Shades of 1915

When I was a child of about 8 years, in the early 1930s, my father used to relate the story of Henry Pediris, a Volunteer Commissioned Officer of the C.L.I. (Ceylon Light Infantry), with the intension of instilling Patriotism in me.

He had held a voluntary post in the C.L.I. for the prestige of being in the Army, as a Commissioned Officer.

Henry Pediris had been the only son of the highly respected millionaire businessman D. D. Pediris whose palatial house still stands in Alfred Place, Colombo 3.

About the year 1915 there had been a civil riot, and the Ceylon Light Infantry reinforced by an Indian regiment - known among the Ceylonese as "Marathies" and dreaded by them – had been deployed to quell the rioting.

Young Commissioned Officer Henry Pediris of the C.L.I. had been charged on a technical offence and Court Martialed and the sentence of the Military Court was to execute the young Commissioned Officer by ‘Firing Squad’.

At that time, the verdict of a Military Court could not be contested although Civil Law allowed an appeal up to the level of the Privy Council in England.

D. D. Pedris is said to have offered Gold to the weight of his son - Henry Pediris to obtain a reprieve, but this offer had not been accepted and young Henry Pedris had boldly faced the firing squad, without a blind fold, though the firing squad had offered to blindfold him before the execution.

Isipathana Viharaya in Havelock Town had been built in his memory with the value of the gold offered for his life. There had not been any protests or demonstrations from the street urchin fraternity or from the clergy.

We can imagine what would have been the fate of the likes of retired General Sarath Fonseka and the protesters if this had been 1915.

Dharmadasa Devinuwarage

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