1981 Visit of Queen Elizabeth to Sri Lanka

From the Pages of Tribune (Colombo), etc.

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 26, 2022

Front Note

The Queens Royal vist to Sri Lanka 21st-25th October 1981. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, visited Sri Lanka twice since independence, first in 1953 and then in 1981. The Queen’s second visit was to attend the celebrations marking 50 years of universal adult franchise in Sri Lanka. The Victoria Dam under the Mahaweli Diversion Programme was ceremoniously opened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984. Sri Lanka’s ties with Britain are multifaceted and cover a wide range of areas. Over a period of time, Britain’s commercial interests in Sri Lanka have shown a gradual shift from plantations to industry. (Picture shows) The Royal train arriving at the station. 24th October 1981. (Photo by Mike Maloney/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth (1926-2022) died on September 8, at the age of 96. She had visited Ceylon (later to be renamed Sri Lanka) from April 10-21, 1954 and in 1981.

I may note here that the only memory of the remnants of British colonial legacy in post-independent 1960s for me was the ‘Q.C.’ tail appended to the elite Tamil lawyers (few of them politicians as well) who had distinguished themselves in their competitive profession. When I was learning the alphabets of Ceylon politics, I had asked my father, ‘what does that ‘Q.C tail meant.’ His response was, it stood for ‘Queen’s Counsel’. Now, I can count seven guys from memory. We had S.J.V. Chelvanayakam Q.C. (1898-1977), G.G. Ponnambalam Q.C (1902-1977), C. Thiagalingam Q.C. (1900 – 1982), M. Tiruchelvam Q.C. (1907-1976), S. Nadesan Q.C. (1904-1986), P. Navaratnarajah Q.C. (1907-1994), C. Ranganathan Q.C (1909-1983). Excluding Chelvanayakam, rest of the six legal eagles were born in the first decade of the last century. Maybe, I might have missed a few. Thiagalingam’s elder brother C. Nagalingam (1893-1958) was tagged as K.C.

I have assembled below, from the pages of Tribune (Colombo), edited by S.P. Amarasingam, how the 1981 Queen’s visit was promoted and perceived by the politicians and the public. A Youtube clip of a little more than 9 minutes of black and white film (Government Film Unit, Sri Lanka) about this visit is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmkF5fkO4V4

The commentary is in Sinhalese language. This clip also incorporates segments from the Queen’s 1954 visit as well (from frame 3:21 to 5:16), where Queen and Prince Philip watched a horse race.

Letter from the Editor [Tribune, Oct 24, 1981, p.1]

“Queen Elizabeth the Second of Great Britain is in Sri Lanka this week. She was here in 1954 shortly after she ascended the Throne. From the euphoria that has enveloped this island at the moment, it is abundantly clear that this island is still ‘a little England’ as it was in the days of the Planters’ Raj. The Brown Sahibs had carried on the ‘Love British’ traditions into the era of independence with its emotional nationalist slogans based on romantic recollections of a ‘glorious past’. To some the British Royalty was the legitimate successor of the unbroken Sinhala monarchy that had ruled Sri Lanka for more than 2,500 years from the days of Vijaya. Even after the island became a Republic in 1972, she continued to be part of the British Commonwealth and nostalgia for the British Crown continued in many quarters. But what is more relevant is that our elected hierarchy and the ruling dynasties in the political parties are ingrained in traditions and styles of governments said to be modelled after the Kings of old. The invitation to the Queen to visit Sri Lanka is therefore understandable and the celebrations for fifty years of adult franchise is no doubt an excellent excuse and backdrop for this visit. One thing that even the harshest opponents of monarchy and the perpetuation of the British connection cannot object to is that apart from beating the big drum about adult franchise and Sri Lanka’s democratic system of government, the main thrust of the Queen’s visit has been directed to spotlighting Mahaveli development.”

Chronicle of Events covered in Daily Newspapers published in Colombo

Queen wears blue socks, J.R. Jayewardene is barefoot

October 14 Wednesday

The Government has decided to stop all tourists holidaying in places which the Queen is scheduled to visit for next week; all guest houses, hotels and rest houses have been given notice not to accommodate anybody during this period. [Davasa]

October 16 Friday

Thirty two prisoners in death row will have their sentences commuted to one of life imprisonment in terms of amnesty the Government will grant to mark the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to Sri Lanka; the British Royal couple arrive here on October 21 on a four day visit. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Sirimavo Group) has called upon all its members of Parliament, local bodies and other organisations to boycott the celebrations in connection with the 50th anniversary of universal adult franchise in Sri Lanka; Queen Elizabeth will be the royal guest of honour at these celebrations next week. [Sun]

October 18 Sunday

The stage is set for the most spectacular event during recent times as the country awaits the arrival of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on a five day state visit on October 21; the Royal Australian Air Force jet carrying the Royal visitors is due to touch down at Katunayake’s international airport to a warm and colourful reception on Wednesday at 4 pm. [Sunday Times]

October 19 Monday

The government has spent lakhs of rupees to modernize the Fort area and other places as the Queen is visiting Sri Lanka. [Aththa]

October 21 Wednesday

The town’s been spruced, the red carpet laid and thousands of meticulously planned details have been neatly fitted in place as Sri Lanka prepared to welcome its former Queen who comes here today as the honoured guest of a soverign Republic. [Ceylon Daily News]

A four day fiesta of pomp and pageantry blended with the spontaneous welcome of millions of Sri Lankans commences today with the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip; several months of meticulous planning and preparation will culminate today when the Royal Australian Air Force jet with its Royal passengers touches down at the Colombo Airport this afternoon. [Sun]

9,000 policemen will be appointed at the International Airport Katunayake to guard the queen on her visit to Sri Lanka; Ana Seneviratne and Rudra Rajasingam will be in charge. [Lankadipa]

October 22 Thursday

The Queen of England Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh flew into a Right Royal welcome from the People of Sri Lanka at Colombo Airport Katunayake yesterday. As the Royal Australian Air Force plane touched down right on schedule at  4 pm there were cheers from the crowds watching the arrival of the Royal couple from airport barriers. [Ceylon Daily Mirror]

It was a magnificent spectacle befitting royalty as an exuberant Sri Lanka decked itself in ceremonial garb to provide a red carpet welcome for the Royal couple, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; a regal Queen Elizabeth II and her handsome consort found themselves immediately enveloped in the spontaneity of a nation, on their arrival for a four day state visit here. [Sun]

October 23 Friday

Gall Face Green was a riot of colour and festivity as Sri Lanka yesterday celebrated fifty years of universal franchise with the Queen of England playing a special role as an honoured guest; the day belonged to the children of Lanka who as the Queen was to remark later ‘performed so charmingly for us this morning’. They had gathered there in their thousands, to cheer their school bands on and participate in an event that will occupy a special place in the history of the political evolution of this country. [Ceylon Daily News]

Youth marched past Queen Eizabeth II yesterday at Gall Face symbolizing Sri Lanka’s forward march in democracy at the celebrations of fifty years of Adult Universal Francise in Sri Lanka. [Ceylon Daily Mirror]

The second colourful function on the second day of the Queen’s visit took place at Alfred House Gardens where Her Majesty declared open the new British Council library building. [Sun]

October 24 Saturday

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip will today witness progress on the country’s largest development project when they visit the Victoria Dam site this morning. There was a tumultuous welcome for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip when they arrived on schedule at the Anuradhapura railway station last morning; as the specially rebuilt train, in which they had travelled during their previous visit in 1954, arrived from Sravsti station where it had been the previous night, large crowds cheered and waved flags. [Sun]

October 25 Sunday

Mr Gamini Dissanayake, Minister of Lands, Land Development and Mahaveli Development, said yesterday in Kandy that arrangements will be made to send Queen progress pictures of the Victoria Dam project in Kandy every six months; the Queen was so impressed with what she saw of the on-going work on the giant project that she said she would like to see its progress every six months; the dam is expected to be ready by 1984; the project is funded by Britain. [Sunday Observer]

October 26 Monday

Probably one of the proudest and happiest men in Sri Lanka today is 69 year old Ramoo Sinniah – he was richly rewarded for years of dedicated service to more than five British High Commissioners in Sri Lanka, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presented him with the RVM (Royal Victorial Medal) – Silver, an honorary title. [Sun]

A short commentary by R. Kahawita, captioned ‘Mother of Two and the Queen’s Visit’ [Tribune, Nov. 14, 1981, p. 15] 

“ ‘Preparing for the Queen at Kalawewa’ so captioned a news item in the Ceylon Daily News of Friday, 16th October. A correspondent toured the area to ascertain the reactions of the ‘local residents’ to the Royal visit to their countryside. The highlight of the Royal tour was a visit to the world famous Aukana statue sculptured out of the living rock as it was, where it was and where it is. It must have been a magnificent sight, standing there watching the prosperity of a people with a serene expression of peace, until overenthusiastic devotees attempted to protect the statue and restore what they thought was the background and the protection designed by the sculptor to his masterpiece; a symbol he created to perpetuate our culture, thousands of years old, Her Majesty the Queen is making the second visit to the area hallowed by the ‘sadhus’ of our ancestors. Not a second visit but a thousand visits may not be sufficient to satiate one’s yearning for eternal peace.

The correspondent even ran into a ‘Gaja banda’ who well remembers waving to Her Majesty when she visited the shrine on the first occasion. He seems to treasure that memory of waving to Royalty though the waving may be like the waving to a soaring hawk up in the sky. It is the memory that matters, not whether the Royalty saw and recognized the waving of ‘Gaja banda’. May he live long to wave for a third visit. In the course of the questioning the residents, the CDN correspondent ran into ‘a mother of two’ who did not identify herself, but said: ‘If more Queens and statesmen would visit our area, the entire district could be developed much faster. Otherwise, we are forgotten lot.’ We wonder how many readers took note of this statement by a Mother of Two!…”


My Thoughts on Queen Elizabeth

Three decades ago, Chicago columnist Mike Royko in 1991, after Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Washington DC wrote about an older black grandma Alice Frazier, then aged 67, living in a District of Columbia Public Housing lot who the Queen, then 55, had visited, as a PR job scheduled by her courtiers. And this lady had asked the Queen to stay for a Southern fried chicken and potato salad lunch. Perplexed by this unscheduled invitation to share a meal, the Queen had to decline the offer diplomatically.

Later, Mike Royko had called Mrs. Frazier and asked her about why she invited the Queen to share a meal with her. Her response was, as Royko wrote,

Now I don’t do much. I watch some of the stories on TV. And I see my children and grandchildren. And I have great-grandchildren, too. One of them was born before the queen got here.
‘That’s why I cooked all that chicken, you know? My family told me I should fix something for her and offer it to her, in case she was hungry, but I didn’t think she’d want to stay. But if she stayed, I guess we could have made girl-to-girl talk.’
(Yes, the queen might have been fascinated by the feeding of chickens and the cleaning up of stiffs in the hospital. They don’t have that kind of lively banter at old Buckingham.)
And I would have liked to know how she come to be queen. Do you know? 

For some more details on this funny piece on Queen’s visit with Mrs. Frazier, please check this link [https://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/pagespage/2009/04/beg-pardon-your-majesty-black-folks-hug.html] Mrs. Frazier had died in March 2005. 

If I remember, Mike Royko’s column had the caption, ‘The Queen chickens out.” Here is a good title for a book. In her 70 years’ reign as Queen, how many serious political issues did Queen ‘chicken out’ by simply ‘smiling’ to the cameras, or whether she even cared about these issues, other than preserving pomp, pageantry, horses and her accumulated wealth?



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