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Fifty years ago - assassination of SWRD:

The shots that shook the world

It was on the morning of Friday September 25, 1959-50 years ago - that the fourth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, was brutally gunned down at his Rosmead Place residence in Colombo, by a fanatic, saffron-robed Buddhist monk.


In his younger days. Pictures courtesy ANCL

Having resigned my permanent, pensionable and secure job in the Posts and Telecommunications Department after 7 1/2 years of service, in August 1959, I became a "Stringer" reporter for the now defunct "Times of Ceylon" group of newspapers. Earlier, I was freelancing for the "Times", since 1953.

On that fateful Friday morning, I was carrying one-year old Lakshan Amarasinghe, my next door neighbour, to show him the two pups littered by my Alsatian dog. As I was showing him the pups in the back verandah of my Moor Road house at Wellawatte, the telephone rang. Donovan Moldrich, News Editor of the "Times of Ceylon" was on line and he asked me to "Come to office right away as something tragic has happened."


Mr. and Mrs. Bandaranaike

He did not spell out what it was, but I noticed the time was 10.20 a.m. I went next door and left Lakshan and I got dressed up and as I was about to step out of my house, I heard Lakshan's father Alfred Amarasinghe returning home in his car, shouting to my father, (reading the morning "Ceylon Daily News" seated in an easy chair on the front verandah) that "the Prime Minister has been shot and wounded."

When I reached the gate, the phone rang again and I returned to answer it. It was Felix Gunawardena Editor of the "Sunday Times" asking me to proceed direct to the General Hospital, Colombo where the Prime Minister had been brought, after an assassination attempt.

I went direct to the hospital and I saw a truck-load of Police getting off and positioning themselves at various strategic points in the vicinity. I moved around and saw two of my colleagues veteran reporters K. Nadarajah who was also working for the "Indian Express" and M. K. Pillai also correspondent for the "Times of India" there. I also spotted E. C. B. Wijesinghe working for the Reuters news agency there. I reached there at 11.10 a.m. and was with them until 2.30 p.m. when another veteran journalist/colleague Shelton Liyanage (Fernando) also working for the "Statesman" Calcutta, came to relieve me.

At the time I left, the Prime Minister was still in the operating theatre. The Emergency operation was performed by Dr. M. V. P. Peries, Dr. P. R. Anthonis and Dr. Noel Bartholomeusz and lasted a little over five hours.

Earlier, the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke who was swearing-in the Italian Ambassador Count Paolo di Michelis di Sloughhello, stopped the ceremony and rushed to Rosmead place.


Taking his dog for the Dog Show

Dr. N. M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena who were in the House of Representatives (Parliament) went to the PMs residence on hearing about the shooting. A message had also been sent from Queen's House (Governor General's official residence) to Parliament to continue with its meeting. W. Dahanayake had suggested that Parliament be adjourned but Dr. Perera said that "there was no need to panic."

At the time of the shooting incident, there were many people as usual, waiting to meet the Prime Minister in the verandah of his house. Among them were two saffron-robed men.

After meeting one of them and bowing to him in reverence, Mr. Bandaranaike turned towards the second monk. While bowing, the second monk suddenly pulled out a .45 revolver from under his yellow robes and shot at the PM at pointblank range.

Mr. Bandaranaike turned and ran into the house and in the process, three shots hit him in the hand and abdomen, whilst two hit the glass pane of a nearby door and a flower pot in the verandah.

The people who were waiting to meet the PM, immediately set upon the man in saffron robe and mauled him mercilessly. A Policeman on sentry duty there, also shot at the Buddhist monk and wounded him on the thigh and arrested him. The Governor - General declared a State of Emergency throughout the island at 11 a.m. and the Army, Navy and Air Force units including volunteers were mobilized to suppress any civil commotion.

When I reached office the "Times" which had already put out two editions about the shooting incident, put out its third edition giving more details of that day's assassination attempt.

Around 5 p.m., I left in a taxi with "Sunday Times" feature writer Samson Abeygunawardena to meet Dr. Gamini Corea at his Horton Place, Colombo, residence. The entrances to Rosmead place as well as the adjoining Barnes Place and Horton Place which were guarded by armed Police, were closed to all vehicular traffic. We got off the taxi and walked about 200 yards and met Dr. Corea and collected an article on "Ceylon's Population problem" for the "Sunday Times" National Forum Column.

After that, we proceeded to 5th Lane, Kollupitiya and met Dr. L. O. de Silva at his clinic, where there was a large number of patients.

The doctor was biting into a sandwich which he told us was his late lunch. He said he was in the operating theatre and the surgery "lasted a little over five hours".

He also told us "The first 24 hours after the operation was very crucial."

When I returned to office at about 7.15 p.m., many of my colleagues were also there. I was then directed by Mr. Moldrich to be at the General Hospital the following (Saturday 26th September 1959) day at 6 a.m. When I reached the hospital at 5.40 a.m., my colleagues Nadarajah, Liyanage and Pillai were already there keeping vigil, for any new developments about the PM.

Shortly after that Saturday morning, Shelton came hurriedly down the hospital corridor and signalled me to grab the telephone in the solitary booth in the hospital vicinity, before anyone else gets hold of it. As he approached me he grimaced indicating that it was all finished. Shelton took the receiver from me and phoned through to Moldrich that the PM has passed away.

When I reached the Times news room at 9.25 a.m., the first edition of the Saturday "Times of Ceylon" was already out. The headline read "The Prime Minister is dead."

A few hours after the operation the previous day, the PM had joked with the doctors and nurses around his bedside.

He had asked one of the Nurses "How am I doing?" She replied "You are doing fine, Sir". "Yes I am an old man and have undergone a five hour stomach operation but I still have guts," the PM declared.

The Buddhist monk who carried out the assassination was Talduwe Somarama Thera, an Eye specialist and a visiting lecturer at the College of Indigenous Medicine Borella and also of the Amaravihare, Obeysekere Town.

The official Bulletin on his death stated "The condition of the Prime Minister suddenly took a turn for the worse about 7 a.m. There was a sudden alteration of the action of the heart and his condition deteriorated very rapidly. He passed off peacefully about 8 'O' clock."

Sgd. Dr. P. R. Anthonis, Dr. T. D. H. Perera and Dr. M. J. A. Sandrasagara.

A verdict of homicide was recorded by the City Coroner J. N. C. Tiruchelvam, J. P. U. M. at the inquest. He said "death was due to shock and haemorrhage resulting from multiple injuries to the thoracic and abdominal organs."

The Prime Minister's funeral was held on Wednesday 30th September 1959, where his body was entombed into a vault at his ancestral Horagolla Walauwa.


SWRD BANDARANAIKE - The assassination aspect

Saturday, September 26 2009, marks the 50th death anniversary of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, who died at the General Hospital on a Saturday morning at about 07.45-Hrs.

Assassin:

The six shots fired by the Ven. Talduwa Somarama Thera of the College of Ayurvedic Medicine with a .455 Webly Mark VI revolver at the prime minister in his unofficial residence, Tintagel at No. 65 Rosmead Place in Colombo-7, on Fri.-Sep.-25, 1959, about


The clothes he was wearing at the time of his death

09.45Hrs, fatally injured the PM and seriously injured a teacher called Gunaratne in the neck amongst a throng of about forty persons.

It was later established that the murder weapon came from an unlicensed armoury of five firearms, which belonged to Ossie Corea, a tavern renter at Dagonna in the Negombo District, and who was also the personal security officer to the Minister of Finance Stanley de Zoysa, MP.

Conspiracy:

The deep-seated conspiracy finally blew sky-high, when it was established at the subsequent Supreme Court trial that the 1st and 2nd accused, the Ven. Buddharakkitha thera, High priest of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihare, and HP Jayewardena, conspired to assassinate the prime minister in view of their disappointment, inter alia, in not being able to push through their business ventures with the assistance of the government.

Notable was their failure in May-1958, to secure the bid, at great financial loss to them, for the carriage of rice from Burma (now Myanmar) to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), on behalf of the Food Department, through their new company, the Colombo Shipping Lines Ltd, which had been floated with the expert guidance of Major JR Baptis, a former director of the Government-sponsored Ceylon Shipping Lines Ltd.

Also, the prime minister had not taken seriously the scurrilous pamphlet relating to Buddharakkiktha and Mrs Vimala Wijewardene, his minister of Health.

Ossie & Lionel:

The hatchet man, Somarama, harboured no grudge with the prime minister.

Suspicion fell on Ossie Corea as the enforcer, since he was bald-headed during the time of the assassination.

However, Corea, who was a former temporary Excise inspector, and his

protégé former ASP-CID Lionel (Gompa) Goonetilleke, who lived opposite to Tintagel, appeared as strong prosecution witnesses at the trial.

Police Investigation:

Amongst the crack team of police officers investigating the Bandaranaike murder, were included DIG-CID DCT Pate, SP Rajasooriya, ASP SSIK Iyer, IP Abeywardena, IP AM Seneviratne and IP Tyrell Goonetilleke, who later on rose to the rank of DIG.

Trial:

The Bandaranaike Assassination trial commenced on 22-Feb.-1961 presided by Justice TS Fernando, QC, CBE, with a seven member jury whose foreman was DWL Lieversz, Snr.

The trial concluded almost three months later on 12-May. To be continued

 

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