Sir Oliver Goonatillake, upon returning to London from his travels in India and meeting up with his children and grandchildren, became quite busy with his Lloyds Register Insurance work, which involved frequent travels to many parts of the world. Sir Oliver still shared the flat at 31 Carlisle Place, with Peter and Hannah, owned by Sir Oliver’s friend Mrs.Saunders.
Being an employee of the Ceylon High Commission, and having built up a good rapport with other foreign missions in London, Peter Wijesinghe always went on errands to various embassies to obtain visas for Sir Oliver to travel. He had the full blessings of Rex Koelmeyer, the Councillor at the High Commission to go on such errands, with strict instructions ‘not to let the cat out of the bag’.
Sir Oliver once had to visit Burma (Myanmar) on business while he was in London. As usual, Peter Wijesinghe approached the Burmese Embassy visa counter in London with the necessary documentation and a letter of authority from Sir Oliver Goonatillake to obtain the visa on his behalf.
Peter Wijesinghe in retirement in Kandy
When the visa staff at the Burmese Embassy realised the applicant was none other than the former Governor General of Ceylon,news spread like wild fire and reached not only Rangoon, but ended up at Burmese national newspaper editorial sections. Incidentally, ‘the cat was let out of the bag’, and the news about Sir Oliver living in London hit the national newspapers in Ceylon too, which made matters worse for Sir Oliver.
After the Burmese visa hullabaloo things began to be somewhat difficult for Peter Wijesinghe too as the whole undercover operation thus far exploded overnight with regard to Sir Oliver’s obscurity in London. Sir R. S. S. Gunawardhana, the High Commissioner in London at the time, questioned Rex Koelmeyer about Peter’s involvement. Koelmeyer had no option but to spit out everything to the High Commissioner.
High Commissioner Gunawardhana advised Rex Koelmeyer to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and ensured that Sir Oliver left the flat immediately, with instructions for Peter Wijesinghe to ‘lie low’.
When such a calamity was taking place in London, Sir Oliver Goonatillake was on his way and actively engrossed in business activities in Spain. Peter informed Sir Oliver about the latest developments in London, which compelled Sir Oliver to stay put in a flat in Malaga for some time before returning to London.
Back in India
After postponing his return trip to London, Sir Oliver was back in Bombay and stayed with his rich entrepreneur friend Sidambarn Adayar. On 16 February 1964, Sir Oliver once again wrote to Peter Wijesinghe on one of Adyar’s personal letterheads, while Peter and Hannah were getting ready to embark on a holiday in Ceylon for the first time after their marriage.
Adaya’r House( letter Head)
16 February 64
“My dearest Hannah and Peter,
I may need to use your back of the flat whilst you are in Ceylon. So, please leave the bedroom and the living room open for me. You can lock up everything else.
It will be myself who would be the occupant. Kindly keep all this to yourself. If the need arises, I will get Mrs. Saunders’s approval of course. Nothing will happen till after both of us are back in London.
Back in London
Sir Oliver returned to London from India to Mrs. Saunders’s flat once again at 3A Carlisle Place, Victoria, London SW1, which was adjoining the Westminster Cathedral, while Peter and Hannah were holidaying in Ceylon.
Sir Oliver with his daughter and Rt.Hon.D.S.Senanayake
Sir Oliver had, in advance, instructed his daughter in Colombo to help Peter and Hannah with any amount of money the couple might need while they were holidaying in Ceylon. That was one way of showing his gratitude to Peter for all the assistance and protection Peter rendered to Sir Oliver at the hour of need.
However, Peter and his wife did not need any extra funds during their holiday as they stayed at the Baptist Mansion at Rawatawatta, Moratuwa – where Peter had a reunion with his former saviour and teacher Rev. T. A. de Silva, who on 1 January 1944, baptised Wijesim Peelige Bandiya at Markevita Baptist Church by immersing his head sideways into a large Baptismal tank filled with water and re-named ‘Bandiya’ (his original name) as ‘Peter Wijesinghe’, and later taught him how to read. Peter, with deep gratitude, had been keeping in touch with the cleric throughout the years, from the time he left Rev. de Silva and arrived in London with Sir Oliver Goonatillake in 1948.
Sir Oliver continued to live at the apartment in 3A Carlisle Place, Victoria, London for some time. The apartment was a two-storey building where Sir Oliver always occupied the upper floor during his stay in London.
By early 1970s, Peter and Hannah moved to their own house in Neasden, North West of London. It was a period in Ceylon when things began to change politically. Firstly, the name of the country changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, followed by the emergence of the JVP tribulations that escalated and widespread. As part of the measures to deal with the volatile situation created by the JVP, the Government introduced the special Criminal Justice Commission Act, as a consequence of which 130 JVP insurgents were sentenced to jail including its leader Rohana Wijeweera.
Subsequently, Sir Oliver Goonatillake got married to Phyllis Miller in London, for the second time. Phyllis Miller had been working as a secretary at the Soulbury Commission around 1944. She was a wealthy and affluent lady who owned a plush apartment at No. 14 Albion Gate, Bays Water, London W2 – facing the London Hyde Park – situated only a stone’s throw away from the Sri Lanka High Commission building at 13 Hyde Park Gardens. Ultimately, Sir Oliver moved to 14, Albion Gate apartment and continued to live there with Phyllis Miller.
The Criminal Justice Commission Act in 1972 introduced by the Sri Lanka Government affected several other people who had absolutely no connections, whatsoever, with the JVP activities. The Criminal Justice Commission Act also extended its powers to include anyone who had been violating the Exchange Control Regulations of the country. This made many prominent figures such as Sir Oliver’s daughter, his son-in-law and a reputed entrepreneur, the late Rajaratne Gopal, among many others to be trapped and imprisoned.
A special CID Officer, Wettasinghe, was sent to London to interrogate many in the UK, including several officers at the Sri Lanka High Commission, for further investigation on violations of the Exchange Control Regulations of the country. During Wettasinghe’s visit to London, Peter Wijesinghe and Brenda Fonseka – a popular receptionist for many years at the High Commission-were interrogated in detail. However, the late Guy Amirthanayagam, a senior diplomat, promptly refused to co-operate in such an investigation!
Rigorous Imprisonment with hard labour
At the age of 82, Sir Oliver was tried in absentia in Sri Lankan Courts, under the Exchange Control Regulations Act of 1972. and he was sentenced to four years of rigorous imprisonment with hard labour with a fine of Rs. 950,000/-. In a stroke of luck, the late J. R. Jayawardena came to power at the nick of time, and abolished such penal codes, which helped Sir Oliver Goonatillake to return to Sri Lanka with a peaceful mind, without having to face any more hindrances.
Upon arrival to his roots, Sir Oliver Goonatillake’s vigor started to worsen and his health began to dwindle. Finally, Sir Oliver Ernest Goonatillake, the prominent Sri Lankan and a powerful personality, the first Governor General of Ceylon, died in his own country on 17 December 1978.
pic credita: Google photos, Peter Wijesinghe