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Mrs. Nicol’s Century

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Alice and Ned on their wedding day, 1943. Sisters Kate and Bridget were bridesmaids, and brother George (on extreme left) was a groomsman

By George Braine

My father was the youngest of nine children. They grew up not far from Negombo, in their mother’s ancestral village of Boralessa. With time, for employment and marriage, the siblings moved away, three to the Kandy area, the extended family meeting only rarely.

Aunty Alice had begun working as a teacher and had later turned to nursing; three of her sisters were nurses, too. While serving at Teldeniya, she met and later married Ned Nicol. For many years, they managed a farm at Aspokuna, in the Digana area. In the early 1960s, aunty retired from nursing to become a full-time farmer. She and Ned also had a keen interest in orchids.

In the early 1960s, I was studying in Kandy, and met Aunty Alice a few times. We barely exchanged a few words. I saw how busy she was with the farm and her family.

Stories about Aunty Alice were occasionally related at family gatherings. Among a brood of six mischievous sisters, Alice had been the tomboy. Two anecdotes from her childhood illustrate her nature. Before Boralessa had a railway station, a rail car would stop near “The Meet”, the home of the Braines. My English grandfather, who was the manager of nearby Mawatte Estate, would take the rail car on his travels to Negombo and Colombo. My grandmother, ever generous, would occasionally send the driver and the guard a package of sweetmeats prepared at home. One day, Alice had made some mud “cakes,” packed them nicely, and sent them to the driver. Alice had to hide the next day when the driver came to complain.

Another incident ended in near tragedy. Their domestic helper was Pila (short for Philippu), and one day, Alice and a cousin had bullied Pila into an abandoned pit, and begun to fill the pit with soil. When discovered in the nick of time, only Pila’s head was above ground, with his tongue already lolling out!

Even her wedding day was adventurous. The wedding and reception were to be held in Negombo, the nearest town, and the Ma Oya river had to be crossed. Being the rainy season, the river was in spate, water rushing over the bridge. Holding onto a rope that had been slung along the bridge, the bridal party did the dangerous crossing to the waiting cars on the opposite bank. My father remembered Pila carrying a large suitcase on his shoulder, that contained Alice’s trousseau.

In 2006, I met Aunty Alice in Brisbane, where her three daughters and grandchildren also lived. She was already 90 years by then, living by herself in a small cottage near one of her daughters. She kept a lovely garden, lush with flowering shrubs and vegetables. Brisbane was going through a severe drought at the time, and watering of gardens was prohibited. When I asked how she managed, Aunty, with a twinkle in her eyes, said she watered her garden anyway.

My next visit was in 2013, while I was developing an interest in Braine ancestry, and researching and blogging family history. Aunty became a rich source of information. Her memory – especially of her childhood with parents and siblings – was impeccable. She recalled the pranks they had played on each other and their teachers, pilgrimages to Madhu church, Christmas parties at Boralessa and Mawatte Estate, frolics at the pond my grandfather had built for the children and their friends. She had letters and photographs to share with me, and I realied that grandfather had been especially fond of Aunty Alice, even leaving instructions for his funeral with her.

By then, she was, 97, and the last survivor of her siblings. Not only was her mind clear, her health was better than mine, three decades her junior. She had a single minded resolve to reach one hundred years. Apart from being a milestone, another attraction was the Queen’s congratulatory letter that went out to centenarians. Aunty was determined to receive it. In regular phone calls with a niece in Sri Lanka, she would ask, “Marie, will I live to be a hundred?”, mainly for reassurance.

So, a party was planned in Brisbane for Auntie’s 100th birthday, on March 2, 2016. My sister Beula and I traveled from Sri Lanka. A few days before her birthday, my sister, cousin Stanley, and I visited Aunty Alice at the retirement home where she lived. We went around 10 in the morning and stayed past her lunch hour. Aunty was in good spirits and was again in a reminiscent mood.

I had done my homework. I remembered what my father had told me about their childhood at Boralessa and at Mawatte Estate, where grandfather lived. I also remembered the vivid recollections of the Braine family by Sinniah, a trusted estate worker (already in his late 90s).

So aunty and I talked, she recalling and I matching her recollections, for two hours. We talked about Boralessa, Mawatte Estate, and “Stanlodge”, the house in Negombo that grandfather had bought for his children. Perhaps the most enjoyable period of her life was spent with her parents and siblings, and that is what she rememberd best.

Near the end of our conversation, aunty turned to cousin Stanley, and referring to me, said “He knows everything!” For all the time and effort I have spent on my research and blogging on the Braine family – finding information, documents, photos, writing commentary, and uploading them – auntie’s comment was reward enough.

So, on March 2, 2016, her three daughters and their families, seven nieces and nephews, and other friends and relatives gathered to celebrate Aunties’ birthday. She was in good spirits, chatting and laughing with everyone. The highlight was the Queen’s congratulatory message, which was prominently displayed.

“Mrs Nicol

I am pleased to hear that you are celebrating your one hundredth birthday. My sincere congratulations and best wishes on this very special day.

(signed) ElizabethR”

More messages had arrived from Australia’s Governor-General, the Prime Minister, the Governor of Queensland, the Prime Minister, and numerous national and local dignitaries.

Three months after we celebrated auntie’s remarkable birthday, she passed away on June 30, 2016. When I saw her in March, she was so healthy in both body and mind that I expected her to live for another 5 years, if not 10. I had become so fond of her that her unexpected passing sent me into a period of much sadness.

She was the last surviving child of Charles Stanley Braine and Engracia Nonis, so her passing is the end of an era. More than that, her memories – rich and detailed – of a happy childhood, her humor, optimism, and good cheer, enriched all our lives.



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Opinion

Nelum Kuluna poses danger to aircraft

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The top of Nelum Kuluna (Lotus Tower) stands 350 above sea level in the heart of Colombo City, as the air navigators of old would say, sticking out like a ’sore thumb’. It has to be lit up in accordance with the Aircraft Obstacle Lighting recommendations contained in Annex 14 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Convention originally signed by Ceylon in 1944.

A free-standing tower of that height is required by international law to be lit up not only at night with red lights, but also with high visibility white strobe lights during the day.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be on always during the day. The authorities concerned must realise that the strobe lighting during the day is not for beauty but for air safety, especially these days, when the air quality and visibility are low during the day.

Have those in charge of the tower been briefed properly on the legal requirement and the use of proper lighting? In case of an accident, this certainly will have implications on insurance claims.

I wonder whether the ‘Regulator’, Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka would like to comment.

If not rectified, it will be just a matter of time an aircraft will be impaled by the Nelum Kuluna.

I M Nervy (Aviator)

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Opinion

Simple questions to Sirisena and Gotabaya

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If Sirisena had not been informed of the plans to explode bombs on 21st of April 2019, as he has claimed, shouldn’t he have taken immediate action to call for explanation from Nilantha Jayawardena, then head of State Intelligent Service (SIS), who had been notified several times about the impending attack by the Indian intelligence.

Sirisena and Jayawardena should be prosecuted for allowing a mass murder to take place. Further Sirisena should be made to explain his famous uttering, “I will reveal everything, if somebody tries to implicate me”.

Why did Gotabaya, who announced his candidature for presidency almost immediately after the Easter Sunday attack and promised to punish those who were involved in it, pay no attention to Nilantha Jayawardena’s failure in taking necessary action with regard to information he received, instead he was given a promotion?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe at a meeting with USAID Administrator Samantha Power on September 11, 2022 had said that Scotland Yard had been requested to review the reports and reach a final conclusion on claims that there was a hidden hand behind the bombings.

We do not need Scotland Yard, just get an honest set of Sri Lankan police officers to question Nilantha, Sirisena and Gotabaya to find the “hidden hand behind the bombings”

B Perera

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Opinion

Open letter to Sirisena

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Y you were in Singapore when the Easter Sunday attacks took place. You claimed that you had not been informed of the intelligence received by your intelligence officers. However, the Supreme Court has ordered you to pay Rs 100M as compensation to the victims of the terror attacks. The reasons for the decision are stated in the judgement.

Acting on a claim that there was a conspiracy to assassinate you and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya you caused the interdiction and arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, who was held in custody without bail for a long time.

In his testimony to the Presidential Commission  of Inquiry, Silva said that he had been interdicted while plans were in place to arrest Zaharan.

Due to the arrest of DIG Silva, Zaharan escaped arrest. Silva was never charged. Zaharan continued with his plans and the rest is history.

After the SC order you have been claiming that you have no money to pay the Rs 100M as compensation. You are asking for public help to pay compensation to Easter carnage victims. You even accepted some money collected by a person called Sudaththa Tilakasiri, who begged from people.

You have said publicly that you submitted your asset declarations. I suggest that you sell all your assets declared in the declarations before asking for funds from the public.

Hemal Perera

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