Well done S. Thomas’ Esto perpetua


thomas.jpg (15647 bytes) By T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka
Member of the Royal College
Class of 1949
In February 2001 S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia celebrated with great enthusiasm its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. The celebrations commenced with a poignant Service of Thanksgiving at their Chapel followed by breakfast on the quadrangle, where Thomians young and Thomians old, Thomians staunch and true rally round their College flag.

That in turn was followed by a Special General Assembly and luncheon in the traditional Thomian style of rice, dry beef curry, (the recipe of which is known only unto God and Thomian cooks) pol sambol and parippu. It was truly a splendid beginning for the month long celebration which included the Thomian Fair, a gala dinner at the Hilton and to culminate with the annual Royal-Thomian Cricket Match to be played later this week.

At the Service of Thanksgiving there were just four Royalists. They were The Right Reverend Kenneth Fernando, Bishop of Colombo of the Church of Ceylon and statutorily the Chairman of the Board of Governors of S. Thomas’, The Reverend Duleep De Chickera, a former Sub-Warden and Chaplain, J. P. Obeyesekera, best known in Thomian quarters as the husband of Siva Obeyesekera who organized yet another Thomian Fair, and myself. We were so moved that we decided to make our own little contribution, from Royal with love!

To those readers who are not familiar with the traditions of these two famous schools, it must be added that those of us at Royal have a special place in our hearts for S. Thomas’. That fondness is only second to our fondness for another school, namely Ladies College! During the twentieth century it was difficult to find a boy at Royal who did not have a special affinity to some nice girl at Ladies College. It is difficult to quantify those platonic relationships, statistically. However statistics do reveal that a staggering one-third of Royalists had opted for wives from Ladies College! That long and unending list includes both J. P. Obeyesekera and myself!

S. Thomas’ can indeed be proud of their numerous achievements from 1851 to 2001. To my mind their greatest achievement is, that with unfailing regularity they have produced real gentlemen. Their second greatest achievement, was that though a Christian School (it was founded by The Right Reverend James Chapman, the first Bishop of Colombo of the Church of England) it has moulded Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians to rise above religious prejudices and to have an abiding love for Mother Lanka. Thirdly, they have produced an unending line of top professionals from every conceivable profession. That endless line is second only to that of just one school!

Considering that S. Thomas’ (like Royal) was set up by the British to educate us, shortly after they had conquered us, it is interesting to observe how some Thomians responded to that period of colonial servitude. In 1915 the British executed Captain William Henry Pedris of the Town Guards for treason. A scion of a wealthy family in his last moments he was handcuffed and tied to a stake. Then a British Major from a Marathi Regiment from Bombay approached him and ripped off his epaulettes, signifying that he was stripped of his commission. When the Major attempted to apply the blindfold he was brushed off with Thomian grit at its best, with Captain Pedris saying defiantly in Latin

Dulce et decorum pro patria mori est

(It is sweet and glorious to die for my country)

Then came the orders "Load" "Aim", "Fire".

That Thomian grit was reflected during World War I when Second-Lieutenant Basil Horsfall of the First Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers was based in France near the border with Belgium. In 1917 the German Army which was embattled at Ypres in Belgium somehow broke through British lines and trapped many Regiments, including the Lancashire Fusiliers. When his Company was facing certain extermination, Second-Lieutenant Horsfall with total disregard for his own safety knocked out several German machine gun nests. He continued to do so even when he was mortally wounded and bleeding profusely, till a German sniper finally got him. He was posthumously awarded the coveted Victoria Cross, the British decoration for valour, their highest decoration for gallantry the only such medal ever won by a Ceylonese.

Such supreme courage was displayed in 1941 by Pilot Officer Dugal Abeyesekera, the Captain of Cricket in 1940. He was recruited by the Royal Air Force as a Flight Cadet and left for training in the UK, shortly after the Royal-Thomian cricket match of that year. As a wartime measure he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer after one year of basic training. He was then assigned to a Squadron of Spitfire fighter aircraft and was based just outside London. When the crucial Battle of Britain was fought in 1941 he volunteered for action, although he had inadequate experience for combat. He flew several sorties till his Spitfire was shot down. His Squadron Leader reported that no parachute ejected from the stricken aircraft. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

That Thomian grit is ever present in the operational areas of our present Civil war, where to-date thirteen Thomians have been killed in action. For example in 1996 Squadron Leader Thilina Kaluarachchi of the Sri Lanka Air Force repeatedly flew his MI-24 helicopter gunship through a hail of machine gun fire to evacuate our troops who were withdrawn following the battle at Mullaitivu. Already the Army had lost over 1,000 officers and men, the Navy had lost two Dvora gunboats with all crew on board. The Special Forces and Commandos who were brought in from Batticaloa and Minneriya on the orders of Major-General Srilal Weerasooriya RWP, RSP, VSV, USP, later as a Lieutenant General the first Thomian to command our Army, would perhaps have perished if not for the Air Force in general and a squadron of helicopter gunships in particular. Squadron Leader Kaluarachchi was deservedly awarded the Weera Wickrema Vibushana our second highest decoration for gallantry. In 1997 Mount Lavinia and S. Thomas’ wept for Wing-Commander Thilina Kaluarachchi WWV, RWP and bar, RSP and bar, who was killed in action. Honoured as a war hero, both in life and in death, his military funeral was graced by the largest crowd ever seen in Mount Lavinia in living memory.

Since its inception in 1851 S. Thomas’ was moulded in the best traditions of liberal education in the West, as was Royal since its inception in 1835. The curriculum was based on that of Eton and Harrow. However the winds of change were blowing across the world, though the British were quite oblivious to it. To them the sun never set on the British Empire. Our patriots looked at the world differently. For example a rebellious but truthful youngster named David Hewavitarne at S. Thomas’ was giving Warden Miller a rough time. In his wisdom his father moved him to a better school, where his younger brother Charles Hewavitarne, was developing quite a reputation as a scholar. It was rather unfortunate that young David Hewavitarne continued his rebellious activities unmindful of the Royal College motto "Disce Aut Discede" (Learn or Depart). He also had some minor vices such as smoking. Just once he got caught, was given a public caning and expelled. The experience was so traumatic, that it cured him of all minor vices for all time. In adult life David Hewavitarne was the personification of rectitude. As Anagarika Dharmapala he became a disciple of Lord Buddha in the true sense of the word and greatly helped to propagate the gospel of The Enlightened One.

Another great Thomian who helped in our cultural renaissance was E. R. de Silva. At S. Thomas’ he was a quiet boy not known for scholastic brilliance. However at the University College in Colombo (later the University of Ceylon and now the University of Colombo) he did brilliantly in Indo-Aryan Languages. He followed it up with a Doctorate from the University of London. In due course Ediriweera Sarathchandra, as he was known in adult life, became a Professor of Sinhala at the University of Peradeniya. More importantly, he produced the magnificent ballet "Maname" in 1957. It had packed houses throughout the nation for over fifteen years, till he left for France as our Ambassador.

Thomian grit was a conspicuous feature when D. R. Wijewardene, N. K. Choksy Q.C., Jabir A. Cader and Dr. Sam De Vos made their pioneering ventures into the field of commerce. D. R. Wijewardene had perceived, during his days at Cambridge, that Ceylon had to have her own newspapers in her quest for Independence. Accordingly in 1917 he set up the Associated News-papers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) which in a little over a decade eclipsed the British-owned "Times of Ceylon". Initially he encountered stiff resistance from British commercial interests who refused to advertise in his newspapers. Consequently "The Ceylon Daily News" ran at a loss for a number of years, notwithstanding the fact that it outsold "The Morning Leader". Sheer tenacity on the part of D. R. Wijewardene, who was primarily a patriot kept ANCL solvent. Then by the end of the nineteen twenties "The Ceylon Daily News" even outsold the British owned evening newspaper "The Times". It was only then that the British commercial interests made a virtue out of necessity and began advertising in "The Ceylon Daily News." Thereafter in life and in death D. R. Wijewardene was looked upon as the greatest entrepreneur Ceylon had produced in the twentieth century. That was till the advent of his brother’s son Upali Wijewardene, my classmate at Royal College. N. K. Choksy made a fortune at the Bar and thereafter invested his wealth wisely in the manufacture of garments, then in its incipient stage of evolution. He chose an industry which the ladies refer to rather naughtily as the upliftment of the fallen. It is otherwise known as the manufacture of brassieres. Jabir A. Cader was a pioneer in the cinemas, initially with the New Olympia and then a chain including the Liberty. Sam De Vos made his fortune with Departmental Stores initially in Galle and then expanding to Colombo and Kandy.



Well done..

There is only one visible difference between Royalists and Thomians. At Royal the motto is "Disce Aut Discede." Accordingly during the twentieth century well over a half of students from Royal entered Universities. The corresponding average for S. Thomas’ is well below a quarter. Notwithstanding those considerations S. Thomas’ has produced some truly brilliant scholars. For example Ronnie de Mel came first in every public examination held in Ceylon, in his time. In 1947 he took a brilliant First in History at the University of Ceylon and was awarded a scholarship to Cambridge University. In 1948 he was placed first in the competitive examination to join the then prestigious and now defunct Ceylon Civil Service. In more recent years Professor G. L. Pieris won even more prizes than Ronnie de Mel, took a First from the University of Ceylon in Law, a Doctorate from Oxford, a scholarship to Harvard, became a Professor at the University of Ceylon at 34 years of age and Vice-Chancellor at 42 years of age. Somehow both abandoned their chosen careers for the lure of politics. Only time will show whether that was wisdom or folly.

Many a brilliant scholar from S. Thomas’ became a permanent member of the academia. None played that role so well as Professor P. P. G. L. Siriwardene, the last Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Lanka. Those who had the privilege of studying Chemistry under him, Sub-Warden D. A. Pakianathan and I are two of his many grateful pupils, revere him as the very personification of a gentleman replete with a golden brain and a heart of gold.

That Thomian grit was reflected even in the performance of their scholars. In 1942 S. Thomas’ was evicted from their premises at Mount Lavinia as a wartime measure, to make way for a Military Hospital. Amazingly those who entered the University of Ceylon in 1942 and in 1943 were perhaps their most brilliant batches. They included Ronnie De Mel and five others who joined the Ceylon Civil Service, Professor P. P. G. L. Siriwardene and four famous Professors including Stanley Kalpage.

It is commonplace for those at Royal to combine studies with sports. Indeed those who scored centuries in the Royal-Thomian or scored tries in the Bradby Shield matches with Trinity College or broke records in the Public Schools Athletics Meet were shown the way to go home, when they did not pass their examinations. Our motto "Disce Aut Discede" is enforced ruthlessly, to say the least. On the other hand the concept of ‘mens sane in corpore sano’ (a healthy mind in a healthy body) is uncommon at S. Thomas. However the glorious exceptions include Osmund De Silva who in his undergraduate years at the University College broke more Ceylon records in Athletics than even Duncan White and later rose to be Inspector-General of Police and A. J. D. N. Selvadurai who as an undergraduate represented Ceylon in three sports, Athletics, Cricket and Tennis. That was way back in the nineteen twenties. Since then S. J. Thambiah, Captain of Cricket in 1948, Head Prefect and winner of the Victoria Gold Medal, entered the University of Ceylon on a scholarship, took a First in Sociology, a Doctorate from Oxford and is now a Professor at Harvard. P. T. Shantikumar, Captain of Cricket in 1949 came first in the Ceylon Civil Service examination in 1954, P. I. Pieris, Captain of Cricket in 1953 and a Cambridge Blue, who represented Ceylon for many years after his return to the Island, Rupert Ferdinands was Captain of our Davies Cup Team when he was still an undergraduate of the University of Ceylon in the early nineteen sixties and Mano Ponniah who represented Ceylon in Cricket during his years as an undergraduate of the University of Peradeniya and later won his Blue at Cambridge. In more recent years, Geffary Dulapandan Captained the Sri Lanka team in Swimming while an undergraduate at the University of Colombo.

The calibre of a school is often determined by its Principal and Staff. S. Thomas’ was singularly fortunate to have been headed by educationists of the high calibre of Warden W. A. Stone and his pupil Warden R. S. de Saram for fifty of its one hundred and fifty years. They moulded their students as they deemed fit, in the best traditions of the British public school system. They never spared the rod to spoil the child and terrified successive generations of Thomians. On the other hand they concealed a genuine fondness for their pupils. The parable of the lost sheep as enunciated by Jesus Christ was deeply embedded in their thinking. So was the concept that a Resurrection can come only after a Crucifixion. They have now returned to their Maker but their spirit lives beyond the grave, in the hearts and minds of thousands of grateful Thomians staunch and true.

By the same token S. Thomas’ has been so fortunate by the dedication of their tutorial staff. Teaching has many rewards but none financially. Dedicated teachers are almost an extinct species today in Sri Lanka. It was not so in Ceylon in the years gone by. One of the Rolls of Honour at S. Thomas’ are for teachers who have served for twenty five years or more. That long list includes such famous teachers as The Rev. G. A. H. Arndt, C. H. Christie David, C. V. Pereira, E. O. Pereira, C. R. Wise, O. P. Gunaratne, A. J. Schaffter, Harold Jansz, Miss A. E. Bay, Mrs. Ruth Anthonisz, V. P. Cooke, The Rev. J. Y. Baranabas, The Rev. Canon A. J. Foster, Dr. R. L. Hayman, C. H. Davidson, S. J. Anandanayagam, D. F. David, B. C. D’Silva, C. S. Weerasinghe and The Rev. Canon Roy Boyer Yin amongst others. Regrettably that long list narrows down appreciably sometime after our Independence. Unfortunately Royal College suffers from the same affliction, which imperils the moulding of character which is even more important than the imparting of knowledge.

The moulding of character at school can be achieved basically in the classroom and on the playing fields. S. Thomas’ can be proud of the sportsmen they have moulded based on the theme,

"When the One Great Scorer comes

To write against your name,

He writes not whether you won or lost

But how you played the game."

Vernon Prins, Michael Tissera, Anura Tennekoon and Duleep Mendis were famous Captains of Cricket at S. Thomas’ who went on to Captain the Ceylon/Sri Lanka team. To those who have the privilege of knowing them personally, as I do, they have surpassed their capacity to excel in cricket with their immeasurable capacity to be the personification of gentlemen, both on and off the field. No commentary on Cricket at S. Thomas’ is complete without reference to Thomian grit in the context of the Centenary Match of the Royal-Thomian. The Thomian wickets were falling like ninepins on the last day and the match was expected to be over before tea. Then Mahinda Halangoda and C. P. Richards were associated in a 91 run unbroken partnership for the ninth wicket. Many Thomians still say "Never in our history have so many owed so much to so few."

Tragically S. Thomas’ like Royal has produced a string of Heads of Governments who have done much good and much harm to our nation. At the advent of Independence we were both stable and prosperous. We were the envy of other nations in South-East Asia. Today nobody, except perhaps those of unsound mind, would envy our nation or deem it to be either stable or prosperous. Our Prime Ministers and Presidents, be they from S. Thomas’ or Royal or elsewhere, be they from the male or the female of the species, have exhibited one pathetic flaw. They have systematically placed their personal interests and party interests ahead of our national interests. Down the ages and around the world, that has been a certain recipe for chaos and chaos we see all around us. Not surprisingly Sri Lanka has not produced one statesman since Independence. In that sense both S. Thomas’ and Royal have also failed the nation. I do hope that deficiency will be set right in this century, and the sooner the better.

There is just one sphere of activity where S. Thomas’ has completely eclipsed Royal. The benefactors of S Thomas’ have been truly marvellous. They have stood by the school in dark days and in happier times. With them it has always been,

"Ask not what S. Thomas’ can do for you,

Ask what you can do for S. Thomas’."

This article is an attempt to summarize the many virtues and the few infirmities of S. Thomas’. On the balance, the overall performance of this great school has been truly marvellous. That rich heritage must be used wisely to enhance S. Thomas’ in this century. Indeed S. Thomas’ has made a magnificent start by appointing Dr. David Ajunan Ponniah as the new Warden. A supreme example of ‘menssana in corpore sano’ he stunned the massive crowd at the Royal-Thomian of 1967 when as a fresher he scored a century. Later that year he sailed into the University of Peradeniya at a young age, much to the relief of Royalists. He did his post-graduate work in the UK and sacrificed a certain Professorship in the years to come, to answer a call of duty by his Alma Mater in its hour of need. A true example of Thomian grit!

Today we live in an open society almost free of indigenous tyranny and have tasted the fruits of an open economy for nearly a quarter of a century. Yet such enlightened thinking has not yet percolated into the field of education. Bureaucratic controls have not decreased but increased on the private schools. It is so different in India and Pakistan, in Malaysia and Singapore. Sri Lanka must follow those examples and permit magnificent schools like S. Thomas’ to blossom out to their full potential.

Thomians young and Thomians old, Thomians staunch and true, to those of us at Royal it is truly our privilege to salute you on your one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. May your foundations be not on concrete but on the teachings of Jesus Christ, as they have always been. May you continue to serve Mother Lanka in the magnificent way you have always done. May you continue to be our friendly rival, as you have always been.


Esto Perpetua (Be Thou for Ever)

Esto Perpetua

Esto Perpetua

The Blue Black and Blue, for ever!