In 1949, a group of 96 students were successful in gaining entrance to Royal College, having sat for an open competitive exam. About 60 of them were from Royal Prep, while the rest were from other schools including St Thomas’ Mt. Lavinia, Trinity College Kandy, St Joseph’s and St Peter’s. All students were about 10 years old and they were examined mainly on general intelligence and general knowledge, English, Sinhalese and arithmetic. Although Royal Prep bore the same name, there was no automatic entry to Royal College unlike several years before and after.
The Head Master of Royal Prep was A.F. De Saa Bandaranayake, while the Royal College Principal was J.C.A. Corea - the first Ceylonese Principal. Initially, most of these boys did not take studies seriously, as a large number were from affluent families, being children of professionals. However, once they got into their respective disciplines, there was no turning back. Quite a number of them have reached the zenith of their professions.
Royal College is indisputably the best school in the island. Most parents clamour to get their children into Royal but not all are lucky enough. People think of other public schools as second best. Royal and St 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 sons of Britishers, under the Head mastership of Rev. J.H. Marsh, Snr. Though the school was initially called the Colombo Academy, it came to be known later as Royal College. On the panels of the College Hall are the names of those who distinguished themselves in the field of intellect.
Also in the College Hall hang the portraits of those who rendered yeoman service to the country. Amongst them are C.A. Lorenz KC, the Acting Queens Advocate, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan Acting Attorney General and his brother Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam of the Ceylon Civil Service, Dr. C.A. Hewavitharane and his sibling Anagarika Dharmapala. Of the politicians of recent times were two heads of state – Sir John Kotalawala and President J.R. Jayawardene, while H. Sri Nissanka Q.C, a well-known criminal lawyer and one of the founders of the SLFP also adorn the Hall.
Messers D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike were distinguished products of the school known by Royalists as “the other school”, namely, S. Thomas’.
This batch came to be called the 49 Group. According to statistics compiled, it was perhaps the best batch that Royal has turned out in recent times. It is said that 32 of them became medical doctors, most of them consultants, while six entered the legal profession, two of them becoming King’s Counsel, two others becoming Judges of the Supreme Court, three entered the Ceylon Civil Service and eighteen became Engineers.
It is estimated that about 68% of this group became professionals but while in school, each one of them fought for the last place in class! When they joined their respective disciplines, they outshone products of other schools.
Some surgeons of the 49 Group are Ranjit de Silva – who captained Royal at cricket, Priya Samarasinghe, Geoff Vanden Driesen, Gamini Goonethilake, S.R. Ratnapala, whilst some of the well-known physicians are, Henry Rajaratnam, J.B. Pieris, Gamini Jayakuru, Brendon Gooneratne, the latter distinguishing himself in Australia. His wife, Yasmin Gooneratne, a Professor of English in Australia, has several publications to her credit. Another wife of a member of the 49 Group is Professor Lalitha Mendis, who reached the pinnacle of the medical profession. She was the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and the Director of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. She is the wife of the late Dr. Lalith Mendis.
The other physicians are Danilo de Kretser, Tissa Cooray (WHO), N.T. de Silva (UK), H.S. Karunasekera (UK), Leslie Muthukuda (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 MRI.
Of those who took to Law are two well-known King’s Counsel, Jayantha Gunasekera (Former Secretary of the Bar Association) and the late 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 UN. T.K.N. Thilakan (District Judge) and Kumar Ponnambalam both died a few years ago. Alavi Mohamed, a Barrister, also died several years ago. M.N.B. Pieris 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 – Sri Bhavan in May 2013 staged a six-day fast in Canada in support of the LTTE diaspora (TGTE), 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 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 Hullugalle and Upatissa Attygalle are successful businessmen.
V.H. Nanayakkara and P.H.J.S. Ariyapala both Bachelors of Science, joined the Royal College Staff.
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! This 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 Laki Senanayake, who worked with Geoffrey Bawa, whilst A.A.Wijetunga and K. Sivapragasam became Senior Assessors in the Inland Revenue Department. K.L. Gooneratne is a talented Architect.
Late Bimal Padamaperuma functioned as Chairman Engineering Corps and D.C. Wimalasena was Chairman, Petroleum Corps.
T.D.S.A. Dissanayake, a prolific writer, first served in the UN. Later he became Ambassador to Indonesia.
There are two members of this group for whom life was a ball! They were Aru Sellamuttu and Ranjit Kiriella. Nimalasiri Fonseka, a bright spark in school, lives the life of a Squire in England.
Lionel Almeida and the late Tyrrel Muttiah took to planting and were ruggerites. The late W.K.N. de Silva was a propriety planter. Bobby Perera was a one-time Director of Quickshaws. Mahinda Gunasekera, who is permanently domiciled in Canada, does much for the 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 one reason or another.
It is at such gatherings that they reminisce about their schooldays, some wild and others even wilder! Only the pleasantest memories remain, and old yarns are told and retold, with salt and pepper added! It is amazing that there isn’t a tinge of jealousy and each one is proud of the other’s achievement.
Masters then came to teach, in full suit (coat and tie, mind you) and some driving their own cars. They instilled into 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.
As the College song goes, “They learnt of books and learn of men, and learnt to play the game”, being absolutely fair-minded in their dealings in later life.
A loyal Royalist.