Royal Primary School 1953 & Royal College '59 Group
by Commander Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, psc
"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" - President John F. Kennedy
Founding of the College
The Colebrooke - Cameron Reforms, which laid the foundation for the political and economic structure of modern Sri Lanka, helped in the formation of the Schools Commission in 1834 and with that the Government's interest in Higher Education took concrete shape. Around this time Rev. Joseph Marsh, M. A. (Edinburgh), who was appointed to act as Colonial Chaplain of St. Paul's Church, Wolvendhal, Colombo started a private school in the back verandah of the Church to educate the children of the Upper Classes in January 1835. It was called Hill Street Academy.
When the residents of Colombo noticed the good work done at the private school, they petitioned the Governor His Excellency Sir William Horton to establish a school to be operated by the Government, and with a lower scale of fees, so as to allow the majority of young men in Colombo to gain the benefits of a good education. In January 1836, Governor Horton converted Marsh's Private Academy as the First Government School in the Island - The Colombo Academy and made Rev. Marsh, the Headmaster. Thus the Governor and Commander in Chief of the Island of Ceylon, His Excellency Sir Robert Wilmot Horton, Baronet (B.A.), G. C. H., became the Founder of the College. Judging by the contributions made by those who were fashioned into men at Royal this Institution was Governor Horton's greatest gift to the Nation.
An old Royalist writing his Reminiscences in the Royal College Magazine of 1909 said, "the good old sailor king yet on the throne of his father when an eventful day dawned in the educational history of our Island - that day was October 5, 1835 and the event which give it claim to be cherished by posterity was the founding of the old Academy - the installation by Governor Horton of Rev. Marsh as the Principal." On the same subject of date of founding of Colombo Academy the Times of Ceylon on September 21, 1923 had carried an article titled "Our College" which said "the memorable day on which the Colombo Academy was inaugurated was September 8."
Royal College which started as Hill Street Academy in 1935 was known as the Colombo Academy (1836-1842), Colombo Academy & Queens College (1859-1868), Colombo Academy (1869-1880) and stands to-date as Royal College since 1881. The destinies were guided in succession by J. Brooke, H. Bailey, Rev. J. F. Haslam, Rev. Dr. Barcroft Boake, George Todd, J. B. Cull, J. H. Marsh (Jnr), J. H. Harward, C. Hartley, H. L. Reed, L. H. W. Sampson, E. L. Bradby, J. C. A. Corea, D. K. G. de Silva, B. A. Premaratne, D. G. Welikala, D. J. N. Seneviratne, L. D. H. Peiris, C. T. M. Fernando, B. Sooriyarachchi, S. H. Kumarasinghe. The present Principal is Mr. H. L. B. Gomes.
At the end of January 1881 a petition singed by 30 persons to the Lieutenant General Governor requested permission to form the Volunteer Corps. On February 23, George O' Brien writing on behalf of the Colonial Secretary said all possible help would be given under the Military Code Ordinance No. 3 of 1861. In the Government Gazette of April 1, 1881, the Lt. Gen. Sir John Douglas, K. C. M. G. granted permission for the formation of the Corps. A Gazette notification of April 7, announced that forms for the purpose of taking the Oath were available at the offices of the Police Magistrate of Colombo, Kandy and Galle. On April 12, John Armitage who held a Commission in the Volunteers in England was appointed the Commanding Officer and Captain Curone the Acting Adjutant. The Royal College Cadet Battalion being formed in August 1881 was the first Cadet Battalion to be formed in the schools. The first parade by the newly established Cadet Battalion was on July 2, 1881 at the College Prize Giving.
World War I
The First World War (1914-1918) saw many present and past Royalist Volunteers serve in the British Army in France and the Near East (Iraq and Persia). Some made the Supreme Sacrifice. The first student from Ceylon was a young Royalist W. E. Speldewinde who was drowned when the Troopship Villa de la Ciotat" was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean sea while proceeding to England. This ship carried mostly schoolboy volunteers from Royal College and Trinity College. As per records 5 others had sacrificed their lives during World war I. They are Bombadier J. Loos, Rifleman W. E. Edema, Private G. J. C. Van Rooyen, Sergeant H. A. E. de Vos, Sergeant R. H. G. Orloff and Flying Officer D. Bleakley. The first student to win a military decoration while on active service was a Royalist, Captain O. J. Robertson who was attached to the 23rd Battalion of the London Regiment. He was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in June 1916. Other recipients of the Military Cross during World War I were 2/Lt. H. E. Speldewinde de Boer, Lt. C. W. Nicholas and 2/Lt. J. Robertson. A total of 88 past and present Royalists served in World War I.
World War II Era
As in World War I, many Royalists, all former Cadets, served in World War II from 1939 to 1945. Amongst the Royalists decorated on overseas service was Capt. (Dr.) A. Thenuwara of the Royal Army Medical Corps who served in the Middle east and Malta under the British Army. He was awarded the "Africa Star". Major A. N. Weinman and Wing Commander W. G. L. Wambeck had the distinction of serving in both wars. From 1942 the Colombo school population was uprooted from their traditional homes and Royal College to scattered to some bungalows in Turret Road and to Glendale at Bandarawela. Major L. V. Gooneratne broke a long link with the Cadet Battalion having taken over the Battalion in 1923 first as a Lieutenant and then as a Captain and a Major. He gave his heart and soul to the College Battalion. A big made man, his stirring, stentorian commands on the Parade grounds still ring in the years of those who knew him. He was much loved by the pupils of his era and he will not be forgotten at Royal.
Service Commanders & IGPs
Since gaining independence half a century ago and with the formation of the Royal Ceylon Army, Navy and Air Force, mostly former Cadets of the Royal College Cadet Corps have ventured to join the armed forces. Out of them, Major General B. R. Heyn, General D. S. Attygalle, MVO, Lieutenant General T. I. Weeratunga, VSV and Lieutenant General G. D. G. N. Seneviratne have served as the Commanders of the Army. Rear Admiral R. Kadirgamar, MVO, Rear Admiral D. B. Goonasekera and Vice Admiral A. H. A. de Silva, VSV have served as the Commanders of the Navy. Air Vice Marshal W. D. H. S. W. Goonetilleke went on to be the solitary Old Royalist to become the Commander of the Air Force. Three more Old Royalists, Messrs. S. A. Dissanayake, G. A. D. E. A. Seneviratne and L. G. D. C. L. Herath headed the Police Department.
Unveiling of Monument
Of our Island's 50 years of Independence, 15 years have been marred by an ethnic conflict. Many Old Royalists in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police have made the Supreme Sacrifice to keep our motherland as one Nation and the consensus, in the context of Royal College, is that in keeping with the imperishable truths ingrained in the College Song, "....They have repaid the debt they owed, they kept thy fame inviolate...." It was against that background that a Special General Assembly of the Senior School was held on May 20, 1998, graced by the presence of the next of kin of the Fallen Heroes and former Old Royalists Service Commanders and Inspectors General of Police. At that poignant ceremony a foundation stone was laid for a Monument by General D. S. Attygalle, MVO - the senior most Old Royalist retired Service Commander.
Armed Services personnel are a brave breed who are used to take success and failure as they come. They take in their stride, advancing and retreating and winning and losing battle and they are also 'officers and gentlemen' who treat success and failure as impostors. When a courageous soldier, sailor or an airman with the finest military traditions and training risks his life he does so without question. Even though he may fear for his personal safety, he is always prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. His overriding concern is for the country he has to protect, the survival of his comrades in arms or the success of a particular manoeuvre.
In keeping with these high ideals, the Monument is fittingly located right in front of the College Main Hall and takes pride of place in between the two porches. It is based on a strong foundation finished with polished black granite on which the College Crest and the Roll of Honour are etched. The square shaped base is of 8 feet each at floor level. From the base rises a rough finished solid stone pillar 8 feet in height which carries the words "They have repaid the debt they owed, they kept the fame inviolate" of the College Song. On the top is a stainless steel pyramid. Most of the constructing materials symbolize the four elements: Glass (water, the sword, courage, all of society), stone (earth, sorrow and rebirth), metal (fire and change from the physical world) and wood (air, the spirit and transformation through death).
The Royal College Union's Committee for Commemoration of Old Royalists Killed in Action (COMCORK) have constructed the befitting Monument in honour of the patriotic Old Royalists mainly from the funds raised from the loyal Old Royalists here and abroad. The solemn but touching unveiling ceremony took place on June 2, 1999. The three Service Commanders Lt. General C. S. Weerasuriya, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP the Commander of the Army, Vice Admiral H. C. A. C. Tissera, VSV, USP, the Commander of the Navy and Air Marshal J. Weerakkody, RWP, VSV, USP the Commander of the Air Force attended as the guests of honour. The next of kin and the parents of those killed were the honoured guests whilst the three Service Commanders graced the occasion as the Guests of Honour. The youngest Old Royalist disabled officer, Captain Rohan Perera of the 1st Battalion, Sri Lanka Singha Regiment was bestowed the rare honour of unveiling the Monument, thereby giving pride of place to the gallant men who have sacrificed their soul and body for our motherland. The next of kin and the parents laid white lotus flowers in honour and remembrance of their dear departed at the base of the Monument.
Roll of Honour
A total of 39 Old Royalists have made the Supreme Sacrifice during the last 14 years or so. The first to be Killed in Action was Major W. D. M. Fernando of the Army in Omanthey on January 6, 1986. The last was Captain D. C. M. Wijemanne of the Army who was killed in Action in Mankulam on September 29, 1998. Lieutenant-Commander (S) S. Gunasekera and Flight Lieutenant R. B. Kulatunga were the first Navy and Air Force officers respectively to make the Supreme Sacrifice. Amongst those killed the senior most was Major General W. I. V. K. M. Wimalaratne, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP. In the Roll of Honour two patriotic heroes Lieutenant A. W. M. N. M. de Silva of the Army and Flying Officer U. R. Fernando (Jnr) of the Air Force have been decorated with the Weera Wickrama Vibhushanaya for their individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery of a military nature of a high order in the face of the enemy performed without regard for their own security. Some of the other heroes have been awarded the Rana Wickrama Padakkama and the Rana Sura Padakkama for the gallantry they have displayed in the face of the enemy.
"Those who gave their lives for us did so in order that we might live in peace."
(The writer is the Secretary of the Committee for Commemoration of the Old Royalists killed in Action COMCORK)