the Senate. He became the Cabinet Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development in D. S. Senanayake’s Government. He was acting leader of the Senate too.

Being the Cabinet Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development he had been the chairman of the select committee to select a National Anthem. J. R. Jayewardene too had been a member of the committee and they decided to select ‘Namo, Namo Matha’.

The year 1951 ushered into being a new chapter in Sir Edwin Wijeyratne’s eventful life. That consummate judge of man, D. S. Senanayake wanted a mastermind to represent the nascent Dominion of Ceylon in the Councils of the world. Sir Edwin Wijeyratne was appointed Ceylon High Commissioner to Great Britain in 1951. During this period Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne moved with kings but did not lose the common touch.

At the time Sir Edwin was Ceylon High Commissioner to United Kingdom of Great Britain, he had to carry Europe on his shoulders as Ceylon was hardly represented in Europe.

In the initial stages of our country’s independence, Sir Edwin gave Ceylon a new and admirable image. He gave the people who had been under the heel of the foreigner or foreigners for over three centuries a footing of equality with the proudest powers in Europe. Thereby he had won for himself a niche in Sri Lanka’s pantheons of fame.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne received the accolade at the hands of Queen Elizabeth II herself in 1953 at Buckingham Palace. Very few Asians received such a unique honour in person at the very seat of chivalry.

During his period as Ceylon High Commissioner in Great Britain he was received in private audience by his Holiness The Pope and by the President of Italy. He was entertained by Max Petitpierre, the President of the Swiss Republic.

He had lunch with President De Gaulle and he was the guest of King Leopold in Belgium. Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was close to research and student communities in Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham and London and he was of great help to Ceylon students.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip were entertained by Sri Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne on three occasions at their residence at No. 21, Addison Road, London a singular and unique privilege indeed which no Ambassador has had. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester were entertained twice.

At most receptions which Sir Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne held Lord Louis Mountbatten and the Countess were present, resplendent in all their medals. Sir Edwin and Lady Wijeratne were guests at ‘Broadlands’, the home of the Mountbattens, on five occasions.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed as Ceylon High Commissioner to India in 1954. During this period he discussed the Indian problem with Nehru. He was engaged with Buddhist work at Sanchi.

He established personal friendships with the Royal families of Sikkim and Bhutan, where he and Lady Wijeyeratne were guests. He represented Ceylon at the coronation of the King of Nepal.

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