Forgotten war veterans of World War II

War Veterans of World War II are getting

faded away,

Balance are marching towards their graves

day by day,

Only a few are left to tell the tale to the


The Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen’s Association operates its headquarters at No. 29/1, Bristol St., Colombo 1. Today there are over 20 units affiliated to this association. The S.L.E.S.A. has an unwritten history which goes back as far as 1945.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Great Britain, Germany and Russia got involved in the West while Japan was involved in the East. When two large battle ships were destroyed by the Japanese namely H. M. S. Emdon and H. M. S. Repulse which belonged to the British, Great Britain was shaken up. Ceylon then became the most important centre for the British to establish for the military operations. Thereby many changes took place in the U.K. as well as in Ceylon.

Neville Chamberlain who was the Prime Minister withdrew from his post and handed government over to Winston Churchill, who took the entire responsibility for a war footing. Naval Commander Lord Louis Mount Batten was ordered to open his Headquarters in India and later on it was shifted to the Botenical Gardens Peradeniya, from where he commanded the South East Asia Command under his able leadership.

Civil administration was vested upon Sir Geoffry Layton who was also a Naval Commander. An immediate campaign for recruiting members for the army took place. 399, Galle Road, Kollupitiya operated as the recruiting office under Major L. V. Gooneratne. Appealing letters in almost all newspapers and large posters were exhibited in government buildings as well as in public places.

Those rosy words attracted all the school children and even some of the employees in the government sector as well as in private sector to join the army. Rapid recruitment took place and camps were opened in Galle Buck, Rock House, Base Area and in several places in the Colombo City. Officers were trained at Diyatalawa. Trained soldiers were despatched to the Middle East, Burma Front, Singapore while the rest were stationed at Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Kandy Kurunegala and in many other places.

When the war came to an end in 1945 release camps were opened at Dalugama. The releasing of the soldiers took place gradually and they were issued with a paltry gratuity in accordance with the pay they drew which was Rs. 1.33 per diem. As clothes were rationed they were issued with some coupons to buy their clothes, a hand book printed with Government Departmental qualifications for employment known as "Resettlement of Ex-Servicemen" was issued in the year 1946 thanks to two Naval Officers E.F.N.

Gratian and Capt. W. G. Beecham with several others, the Ex-Servicemen’s Association was formed. One of the above two officers became the first President and J. A. T. Perera became the first Secretary. All their appeals to the government to absorb the ex-servicemen into government service was turned down. At this time Dr. N. M. Perera and Mr. Philip Gunawardena came to the rescue of the ex-servicemen and formed up a rival association known as "Ceylon Legion of Ex-Servicemen, to press the government to make openings to the ex-soldiers in the government departments. This shocked D. S. Senanayaka as there could be an unrest in the country and accepted the qualified few into government service.

The British who captured Singapore wanted to rebuild the ruined city and they required labour. DS took this opportunity to despatch a battalion called "Ceylon Pioneer Corps" for service in Singpore. On arrival at Singapore the Ceylon Pioneers were compelled to create some trouble when they found that the Ceylon boys were paid only Rs. 1 per day and Singaporean labourer was paid Rs. 5. Thereby the Ceylon Pioneer Corps was repatriated to Ceylon.

In 1949 when the Ceylon Army was formed a handful of ex-war veterans were enrolled. All those who failed to obtain either government service or join the regular forces are still repenting. All of them are today over 70 years. Although several resolutions were passed at the AGM of the SLESA to grant them a gratuity at the rate of Rs. 500 for a month of service in the army, the appeals fell in deaf ears.

All those who therefore were neglected are now very old and feeble and sick. They require a good sum of money for their drugs and nourishment. As all their attempts to obtain a considerable gratuity from any source has failed, they have now formed into as Association known as the "Sri Lanka War Veterans Association of World War II" to appeal once again to all respective authorities and to the British Prime Minister whose war they fought 55 years ago.
H. G. P. Jayasekera
Sri Lanka War Veterans Association of World War II