Anuradhapura New Town, Bishop Lakshman, Cyril Wickremesinghe, D. S. Senanayake, Esme Goonewardene, Eva Goonewardena, Ida Goonewardena, Mitford House, Old Place, Order of St Michael and St George, Richard Aluwihare, Theodore Barcroft Lewis Moonemalle, Trinity College
Theodore Barcroft Lewis Moonemalle married long after his sister did, and his eldest daughter Lucille was exactly the same age as her youngest cousin, except for Brian, who was born in 2003 and died early in 2009. Lucille was born in 1900, as was my grandmother Esme. They both married Civil Servants, the latter Cyril Wickremesinghe, born in 1890, who was the first Sri Lankan Government Agent in what before him had been the exclusive preserve of Britishers. Lucille married Richard Aluwihare, who was five years younger than Cyril and who fought in the trenches during the First World War.
His name still adorns, at the very top of the list, the plaque in Trinity College that commemorates the several Trinitians who fought for the Empire. Many of them died, though Sir Richard, as he later became, was one of the fortunate ones, and was able to tell stories in later life of the horrors of mud and blood and gas and shells he had experienced as a raw youngster.
Cyril did not go to the War, though he had shone as a cadet at Royal. We still have a beautiful picture of his platoon, and I have often wondered whether any of that valiant group of innocents also went to war, and if any of them died. Cyril himself joined the Civil Service when he was just 21, and served in Kurunagala during the war, which is when I presume he met my grandmother. His mother, who had known her father in Galle, doubtless arranged things, though my grandmother never doubted that theirs was a wholly romantic affair.
They married in 1919, and we have a series of pictures of him in the midst of various groups of public servants from that time on, the Kalutara Public Service Sports Club, the Colombo Kachcheri Recreation Club and one which I think is from Mannar, where he was serving when my mother was conceived. That doubtless is why he called her Mukta, after the Pearl Fishery over which he had to preside.
He died young, having moved to Colombo when he first fell ill, his last post being that of Land Commissioner. He had worked for D S Senanayake in that visionary’s plans to irrigate and cultivate the old Raja Rata of Tanks and Dagobas, and was I believe responsible for implementing the concept of the Anuradhapura New Town, which allowed that most beautiful of ancient cities to preserve much of its historic charm.
Though Cyril had been made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, D S regretted that he had not been able to confer a knighthood on his old and trusted friend, and after he became Prime Minister he offered to make my grandmother a Dame of the British Empire or something of the sort. She was a proud person and turned down the offer, though whether it was that, as a loyal wife, she did not want something her husband had not had, or whether – also as a loyal wife – she thought her husband would have disapproved of British honours after independence, has never been clear.
She suggested however, not wanting to reject the Prime Minister’s offer out of hand, that he instead honour her two spinster sisters. They were delighted, the high point of their lives having been an introduction to Queen Mary when they attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in the early thirties. So the Misses Eva and Ida Goonewardena became Members of the British Empire, and cherished the medals for the rest of their lives. I have them with me now, and I cherish them too, though it is for the sake of those two splendid ladies rather than the Empire they adored.
Sir Richard followed my grandfather as Government Agent of Anuradhapura, and went on to an even more distinguished career, as the first Sri Lankan Inspector General of Police. After his retirement he went into politics and contested the Anuradhapura seat in 1956. He may have been encouraged by the story of Mr Freeman, a former British Government Agent, who had contested the seat when universal franchise was first introduced, and had defeated a representative of the Wanni nobility. Sir Richard however, despite being an aristocrat as well as a former Government Agent, lost badly, as his father-in-law had been defeated before him, when he tested the democratic will of the people of the North-Central Province way back in 1920.
But those were days of greater flexibility in politics, when merit was recognized. S W R D Bandaranaike made Sir Richard our High Commissioner in India, a position he enjoyed since it allowed him to renew old friendships with his former comrades on the Western Front, including General Rudra who had I think commanded the Indian army. Sadly Lucille, whom I remember dimly as another formidable old lady, just like my grandmother, died in Delhi in 1961. Esme, who had been very close to her, was doubly bereaved, since her son Tissa died in the same week. The coincidence was repeated a couple of decades later when her youngest son, Bishop Lakshman, died in the same week as Lucille’s son-in-law, Pat Ratwatte.
Lucille was not the first member of her family to die in India. She had had an older brother called Neville, who had gone off to Calcutta in the early years of the century to become a priest. I presume there were no Anglican seminaries in Ceylon in those days, but being away did not, it seemed, prove easy. The story that came back was that he had drowned, in a swimming pool I think, but it was suspected by some of the family that he had in fact committed suicide.
I would assume this made things difficult for his son Donovan who was now the only surviving male Moonemalle of the line. Very sensibly, he avoided public life, though his daughter Rosemary became a journalist and later married Supreme Court Justice Joe Weeratne. He had two sisters apart from Lucille but we hardly knew them, since they were younger than my grandmother and her siblings.
The lack of companionship between Ada’s family and Theodore Barcroft’s – apart from the close link between the two cousins who had both married Civil Servants, a link that has continued down the generations – seems to have paralleled the relationship between the two children of John Marcellus. Though they lived opposite each other, at Old Place and Mitford House, on Mihindu Mawata in Kurunagala, they did not have much intercourse.
However, as a mark perhaps of closeness, even if never expressed, it seems that when Theodore Barcroft sang, he insisted on his sister accompanying him. He was a great singer, in those long ago days when that was one of the few forms of entertainment at social gatherings. I have no idea what they sang, for the heaps of sheet music that came to us from Kurunagala were largely for piano alone. But I would like to think that, in addition to sentimental stuff like ‘The Lost Chord’, he would belt out Gilbert and Sullivan while Ada dutifully thumped on the old upright.