'Ceylon' ('Sri Lanka'), My Father and National Service
21st Birthday in 'Ceylon' - Dave Neale - National Service
'Ceylon' and National Service - A Little History
The beautiful island of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, was part of the 'British Empire' for many years ~ well over a century! As such, some national servicemen carried out their 'armed service' obligations on the island, even after independence.
It was a very long way from home, so there were no visits to parents during 'leave', but it was a wonderful opportunity for the men to see a very different way of life, on an island paradise. One of the 'lucky' chosen ones was my father, Dave Neale. He was in the RAF.
The island had come under British rule, after forces of the East India Company conquered most of it from the Dutch, in 1796.
By 1815, the East India Company had also conquered the Kingdom of Kandy, which had never been under Dutch rule. The East India Company then ruled a united Ceylon, until their power began to cause obvious problems. Thenceforth, Ceylon was ruled directly from the British Crown.
Ceylon gained her independence from British rule in 1948 The name 'Sri Lanka' (sometimes Shri Lanka) was not adopted until 1972.
The country remains part of the 'Commonwealth of Nations' (formerly the 'British Commonwealth').
Royal Air Force (RAF) Cap Badge
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Text: Copyright Tricia Mason. All Rights Reserved.
My father's photographs: Copyright Dave Neale.
Other people's images have been credited accordingly.
I am very grateful to Wikimedia Commons, and to all the generous people, who share their photographs there.
Modern Google maps and a few videos can be found at the end of this article.
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Trincomalee 1951 (Photo by Dave Neale)
National Service - UK
Both of the two world wars, which took place during the twentieth century, resulted in conscription to the 'Armed Forces' ~ Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force. However, conscription did not end with VJ Day.
Post war, Britain had various commitments to fulfill, and an 'empire' to run, so conscription continued into peacetime. It was then called 'National Service'.
The National Service Act, an amendment to the July 1947 Act, was passed in December 1948. It stipulated that, from January 1949, all able-bodied men, aged 17 to 21 years, must serve their country in one of the 'Armed Services'.
Until October 1950, this was for 18 months, but, after Britain became involved in the Korean War, the period of service was extended to two years.
According to the BBC website, 'between 1945 and 1963, 2.5 million young men were compelled to do their time in National Service' and 'nearly 400 national servicemen would die for their country in war zones like Korea and Malaya'.
There were no more 'call-ups' after December 31st 1960, but some men were still serving until 1963.
RAF Bridgnorth - Stanmore
Quote: "Only after the war ended in 1945 could the Station revert to its original task of providing basic training to recruits, as the No.7 School of Recruit Training."
British National Service - And My Father
Although my father was 15 when the Second World War ended, he did not escape 'National Service'.
He was late 'signing on', compared to some of his friends, because he, first, had to complete his apprenticeship, in carpentry and joinery.
He was twenty when he was called up and twenty-two when he returned home.
After a few weeks basic training ('square bashing') at RAF Bridgenorth, in England, he set off to the airport, at Lyneham. It was a worrying time for his family, as they assumed that he might be going to the Korean War.
However his Hastings (TG552) came in to land at Negombo, on the island that was then known as 'Ceylon' (now 'Sri Lanka'). And this is where he stayed for the best part of two years.
My father visited a number of places, before he set down in Ceylon, and his photograph album contains pictures of Malta, Egypt and Iraq, He also landed in India, and, I think, Pakistan.
In Ceylon, he was the first 'on the job' trainee, and he became a Leading Aircraftsman (LAC).
National Service was obligatory ~ and, for my Dad, this meant two Christmasses and two birthdays away from home ~ including his 21st. He had a photograph taken, especially, on his big day, to send home to his Mom and Dad.
This was during the years 1950 to 1952.
My father brought home many memories, photos, stamps and stories. When I was a child, I loved to learn about his time there. He returned home with a love of curry and lime juice!
It was hard to be forced to leave family and friends, to travel to the Far East, for the best part of two years ~ and there were times when he, like the other men, felt homesick. However, it was also an incredible opportunity and an unforgetable experience.
At a time when few people flew anywhere ~ or travelled abroad at all ~ he was able to fly in a variety of planes and see a variety of sights, cultures, etc, etc. It was a very special time for him and he talked about it often.
His photograph album records a little piece of Sri Lanka's history.
RAF Lyneham - Boarding The Plane For Ceylon - By D H Neale
Hastings TG552 - Dad Was About To Board at RAF Lyneham
- DN Hastings TG552 RAF Lyneham 12.07.1950 pictures from aviation photos on webshots
Hastings TG552 RAF Lyneham 12.07.1950 ~ photographed by my father, Dave Neale. This site hosts other photos by my father, including more of the plane that he flew out in ~ and which crashed on its next landing at Negombo.
My father travelled to Ceylon by plane, and returned home by ship ~ the 'Empire Orwell'.
His plane was a Hastings ~ number TG552.
The next time it landed at RAF Negombo, Ceylon, this plane crashed.
There is more on this story here:
'Hastings Bangs and Prangs and Splashes and Crashes':
RAF Negombo: Dave Neale With The Hastings, In Which He Flew To 'Ceylon'
Dave Neale - Negombo Lagoon - 1951
My father spent most of his two years National Service in Ceylon ~ on the Air Base: RAF Station Negombo ~ Negombo being the nearest town.
Negombo is situated on a lagoon ~ which my Dad mentioned often ~ and it lies about thirty-seven kilometres north of Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka.
The base was later re-named 'Katunayake'.
The air base at Negombo came into use in 1944, during World War Two.
It remained a British Military airfield until 1957.
The Royal Ceylon Air force then took it over. Though it is now the home of Bandaranaike International Airport, part of it is still a military air base.
Sri Pada - 'Adam's Peak' (Photo by 'Bourgeois')
Sri Lanka - Topography
To The South of India
The Pearl of the East
My father's stories, of his time in Ceylon, completely fascinated me when I was a child. I avidly explored the collection of postage stamps that he had sent home, and I loved to pore over the album of wonderful photographs that he had taken.
When I had to do creative writing exercises, at school, I would often choose 'Ceylon' as my theme. I particularly remember some verses from a poem that I wrote:
* * *
The Pearl of the East
There she lies
To the South of India
A small but beautiful isle
Where coconut palms
And banyam trees
Stretch for mile upon mile
It's the home of the girls in their saris.
It's the home of the great Adam's Peak;
The sacred majestic mountain,
Where men Adam's footprint seek!
This is just a part of the poem I wrote, when I was about fourteen years old, inspired by my Dad's tales of his time in 'Ceylon'.
There were several more verses, but I have forgotten most of the content.
I do recall that one verse mentioned the Veddors, who live on the island, mostly unseen, I believe. My English teacher wanted me to change the words of my poem, because she did not believe that these people existed. Many years later, I read an article about them, in the Sunday Times.
Veddas: Late 19th Century / Early 20th Century
Fifth Century Frescos - Sigiriya Rock, Matale District (Photo: 'Astronomyinertia')
Magical Exotic Place Names
I remember loving the sounds of the beautiful place names, as my father used to tell me of the beautiful and interesting places that he had visited:
Trincomalee, Sigiriya, Nuwara Eliya, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Diyatalawa, Diyaluma Falls.
Then there was Colombo, of course, and Negombo ~ with its lagoon ~ where the RAF station was sited, and where my Dad was posted.
And the romantically named 'Mount Lavinia Hotel' ~ with its own, very romantic, story.
Sigiriya Rock (Photo - Bernard Gagnon)
Mountain Forest of Sri Lanka (Photo by Faslan)
Hill Camp - Diyatalawa; 'View From Leave Billet'
Up In The Hills
My father and his fellow members of the Royal Air Force would often enjoy their 'leave' up in the hills, where the air was cooler and fresher than in the areas nearer the coast.
The train ride was quite an experience, I understand!
Hill Country was not only cooler, but greener.
They would sip lime drinks, eat refreshing fruit and generally cool off, while they had the chance.
Once rested, they would also explore this beautiful region.
On one occasion, my father was walking up a hill path, with friends, with a sheer drop to one side of them, when they came upon a gap in the path ~ it was a case of stepping over the abyss, or going back. They stepped over!!! I understand that it was a pretty terrifying experience!
On other occasions the men might go into the old and beautiful town of Kandy. My father always intended to go there, before he left the island, but, sadly, he never did.
Other places he visited on his 'leave' days included Colombo, the capital, where he might have a rickshaw-ride or visit Ceylon's Zoological Gardens ~ new and unusual experiences for him.
Diyatalawa: '4367 Feet Above Mean Sea Level'
Diyatalawa by Dave Neale
Paddy Fields by Dave Neale
Diyatalawa Hill Camp and Ella Mess Camp
On Leave - Ella Gap 1951
Ella Station 2010 (Photo by Westbeachzero)
Tea Factory - Photo By Dave Neale 1951
Ceylon Tea (Photo by Pulasti)
In Sri Lanka, there are many tea plantations. 'Ceylon tea' is, and was, very popular.
Most tea plantations are up in the hills ~ in the areas that my father loved to visit. He told me that the people of the plantations very rarely mixed with the men from the RAF station.
Tea had only become a major 'Ceylon' crop, after the coffee plantations were practically wiped out, by fungal blight, in 1869. Until then, tea had been more of an experimental crop in Ceylon.
Tea Plantation (Photo by Anjadora, 2006)
Train - Diesel Electric Locomotive Imported 1954. My father often travelled by train into the hills, but this one arrived too late for him.
Ceylon Zoo - Another Time; Another Place - By Dave Neale
People of Sri Lanka
The majority of the inhabitants of Sri Lanka ~ almost 75% ~ are Sinhalese, whose ancestors originated in Northern and Eastern India.
The other main ethnic group is the Tamil community ~ 17% ~ who derive from South Indian ancestors.
The island is also home to descendants of the Arabs and Dutch and Portuguese, who played their part in the island's history, as well as to Malays.
There are also the Veddors, a minority group of the islands aboriginal people.
Island religions include mainly Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.
Locals Worked On The Base And Were Befriended By The Airmen
Sri Lanka 1st century AD / CE - Ptolemy's 'Taprobana'
The Geography of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island, which lies to the south of India. Point Pedro is only 48 kilometres from mainland India and there is a chain of little islets (Adam's Bridge) between Sri Lanka's Talaimannar and India's Rameshwaram, where the distance between the two countries is at its shortest.
The island measures about 435 kilometres in length and 225 kilometres in width at its widest ~ about 65,610 square kilometres in total.
The island boasts beaches, plains, rivers, valleys, hills and mountains. The highest mountain is Piduratalagala, near Nuwara Eliya, at 2524 metres. The well-known Sri Pada, otherwise known as 'Adam's Peak', rises to 2243 metres.
Dutch explorer Joris van Spilbergen meeting King Vimaladharmasoorya of Kandy, 1602.
Ceylon's Colonial Coat of Arms -1802 to 1948
History: European Interests
According to Wikipedia: 'Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to have a female ruler; Queen Anula who reigned during 47–42 BC' ~ but that was a long, long time before my father's arrival!
* * *
Before Britain took control of Ceylon, most of the island (not Kandy) was in the hands of the Dutch.
Before that, in 1505, the Portuguese had arrived, and, at some stage, they had decided to stay. They built themselves a strong fort.
The Portuguese were ousted ~ with great difficulty ~ from the island, by the Dutch, who had been called upon for help, by the King of Kandy, in 1656. The Dutch, themselves, then stayed ~ rebuilding the very fort that they had damaged.
That is, they stayed until they, too, were ousted ~ by the British.
Finally, the islanders took back Ceylon ~ Sri Lanka ~ for themselves. But, sadly, it has not always been 'happy ever after', as there has been much bloodshed over the years, resulting from differences of opinion on the issue of 'Tamil rights', etc.
Kandy: 'Temple of the Tooth' (From McKay Savage)
Sri Lankan Elephants at the River (Photo by Aidan Jones from Oxford, U.K.)
Quote from David Clive Rice in the introduction to the 'Odyssey Illustrated Guide to Shri Lanka':
"In the eighteenth century , an English writer coined the word 'serendipity' from Serendib, the old Arab seafarers' name for the country now known as Shri Lanka.
"Serendipity is 'the faculty of making happy discoveries by chance, thereby encouraging a soothing state of mind' ~ an apt description ..."
Serendipitous Isle: From Marine Drive, Kolpittey / Negombo Beach / Near Kirinda
Matara Beach, Sri Lanka (Photo: Milei.Vencel)
2 October 1947: The opening of Ceylon's First Parliament and the Beginning of Independence
1950s Politics Experienced - Anniversaries of Independence
My Father was not there to witness Ceylon's 'Independence Day, in October 1947,
However, when he arrived in Ceylon, in 1950, independence was still relatively new to the island.
Though he did not see the first Independence Day, he was there for at least one ~ and possibly two ~ of its early anniversaries. My father witnessed and photographed the celebrations.
Lancasters Practicing Independence Day Anniversary Fly-Past - 1950 or 1951 - By Dave Neale
Colombo Harbour - Including HMS Mauritius - I Think For Independence Day Anniversary - 1950 or '51 - By Dave Neale
D S Senanayake - First Prime Minister
Early Prime Ministers of Ceylon and Independence
Don Stephen Senanayake would have been Prime Minister while my father was in the country.
14 October 1947: Don Stephen Senanayake became first Prime Minister of Ceylon ~ until March 22, 1952 (his death)
4 February 1948: The island gained independence from Britain, as 'the Dominion of Ceylon'
26 March 1952: Dudley Shelton Senanayake (son of Don Stephen Senanayake) became second Prime Minister of Ceylon ~ until October 12, 1953
Trincomalee 1951 (Photo by Dave Neale - copyright)
The Korean War was waged between June 1950 and July 1953. According to Wikipedia, this conflict was fought between North and South Korea ~ with the North supported by China and the South supported by the United Nations.
Luckily, though my father was under the impression that he was going out to war in Korea, he was actually going to be stationed at RAF Negombo, in what was then known as Ceylon. He did not have to fight.
His base was, however, used as a stop-over, for those travelling to and from Korea ~ including war-wounded.
Unloading the War-Wounded from Korea - Negombo, Ceylon, 1950 or 1951 - By Dave Neale (Copyright)
National Service certainly did not suit everyone ~ and many were placed in positions of great danger, while others remained in England and saw little excitement.
For my father, Dave Neale, there were mixed emotions. Though he was sometimes homesick, and though he missed his family and friends, National Service was a wonderful experience. He met new people, visited new places, experienced new cultures. He learned to service planes and was able to fly in them.
And he experienced a beautiful distant land ~ Sri Lanka, or 'Ceylon' as it then was ~ as well as other countries on his way home. It was a very special time for him. He talked about his experiences and adventures in Ceylon throughout his life ~ and I loved to hear about them!
I recall him talking about a visit to the beach. He and his friends were saying how photographs of the day would make it look as if they were in paradise, and no-one would ever guess that they were being plagued by ants and flies! Maybe the looks on their faces say it all!
Negombo Beach 1951: Plagued in Paradise, by Ants and Flies
Negombo Beach 2006 (Photo by S B from Sydney)
Sri Lanka Documentary
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Sri Lanka - Ceylon, As Was
Negombo, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka: Relevant Links
- Tea production in Sri Lanka - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Kandy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Sri Lanka - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Elephant Walk - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Bridge on the River Kwai - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Sri Lanka's Vedda forest dwelling people
- SLAF Diyatalawa - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Trincomalee - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Ella travel guide - Wikitravel
- Bopath Ella Falls - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Thomas Maitland (British Army officer) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Mount Lavinia Hotel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Colombo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Bandaranaike International Airport - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Negombo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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