Half a life ago I got to know Ena de Silva well. Having heard about my adventures at S.Thomas’, she decided that there was another unorthodox person in the family, and invited me to stay with her at Aluwihare. This was her ancestral village, to which she had retired at the end of 1981. It was eighteen months later, in May 1983, that I made the first of what were to be frequent visits there over the next 29 years, half of my life.
Ena was not an especially close relation. Her mother Lucille was a Moonemalle, whose father’s sister was the mother of my maternal grandmother, Esme Goonewardene. But the two cousins, both born in the last year of the 19th century, remained close, perhaps because they both married Civil Servants who were senior administrators in the last years of British rule.
My grandfather Cyril Wickremesinghe however died young, and could make no contribution to independent Ceylon. Sir Richard Aluwihare, who had been five years younger, survived into the late seventies. He had retired in 1955, and moved to the new house which he had built on top of a hill in Aluwihare village, looking eastward towards the Gammmaduwa Hills. But a year later he had been drawn into politics, contesting the Anuradhapura seat, where he had served as Government Agent after my grandfather.
One of their predecessors had been a Britisher called Freeman who had won election to the Legislative Council on the strength of his service to the area. But there was no such gratitude in 1956 and Sir Richard was roundly defeated in the sweeping victory of S W R D Bandaranaike’s MEP coalition. Also defeated, in the Matale constituency in which Aluwihare lay, was Sir Richard’s brother Bernard, who had crossed back to the UNP. In 1951, when Bandaranaike left the UNP government to form the SLFP, he had been one of his few aristocratic supporters.
His departure in 1956 was unfortunate, for had he stayed he would undoubtedly have been Bandaranaike’s deputy, and succeeded him as Prime Minister when he was assassinated in 1956. As it was, the Deputy belonged to a caste which others in the party considered unsuitable. That led to vast intrigues, an interim Prime Minister who was a disaster, a hung Parliament in March 1960 so that the UNP Prime Minister (Bernard was his deputy in that Cabinet) dissolved Parliament when he was defeated on the throne speech, and the emergence of Mrs Bandaranaike as leader of the SLFP and Prime Minister after the July 1960 election.
Meanwhile Bandaranaike had offered Sir Richard the position of High Commissioner to India, and he served in New Delhi from 1957 onward. Lucille however died there early in 1961 and, though he soldiered on, he was not really in control and his daughters persuaded him to give up and return home. So in 1963 he went back to live at Aluwihare. When he died, his daughters found he had left it to them to divide up his property as they wished. Phyllis, whose husband Pat was a Ratwatte, at the top of the Kandyan aristocratic tree, took the properties in Kandy while Ena got Aluwihare. To everyone’s surprise, she decided to retire there herself after her husband Osmund de Silva died, a couple of years after her father.
Osmund had succeeded Sir Richard as Inspector General of Police though, as Ena told the Queen, who expressed some surprise when introduced to the father and son-in-law as the head and deputy head of the police, that that was his profession. Sir Richard was a Civil Servant who had been brought in when the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon decided that the British head of police had to be replaced. Ceylonese officers were not however senior enough to take over, so Ossie, as the most senior of them, had to wait until his father-in-law retired before heading the force.
Ena had run away from Ladies College to marry Ossie. He was from a different caste and her parents, who had found him excellent company as a police officer when they served in distant districts, were not comfortable at the idea of him marrying into the family. There was a court case at which, Ena said, my grandparents had also been summoned as witnesses. The judge hit on the healthy compromise of asking a British priest to keep Ena until she was old enough to decide if she wanted to get married on her own. At the age she was when she ran away, she required parental consent.
To her surprise she found that the priest expressed himself entirely on her side, when she was sent to his house, but told her she needed to be patient. She managed to achieve this, and duly married when she could, and a couple of years later was reconciled with her parents after her first child was born. Still, she continued to have a reputation for being unorthodox, and she lived up to this when, after her husband retired, she abandoned social life altogether, and instead concentrated on what became Ena de Silva fabrics.
Ossie’s retirement had been premature. When he was appointed, the then Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala had offered him a contract, and when this expired Bandaranaike did not renew it. Ena claimed that Ossie had made it clear to him that his allegiance was to the law and not the government. He was not helped by his colleagues all angling for the post, though Bandaranaike characteristically trumped them all by appointing his bridge partner, another Civil Servant, as IGP. Sadly several of the senior police officials then entered into political intriguing, culminating in the 1962 coup attempt.
There had been attempts to inveigle Ossie too into joining, and Ena would frequently cite his brusque response to Aelian Kannangara, a UNP stalwart who had been part of the conspiracy. Ossie had told him, ‘We are not the Praetorian Guard’, a line Ena relished. She also noted that he had firmly rejected Bandaranaike’s apologetic offers of other positions, embassies as well as the Chairmanship of Air Ceylon. Interestingly she claimed that the only relation on her side who appreciated Ossie’s position was her mother Lucille, who had been most opposed to the marriage, but who was a Moonemalle with rigid standards of public conduct.