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In 1962 Vivian Blazé came to our house with his mother on a social visit. During the conversation Vivian mentioned to my Dad that his Company (STLC Ltd) was looking for a different type of recruit. I was at home when my father came into my room and asked me to come and meet Vivian. Vivian asked me whether I would like to be a tea planter. He had already been advised by my father that I had 3 GCE A Levels in Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Physics from the University of London. I explained that I was a swimmer, Life Saver and Chief Superintendent of the Surf Life Saving Association of Ceylon. I had completed my Bronze Level Training and Instructor's Certificate of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia. Vivian asked me whether I was interested and if so he would talk to me at length at his parent's house on Sunday. After that interview he said that I would need to get my application in quickly.
On Monday I mailed my application to the General Manager, STLC Ltd at Haputale.
Within two weeks I received an invitation from Alan Cathcart, to attend an interview at the Head Office in Haputale. I stayed at the Buona Vista guest house in Haputale and caught a hire car to the Haputale Head Office of STLC Ltd. It was a misty cool morning. All the successful applicants were treated to a hot cup of Haputale tea.
I could tell that the majority of these men were from Trinity College as they were wearing their college blazers. Tony Whitham was the host and he was phoned on the internal telephone as to who should be next in line. When my turn came, I went to a point facing a long corridor at the end of which stood a very tall man. This was Alan Cathcart who introduced himself and took me into his office and introduced me to Donald MacRae who was the Manager, Haputale Estate and Cathcart's successor. MacRae spoke with a very gruff brogue.
They gleaned from my responses to their questions that I had never been on a tea estate before and had very little knowledge of Tamil. I confirmed that I had a strong interest in Applied Mathematics and the physical sciences. After an hour they let me go.
In a month's time I received confirmation in writing of the terms and conditions of my employment and I was given a start date of 1 August 1962. The Company would issue me with a motorcycle – a350cc BSA, and I had to get a motorcycle licence before I left Colombo. I was to start my apprenticeship with Vivian Blazé on Edinburgh Estate, Nanu Oya where he was the Manager.
I arrived at Nanu Oya at 3.00 am on the train and was met by Vivian. I was taken to his home and introduced to his wife and children. I was given a hearty breakfast and advised to eat well and keep strong and safe in that climate.
On my first day, well clad in warm clothes I accompanied Vivian to the Edinburgh factory where I watched Vivian taste the teas set out for him by the Factory Manager. There was a lot to watch and learn.
In the next few days I was taken to the plucking and pruning fields where I learned that I would have to walk through wet tea bushes and driving rain and learn pruning and lopping of green manure trees such as dadaps. I would stay and pay board to Vivian for 1.5 months and walk most of the time to find my way around the fields. Occasionally I spent afternoons reading TRI quarterlies.
I was reminded that I had an annual Assistant's examination to take. My first tour was 36 months and renewable dependent on my performance as determined by my Manager and the General Manager. The Blazés’ were very sociable people and I was taken to the Radella Club and the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya on the weekends. I learned soon enough to find my way around the Nuwara Eliya shops. Also, I met many friends of the Blazés’ including Aubrey Tissera. He was short and larger than life. He was the Manager, Blairlomond Estate. He was very interested in showing me how to do the checkroll efficiently. Cost management was critical in this business. Aubrey and Vivian spent much time in discussing quality of teas, productivity and industrial relations.
Aubrey had a deep inquisitive mind, while Vivian who was much taller drove his points home by using his personality and winning smile. Aubrey was about to go on overseas leave when I first met him.
After 45 days of intense physical work I left Edinburgh with some sadness of leaving a family to live with Alec Ferguson a tall rangy bachelor at Alnwick in Uda Pussellawa. He made a serious effort to teach me Tamil and assigned me to a field led by a kangani who was respected by Ferguson as having a good knowledge of plucking standards as dictated by Alec. The factory for Alnwick and Berwick leaf was on Brookside. I remember the fragrance of pine as I entered Alnwick on my motorbike. Alnwick was a long 25 miles away from Brookside and the quality of leaf and its condition was a prime consideration of Alec's. Brookside was managed by Tom Dickson who I met rarely and on that rare occasion when Alec went away I was invited by the Dickson's to dinner. It was an occasion when Mrs Dickson brought out her family silver and we had a conversation after dinner after which I left for Alnwick.
Alec's field training approach required that I follow his example when it came to pruning and lopping, I recollect him climbing a dadap tree and framing it with his large pruning knife. I followed his example until he was satisfied. The same went for pruning and he was particularly keen on the use of the saw to remove old knots.
Soon it was time for me to meet the other members of the company at a farewell party at the Uva Club. I was to spend the night at Mahatenne Bungalow on Sarnia. Winston Bayley was the SD and he had been instructed to show me around Plaiderie Division, where I would be assigned after I left Alnwick. I gathered from the event that Stan Clowes would be leaving Sarnia and replaced by Alastair Scott who was on Cocogalla. I also learned that Vivian would be appointed as Manager, Mahadowa Estate. A lot of the faces and names did not register until much later. After my visit to Plaiderie I learned that the tea on this division was much younger than on the rest of Sarnia.
I returned to Alnwick where we started planting before the intermonsoon rains started and I learned how to go without lunch until the planned planting for the day had been completed. By the time I got back to the Alnwick bungalow I was ravenously hungry. Sometimes I had to survive on biscuits because dinner consisted of plain soup. Lunch was usually roast beef and vegetables.
The time came for me to leave for Plaiderie so I went off and my belongings followed. My cook and houseboy were appointed temporarily until I worked out what was suitable. Plaiderie bungalow had the garage in the middle where I parked at night. I met Alastair and he checked out how I was settling in. He was like my father but I got to learn to like him. My first visitor was Manthi Delwita from Keenakelle. I did not drink beer but followed my father's advice and acquired some beer for future visitors. The next visitor was Hema Kotagama who arrived on his motorbike in smart riding gear which I admired and later copied. I learned to cope with the North East Monsoon when workers found it difficult to get to work because of the blinding rain. My social life improved when Ranjit Samarasinghe was appointed to Mahatenne Division. His wife Kausha liked my books and we had intelligent conversations. She had an infant girl and later a son, Kamaljeet who was born on Mahatenne.
Two significant employees I remember well was Perumal the gardener who was always taking flowers from my garden to Hermione Scott. The other was the field watcher Devaya who was strangely a Sinhalese as I expected him to be a Tamil. Life went on at its pace until I decided to go see Alec on a weekend. When I got to Alnwick for lunch, he had already started a drinking session with Ron Parry.
As I didn't drink alcohol I watched until things started to deteriorate, and I bid him farewell and left for Plaiderie. However, he decided to follow me and we ended up at Plaiderie before he decided that I had no alcohol in the house and put me in his car and drove to the Uva Club where we found it shut on the Sunday. Then he made the crazy decision to drive to Mahadowa to meet Tony Wills who had recently been married. I had never seen this behaviour before. Soon after he had drunk the alcohol that Tony had given him, he got Tony to phone Vivian and all three of us set off to Vivian's where Vivian offered him a whisky and he settled in. I was getting nervous as I had to get back to Plaiderie for muster. Finally, at about midnight Alec spoke to Vivian that he was short on fuel and requested assistance. Vivian arranged for Tony to call the Head Storeman after which we set off but not before Alec drove over Vivian's well-manicured lawn. Before we left Vivian had a brief word to me about staying awake as the Madulsima Road was narrow and treacherous.
The Storeman was waiting and we filled up the tank and left. After he negotiated the first bend he pulled onto the side of the road and asked me to drive. I told him that I had never driven a car. He then showed me how to change gears and declutch etc. and after he satisfied himself that I would be OK, fell into the well of the passenger seat and went to sleep. I persevered with the gear changing and recognising that the road had some traffic I negotiated bends with some care. Finally, I got into Passara and changed into second gear and kept becoming confident until I got into Dickwella when I had a problem changing gears. Alec was totally unresponsive and fast asleep. Buoyed by my achievement so far, I put the hand brake on and made every effort to get going home.
When I got home, I left Alec in the car and prepared my field clothes as it was now nearly time for muster. Before I left for muster, I woke Alec and he asked me how I got here and I told him that it was mostly on first and second gear. He was shocked but decided to stay for lunch when I returned. That event was the most frightening experience of my life.
During the course of the week I learned that I had to prepare myself to go to Mahadowa. My time was up as a learner and Alastair informed me that I was to be appointed to Mahadowa Division.
I did not tell anybody about my escapade but recorded it in my diary. However, when I got to Mahadowa I heard that it had been the talk of the district and Tony and Judy told me what they had heard. Tony had learned his trade with Alec and he told me about his time with Alec.
When I arrived at Mahadowa Division it was on strike and this is where I started my encounter with the Moscow wing of the United Plantation Workers Union. Vivian however was focussed on opening my eyes to the community and he discovered that I needed to be prodded to go to the Madulsima Club on Club days. Around this time Ronnie Munaweera became Vivian's “creeper” and usually stayed with me when the Blazés’ had visitors.
Vivian's call was strong on people management and he made me get to know my employees, their wives and their adult children. I learned to record in my diary relationships between people.
A year moved on and the company started moving again. Pandita Jayatunge became Vivian's “creeper” and Ronnie moved to Plaiderie on Sarnia. I was now 22 years old and Pandita encouraged me to drink beer shandies as he said it would make me more relaxed and sociable.
Tony and Judy were on Amanadowa Division and I really got more sociable around the time Vivian became President of the club. We had a project to paint the club ourselves and this brought some of us closer together. Out of the blue we learned that Monty Strong after a weekend of heavy drinking failed to take a bend on the Madulsima Road and went down 400+ feet and was killed. He was an affable, jovial man. He had been Manager of Battawatte Estate. That right-angled corner was named Monty's Corner.
Some days later I had just returned from Muster when I got a call from Tony that Vivian wanted me at the factory straight away. As I was in the middle of my meagre breakfast I asked “whatever for”. His sombre response was, The Factory Manager has hanged himself. I had been speaking to this man about the quality of leaf the previous evening. I rode up the hill wondering what I was to do at the factory. The Mahadowa Factory was situated at the top of the hill and the Manager's house was below the factory.
When I arrived there was a circle of people in the garden and Tony was there with Pandita. We talked in subdued tones until Vivian arrived. He asked me whether I had seen the body and when I said that I hadn't he asked me to accompany him to the toilet door and moved the door open with his walking stick and then I saw the head of the man I knew in a noose. He had stood on a bucket on the toilet seat and kicked the bucket and died there hanging. We were told that the Coroner would arrive to do the post-mortem. The Divisional Dhoby would assist the Coroner. Pandita had been planning to be a medical student before he changed his mind to be a tea planter. He gave me a description of the body as it hung there. It was a shocking experience for me.
There was an incident during the post-mortem when the dhoby mistook the bottle of arrack which was fortifying him, for the bottle of formalin. They were both brown bottles. The dhoby was rushed to hospital.
A few days later the Factory Manager was cremated on a pyre set up on a clearing in New Division, close to the main road. The pyre and the man haunted my memory for a fortnight. Mr Fernando, the Factory Manager, was a kindly person and respected by Vivian for his knowledge.
Before I left Sarnia, I completed the calibration of the large oil tank at the factory so that the stocks could be measured accurately. Alastair had drawn this to my attention. I used my knowledge of Calculus to complete this task and mailed my methodology and results to Alastair. This was conveyed to Cathcart at his last visit. When Cathcart visited Mahadowa he mentioned this achievement to Vivian. I sat for my last SD's examination at Mahadowa and came first. At the end of the dry weather I was told that I would be issued with a car – a Mini Minor and told to get licensed to drive a car.
Pandita and Nimal Fernando assisted to a point and then I hired a former Police sergeant to prepare me for the tests to license me. On the appointed day I went with Pandita in Nimal's car to Badulla and passed the test.
A couple of months later I was told to commence my 5-month furlough early and since I was due a first-class passage Alastair suggested that I book an economy class passage and he would pay me the difference in cash. I took my trip through Cairo, Port Said and Amman in Jordan before taking the ss “Himalaya to London. When I boarded the ss “Orsova” in Colombo I had a short fling with a bikini clad beauty from Adelaide which lasted until I left the ship to go to the Middle East briefly
I stayed with my aunt Brenda Fonseka at Hendon in London until I was summoned to Edinburgh to meet the Directors of the company. My early childhood friend, Dennis, her son, had died before I arrived and I in my conversations with my aunt I was amazed at how she had coped with the loss of her only son.
While I was in London I received a letter from Alan Cathcart inviting me to stay with him and his wife at Ardendee in Kircudbright for a few days after the Board Meeting. He also suggested that I stay with his son in Shrewsbury so that I could travel with him to see the Rolls Royce computer Centre at Crewe where his son, Charles was in charge of IT operations and would arrange for me to visit the Centre.
In due course I received instructions to visit Edinburgh and would be met by the Chief Clerk at the company office when I arrived at Edinburgh Station. During my time in Edinburgh I was taken for a brief tour of the Firth of Forth bridge and the next morning I was collected to visit the Head Office.
When my turn came to meet the Directors, I was asked what I intended to do with the rest of my leave in the UK. I told them that depending on my finances I intended to spend Christmas with my pen friend's parents in Kempten in the Allgau in Bavaria. This started a number of conversations amongst the Directors until I heard the Chairman, John Chiene say to them “I would like this boy to go to Germany as there is a lot in common between the Germans and the Scots.”
At the end of the lunch John Chiene advised me that when I was with the Cathcarts’, Alan Cathcart would provide me with a solution. The following day I was given a pair of gum boots and I accompanied Alan Cathcart to the shops in Kircudbright and on the way back through the heavy snow he questioned me about my attitude to tea planting and specifically asked where I would like to go back to. I answered “Alnwick”. Cathcart reminded me that I had trained there but I persisted and drew his attention to the two climatic zones affecting Alnwick and Berwick and that these would be an interesting challenge. When we got back to the house he asked me to tell him how much money I needed for my German trip. I told him the amount and he handed me the pounds sterling. He told me that I was to give him the Rupee equivalent when he came to Ceylon on his scheduled Director's visit. I stayed a few days in Kircudbright before leaving for Shrewsbury when. I was collected by Charles Cathcart and taken to Crewe where I saw the computer and the punch card that drove the machines.
I was told that Rolls Royce produced railway engines and marine engines. I was taken into the Marine engine test bed with earmuffs on. I was impressed. On my return to London I prepared to leave for Colombo and made my reservation to return home.
Then it was time for me to prepare for my European trip. I planned to go to Germany via Paris on the train meeting another pen friend in Paris and staying there for three days. From there I went to Ludwigshafen where I met Gunter who took me to an Opera at the Mannheim National Theatre.
It was Ein Masken Ball. It was from Verdi. I spent the night at the Familie Hantsch's apartment in Ludwigshafen. The father of Gunter’s girlfriend, Frigga was a chemical engineer at BASF.
The next morning Gunter and I left for Bavaria after a brief tour of Heidelberg University. Gunter was to drive all the way on the autobahn with one stop so that he could have a rest.
I had never seen an autobahn before. We passed a few accidents on the way. We got to Kempten without mishap and were greeted by Gunter's parents on arrival. They lived in an apartment and I was shown my room. The apartment was centrally heated.
Frau Siegel was a GP and her husband was a lawyer. We had an early night because Gunter, Frigga and I would go to midnight mass on Christmas eve. It was very cold and the decorations for Christmas were interesting especially the remembrance for the East Germans signified by a single candle in a prominent window. The next day we left for the ski fields on the Austrian border. Gunter and his father skied while I froze until Frau Siegel gave me a hot chocolate drink.
I was to spend a week in Bavaria during which time I would go with Gunter and Frigga to the Ottobeuren Cathedral and be given a tour. Then I experienced the warmth of this family as I prepared to leave when Frau Siegel declared that she and her husband now had a second son and presented me with a full suit of Gunter's. I left by train and arrived back in London to prepare for my departure to Colombo.
Full of ideas for the future I boarded the ss Orcades. I was fortunate to ultimately be invited to join a dinner and lunch table of migrants on their way to New Zealand. I stayed with this jolly group until I disembarked in Colombo.
When I went home and looked through my mail I found a letter from Donald MacRae requiring me to collect my car from Haputale and report to Lionel Pilimatalawa at Brookside Group in Halgranoya on 17 January 1966. I wasn't surprised when I considered my long walk through the snow with Alan Cathcart and our conversation.
Ronnie Munaweera collected me from the Haputale Station took me to the Head Office where driver Suppiah issued me with my car and I set off to Alnwick.
In February the Directors arrived with MacRae driving the Humber. They stopped for a while at the Alnwick bungalow and I paid my dues to Cathcart and just before they resumed their inspection Cathcart came around the Humber to tell me that he was sorry that I would not be staying long at Alnwick. He said that I would get an official notice from Haputale shortly.
When the circular arrived, I was told that John Boyd Moss was leaving the company and that I was to move to the Golconda Bungalow at Haputale that had been renovated by the Boyd Moss'. I was disappointed but this was an indication of a movement upwards that I never would have expected.
During this period at Alnwick I got rid of my cook for being drunk. My movements required me to stay with Pandita Jayatunge at Sherwood until the Boyd Moss' vacated the bungalow. After they had left I acquired a butler who would stay with me for the next six years.
When I arrived at Haputale, the Uva Province was gripped by the Island-wide DWC strike, The Democratic Workers Congress were not known for violent outbreaks so I focussed on settling into my new bungalow and getting to grips with what was on Golconda Division. This Division was bounded by the Haputale-Colombo highway and the Wellawaya Road 2500 feet below. The views were spectacular and local tourists would stop at the Hindu Temple or the Mosque at the top of the hill known as the Haputale Gap and take in the sweeping view from which you could see the sweeping view from the Tissamaharama golden spire to the Balangoda Hills.
I got to complete my Tea Manufacture examination that year and when I returned to Haputale I found that Ronnie Munaweera had been badly assaulted on his division and was hospitalised. Panditha Jayatunge took me to the hospital to see Ronnie. It was a sad reminder that if people were on strike they should be allowed to settle their problems through the channels available.
Later that year Mr Koelmeyer of Diyatalawa brought a delegation from Heidelberg University to meet me. At this time I met a climatologist and a PhD Student who was completing a thesis on the genecology of tea and she wanted to spend some time with me and look through factory statistics that related to weather and manufacturing of black tea for export. She later completed her thesis in Heidelberg a year later and it was published. I received my copy in due course and this is now in my collection at the Australian National Library in Canberra. Just before I was due to take short leave of two months I was summoned to Donald MacRae's office to meet three members of the CID. I learned that their concerns were about activity on Sherwood Division. The person leading this team was an Inspector and he explained that he was focussed on Counter-Terrorism activity as he had been trained on the Thai-Malay border. He wanted to spend some time with me as I was also Chairman of the Haputale Sub District Planters Association. I had been lured into this position by John Molligodde of Gonamotava Estate. Donald MacRae had told them that I was in charge of Haputale Estate and that he wished to be left out of the discussions as he was an expatriate.
When I returned from my leave, I found that in my absence, Ronnie Munaweera had recovered from his wounds, but he could not identify his assailants, some thirteen in number. MacRae in his position as Manager of Haputale Estate had terminated the employment of these people and I had the task of dealing with Fred de Vos, Labour Relations Officer of the CEEF-Ceylon Estate Employers Federation. The cases against these assailants and their wives were ultimately resolved at Labour Tribunals in Badulla.
After I returned Inspector Mervyn Fernando resumed his visits to tell me that a new target had emerged namely the JVP or Jatika Vimuthi Peramuna which was assisted by North Koreans in training highly educated youth from universities who could not get employment. The JVP was instrumental in conducting an attack on the Wellawaya Police Station on 4 April 1971.
On that day a state of emergency was effected island wide. At that time, I was in Colombo to collect the latest outputs of the computerised payrolls from CSL and return to Haputale. When I returned to Haputale several checkpoints had been manned by the army, each of which I had to negotiate to get home. A few days later I had a call from the Inspector in charge asking me for the weapon I had and he and I were unaware that our calls were being tapped. His plea to me was that the Police Station had been warned about an impending attack and that they were not equipped to deal with a full-scale assault. I had a jungle carbine sub automatic gifted to me by my father. I offered him shot gun cartridges which I had in my safe in my office. He accepted the compromise and I went to the office and delivered them to him.
Later that evening my butler told me that he had taken a death threat call which recognised what I had done. My connections with the Army in Diyatalawa resulted in my receiving patrols one of which was led by a Malay Sergeant who told me that negotiating the hairpins on the road to my house was where his section could be ambushed. He suggested that I abandon the house and spend the night in the tea. My two servants would be housed in nearby accommodation. I found that watchers on my house was not a solution after discovering that all the workers were petrified by the Sinhalese terrorists. I had heard and seen what had happened at Keenakelle when the Superintendent’s house had been burnt to the ground. I carried my gun in the car and at night it was put under my bed. I had fifty rounds of ammunition, but I had never been trained to defend myself with a weapon.
On the day of the 24-hour curfew I spent the night with Dinky Fonseka at Kahagalla Estate. Now I realised how vulnerable I was because neither the General Manager nor the Company were not equipped to deal with this crucial problem of personal security. The army on the street was a law unto itself as I experienced searches by corporals carrying a sten gun reeking of liquor.
I never received a death threat directly but received it via my butler who was shocked on every occasion. On one occasion he told me that the man who called asked where I was going and as a consequence, I never told my butler where I was going even though I realised that I was being watched.
Soon after a visit to the Police Station in Haputale I saw three men being held because they were terrorists and one of them had been in the post office. By this time, I had initiated my request to the Australian High Commission to emigrate to Australia, following up an earlier visit to the AHC where I had been asked to indicate when I might proceed with my application. By the end of August this process was underway and I was given a date 14 April 1972 by which I had to be in Australia. I had to plan ahead as after ten years I had a halcyon existence compared with the deep and daily fear of what might be ahead. I wanted to keep myself fit and I embarked on squash with my school friend Devinda Kalupahana who at the time was at the Army Training Centre in Diyatalawa. It was Devinda who sensing that I was going to leave Ceylon continually reminded me that Ceylon needed me. Finally, he had his own wakeup call when he was told that the village headman he was dealing with had his eyes gouged out. I was there when he received the call and he told me that he did not want me to suffer the same fate and that I should prepare to leave.
Just before my birthday on 29 August 1971 I suffered a serious experience of a stone in the ureter. My friend Gunter in Germany suggested that I drink a lot of water every day and jump high to dislodge the stone and then ultimately passed it out near Millers in Bandarawela. On 29 August was the Bandarawela Tennis Club Dance and Nissanka Welikala and I attended the dance in full dinner jackets. It was here that he and I met our first wives to be at this dance. The woman I met was from Yorkshire and a trainee teacher. She had long hair and we enjoyed dancing. From that point onwards she came every weekend to Haputale and caught the train or bus back to Kandy until it was time for her to return to England at Christmas. We had made plans to marry when she came to Australia.
On 31 December 1971 I handed Donald MacRae three months notice of my resignation in writing, He knew I was going to a party that evening in Colombo and his response was “you cannot leave before me. Have a good time at the party.” On my return from Colombo to Haputale I returned with my resignation and handed it in again. Soon I had to get going and the people helping me behind the scene was my only sister Gillian and her husband Darrell. I specifically did not want farewell parties.
My plan was to go to Sydney and stay at the YMCA in Pitt Street. My godfather Hans Lourensz would book me a room and I would stay there until I found alternative accommodation. Getting a job was a priority and on 4 May 1972 I found one with A J Bush and Sons Pty Ltd. At that time, it was the largest private meat company in NSW. I stayed with them until 1975 when my wife wanted me to move to Canberra. My boss Trevor Cross, the manager of the Rendering Division was a very helpful person and I was very reluctant to leave.
Denis Perera was Lt Colonel and Commandant of the Army Training Centre, Diyatalawa. Later he became Commander of the Army and arrived as High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Australia while I was in Canberra. Sitting in his house I asked him why he had come to Haputale Police Station and sent for me because they were desperate for information on the local insurgents. His response was “You were dispensable”.
My parents first applied to go to Australia in 1946. Their friend Mac de Vos was an Australian who was born and raised in Warracknabeal, Victoria. When their application was approved my father decided not to go because he had approval to start his business while at the University of Ceylon.
Marby later married Ulrich Schweinfurth, 19 years her senior. She taught me all about the geology of the country around Uva and helped me understand the impact of climate on the tea landscape. She showed me how the statistics on sunlight would help reduce the need for fungicides. She was a great source of inspiration through education.
I trained Srian Perera and Chandrasiri Wickrematunge through their apprenticeships as “creepers.
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