Somasiri Devendra’s NOTE in The Ceylankan, 25/4, November 2022
On Independence Day, February 4th, this year 2022, , the Sri Lanka Navy fired its traditional “Salute to the Nation” from aboard ship, “Gajabahu”, anchored off Galle Face. In 1951, “Vijaya” had saluted the then Head of State of a self-governing Dominion, (King George VI) while “Gajabahu” saluted the elected Head of State of a Republic.
What happened in between hangs this tale.
Ceylon had become self-governing 1948 and the Navy was formed in December, 1950. February 4th 1951 was a little over a month away and the new Navy decided to salute the Nation. There was the “Vijaya”, with a respectable 4” inch gun on deck, and she would do the honours. It was a risk, as the gun had to be fired 21 times at one minute intervals, with no back-up available. The gun crew, however, did just that, but it was not something that could be done regularly.
The Navy went shopping for saluting guns: found, purchased and mounted them– just in time. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip had set off on a honeymoon cruise which would bring them to Ceylon. And the new guns would fire a salute to Princess Elizabeth. That was the plan. But the King died in his sleep and the Princess, now Queen, had to cut short her cruise.
So, when the saluting guns spoke, it was in Sorrow: the final salute to a King. But when the new Queen – our last royal Head of State –– decided to complete her uncompleted cruise, calling at Ceylon, the saluting guns finally had their day.
The guns continued to salute the Nation every year from Battenberg Battery, and later from the Colombo Lighthouse, right up to last year. But not this year. And now that they have fallen silent, is that – also – the end of an era?
SOURCE: The Ceylankan Volume 25 No 4 November 2022 Journal No 100