British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by John O'Regan
Ceylon's Contribution to the War Effort
and to the Development of the
New Commonwealth
From Empire To Commonwealth
On the cover of my Memoir "From Empire To Commonwealth" is a photograph of D. S. Senanayake proudly standing on the steps of the Parliament Building in Colombo at the time of Ceylon's independence as the Dominion of Ceylon's first Prime Minister. And what an appropriate image, for Ceylon had not only played a leading role in the defeat of Japan, but under his leadership had set an example to the rest of the Empire on the way to achieve independence by peaceful means and by encouraging co-operation among all those concerned. This article, by one who was proud to be a member of the Ceylon Civil Service during this period, is a short personal tribute to Ceylon and the example it set; an example all the more poignant in view of the myriad troubles besetting Sri Lanka subsequently.

Ceylon's Contribution to the War Effort
and to the Development of the
New Commonwealth
Sir Andrew Caldecott
In 1938, 3 years after joining the Ceylon Civil Service, the new Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott, appointed me his Private Secretary. For me what a fortunate appointment, for he had been instructed by the Secretary of State to make recommendations for constitutional reform and at the many meetings he held I got to know personally the leading politicians. In 1941, after marrying Sir Andrew's daughter Joan, I went to Kandy as Assistant Government Agent.

With the lessons of the fall of Singapore in mind, it was decided that liaison officers should be appointed in areas where troops were stationed or military exercises held and I was chosen as liaison officer for the Central Provinces - an interesting and rewarding assignment as I got to know the senior military authorities. General Inskip was G.O.C. Ceylon in 1941 and 1942 and on his departure he wrote to me expressing his gratitude for my assistance and adding "it is certainly a great wrench leaving this island . . . The last 9 months of my service have been the most interesting in my career and I shall return to India with the happiest memories of Ceylon". I also got to know General Moore who commanded the 34th Indian Division in 1942 and 1943 and who, in a letter to me in April 1943, wrote:- "I shall never forget the friendly relations which have existed between the civil and military at Kandy and I only hope that we shall all meet in happier times."

Ceylon's Contribution to the War Effort
and to the Development of the
New Commonwealth
Kandy
Although Ceylon was a rice producing country, large quantities of rice were regularly imported before the War - over 500,000 tons in 1938. The Japanese invasion of Malaya and attack on Burma and the air raids on Colombo and Trincomalee not only brought the war unpleasantly close to Ceylon, but badly affected the rice supply to the Island. Drastic measures therefore became necessary and the post of Civil Defence and Food Commissioner was created, to which Sir Andrew appointed Oliver Goonetilleke:- an excellent choice for he was a Ceylonese, an outstandingly capable civil servant and closely in touch with and respected by the leading politicians including especially D. S. Senanayake to whom he was responsible.

In order to distribute the limited supplies of rice available, a Food Control Scheme was started, followed by an Internal Purchase Scheme for the compulsory purchase of locally grown rice in which I became intensely interested, with the result that I was transferred to Colombo as Assistant Civil Defence Commissioner and Controller, Internal Purchase Scheme. Goonetilleke gave me full encouragement and support and the compulsory purchase of rice rose from 9,000 tons in 1942 to 30,000 tons in 1944 - an achievement that could not have been reached without the political backing we enjoyed.

Ceylon's Contribution to the War Effort
and to the Development of the
New Commonwealth
Oliver Goonetilleke
Internationally, Ceylon became best known as Lord Louis Mountbatten's Headquarters for, with Sir Andrew Caldecott's consent, he took over King's Pavilion, Kandy, one of the Governor's residences, when he was appointed Supreme Commander, South East Asia Command. This proved an ideal arrangement since Mountbatten had chosen Peradeniya, only a few miles away, as his Ceylon Headquarters.

The War had prevented early action on Sir Andrew's recommendations for constitutional reform, but in 1943 on the recommendation of Sir Andrew, backed by Sir Geoffrey Layton, Commander in Chief, a Commission on constitutional reform was appointed - the Soulbury Commission. The choice of members was an excellent one - in particular the Chairman, Lord Soulbury, whose intelligence was matched by his easy manner illustrated by the remark in the Commission Report, and whose later appointment as Governor-General was warmly welcomed:- 'The enlargement of liberty is always attended by risk, but it is well to bear in mind a wise observation attributed to Aristotle, "The only way of learning to play the flute is to play the flute".' - a saying I have kept in my mind ever since!

Ceylon attained independence on 4 February 1948 when Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore was sworn in as Governor-General. There seemed little doubt that under Senanayake's leadership Ceylon's success as the newest Dominion was assured. And so, I believe, it would have been if he had lived. Sadly, however, he died in March 1952, having suffered more severely from diabetes than was generally recognised - as is stated in the biography of J.R. Jayawardene of Sri Lanka by K. M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins.

To me the example he set has remained in my memory ever since and it is a pleasure to pay this short tribute to him and to the Ceylon of his day that he guided so well.

British Colony Map
North Ceylon Map
South Ceylon Map
Colony Profile
Ceylon
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 71: April 1996


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