Born on 21 April 1926, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, known to her family as Lillibet, was third in line to the throne when her grandfather King George V died- after her uncle and her father. But a love affair completely changed the course of Princess Elizabeth’s life and paved the way for her to become a queen who would change the history of the monarchy.
In her statesmanship spanning 70 years from the industrial age to the digital age, she led Britain into the 21st Century country as it grew as a multicultural nation. Although she was the Queen of United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, she had great responsibility on her shouldersas the leader of the entire Commonwealth. She assumed the responsibility as a young lady at the age of 26, and she fulfilled it for 70 years until she died as an elderly Queen at the age of 96.
Sri Lanka had an inseparable bond with the British Crown as a colony of Great Britain from 1815 to 1948 and also as a Dominion State from then until 1972. Sri Lanka became a member of the Commonwealth in 1948 and the relationship has remained constantly to date.
Her Majesty’s first visit
In April 1954, just five months after her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II engaged in her first royal visit to Sri Lanka. This was the first visit to Sri Lanka by a reigning monarch. Hence it was celebrated by the people of Ceylon with much fanfare.Her Majesty the Queen was accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. The ten-day tour included a royal procession through Colombo where she opened the first session of the second Parliament of Ceylon, then a train trip to Kandy, and tours of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa historical sites and Nuwara Eliya.
It was a very significant moment that Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her 28th birthday during the visit. During her visit, she attended a special service at Holy Trinity Church in Nuwara Eliya on Good Friday.
The most important event of this royal visit took place on the 12 April. The opening of the second session of the third Parliament of independent Sri Lanka was scheduled on that day and it took place at the Independence Square.
The royal couple, who went to see an orchid flower exhibition, also watched a dance show presented by the Ceylon Arts Council at the Regal Cinema and it shows how much she liked Sri Lankan culture.
The Queen joined a visit to Polonnaruwa by a special train where she visited Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya, Parakramabahu Maligawa, Parakrama Samudra and Saraswati Mandapam. After that, the Queen visited Sigiriya where the Archaeological Commissioner Professor Senarath Paranavithana explained to her its importance. The following day she visited the Temple of Tooth Relic in Kandy.
A lover of Sri Lankan culture
Another fact that is evident from this visit is the great interest shown by Queen Elizabeth II towards Sri Lankan culture. She loved the culture of this country. It is highlighted in every visit that she has trained well to adapt to any culture at anytime.
We can identify two reasons why this visit is politically very important for Sri Lanka. The first was the appointment of then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Sir John Kotelawala as a member of the Privy Council.The second was the appointment of Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilake as the new Governor-General of Sri Lanka. He is the first Sri Lankan to be appointed as Governor-General.
Her second and last visit
The royal couple visited Sri Lanka again in 1981 to witness the construction of the Victoria Dam, Sri Lanka’s largest hydroelectric project, constructed under the donations of the United Kingdom. In that royal visit Her Majesty visited theTemple of Tooth Relic, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens. The couple were accompanied by then President J.R. Jayawardane and high profile Cabinet Ministers like Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. It was the last time that Her Majesty visited Sri Lanka.
Even though she didn’t make another visit, there is a special place in her heart for Sri Lanka. She never forgot to add her warm thoughts in each and every significant moment that we have passed as a nation.
We must not forget that during the Tsunami disaster Her Majesty’s Government dispatched a relief flight to Sri Lanka carrying sufficient temporary shelter for more than 5,000 homeless families.
On the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence, Her Majesty issued a public message stating, “The relationship between our two countries has continued to grow over the years, and it is my hope that the connection between our people continues to flourish in the years to come.”
Prince Philip’s love for Sri Lanka
Not only the Queen but also the late Duke of Edinburgh had a great love for Sri Lanka. We can think that this love had made the relationship between Sri Lanka and the Royal family more significant.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Edinburgh’s car remains on display at the Galle Face Hotel. Prince Philip who passed away earlier last year, served in the Royal Navy and took part in active service during the Second World War which includes the time he spent in Sri Lanka. The Duke of Edinburgh assisted a Naval team surveying the harbour in Trincomalee. During that time he purchased a car to drive himself there and back to Colombo, and that car is now on display at the Galle Face Hotel. He leaves an everlasting legacy through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, which has had a huge impact on thousands of people, including many young Sri Lankans.
Looking at it this way, we have lost a friend rather than a queen; a true friend who loved our country very much.
Adieu Your Majesty!
By Sahan Tennekoon