As related by Bandia
At a time the Sri Lankan foreign service, especially the diplomatic Corps, is being subjected to criticism by certain section of the Sri Lankan community both at home and abroad, it would be prudent to reminisce on a Sri Lankan diplomat, Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne, who had lived up to his profile and discharged his duties as a professional and a charismatic ‘ambassador’ to MotherLanka.
History of Ceylon reveals that long before the National Congress saw the light of day, a young group of Ceylonese fiery men, including R. Sri Pathmanathan and R. Nadarajah, two sons of the wealthiest citizens of Colombo at the time, were absolutely patriotic to the core, and had taken an oath to liberate ‘Ceylon’ and signed in blood. This had been done in the midst of several other ‘Reform groups, ’ which had surfaced intermittently without a definite focus to see their mission fulfilled.
Young hot blood
The idea of the ‘young and hot blood’ began to spread like wildfire; seemingly patriots such as E.T. Silva M.A. Arunalandan, R.S.S. Gunawardena, Phillips Tambyah and a prominent Civil Servant, Paulus Pieris, risked their prestigious jobs to join the band of young men, who were prepared to be patriots of no mean calibre.
Edwin Wijeyeratne was born on January 8, 1889 at Rambukkana to Gabrial Wijeyeratne, a much-respected notary public, and Dona Catherina Wickremasinghe Jayasekera Tennekoon, daughter of Jayasekera Tennekoon, notary. Wijeyeratne family hailed from Kotte, whose ancestors were famed for fighting at Mulleriyawa and Balana.
Wijeyeratne Senior, the first Sinhala notary in the entire four Korales had shifted from Utuwankande, Mawanella to Kegalle during the early part of the 16th Century, fleeing from the Portuguese whom they had fought with.
The family continued intermarrying with the distinguished Walauwes of Kotte, Madapatha and Matara. There were seven luminaries in Edwin Wijeyeratne mother’s family banner, given by King Parakrama Bahu VI of Kotte to an ancestor. Edwin was the eldest son of his parents.
Edwin Wijeyeratne was initially educated at the village school of Rambukkana; subsequently at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo where he passed the senior examination with Honours, earning 15 accolades at the final school prize giving.
At the demise of his father he took up lecturing at the Lorenz Tutory, simultaneously showing an interest in journalism and served under a renowned editor in Ceylon, Armand de Souza, whom even Governors feared and officials dreaded.
The riots of 1915 nearly brought a martyr’s crown upon Edwin. He was arrested and had a narrow escape. Simultaneously young Pedris was also taken into custody for his activities ‘against the law’. Others, F. R., D. C. and D. S. Senanayake, Baron Jayatilaka, Dr. C. A. Hewavitarne, W. A. de Silva, Arthur V. Dias, John Silva, Piyadasa Sirisena, A. E. Goonesinghe and several others who had done nothing to incite were also imprisoned.
When Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam and Sir James Peiris formed the Ceylon Congress, Edwin being a colleague became a co-founder. By this time he had passed out as a lawyer and had a flourishing practice in his hometown, Kegalle. Being an expert in Civil and Kandyan Law and Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law he became a live wire in the Ceylon National Congress and a close friend of D.S. Senanayake.
In 1929 Edwin Wijeyeratne passed out as an advocate. In 1931 he entered the State Council from Kegalle and served till 1936, displaying great powers of oratory. He was an authority on parliamentary procedure, yet he did not stand for re-election in 1936.
He remained at the bar from 1936 to 1947. Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed as President of the Ceylon National Congress on December 21, 1940. During this period he led the Ceylon National Congress delegation to London with Henry Amarasuriya and George E. de Silva. The delegation created an excellent impression on Conservative and Labour Parliamentary groups.
In 1947 Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed to the Senate and became the Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development in D. S. Senanayake’s government.
Edwin Wijeyeratne married Leela Pethiyagoda Kumarihamy, whose ancestors had fought with Arawwawala Adigar to prevent the Sinhala throne from passing to the Malabars. Arawwawala and Petiyagoda were executed.
Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne were blessed with three sons. The eldest Tissa Wijeyeratne Barrister at Law, served as Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defence, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to France and Switzerland and Senior Advisor (Foreign Affairs) to the Prime Minister.
The second, Deshamanya Dr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne, served as the Government Agent in Anuradhapura and Jaffna, Secretary to Ministry Cultural Affairs, Secretary to Ministry of Information Broadcasting and Transport, Diyawadana Nilame of Sri Dalada Maligawa Kandy, Member of Parliament, Minister of Education, Higher Education and Justice, Member Governing Body of UNESCO head quarters in Paris and Sri Lanka Ambassador to Russian Federation. The youngest Dr. Cuda Wijeyeratne (MRCP) was a doctor of Medicine.
In 1951 he was ushered into an eventful new chapter in his life when D.S. Senanayake elected him as a ‘mastermind’ to represent Dominion of Ceylon in the Council of the world. In the same year, he assumed duties as the Ceylon’s second High Commissioner to Great Britain succeeding Sir Oliver Goonatilleke, where he enjoyed the privilege of moving with kings but managed to maintain the common touch. Born as a Libran, astrologers had identified him as ‘a gift of destiny to Sri Lanka’ comparing him with other international personalities such as Sir Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Mussolini who were also Librans.
In the UK, he became a prominent Asian guest at all noble English country estates and castles. His personal camaraderie with Salisbury family made him a frequent visitor to the Hatfield House, home of the Salisbury’s and at Arundel Castle, the home of the ducal family of Norfolk. At the demise of King George VI, he honoured Ceylon by signing on the book of condolences on behalf of his country. During Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation he represented Ceylon as guest of honour at Windsor and Sandringham castles.
Edwin Wijeyeratne received the great compliment and honour at the hands of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 at Buckingham Palace. Very few Asians had received such a distinctive tribute in person at the very seat of chivalry. Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne became close to research and student communities in Cambridge, Oxford, London and he was of great assistance to students from Ceylon.
In 1954 Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne assumed duties as the Ceylon High Commissioner to India during his tour of duty he had discussions with Jawaharlal Nehru on the Indian problem. Whilst engaged in Buddhist work at Sanchi, he managed to establish a personal solidarity with the Royal families of Sikkim and Bhutan.
During his tour of duty as the Ceylon High Commissioner for Ceylon in Great Britain, he received a private audience with his Holiness the Pope and the President of Italy. He was entertained by Max Petitpierre, the President of the Swiss Republic; had lunch with President De Gaulle and was the guest of King Leopold in Belgium.
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 a unique privilege indeed, which no Ambassador has had up to then.
Sir Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne entertained the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester twice and at their most receptions Lord Louis Mountbatten and the Countess had been regular visitors. Simultaneously on five occasions Sir Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne were guests at “Broadlands” the home of the Mountbatten’s which goes to show the diplomatic connection this Sri Lankan ‘ambassador’ had established.
During a busy schedule of diplomatic missions, Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne represented Ceylon at the Coronation of the King of Nepal and became the guest of honour at private palace at Kathmandu. At the invitation of the Burmese (Myanmar), he carried the sacred relics of Sariputta and Mogallana to Myanmar to become a guest at the Burmese Presidential Palace.
Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne expired on October 19, 1968 in Kegalle, leaving behind a clear-cut image of how to be a true and conscious diplomat and as an ‘ambassador’ to his mother country and paving the path for his successors to emulate and to be proud of their service to Mother Lanka.
Pic.Credit Peter Wijeratne & Google photos