- Royal College ‘49 Group Celebrates 60 Years
Royal College is indisputably the best school in the island. All parents clamour to get their children into Royal, but not all of them are lucky enough. Everyone thinks of other public schools as second best. Royal and S. Thomas (Mt. Lavinia) are the most prestigious, like Eton and Harrow of England.
Royal was founded in 1835 by the then British colonial government, mainly for the education of the sons of the Britishers, under Principal Dr. Barcroft Boake, a product of Oxford University. Though the school was initially called the Colombo Academy, it came to be known later as Royal College. Royal completes 175 years this year.
In the College Hall hang the portraits of those who rendered yeoman service to our country. Some amongst them are C. A. Lorenz KC, the Acting Queen’s Advocate, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Acting Attorney General and his brother Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam of the Ceylon Civil Service, Dr. C. A. Hewavitharana and his sibling Anagarika Dharmapala, two heads of state, Sri Nissanka Q. C. a well known criminal lawyer and one of the founders of the SLFP.
About 75 years ago, 96 boys entered Royal College. They came to be called the ‘49 Group. According to statistics, it is perhaps the best batch that Royal turned out in recent times. It is said that 32 of them became medical doctors, most of them consultants, while nine entered the legal profession, two of them becoming President’s Counsel, two others becoming Judges of the Supreme Court, three entered the Ceylon Civil Service and 18 became Engineers.
Some surgeons of the ‘49 Group are Ranjith de Silva — who captained Royal at cricket, Priya Samarasinghe, Geoff Vanden Criesen, Gamini Goonethilake and S. R. Ratnapala, whilst some of the well known physicians are Henry Rajaratnam, J. B. Pieris, Gamini Jayakuru and Brendon Gooneratne, the latter distinguishing himself in Australia.
The other physicians are Danilo de Krester, Tissa Cooray (W.H.O.), N. T. De Silva (UK), H. S. Karunasekera (UK), Leslie Kuthukuda (UK), Dan Perimpanayagam, Yasa Rajapakse (UK), Disampathy Subasinghe (UK), V. Dharmapalan (New Zealand) and the late R.S.B. Wickremasinghe — who was the Director of the M.R.I.
Of those who took to Law are two well-known President’s Counsel Jayantha Gunasekara (former Secretary of the Bar Association) and Chula de Silva. Two other lawyers S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya and P. Edussuriya ended up as Judges of the Supreme Court, whilst A. Balachandran worked in the U.N. T.K.N. Thilankan (District Judge) and Kumar Ponnambalam both died a few years ago. Alavi Mohamed, a barrister also died recently. M.N.B. Peiris is a civil lawyer in Colombo. Harsha Wickremasinghe, D.G.P. Seneviratne and Dr. B.S. Wijeweera entered the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service.
Of the engineers that come to mind are Professor C.L.V. Jayathilake (a Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya), Dr. Susantha Goonethilake, S.C. Amarasinghe (former GM of the Electricity Board), Dr. Sri Bhavan Sri Skandarajah, H.S.B. Abeysundara (Chemical Engineer), L.H. Meegama, C. Ramachandran and Bandula Yatawara. Perhaps the cleverest of them all was Chelvanayagam Vaseeharan, a maths prodigy, who was to be appointed Professor of Mathematics.
In this class, were two leading businessmen, namely the Cambridge-educated Upali Wijewardene of the Upali Group and Lal Jayasundera, Chairman of Hayleys. Ratna Sivaratnam headed another conglomerate — Aitken Spence, whilst K. Manikkavasagar was a Director of Glaxo. Arjuna Hulugalle and Upatissa Attygalle are successful businessmen. V.H. Nanayakkara and P.H.J.S. Ariyapala both Bachelors of Science, joined the staff of Royal College.
There was one member of the ‘49 Group who distinguished himself as a clever investigator in the police force. If he had not joined the police, surely he would have been on the other side of the law! That was none other than Rahula Silva. It is reported that he was charged in several cases of violence. In all these cases he was successfully defended gratis, by his classmate Jayantha Gunasekera, a well known criminal lawyer.
There is the very talented artist/architect Laki Senanayake, a partner of Geoffrey Bawa, whilst A.A. Wijetunga and K. Sivapragasam became senior assessors in the Inland Revenue Dept. K.L. Gooneratne is a talented architect.
The late Bimal Padmaperuma functioned as Chairman of the Engineering Corp and D.C. Wimalasena was Chairman, Petroleum Corp. T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka, a prolific writer, first served in the UN and later was our ambassador in Indonesia. There were two members of this group to whom life was a ball! They were Aru Sellamuttu and Ranjith Kiriella. Nimalasiri Fonseka, a bright spark in school, lives the life of a squire in England.
Lionel Almeida and the late Tyrrel Muttaih took to planting and were ruggerites. W.K.N. de Silva is a proprietary planter. Bobby Perera was a one time Director of Quickshaws. Mahinda Gunasekera, who is permanently domiciled in Canada, does much for our country by countering false propaganda.
These classmates are a very close knit family, though half of them live overseas. The ‘49 Group, depleted as it is, gets together during the Royal-Thomian Cricket encounter and the Bradby Shield. Sometimes they meet more often, to welcome members coming home from abroad for some reason or another. It is at such gatherings that they reminisce about their schooldays, some wild and some even wilder! Only the pleasantest memories remain and old yarns are told and retold, with salt and pepper added too!
Masters then came to teach in full suit (coat and tie, mind you) and some driving their own cars. They instilled in this impressionable group of youngsters all that Royal stood for; so much so that even today, they instinctively take the acceptable course of action in any matter.
The feeling of brotherly love is strong in the ‘49 Group. A few years ago, with great emotion and bonhomie the 50th anniversary of the group was celebrated for three days in a luxury hotel in the south. On the last night of this grand get-together, the college song was sung lustily, with a tear in the eye. Apart from being top achievers in their respective disciplines, they had “Learnt of books and learnt of men and learnt to play the game”. Here’s hoping that the ‘49 Group will meet for many more years, to reminisce and rejoice, over a meal that cheers!