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Independence Day in Ceylon

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Richard Cavendish remembers the events of February 4th, 1948

The island of Ceylon, officially gained its independence on February 4th, 1948 as a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth. The cabinet of Ceylon and Labour MP Patrick Gordon Walker of the Commonwealth Office watched benignly as the Governor-General, Sir Henry Moore, was sworn in. Services of thanksgiving were held in the island’s Buddhist and Hindu temples, Christian churches and Muslim mosques as the lion flag of the old Sinhalese kings of Kandy flew in triumph and the sixty-three-year-old prime minister, Don Stephen Senanayake, rubber magnate and devout Buddhist, went on the radio to express the hope that Britain’s voluntary renunciation of the colony was a seed which would grow into ‘a stately tree of mutual and perpetual friendship’. (Senanayake died four years later, when he was thrown from his horse.) In 1972 the island became the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (‘Resplendent Land’) under the leadership of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaika – the world’s first woman Prime Minister.

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