Some years ago, I was writing a book for the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka. They were commemorating 100 years of aviation in our skies. I was collecting information from every possible source–from people who remembered, and from people who had heard aviation stories of yesteryear that had connections to Ceylon. That’s when I came to know of The Jaffna, which sure has its own fascinating story.
The year was 1915. A group of Jaffna Tamil people who had migrated to Malaya related an unusual tale about a British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) fighter plane that carried a Sri Lankan name.
Native people of countries conquered by the British Empire were called to serve the war effort against Germany. Many joined and saw action, both on land and sea. Efforts were also made to collect funds for the military treasury. Special requests were sent out to colonial communities to sponsor the cost of aeroplanes. Approximately 10,000 aircraft were made for the war effort. A lot of them were paid for by private donors and a fair number of them came from the British colonies.
The Jaffna Tamil community of Malaya extended its generosity to the British Government by collecting money to pay for a fighter aeroplane. The cost was a tidy sum of 2,250 Sterling Pounds (see letter). They formed a team led by Dr E.T. Macintyre (forefather of renowned playwright Ernest Macintyre)
Having the choice to name the plane, they gifted to the war effort, the Tamil community, in Malaya, elected to call it The Jaffna. It was in remembrance of a birthplace in a faraway land, of which their heartstrings may have often resonated nostalgic bells.
The gift was made on the 22 December 1915.
The aeroplane so paid for, was an F.E. 2b (original design by the great aeronautical Grandmaster Geoffrey de Havilland), which was fitted with a 120 HP Beardmore engine. The Jaffna was a two-seater, for the pilot and a gunner, and was known as a ‘pusher’ with the prop being fixed behind the occupants. This arrangement made the front vision great and gave the machinegun mounted in the fore nacelle wide angles of manoeuverability. In this era, only the German Luftstreitkrafte operated Anthony Fokker’s invention of firing through a rotating propeller. The two-seater biplane called The Jaffna was used as a fighter and a bomber where the gunner threw bombs at targets below.
These aeroplanes flew against the famed squadron of German ace Max Immelmann. The Jaffna too was in that same sky.
During this era (1915) the Times of Ceylon in Colombo published an appeal to raise money to buy planes for the British war effort. They collected adequate funds to buy three fighter planes and one observer plane.
The Fighters were Vickers FB.5 costing 2,250 sterling pounds each, and the reconnaissance plane was a BE2 C type, costing 1,500 pounds. There was an individual contribution, too, for an observer plane from a well-known lawyer called F J de Saram.
The Ceylonese four planes were called The Paddy Bird – ù l=re,a,d”, The Devil Bird-උW,ud , The Nightjar-බìï niaid and The Flying Fox – jjq,d. Unfortunately, with all possible efforts I just could not find the name of the De Saram plane!
What is available on the scattered remnants of the war records is that five aeroplanes, three fighters and two observer planes were paid for by the people of Ceylon.
As the world got older and aviation flourished in Sri Lanka, the locally registered aeroplanes, in commercial service, were named after prominent royalty and renowned cities, King Vijaya, Viharamaha Devi, City of Anuradhapura, City of Colombo, etc. All of these, plus a host of others, flew the skies, brandishing their Sri Lankan heritage with boldly-painted names. But the first Ceylonese name that got gifted to the sky was the little fighter plane ‘The Jaffna,’ certainly less known, but very much in the annals of aviation. Then there were the four with bird names and the de Saram plane.
Various civilian groups collected money in the British Empire to fund aeroplanes to support the war effort. Australia gave 41, Malaya paid for 53 fighter planes and five were from Ceylon. The era was the infancy of aerial warfare and the flying machines at best were flimsy, made of wood and fabric and a good number of the pilots were fledglings learning the art of flying. The crash rates were very high; more fatalities were recorded whilst in training pilots than in combat.
If any gift aeroplane like The Jaffna or the Ceylonese planes crashed or was shot down, the British Air Corps gave the same name to a new aeroplane. That way there was always a fighter plane called The Jaffna and the Paddy Bird, the Devil Bird, the Nightjar and the Flying Fox along with the De Saram plane in the sky till the guns went silent and the war came to an end.
There must be records revealing where these memorable machines were laid to rest––the original or the replacement. Could be in a soft meadow in a green valley, broken and forgotten or maybe mothballed in some unknown wooden shed till it rotted and died.
They sure did fly in some war-torn sky, in formation or in dog-fight, maybe in reconnaissance. Then they would have gone into oblivion, leaving me to do a poor imitation of a reminiscence.
What I wrote is the truth as I came to know it. In Melbourne, in the Point Cook Air Force Museum, I saw a replica of these fighter planes. I don’t think the Point Cook people know about The Jaffna and the three fighter planes and the two observer planes gifted by Ceylon.
I like to think that more light would be shed by people who may know some almost forgotten facts connected to these aeroplanes. I am sure that it is even possible to trace the squadrons that were home to these almost forgotten magnificent flying machines.
The person who gave me the details of this story lives in Sydney. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Thiru Arumugam for all the information he provided. He, like me is a pastured aviator having flown with a Private Pilot’s Licence in Nigeria.
Sitiyawan Gnanapathypillai is from Sangarathai near Vaddukoddai in Jaffna. He is the maternal grandfather of Thiru Arumugam. In the 1890s Sitiyawan, as a teenager, ran away from home and boarded a sailing ship and went to Malaya. Perhaps, he paid something like a dollar as travel fare.
He probably would have worked very hard and at the time he comes to this story he was living in Taipin, Malaya, and was the proud owner of a rubber plantation and a stone quarry. Sithiyawan Gnanapathipillai certainly was a rich businessman. He was Dr. Macintyre’s representative in the Taipin area and collected money from the Jaffna Tamils settled in that part of Malaya. Gnanapathypillai returned to Jaffna and spent his twilight years among his people, living in the place he belonged to.
He passed away in the late 1930s.
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe
The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,
The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.
Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.
Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”
For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.
The twins with the
late Sunil Perera
On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.
Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri
According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.
The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.
There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.
The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan
After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.
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