.by Anura Guruge
This is a story that over the years I heard my adoptive father tell at least 20 to 30 times, mainly to foreigners, either those visiting Ceylon or when we lived abroad in Buffalo (U.S.), Paris, New Delhi and Bangkok.
I am not sure whether it is true. I was 5.5 years from being born. My adoptive father would have been 19 and attending university. So he was the perfect age to savor this moment. My adoptive father was a born storyteller (as befits an author of his prolificity). Typically his stories that deal with historical events usually have some basis, though my father does like to embellish. I wanted to make sure that I captured this story, on the Web, for posterity because it is cute.
So those are the caveats.
Though my adoptive father always referred to it as the ‘National Anthem‘, I, after some Web research, realize that it, i.e., Sri Lanka Matha (Mother Sri Lanka), though written in 1940 did NOT become the national anthem until 1951. It was, however, very popular in the 1940s and most likely was played on Independence Day as the de facto National Anthem. It never also occurred to me to ask why it was not sung as part of the flag raising by a group of young ladies dressed in white, as became the norm. The first few times I heard the story I would have been about 6 or 7. After that I didn’t pay that much attention to it. I had heard it before.
Actual ‘British Pate’ News coverage film (movie)
of that historic day, 65 years ago.
The Independence Day 1948 Story
The Ceylon Independence Ceremony was held during the day (unlike the Indian one in 1947 which took place, quite correctly, at midnight, the Indians counting the minutes). Duke of Gloucester (Prince Henry, the 3rd son of King George V) and Duchess of Gloucester attend the official flag-raising ceremony in Colombo. Per my father the flag raising was to occur sharp at noon. The National Anthem was going to be played on Radio Ceylon as the flag was raised. This would be the first time the National Anthem, Sri Lanka Matha, had been played on the radio — British rule not permitting it previously. There was, as was to be expected, much anticipation. Much of the population, which was probably around 8 million at the time (I am guessing), would have been listening to the radio. There was no TV or Internet. This was 1948.
It is just before noon. The Union Jack is hauled down for the last time.
The new Ceylon flag, resplendent with the lion rampant, is ready to be hoisted aloft for the first time.
It is noon.
Radio Ceylon plays the (BBC) Big Ben chimes for the hour.
Ceylon is independent.
There is no cheering. Just silence. The crowds are waiting for the national anthem to be played so that the flag can be raised to it.
There is a pause. It soon becomes pregnant.
Still nothing. Just silence on Radio Ceylon. People check their radios to make sure that power is still on.
Suddenly, a British voice is heard:
“where is that bloody record?”
Those were the first words broadcast to the newly independent Ceylon by Radio Ceylon.
That concludes the story. Though there were Ceylonese working for Radio Ceylon by then, it was still British run at the time of independence.
This was just 65 years ago. So there will be quite a few people, in Ceylon, Britain and other parts, who were there on the day and can remember the ceremony. Did this really happen?
I can ask my father, but this story is part of his lore and by now he probably can’t remember its true origins. He likes to tell a lot of stories about me that I have no idea what he is talking about. So, I am looking for independent verification. It is a great story. If it is indeed 100% true it needs to be cherished and preserved. Even if it is an anecdote, it is a good one and worth repeating. I can see it happen. Open mikes are so much fun. To be honest, I can’t remember whether it was ‘bloody’ or ‘damn’. But, a good Brit would always opt for bloody ahead of damn. It was not any other swear word. ‘Bloody’ really is not even a swear word.