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Sunday Observer, Oct 19 2003
25th death anniversary  Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne

Early last century a band of young men took an oath to free Sri Lanka from the yoke of the foreigner. They signed their names with their own blood. This was long before in Ceylon National Congress founded or any other similar organisation had seen the light of day.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne

There have been Reform Leagues off an on of a desultory nature but none with promethean fire in them. But this was a gallant band similar to the sacred band at thebes or the black hand sarajero. The leader of this was an unknown youth by the name of Edwin Wijeyeratne a law student who had yet to win his spurs, the son of an outstation notary.

People who think that the Tamils were not prepared to risk life and limb in the cause of freedom are sadly mistaken. R. Sri Pathmanathan and R. Nadarajah were sons of the wealthiest citizens of Colombo, yet they were prepared to make the supreme sacrifice.
Very soon the other gentlemen became associated with this band and proved themselves to be patriots of no mean calibre. They were Messrs E. T. de Silva, M. A. Arunalandan, R. S. S. Gunawardene and Phillips Tambyah. There was another gentleman who gave this band a great deal inspiration at the risk of his job. He was a civil servant by the of Paulus Pieris.

Edwin Wijeyeratne was born on the 8th January 1889 at Rambukkana. Libra, that sign that gave last century three men of destiny Churchill, Hitler and Mussolini has given Sri Lanka this gifted son destined to play a magna pars in the affairs of the Motherland.
The highest Raja Yoga in a horoscope is made up by the mutual aspects of lords of the ninth and tenth houses upon each other or by their association with each other. Late Sir Oliver Gunatilaka being an Aries subject. The late Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake had the lords of the ninth and tenth houses in association with each other.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne had Mercury and the Moon, the lords of the ninth and tenth houses aspecting each other. Moreover Sir Edwin had the lord of the tenth house, the Moon, in the tenth itself. True he did not become the Prime Minister or The Governor General. But history places Benjamin Franklin on par with two greatest of American President,s Washington and Lincoln, though he was only an ambassador.

At the time Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was Ceylon High Commissioner to United Kingdom of Great Britain he, like Atlas, had to carry Europe on his shoulders for Ceylon was hardly represented in Europe. In the initial stages of our country's independence, Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne gave Ceylon a new and admirable image. He gave a people who had been under the heel of the foreigner image. He gave a people who had been under the heel of the foreigner or foreigners for over three centuries a footing of equality with her erstwhile rulers and the proudest powers in Europe. Thereby be had won for himself a niche in our pantheons of fame.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne's father was the Mr. Gabrial Wijeyeratne, a much-respected notary public. The family hailed from Kotte. The ancestors had distinguished themselves in the fighting at Mulleriyawa and Balana. His mother was Dona Catherina Wickremasinghe Jayasekera Tennekoon, daughter of Jayasekera Tennekoon, notary.

He was a very wealthy gentleman and the first Sinhala notary in the entire Four Korales. He lived at Utuwankande, Mawanella. The family came to Kegalla early in the 16th century, fleeing from the Portuguese whom they had fought.

The family continued intermarrying with the distinguished Walauwes of Kotte, Madapatha and Matara. There were seven stars in Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne's mother's family banner, given by King Parakrama Bahu VI of Kotte to an ancestor Edwin was the eldest son of his parents. He was first educated at the village school of Rambukkana. He then went to Handessa Village School in Gampola. He was nine years old then. He stayed at the home of his future wife Leela Pethiyagoda with Pethiyagoda Korala, later V. T. President at Meewaladeniya Walauwe, Pethiyagoda. He was at this school for two years. From there he went to St. Mary's College, Kegalla. He completed his education at St. Joseph's College, Colombo where he passed the senior with Honours. He carried away 15 prizes at the last school prize giving he attended.

He then left school. At this time he lost his father. He then became a teacher at Lorenz Tutory. Simultaneously he took to journalism too. He served under the greatest editor Ceylon had hitherto had, Mr. Armand de Souza, whom Governors feared and officials dreaded. Edwin Wijeyeratne then became political secretary to Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. While he was political secretary to Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Edwin became one of the co-founders of the Young Lanka league along with the Mr. A. E. Gunasinghe. He was already a marked man. This brought him more within the danger zone. He was the chief live wire in the struggle for freedom. Now he got linked up with the newer hotheads.

The riots of 1925 nearly brought a martyr's crown upon Edwin He was arrested. He nearly went the same way along with young Pedris His activities brought him very much with the path of the law. Others who had done nothing to court imprisonment but who were unjustly imprisoned on this occasion were Messrs F. R., D. C. and D. S. Senanayake, Baron Jayatilaka, Dr. C. A. Hewavitarne and W. A. de Silva Messrs Arthur V. Dias, John Silva, Piyadasa Sirisena, A. E. Goonesinghe and some others.
When the Ceylon Congress was founded by Sir P. Arunachalam and Sir James Peiris, Edwin was one of their colleagues and a co-founder. By this time he had passed out as a lawyer and was having a flourishing practice in his hometown of Kegalla. He was an expert in Civil and Kandyan Law and in Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law. He was also a live wire in the Ceylon National Congress and was very close friend of D. S. Senanayake.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne passed out as an advocate in 1929. He was able to build up a large outstation practice very soon. He entered the State Council in 1931 form Kegalla Edwin served in the State Council for term till 1936. During this period he displayed great powers of oratory and a consummate knowledge of parliamentary procedure. He was the champion of the underdog, and his industry was proverbial. He did not stand for re-election in 1936.

His outstation practice was colossal. He would not consciently deprive his clients of his services. He remained at the bar from 1936 to 1947. Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed President of Ceylon National Congress in 21st December 1940. During this period he was chosen to lead the Ceylon National Congress delegation to London.

The other members of the delegation were Henry Amerasuriya and George E. de Silva. The delegation created an excellent impression on Conservative and Labour Parliamentary groups. In 1947 Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed to the Senate. He became the Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development in Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake's Government. He was acting leader of the Senate too.

1951 ushered into being a New Chapter in Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne's eventful life. That consummate judge of man, Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake wanted a mastermind to represent the nascent Dominion of Ceylon in the Councils of the world. Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed Ceylon high Commissioner to Great Britain in 1951. During this period Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne moved with kings but did not lose the common touch.

He was a guest at all the great English country estate and castles. He was a personal friend of the Salisbury family. He was a frequent guest at Hatfield House, home of the Salisbury's and at Arundel Castle the, home of the ducal family of Norfolk. He signed on behalf of Ceylon at the death of King George VI and represented Ceylon at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He was guest of honour at Windsor Castle and Sandringham. In honouring him Her Majesty the Queen was honouring Sri Lanka.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was appointed Ceylon High Commissioner to India in 1954. During this period he discussed the Indian problem with Nehru. He was engaged with Buddhist work at Sanchi. He established personal friendships with the Royal families of Sikkim and Bhutan, where he and Lady Wijeyeratne were guests. He represented Ceylon at the coronation of the King of Nepal. He was a guest of their Majesties at their private palace at Kathmandu. He went to Burma (Myanmar) with the sacred relics of Sariputta and Mogallana. He was a guest at Burmese (Myanmar) Presidential Palace.

Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne received the accolade at the hands of Queen Elizabeth II herself in 1953 at Buckingham palace. Very few Asians had received such a unique honour in person at the very seat of chivalry. During his period as Ceylon High Commissioner in Great Britain he was received in private audience by his Holiness The Pope and by the President of the Italy. He was entertained by Max Petitpierre, the President of the Swiss Republic. He had lunch with President De Gaulle and he was the guest of King Leopold in Belgium. Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne was close to research and student communities in Cambridge, Oxford, London and he was of great help to Ceylon students.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II & 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 unique privilege indeed which no Ambassador has had.

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester were entertained twice. At most receptions which Sir Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne held Lord Louis Mountbatten and the Countess were present, resplendent in all their medals. Sir Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne were guests at "Broadlands" the home of the Mountbattens, on five occasions.
Sir 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. Sir Edwin and Lady Wijeyeratne were blessed with three sons. The eldest Tissa Wijeyeratne Barrister at Law, served as the Additional Secretary to Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defence, Sri Lanka Ambassador to France and Switzerland and Senior Advisor (Foreign Affairs) to 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 Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne died 19th October 1968 in Kegalla.