Sri Lanka 2019 - Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts

Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts
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Sri Lanka 2019

Written on 22 April 2019

I was genuinely saddened to learn about the attacks on Christian churches and tourist hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, and the many deaths and injuries which resulted. My very first overseas tour of duty in the RAF had been in Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then called) in 1954-55, when I was still a teenager. Until then, I had never left England (not even to visit Scotland, Wales, or the Island of Ireland). Furthermore, I had never met any ‘foreigners’, and had been taught at school that all the countries depicted in red in school atlases were “ours”.

It was a considerable eye-opener for me from the moment I stepped down from the Hastings transport aircraft at RAF Negombo, then the main RAF base in Ceylon, without the benefit of any pre-briefing about the country and its peoples. Looking back, I am not even sure that I knew Ceylon was by then ‘independent’ of Great Britain.

Within 24 hours I found myself posted to a small long-range radio receiving station called RAF Gangodawila, a few miles south of the capital Colombo. I discovered in my first 24 hours at Gangodawila, after making a few gaffes, that there was a very definite social pecking order. The Sinhalese locally-employed staff at the station were ‘superior’ to the few locally-employed Tamils and they were all definitely socially inferior to we British. I did not meet any local Christians until my last few weeks in the country.

Of all the countries and places, I served in or visited during my 17,373 days in the RAF, I have always had a policy after my retirement in 2001 of not re-visiting any of them because I wanted to remember them as they were when I left. I remember Ceylon as a delightful country, with delightful people who were very proud of having gained their independence from the UK on 4 February 1948.

Below: Local folk from Gangodawila village who came to entertain us with singing and dancing on Christmas Day 1954

22 April 2019, 1103 UTC: Even as I was preparing this page, BBC TV has just shown, live from Colombo, a van exploding while the security forces were attempting to disarm it.

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