May 19, 2011 marked the 10th death anniversary of Captain Suraj D.Munasinghe, psc of the Sri Lanka Navy.
Born on February 18, 1950, he was the fifth child of Tiddy and Rani Munasinghe.
A student of St. Sylvester’s College, Kandy, Suraj not only excelled in studies but was also an active member of the Literary Union, the College Debating Team, the Drama Society, etc. In addition, he was a senior prefect and a Cadet officer.
At 19, while studying for his university entrance, Suraj joined the then Royal Ceylon Navy as an Officer Cadet, on July 1, 1969. He was commissioned as a Sub-lieutenant on January 1, 1974. (His batchmates, Mohan Samarasekera, Cecil Tissera and Daya Sandagiri, eventually went on to become Commanders of our Navy).
As a young officer, Suraj held the posts of Commanding Officer, SLNS Tissa, Trincomalee and SLNS Edithara, and Command Operations Officer (West) and (North). Later, he was appointed as Coordinating Staff Officer (Navy) at the Operations Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.
In the rank of Captain, Suraj served as the Command Operations Officer (East), Commander Southern Naval Area, Commandant-Naval Recruit Training Centre (Boossa), and Commander Western Naval Area. He also served as the Director Naval Personnel and Training at Navy Headquarters, until his retirement from service in 1996. On retirement, he was transferred to the Regular Naval Reserve.
He followed several training courses in India and the US, and the staff course at the Naval Staff College in Rhode Island, in the US.
In recognition of his courage, efficiency, honesty and loyalty to the country, he was decorated with the Republic of Sri Lanka Armed Services Medal, Sri Lanka Armed Services Long Service Medal and Clasp, President’s Inauguration Medal, North and East Operations Medal, Poorna Bhoomi Padakkama, and the Vadamarachchi Operation Medal.
Suraj was a thorough officer and gentleman. He moved with ease and grace among colleagues and subordinates alike. He was always there to help anybody in need, whether it was a family member, a friend, or even a complete stranger.
His courage to face challenges was evident from his early days. It was reported that Suraj, while accompanying a small team of sailors as a raw junior officer, came to the assistance of a helpless woman in a remote area who had given birth. They rushed the mother and the newborn in the Navy vehicle to the safety of the nearest hospital.
He always had a ready smile and a kind word for everyone, was quite ebullient, and at times irrepressible, daring to call a spade “a spade”, no matter the consequences.
Like the Weerasekera brothers, who were a few years junior, Suraj was a talented writer. I was privileged to read many of his writings, including the manuscript of a novel he had started on. Unfortunately, he did not live to complete the concluding chapters of this interesting story.
It is sad that Suraj did not live to see Channa and Jagath, his adored sons, settle down in life, choosing their respective vocations after graduation. However, his untimely death spared him the agony of seeing the prolonged illness of his devoted wife, Hemamala, who stood beside him to the end.
May Suraj attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.
Now she is a bride of Christ
Our niece Marie Absalom -- a beautician, dresser of brides, hair dresser, floral arrangement specialist, cake maker and a person of many other multi-faceted talents passed away recently. In her life she beautifully dressed hundreds of brides. We believe, as the Bible says symbolically, that she is now a bride of Christ.
We could not be present at your funeral but I need to say at least now that as a niece you have been very close to me. From the time your mother Chrisy and your father Walwin brought you to their lives my husband Oscar and I were close to your family.
Your kindness, care and love to your family and relatives are what we treasure the most about you. You were there for me when I was sick and you have been a great consolation to me. You have spent many days with me, helping in my needs. You and your husband Raja have worked hard to build your loving family all your life.
In our minds the memory that we will carry of you is kindness, your willingness to help your family, relatives and friends, being there to show your care, concern and love to the people you know. You put your deep religious beliefs into practice as a wife, mother, grandmother, niece, relative and a friend.
We have no words to describe how much you will be missed.
You have entered the kingdom of Our Lord and the company of the Blessed Mother and all the saints. We will all miss you very much darling Marie as we say goodbye to you. Pray for us as you enter the house of Our Lord. We all love you and you will always be in our thoughts.
Salute to sailor who saved many lives on the day of the tsunami
On that tragic Boxing Day in 2004, our friend Victor Zoysa saved the lives of thousands, including our entire family. He was a merchant seaman and probably the only person in the country who had experienced a tsunami first hand, in Valparaiso, Chile, in South America.
He told us later that there too the sea had the flat wave-less appearance we saw that terrible morning, and he knew immediately that trouble was on the way. His first job was to clear the beach, which he did in his usual vigorous fashion. He asked the women and children who had gone down for a dip in the sea to get out, get into their cars and go home. He was just in time.
Grand-daughter Dhatri came running up to the house crying, “Seeya, seeya, the sea is coming.”
And so it did. A wall of water, a good 30 feet tall, was moving towards us. There was just time enough for us to take shelter in the house, when it crashed, shattering windows and doors, and roaring over the roof. …
When the water receded, we all came out to hear Victor shouting that more waves were on the way, and to get out fast.
This area was Victor’s home. He knew the low-lying areas and where we would be safe, above water level. Victor was also a non-commissioned officer on his ship, and a boatswain (pronounced bosun) in the days before electric loudspeakers. He had developed a voice of sufficient power to be heard above the loudest of gales, so he was able to shoo people onto high ground, while standing in one place.
He took a short cut to the main road to stop traffic. When we were making a run for the temple, which was on a rock, I got left behind. Victor yelled to me to take a short cut. I was just in time for Dayan to pull me on to the rock before the second wave struck. Not content with that, Victor grabbed a canoe which was floating about, and filled it with biscuits and sweets for the soaked, miserable folk huddled together inside the temple. I treasure the memory of the two cream crackers he gave me.
Victor could quite easily have taken shelter himself that day, and left us to our fate, but he was not that kind of man. I had met him before and I knew he was someone who was deeply concerned about what was going on in the country. In his retirement, he purchased and ran a couple of private buses. He was involved with the private bus owners’ association and was in Trincomalee when the private bus service opened there.Victor Zoysa received many accolades here and abroad, and he was featured in prestigious magazines, including the Reader’s Digest. But he remained very much the simple but forthright man he was.
Michael, Nilu, Shalini and Dayan Abeyaratne, Manesha Samarasinghe, Aruni Weerasinghe, Dhatri and Chahel.
He was always content
with what he had
Dudley better known among friends as 'Sere' was known to me from 1964. He was my brother Vere's batchmate when they joined the Sri Lanka Police in 1957 along with several others like J.W. Jayasuriya, Aelian Alahakoon, D.M.T.B. Dissanayake, Gunda, Perinpanayagam, Navaratnarajah, Lal Wewala, Pathirana and others. I came to know him closely from 1970 when both of us served in the Prime Minister's security (Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike) along with C.P. Jayasuriya, Lal Wewala and D.M.T.B. Dissanayake, V.T. Dickman and S.K. Chandrasekera.
Dudley was always an introvert. A simple, humble person, he preferred to take a backseat in any situation. He never liked to hurt people. As a result he was never given his due place or the rightly deserved promotions in the Police Department. He was honest, hardworking and dedicated and always stood by his superiors, often sacrificing his wellbeing for the sake of others.
He was very close to his family. He loved his children dearly- there was a very real incomprehensible bond between them. He had very high moral standards - one could call him a perfect gentleman.
Dudley became a freelance investigator after retirement and never took short cuts in investigations as I found when he undertook work for my company.
I saw him in the Police Hospital when he suffered a stroke. He never made a fuss about his illness.
He was a sincere friend. He never failed to visit friends who were ill or attend the funerals of friends and relations. I recall the following words which describe his friendship - " like a river friendship works best when it flows unhindered."
He became a Pentecostalist and the final year of his life reflected his Christian attitude in a deep sense of sacrifice, love and care to others. He was always content with what he had and that was a great quality.
May he rest in peace.
Nihal de Alwis
Air Ceylon pioneer pilot ‘Captain Ma’ was a hero to us teens
Captain P. B. Mawalagedera
Captain Punchi Banda Mawalagedara, a pioneer aviator of Air Ceylon, passed away in March this year. He was 90 years.
“Captain Ma”, as he was known to his friends, and as Peter among his British and Australian aviation colleagues, was a distinguished student of St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota. After leaving school, he wanted to become a motor mechanic. However, with the start of World War II, he volunteered to fly for the Royal Air Force (RAF). After initial flying training at Ratmalana, he was sent to the UK and Canada for further training. But by the time his period of training was over, the war was also just ending.
On returning to Ceylon, Mawalagedera decided to resume motor engineering studies. But it was not to be. When the government of the soon-to-be-independent Ceylon started up a national airline, Ceylon Airways, soon to be known as Air Ceylon, he joined the fledgling carrier as First Officer (co-pilot) on the Douglas DC-3 Dakota.
Air Ceylon made its inaugural flight on December 10, 1947. In May/June 1948, Mawalagedera was the co-pilot of a special government charter flight to Sydney, Australia, carrying a Ceylonese naval crew who were going to bring back a trawler bought by the Ceylon Fisheries Department. Thus, P. B. Mawalagedera created history as a member of the first all-Asian flight crew to fly to Australia from any country.
Between 1949 and 1953, Air Ceylon flew international services in partnership with Australian National Airways (ANA), using a pair of Douglas DC-4 Skymaster four-engine airplanes. During that period, First Officer P. B. Mawalagedera often operated domestic and regional DC-3 flights as co-pilot to Capt. Peter Gibbes, a senior ANA management pilot based in Ceylon to oversee the ANA operation.
Several decades later, at his home in Australia, Capt. Gibbes recalled pleasant memories of those halcyon days in Ceylon, flying alongside Mawalagedera and other Ceylonese pilots, such as M. R. (Rex) de Silva, George Ferdinand, Emile Jayawardena, etc.
“Captain Ma” soon earned his command (captaincy) on the DC-3. He was subsequently posted to Amsterdam during the Air Ceylon/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines partnership to fly the Lockheed Constellation and turboprop Electra. Returning to Ceylon at the end of his period of secondment, he became director of the Civil Aviation Examiner for pilots’ instrument ratings in Air Ceylon. Subsequently, he was appointed Assistant General Manager (Operations), while his good friend and colleague, Capt. George Ferdinand, was Manager Operations and Chief Pilot of Air Ceylon.
In 1964, Mawalagedera and Ferdinand were sent to Woodford, Manchester, to ferry-fly a brand-new Avro (Hawker Siddeley) 748 turboprop aircraft to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It was Air Ceylon’s first wholly-owned turbine (jet)-powered airplane (the aforementioned Lockheed Electra had belonged to KLM).
The Avro’s arrival at Ratmalana Airport on Friday, October 30, 1964. was a “big deal.” There was extensive publicity in the local media, such as it was in those days, including a multi-page supplement in a leading newspaper to mark the occasion. Accordingly, the two pilots who flew the Avro (registered 4R-ACJ) to Ceylon, Captains Mawalagedera and Ferdinand, were feted and hailed as aeronautical heroes.
My former schoolmate and now Assistant Editor of Airways magazine, Roger Thiedeman, recalls: “For a few years after 4R-ACJ arrived in Ceylon for the first time in 1964, Captain Mawalagedera and Captain “Ferdi” (I had the pleasure of making the latter’s acquaintance in Australia 31 years later) were two people I idolised, but always from a distance, the way a teenager might idolise a favourite movie or pop star. Just because they were pilots of Air Ceylon’s new turboprop aircraft.”
It would not be wrong to say that those feelings were the same with all aviation-minded young people in Sri Lanka at the time, this writer included. In 1967, Air Ceylon purchased a second turboprop airliner, this time a French-built Nord 262. But the engines of the Nord were unsuitable for climatic conditions in Ceylon, and proved troublesome and unreliable. So when the airplane was returned to its manufacturers a few years later, the ferry pilots were, once again, Captain Ma and Captain Ferdi, who by now were synonymous with Air Ceylon.
Indeed, one of my lasting memories of Captain Ma – also from a distance – was the day he and Capt. George Ferdinand ferried the new Air Ceylon HS 121Trident three-engined jetliner from Hatfield, UK, in 1969. I was standing on a balcony of the control tower at Bandaranaike Airport, Katunayake, with a few trainee pilots from the Ratmalana flying school. When the crew emerged from the sleek, new tri-jet, to be again greeted with much fuss and fanfare, they instantly became our heroes too.
As an “airport bum” (trainee pilot) at Ratmalana Airport in the late 1960s/early ’70s, I soon got to know Capt. Mawalagedera, who had his office there. Then, with the JVP insurgency in 1971, I joined the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) Volunteer Reserve.
One morning, at China Bay, Trincomalee, we received a signal from RCyAF Headquarters, asking us whether we wanted to join the regular Air Force. I requested time until the end of the day to make my decision, then went on an Air Force flight to Palaly/Kankesanturai (KKS).
As luck would have it, I met Captain Ma and his crew, who had just operated an Air Ceylon Avro flight to KKS. I told him I had to decide whether or not to remain in the Air Force. In his characteristic style and no-nonsense voice, Capt. Mawalagedera advised me to get demobilised and apply to Air Ceylon for a pilot’s job.
With yet another inter-airline partnership, this time with French airline UTA in place, Air Ceylon needed at least 100 new pilots. I followed Captain Ma’s suggestion, but after demobilisation from the RCyAF, I remained unemployed for a couple of years. In hindsight, though, given the direction my flying career subsequently took, it was a good move based on sound advice.
After joining Air Ceylon as a First Officer, and immediately after a strike by Air Ceylon pilots, I was elected to the committee of the Pilots’ Guild. With Captain Ma as Assistant General Manager (Operations), we had a love-hate relationship. There was never a dull moment when he was around. I remember his advice to me, as a young “union man”, when one day he gave me a lift home. Another pilot was heard to comment that pilots and Air Ceylon management were in cahoots. “That’s right,” Captain Ma said. “Get to know your enemy before you fight him. Kill the enemy first, before he kills you.”
Controversial though Capt. P. B. Mawalagedera may have sometimes been among the Sri Lankan pilot and airline fraternities, his dedication, professionalism, and contribution to commercial aviation cannot be denied. He will be greatly missed by those who knew and flew with him.
Postscript: Capt. Mawalagedera pre-deceased his wife, Mavis, by only a month. As Mavis Wijeratne, she too made her mark with Air Ceylon on December 10, 1947. But unlike the man who would later become her husband, Mavis’ major contribution was unplanned. As she recounted to Roger Thiedeman and me in August 1997, Mavis was working as a receptionist for the newly-formed Air Ceylon when it was preparing for its inaugural flight. On the day of the grand occasion, the stewardess who had been appointed to crew Air Ceylon’s first official passenger flight took ill. Mavis was urged to take her place – and that’s what she did.
As an untrained stewardess on the inaugural DC-3 Dakota flight to Jaffna/KKS and Madras (now Chennai) and return – flown by Captains Peter Fernando and C. H. S. Amarasekera, Miss Mavis Wijeratne (later Mawalagedera) unwittingly wrote her name in the annals of Sri Lankan commercial aviation history.
Captain G. A. (Gihan)