Bandiya Series

Bandiya Joined the Ceylon High Commission

January 8, 2015

Bandiya Series:

Grace Matilda de Silva was the elder sister of the late Sir Oliver Goonatilake and Rev. D. Silva  had two sons. Bandiya was re-christened as ‘Peter Wijesinghe’.During 1947  floods in Kandy  their son, Ernest de Silva, drowned and died

The late Sir Oliver Goonatillake’s family lived in Kandy at Nagarasabha Handiya. Sir Oliver’s father, A. E. Goonatillake,  was known as Ralahamy or “Redda Asséé Mahattaya(gentleman’s outfit consisted of a pair of trousers and a cloth wrapped over the trousers up to knee length. A jacket or coat covered the upper torso area.

 Rev. De Silva and Goonatillake family were close neighbours. Bandiya,  who   lived at the time at Rev. De Silva’s bungalow had easy access to the Goonatillake frequently. Finally, when Rev. De Silva was transferred to Ja-ela diocese,  Bandiya was sent to live with the Goonatillake family.

Rev. De Silva’s  daughter got married to J.C.A. Corea,  the Principal at Kings Wood College at the time.  J.C.A .Corea recruited Bandiya  to work for him.

During 1940 Sir Oliver Goonatillake worked as the CDC (Civil Defence Commissioner) for the government; he was also a Member of the Ceylon’s War Council. During the World War II, when Singapore ‘collapsed’, Admiral of the Fleet, Louis Francis  Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, set up his South Asia office in Sri Lanka at Peradeniya Botanical Gardens in Kandy.

 Lord Mountbatten was a great friend of Sir Oliver Goonatillake. Bandiya recollects   Mountbatten  having a secret residence called ‘ 404 Nandana Camp’ at Pilimatalawa.


Pic. Credit: Google

Lord Mountbatten’s house modernised into a tourist accommodation now.

 When Lord Mountbatten was looking out for  a trustworthy  domestic help, Sir Oliver  suggested Bandiya and he was employed for about six months at the Nandana Camp at Pilimatalawa. Subsequently Lord Mountbatten moved into a bungalow in Kandy town  with  six acres of tendered lawn and tea gardens, which today has restored to reflect the life in the bygone Victorian era.

This century-old residence derived its name by allegedly functioning as a war office during World War II, and is said to have used as one of the private residences of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was a close relative of the British Royal Family.

Mountbatten Medallic History

Peter Wijesinghe (Bandiya)  believes he could probably be the only Sri Lankan who owns a copy (four volumes) of Mountbatten Medallic History of Great Britain & The Sea, which was purchased by him  in 1980s at a cost of Rs.200,000 ; it has been personally autographed by Lord Mountbatten in his own handwriting, which reads : To P. Wijesinghe”.

Independence of Ceylon

Sir Oliver 

In the early 1940s Sir Oliver lived at No. 55 Castle Street, Colombo 7. On 4th February 1948 Ceylon was granted a Dominion status and  celebrations were held  at the  Torrington Square, which was especially built for this purpose as the Duke of Gloucester was expected to visit Ceylon bringing with him the last Sri Lankan King’s Crown and the Throne.

Sir Oilver Goonetilleke

 Sir Oliver was in full control and in charge of the celebrations for the 4th of February 1948 celebrations. At midnight of 3rd February 1948, the Union Jack came down while the Sri Lankan National flag was hoisted. Followed by the independence ceremony in Colombo, a repetition of the merriments took place in Kandy from the Queen’s Hotel.

 After the Independent celebrations and Ceylon being granted a dominion state, Sir Oliver was posted to London with a special task of looking out for a suitable place to establish an appropriate office for the Ceylon High Commission in London. Sir Oliver’s daughter Sheila, son Ernie and Peter (Peelige) Wijesinghe accompanied the Sir Oliver Goonatillake family to London by ship.

London Base

A wealthy lady Dorothy Saunders  was a cherished friend of Sir Oliver. She owned a flat at Alfred House  facing Hyde Park along Park Lane, West End of London. Goonatillake family along with Wijesinghe stayed at Alfred House for a few days and later moved to Bray in Hertfordshire, outskirts of London, to Veer Bank stud farm owned by Mrs. Saunders.

 Sir Oliver stayed at the farm with his children for about a year until he managed to source a suitable building for the Ceylon High Commission at 25, Grosvenor Square, London W1 in which Lord Adrian Bailey had been living. Finally the Ceylon government bought it on a long lease for £49,000. It was a fully furnished palatial house with a basement.

 Sir Oliver Goonatillake as  the very first Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London had the following members as his staff. Velupillai Kumaraswamy as Deputy High Commissioner, L.A. Weerasinghe (Financial Adviser), C.E.P. Jayasooriya (Trade Commissioner), Baku Mahadeva (1st Secretary), Walter Jayawardene (Education Officer), S.P. Christian (Chief Clerk), Peiris (Once famous pianist’s father (Receptionist) with household staff M.D.Simon, P.Wijesinghe, Anthony (chef) Vincent (Domestic assistant from Cochin, India, and Pearl Perera. Locally recruited staff included Diane Roe (English), Miss. Allen, Beaton (Boiler man) John Wright Chauffeur and Ben Hilson,


 From 25 Grosvenor Square the High Commissioner moved to No.21 Addison Road, Kensington London W8 , while the chancery moved to 13 Hyde Park Gardens,  London W2.

 On February 8, 1951 when Sir Oliver Goonatillake was transferred to Ceylon he had made arrangements to absorb Bandiya to the Ceylon High Commission staff officially, on the 12th of February 1951 . ‘ Buluwela’ was employed as the assistant caretaker.

Peter Wijesinghe (Bandiya ) & Bulewela

 At the time there were only seven  Diplomatic High Commission offices in London. Ceylon High Commission being one of the ‘senior’ High Commissions was kept busy with the transference of ‘papers’ between the British Cabinet office and the Privy Council. These ‘transfer papers’ arrived daily at the Ceylon High Commission from the Commonwealth Relations Office (Centre of Distribution) to be distributed to other High Commissions in London that existed at the time.

 All papers from the Cabinet office arrived in a Red Box and other documents that needed to be transferred to various departments were received in a Green Box. Deliveries usually arrived at the Ceylon High Commission at late afternoon close upon the end of office hours.

 Peter Wijesinghe (Bandiya), who was entrusted with the keys to those official boxes, had the task of opening the boxes and to submit them to the Deputy High Commissioner. Any communication that went to the Queen had to be sent inside the relevant box, which in turn was collected by the CRO (Commonwealth Relations Office). At the same time any communication done with the Foreign Ministry in Colombo had to be done with the help of  a Cypher operation, using the Morse code . There was a special book with codes, which enabled the cypher operator Erene Swan to master the operation.

Pic Credit: Google – Lord Mountbatton’s house in Kandy now caters for tourists.

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