TRIBUTES | Sunday Observer


Ajith Samaranayake:

An irreplaceable loss to journalism

The untimely death of one of the foremost and renowned English Journalists, Ajith Samaranayake, one time editor of the Sunday Observer and The Sunday Island is an irreplaceable loss to Sri Lankan journalism, both English and Sinhala.

Ajith was a distinguished old boy of Trinity College, Kandy which was the cradle of many a brilliant Sri Lankan writer. Ajith was greatly respected for his informative writing which went into the hearts and minds of readers throughout the country and abroad.

He was also a prolific writer on the arts, drama, cinema and literature. Apart from these he was an eminent English editorial writer whose editorials were masterpieces of his skills.

Ajith dedicated himself to the cause of gentleman journalism, and mesmerised the reading public with his well-selected vocabulary.

Ajith maintained a friendly relationship with even those who opposed his views. In addition to his dedicated service to journalism in Sri Lanka, he rendered an outstanding and unforgettable service through his brilliant writings. He enlightened many readers on various world topics.

Ajith respected all religions and had a good knowledge of them. He valued our national culture and heritage.

The demise of this popular journalist shocked and saddened the hearts of all those who had come in contact with him through the print and electronic media of the country.

Ajith had an inimitable style of writing and readers of his columns craved to read them daily.

Ajith showed love and compassion to all and many a time saved numerous unfortunate people from difficulties.

Though his vibrant writings were stilled by his untimely death he has left us a legacy through his multi-faceted writings.

His life has been rather short but the imprint he has left on society, especially in the annals of English journalism in Sri Lanka is great.

Ajith treated everyone equally irrespective of caste, creed or racial differences. He lived a calm and collected life. The country has lost an eminent journalist who was capable of writing with ease on even the most difficult topics.

Dahlan Salahudeen
Retired teacher,
St.Thomas’ College, Matara.


“When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today”

The photograph and words from one of the most profound epitaphs that have come out of the World Wars is indeed a fitting prelude to those who gave up their life for a noble cause. This popular inscription evokes many nostalgic thoughts about life and its brevity. It is an epitaph to a British soldier killed in battle found in the Kohima War Cemetery in India and part of the history of the greatest ever battles. The above words credited to John Maxwell Edmonds one considered one of the most befitting inscriptions around the world.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.”

Remembrance Day

In Sri Lanka, on Sunday, November 11, 2018 the Armed Forces Remembrance Day and Poppy Ceremony was organised by the Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen’s Association and held at the War Memorial at Vihara Maha Devi Park in Colombo 7 with the participation of the War Veterans and representations from the Sri Lanka Army, Sri Lanka Navy and Sri Lanka Air Force. On November 11, 1918, came the ceasefire of the First World War. This year the Centenary of the Armistice was commemorated across the world. Annually, Sri Lanka commemorate the heroes who have made the Supreme Sacrifice in the WW I and WW II as well as in the 30 year Conflict that engulfed Sri Lanka.

It was the end of the WW I which had cost the then British Empire many millions dead and its allies and enemy many millions more. In this background, November 11 was adopted as the ‘Day of Remembrance’ for the fallen in that war and in the years between the First and Second World Wars. At the close of the World War II, November 11 became the ‘Day of Remembrance’ for the dead of both WW I and WW II. For many years afterwards, Armistice Day was observed on November 11 but now it is held always on the Sunday nearest November 11.

Flower of Sacrifice

In ancient Cathay, long before Marco Polo first saw its wonders and before Confucius lived to spread his philosophy of gentleness and understanding, there grew a flower from which was distilled a potent drug. It was white and known as the ‘Flower of Forgetfulness.’Centuries passed, dynasties rose and fell. Then, out of the land of the white poppy, came Genghis Khan. His ravaging hordes as they swept westward brought terror. Wherever they passed men died.

But something besides death they brought - it was a strange and awesome symbol in the wake of the Great Khan’s blood-thirsty wars. Wherever the blood of man was spilt, the seeds of the flower can remain dormant in the earth for years, but the ‘Flower of Forget fulness’ blossom spectacularly when the soil is churned. The white ‘Flower of Forgetfulness’ had turned blood red; and in the center of each flower was outlined a cross, as though nature herself was crying in protest at the wanton slaughter.

Through the centuries, even stranger events occurred. Emperors and kings marched their armies across suffering Europe in bloody conflict and everywhere, on battlefields which before had been bare, there sprang the poppy, carpeting the graves of men who had died.It was Lord Macaulay who first drew attention to this strange symbolism and it was he who first suggested that the poppy should henceforth be known as the ‘Flower of Sacrifice.’

Flower of Remembrance

The Flanders’ poppy was first described as the ‘Flower of Remembrance’ by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who before the First World War was a well-known Professor of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal.He had previously served as a gunner in the South African War and at the outbreak of the First World War decided to join the fighting ranks. However, the powers-that-be decided that his abilities could be used to better advantage, and so he landed in France as a medical officer with the first Canadian Army contingent.

Flanders was the region now covered by the Belgian provinces of East and West Flanders, the French Department of Nord and part of the Dutch province of Zeeland. Thousands of soldiers who died at the battlefront in France were buried there. In 1915, at a Canadian dressing station North of Ypres on the Essex Farm, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae would take in the view of the poppy strewn salient and experience a moment of artistic inspiration.

In Flanders’ Fields

He was able to distill in a single vision the vitality of the red poppy symbol, his respect for the sacrifice made by his patients and dead comrades and his intense feeling of obligation to them. At a small first-aid post during a lull in the action

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae would capture all of this in the most famous single poem of the World War I, in pencil on a page torn from his despatch book;

In Flanders’ Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row. 
That mark our place;and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn,saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved,and now we
In Flanders’ Fields. 
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,though poppies
In Flanders’ Fields.
The Red Poppy

In January 1918, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was brought on a stretcher to one of the big hospitals on the Channel coast of France. On the third evening he was wheeled to the balcony of his room to look over the sea towards the cliffs of Dover. The verses were obviously in his mind, for he told the doctor who was in charge of his case: ‘Tell them this, if ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep.’ The same night,Lieutenant Colonel McCrae died from pneumonia and meningitis.

He was buried in a military cemetery near Calais on the English Channel,on rising ground above Wimereux, from where the cliffs of Dover are easily visible on sunny days. He thus became one with those of whom he wrote in his famous poem. Probably by the time of his internment, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s verse had forever bound the image of the Red Poppy to the memory of the Great War. The poppy was eventually adopted by the British and Canadian Legions as the symbol of remembrance of WW I and a means of raising funds for disabled veterans.

Wearing of Poppy

An American war volunteer, Moina Michael, had read the poem and was greatly impressed particularly by the last verse and helped to establish the symbol in the United States where the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion also embraced the Red Poppy tradition. The wearing of a poppy appeared to her to be the way to keep faith and she wrote the reply;

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders’
Sleep sweet - to rise a new;
We caught the torch you threw
and holding high we kept
The faith with those who died.
We cherish too, the Poppy red 
That grows on fields
Where valour led it seems to signal
to the skies
That blood of heroes never die.
But lends a sheen to the red
Of the flower that blooms above
the dead
In Flanders’ Fields. 
And now the torch and Poppy red
Wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for
We’ve learned the lesson that
ye taught
In Flanders’ Fields. 
For the Fallen

I would like to dedicate the following poem by Laurence Binyon to all Sri Lankans who made the Supreme Sacrifice in safeguarding the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Mother Lanka. The fourth verse of the poem has been used by the Armed Forces in Sri Lanka. Yet, the other verses perhaps not known to Sri Lankans.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother
for her children,
England mourns for her dead
across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit
of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death
august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal
There is music in the midst of
And a glory that shines uponour tears.

They went with songs to the battle,

they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady
and aglow.
They were staunch to the end
against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that
are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the
years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in
the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing
comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables
of home;
They have no lot in our labour of
the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our
hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden
from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own
land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright
when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the
heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the
time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Rear Admiral Dr. Shemal Fernando