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Coup of 1962: an inside story

Former diplomat and writer T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka recalls personal memories of the famous Coup of 1962 in which his father, the famous police officer C. C. 'Jungle' Dissanayake and others were involved. These are extracts from 'The Politics of Sri Lanka' Vol III by T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka.

Both my father and Colonel F. C. de Saram were officers of exceptional ability, who were adored by their subordinates. That was first recognised by the British during World War II and duly encouraged. Both were selected by British Intelligence to serve with their underground should Ceylon fall to the Japanese in 1942, after the fall of Burma, Malaya and Singapore in 1942.

After Independence in 1948, both used their immense popularity to enhance their respective Services. For example during the hartal of 1953 when my father was Superintendent of Police, Colombo and his friend was the Commanding Officer of the Ceylon Artillery, one of the finest regiments in the Ceylon Army, the two of them ensured that the city of Colombo was safe for the members of the general public, and the anti-social elements fled in fear.

They were both commended by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake. They repeated their performance in 1958 during the racial riots of that year, when my father was Senior Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Range I) and his friend a brevet Colonel in the Ceylon Volunteer Force. They were both commended by Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. They both loathed politicians and used the best known four letter words in the English language to describe them. Just once in their lifetime they used their immense influence over the Police and the Army respectively, to the detriment of the nation.

In 1962 they decided to overthrow the legally elected Government of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike with a bloodless coup d'etat. Both were University educated and both recognised that they knew nothing of politics. Therefore they would seize power and hand over the Government of Ceylon to the Governor-General, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.

I cannot ever forget that day, Saturday 27th January 1962. It was the last weekend for me in my parental home because I had been selected as a Probationary Assistant Superintendent of Police, and the following week was due to leave for the Police Training School in Katukurunda. Parting was such sweet sorrow for my parents and my mother was often in tears especially because the previous Saturday was the wedding of my younger sister Carmi, (the mother of Ravi Karunanayake). My bedroom was full of her wedding gifts, therefore I had to go downstairs to my father's dressing room to pack my bags to proceed to the Police Training School.

From that room I heard my father speaking to his officers in the dining room. I was not eavesdropping, but if I could not hear what they were speaking then surely I should have been certified as being deaf and found medically unfit to join the Police. Our home, Police bungalow, C-73, Longden Place, Colombo 7, was so quiet that afternoon because my father had deliberately sent my mother and two unmarried sisters away on a shopping expedition to purchase what was necessary for the home coming of Carmi.

The first to arrive that afternoon was Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Terry Wijesinghe, the Personal Assistant of my father. To the best of my recollection their conversation ended as follows: "I have no more questions, Sir."

"Very good. Wijesinghe, please report to me at Queen's House at 22.59 hours. I will be in charge of all operations there. Just in case you are challenged by the sentries the password will be Dowbiggin" (Sir Herbert Dowbiggin was Inspector-General of Police from 1912-1937).

Sometimes after ASP Terry Wijesinghe left, ASP Lionel Jirasinghe came in. He must have come in uniform complete with side arms. (I could not see him but could hear their conversation clearly) My father said,

"Jirasinghe, I am sorry if I forgot to tell you. No officer of mine will carry even side arms tonight. Please leave your revolver at home".

"Yes Sir."

"This will be a real gentleman's coup d'etat exactly what General Ayub Khan did in Pakistan a few years ago. After you complete the duties I have already assigned you from 22.00 hours to 01.00 hours tonight, you will assist the Army at "Temple Trees". You should please report to Lt. Colonel Willie Abrahams, the Commanding Officer of the Ceylon Artillery. The password will be "The British Grenadier", which is the marching tune of the Ceylon Artillery.

"Please treat the Prime Minister with the greatest respect and her children, especially her two good-looking daughters with the greatest of care. Food for the Bandaranaike family will be ordered directly from the Galle Face Hotel. Any doctors of their choice may visit them at "Temple Trees" at any time.

"Jirasinghe, you are a real gentleman who went to Trinity College, Kandy. You would have become an even better gentleman had you gone to Royal College. (Loud laughter).

"I am putting you in charge of Police operations at "Temple Trees, commencing 01.00 hours tonight." "Sir, what are you going to do with Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike?"

"That is our headache. Colonel F. C. De Saram as you know is an Oxford Blue. He will speak to his friends at Oxford and have Sunethra admitted to Oxford without delay. She is yearning to go there. Hopefully we will coax the Prime Minister to also educate Chandrika and Anura in England. Then she herself can go to England and run house for her kids on a generous pension in sterling paid by the State. She is very good at running a home, hopeless at running a Government" (Loud laughter).

"Sir, what exactly have I to do at "Temple Trees"?

"When troops surround "Temple Trees" around 23.59 hours, Colonel F. C. De Saram, a cousin of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike will personally speak to the Prime Minister and ask for her surrender. After the coup d'etat is over, Major-General F. C. De Saram, General-Officer-Commanding Ceylon, will command all Military establishments. He will also personally handle all details at "Temple Trees" and ensure that the Prime Minister will be our guest. Only the finest of gentlemen from the Ceylon Artillery which was once commanded by Colonel F. C. De Saram will be posted at "Temple Trees". Do please help the Army in whatever way you can in your capacity of a perfect gentleman."

"Thank you, Sir".

I heard ASP Jirasinghe click his heels and the sound of him saluting my father.

The next to come in was Stanley Senanayake, Superintendent of Police, Colombo. He was my father's favourite senior officer and he had predicted for many years that his protege would one day be Inspector-General of Police. In more recent weeks he had a habit of saying in my presence:

"Senanayake, when you are the IG (Inspector-General), I will be dead and gone. Please look after my son. Something is wrong with that donkey. Like me, he did a degree in Science but he is more interested in Political Science. He can quote John F. Kennedy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nasser and that bearded fellow from Cuba, like you and I can quote the Police Ordinance. (Loud laughter from me).

That afternoon he spoke more seriously to Stanley Senanayake.

"Senanayake, I will now continue what I told you this morning during our walk at Galle Face Green. For good reason I brought you into this coup d'etat only this morning.

"At 2200 hours tonight I will issue the Take Post Order. I want the Colombo Police to clear all main thorough fares by 2230 hours. Johnpillai (ASP Traffic) should please be in charge of that operation. Colonel F. C. De Saram will move his troops and armoured columns swiftly commencing 23.00 hours.

By 01.00 hours all Military operations will be completed and the Governor-General will dissolve Parliament and remove the Prime Minister from office. He is empowered to do both under the Soulbury Constitution.

"This coup d'etat will be absolutely bloodless, repeat, absolutely bloodless, exactly what General Ayub Khan did in Pakistan, a few years ago. Therefore none of my Gazetted officers will carry even side arms tonight".

"Sir, may I now reiterate what I told you this morning at the Galle Face Green, when for the first time you asked me to join your coup d'etat.

"I am totally opposed to a democratically elected Government being overthrown by a coup d'etat be it bloodless or otherwise, be it run by gentlemen or otherwise.

"I agree with you that this Government is most unpopular and Mrs. Bandaranaike has no experience to run a Government. If this Government must go, then it must be defeated at a General Election sooner rather than later.

"Besides Sir, it was you who taught me when I was a young ASP at Ratnapura and you were SP Sabaragamuwa that I do not have to carry out an illegal order.

You told me, Senanayake over there is a mad dog frothing from its mouth. Take out your revolver and shoot it dead. That you said is a legal order. On the other hand you said over there is a Sub-Inspector whom I do not like. Take out your revolver and shoot him dead. That you said is an illegal order. You do not have to carry out such an order. If you do we both will be charged for murder.

"Please Sir I cannot carry out an illegal order issued by you, although I admire you greatly".

My father then attempted to persuade Stanley Senanayake, but that was an exercise in futility. Shortly after midnight that night detachments of the Army, Navy and Air Force surrounded our home and arrested my father.

When he was taken away, for the last time he wore his uniform.

In the morning I had a telephone call from the Welikade Jail asking me to bring his clothes and toiletries and to take away his uniform. Just after his clothing and toiletries were handed over I heard two bursts of gunfire at close range. I thought it was a firing squad and fainted.

When I revived I was assured that it was a nearby dog shooter doing his work (He was chased away lest he frighten other distraught next-of-kin). By that time ASP Jirasinghe, ASP Johnpillai and Colonel De Saram were also inside the Welikade Jail. Altogether thirty one people, Commissioned Officers from the Army and the Navy, Gazetted Officers from the Police and one civil servant were arrested.

The following week the Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetileke CKMG, KCVO, was relieved of his duties. He opted to go into self-imposed exile in England. In the meantime I was waiting for my letter of appointment as an ASP. That letter never came.

Of those arrested, twenty six were given a trial before the Supreme Court and the balance five were not prosecuted due to lack of evidence. A very impartial Bench consisting of Chief Justice M. C. Sansoni, Justice (later Chief Justice) H. N. G. Fernando and Justice L. B. de Silva (my father's partner at bridge) conducted the Trial-at-Bar which went on for almost three years. In April 1965 eleven of the accused were convicted and given long prison sentences.

In December 1965 the Privy Council upheld the plea of the eleven convicted prisoners, that they were tried under retroactive legislation that applied only to them and not to any other citizens of Ceylon. They were duly discharged.

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