Royal College salutes Royalist war heroes:
A royal tribute from alma mater
The brave die never, though they sleep in
dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men. - Minot J. Savage
College, Colombo. Picture Internet
The ‘Monument of Honour’ that majestically stands right in front of
the famed Royal College Hall reminds us of the distinguished alumni who
have made the ‘Supreme Sacrifice’ to safeguard the unity, sovereignty
and territorial integrity of our beloved Motherland as one Nation.
The consensus, in the context of Royal College is that in keeping
with the imperishable truths ingrained in the College anthem, “They have
repaid the debt they owed, they kept thy fame inviolate.”
Today, Royal College will honour 47 heroic Royalists who have made
the ‘Supreme Sacrifice’ during the last three decades of war and
felicitate nearly 300 courageous Royalists who are serving in the Army,
Navy, Air Force, Police and the Civil Defence Force at a unique and
befitting ceremony styled “Rajakeeya Ranaviru Pranama” at the college.
The Chief Guest will be Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga,
a distinguished Old Royalist. Principal Royal College Upali Gunasekara,
spearheads the organizing committee ably assisted by Secretary Royal
College Union Rizan Nazeer.
Royal College which completes 175 years next year is the oldest
public school in Sri Lanka. It has produced outstanding personalities in
numerous professions and almost in all the fields of human endeavour in
Sri Lanka. Traditionally, many of the distinguished alumni, have helped
to shape the course of events and have always been among those who gave
of their best in the cause of the Nation.
Royal College which started as Hill Street Academy in 1835 was known
as the Colombo Academy (1836-1842), Colombo Academy and Queens College
(1859-1868), Colombo Academy (1869-1880) and stands to-date as Royal
College since 1881. Judging by the contributions made by those who were
fashioned into men at Royal, this hallowed institution is former
Governor, His Excellency Sir Robert Wilmot Horton’s greatest gift to the
Forty seven heroic Royalists have made the Supreme Sacrifice during
the three decades of war. The first Royalist to be Killed-in-Action (KIA)
was Major Milroy Fernando of the Army in Omanthai on January 6, 1986.
Lieutenant-Commander Sandun Gunasekera was the first Royalist Naval
Officer to sacrifice his life. Flight Lieutenant R. B. Kulatunga was the
first officer from the Air Force to be declared KIA. Amongst the senior
most Royalists who had laid their lives are Major General Wijaya
Wimalaratne, Major General Percy Fernando and Brigadier Bhathiya
In the “Roll of Honour,” three patriotic heroes, Lieutenant A. W. M.
N. M. de Silva of the Army, Flying Officer U. R. Fernando and Squadron
Leader E. A. D. Edirisinghe of the Air Force have so far been decorated
with the Weera Wickrama Vibhushanaya for their acts of conspicuous
bravery performed without regard for their own lives.
Most heroes have been awarded with the Rana Wickrama Padakkama and
the Rana Sura Padakkama for the gallantry they displayed in the face of
Monument of Honour
Men in uniform are a brave breed who are used to take success and
failure as they come. They take in their stride, advancing and
retreating and winning and losing battle and they are also ‘officers and
gentlemen’ who treat success and failure as impostors. When a courageous
officer 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, the survival of his comrades in
arms or the success of a particular maneuver.
In keeping with these high ideals, the Monument is fittingly located
right in front of the College Main Hall and take 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
which carries the words “They have repaid the debt they owed, they kept
the fame inviolate” of the College anthem. On the top is a stainless
Most of the constructing 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).
Royal College is one of the foremost educational institutions in Sri
Lanka to honour the war heroes. As early as October 26, 1995 at an RCU
Council Meeting, Dr. Ranjith Atapattu stressed the need to have some
means to perpetuate the memory of gallant Royalists. On December 14,
1995, the RCU appointed a committee “Commemoration of War Dead” with Dr.
Atapattu as the Chairman. On May 21, 1996 a ceremony by way of a Special
School Assembly was held at the Navarangahala to commemorate those who
laid down their lives.
Maj. Gen. Gemunu Kulatunge succeeded as Chairman in October 1996 and,
with a formidable committee that included Nihal Seneviratne and Viji
Weerasinghe and officers from the services made vast strides.
The committee changed the nomenclature from ‘War Dead’ to the more
appropriate ‘Killed in Action’, and were instrumental in organizing a
befitting Commemoration Ceremony on May 19, 1997 which included
unveiling of a “Roll of Honour” by the Principal, S. H. Kumarasinghe at
the entrance to Navarangahala.
Unveiling of the “Roll of Honour” in 1997
On May 20, 1998, the foundation stone for the Monument was laid by
the senior-most living Old Royalist Service Commander, General Sepala
Attygalle in the presence of a distinguished gathering that included the
Next of Kin.
This followed a Special School Assembly under the patronage of the
Principal, H. L. B. Gomes at which Old Royalist Service Commander, Air
Marshal Harry Goonetilleke, whose son Group Captain Shirantha
Goonetilleke is amongst the Royalists KIA, shared his sentiments.
The unveiling ceremony of the Monument was held on June 2, 1999. The
Next of Kin of 39 Royalists KIA were invited to grace the historical
event as Chief Guests.
The youngest old Royalist disabled officer, Captain Rohan Perera of
the Sri Lanka Army was bestowed the rare honour of unveiling the
Monument, thereby giving pride of place to the gallant men who have
sacrificed their soul and body for our Motherland.
It is a pity that the name of Lieutenant Colonel Dhammika Tennekoon
who served in the committee had to be added to the Monument, following
his sacrifice. The serving Service Commanders, retired Old Royalist
Service Commanders and IGPs, past Principals, a host of Old Royalists in
their military attire and enthusiastic young Royalists added glamour to
the solemn ceremony.
It was certainly a memorable day for all the Royalists who gathered
to salute the patriotic Royalists in true Royal spirit and tradition.
The most poignant moment of the ceremony was when the Next of Kin of 39
Old Royalists KIA - fathers and mothers who brought in their sons to
Royal College ; spouses dressed in mourning; sons in Royal College
uniform; infants who would never see their fathers - all in tears,
rallied round the Monument to lay white lotus flowers in sacred memory
of their loved ones.
In January 1881, 30 persons signed a petition to the Lieutenant
General Governor seeking permission to form the Volunteer Corps. On
February 23, George O’ Brien writing on behalf of the Colonial Secretary
informed that all possible help would be given under the Military Code
Ordinance No. 3 of 1861.
In the Government Gazette of April 1, 1881, Lt. Gen. Sir John
Douglas, granted permission to form the Corps. A Gazette notification of
April 7, announced that forms for the purpose of taking the oath are
available at the Offices of the Police Magistrate of Colombo, Kandy and
On April 12, John Armitage who held a Commission in the Volunteers in
England was appointed the Commanding Officer and Captain Curone as the
The Royal College Cadet Battalion formed in August 1881 was the first
Cadet Battalion to be formed in the schools. The first parade by the
newly established Cadet Battalion was held on July 2, 1881 at the Royal
College Prize Giving.
Major L. V. Gooneratne broke a long link with the Cadet Battalion,
having taken over the Battalion in 1923, first as a Lieutenant and then
as a Captain and a Major.
He gave his heart and soul to the College Battalion. A big made
gentleman, his stirring, stentorian commands on the Parade ground were
long remembered. He was much loved by the Royalists of his era and his
name is etched in gold at Royal College.
World War I
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). And some made the “Supreme Sacrifice” and the first from
Sri Lanka 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 sailing to England.
This ship carried mostly schoolboy volunteers from Royal College and
Trinity College. Six others had sacrificed their lives during the World
War I - Bombadier J. Loos, Rifleman W. E. Edema, Private G. J. C. Van
Rooyen, Sergeant H. A. E. de Vos, Sergeant R. H. G. Orloff and Flying
Officer D. Bleakley.
The first student from Sri Lanka to win a military decoration while
on active service was a Royalist, Captain O. J. Robertson who was
attached to the 23rd Battalion of the London Regiment. He was awarded
the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in June
1916. Other recipients of the Military Cross were 2/Lt. H. E.
Speldewinde de Boer, Lt. C. W. Nicholas and 2/Lt. J. Robertson. A total
of 88 past and present Royalists served in World War I.
World War II
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.
Service Commanders and IGPs
The Monument of Honour. Picture by
Saman Sri Wedge
Since gaining independence 60 years 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. Amongst
them, Major General B. R. Heyn, General D. S. Attygalle, MVO, General T.
I. Weeratunga, VSV and General G. D. G. N. Seneviratne, VSV served as
the Commanders of the Army. Rear Admiral R. Kadirgamar, MVO, Admiral D.
B. Goonesekera and Vice Admiral A. H. A. de Silva, VSV served as the
Commanders of the Navy. Air Chief Marshal W. D. H. S. W. Goonetilleke
became the solitary Commander of the Air Force. Three more Royalists, S.
A. Dissanayake, G. A. D. E. A. Seneviratne and L. G. D. C. L. Herath
headed the Police Department.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up
into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
(The writer is Chairman of the Royal College Union’s Committee for
Commemoration of Old Royalists Killed in Action).