Fredrick de Saram

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Fredrick Cecil de Saram
Nickname(s) Derek
Born 5 September 1912
Died 11 April 1983
Allegiance Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Service/branch Ceylon Army,
Ceylon Defence Force
Rank Colonel
Unit Ceylon Artillery
Commands held Commanding officer, Ceylon Artillery
Battles/wars World War II
Awards OBE (Military Division)

Colonel Fredrick Cecil "Derek" de Saram OBE, CA (5 September 1912 – 11 April 1983) was a Sri Lankan lawyer, a Ceylon cricket captain, and an officer of the Ceylon Army. He led the attempted military coup of 1962.

Family and education[edit]

Born to Frederick De Saram, a Proctor, and Myra Loos, De Saram was educated at Royal College, Colombo, where he was Head Prefect and school cricket captain. He also won the coveted Dornhorst Memorial Prize. He then attended Keble College, Oxford, where he earned Oxford Blues in cricket and tennis. He was captain of the university cricket team. After retirement, he coached his Alma Mater in Cricket. He was also actively involved with St Thomas College Mount Lavania and was conferred the status of being an honorary Thomian. He was cricket coach for Royal College Colombo, when his son, D A de Saram, played for St Thomas' as a coloursman at the Royal Thomian Cricket encounter

After his return to Ceylon, he became a barrister in his family's law firm, DL & F De Saram, one of the oldest law firms in the country. De Saram married Nedra Obeysekera, daughter of Stanley Obeysekera. They had two daughters, Tara and Oosha, who both excelled in sports at a national level, the former in swimming and the latter in both swimming and tennis. Julian Bolling is De Saram's grandson.

Cricket career[edit]

A right-handed batsman, De Saram made 128 playing for Oxford Universities against Australia in 1934. The Australian side included Stan McCabe, Fleetwood-Smith and Clarrie Grimmett. In his 40 first class games for both Ceylon and Oxford Universities, De Saram made 2789 runs at 39.84 with 6 centuries and a highest score of 208. He captained the Ceylon cricket team from 1949 to 1954.

Military career[edit]

Joining the Ceylon Garrison Artillery (CGA) as a reservist, De Saram became a well-respected figure amongst his men. Mobilized for active service during World War II as Major in the 2nd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, CGA which was deployed to defend the vital Royal Navy base at Trincomalee. De Saram was battery commander of the AA batteries deployed at Diamond Hill, Hoodstower and he personally commanded the AA Ostenberg battery which provided air defence of Trincomalee during the Japanese attack on Trincomalee on 9 April 1942. He was approached by British Intelligence to serve with their underground should Ceylon fall to the Japanese in 1942.[1]

After the war, when Ceylon gained independence and a new Ceylon Army was formed in 1949, De Saram was one of many officers of the Ceylon Defence Force who were absorbed into it. Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, he became the First Officer Commanding, Ceylon Artillery (CA), the successor to the CGA with the formation of the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment under his command. Under his command, the Ceylon Army was deployed on several occasions in the 1950s, most notably during the Hartal 1953 and riots of 1958. By 1960 he had archived the rank of Colonel and was the deputy Commandant of the Volunteer Force.

Coup[edit]

De Saram was a member of the Christian elite that saw a gradual erosion of their influence and position in the country following the Sinhalazisation process started by De Saram's cousin, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, and carried on by Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Thus, De Saram, along with several other disgruntled Christian officers of the army, navy and police, began to plot a coup along the lines of that waged by General Ayub Khan.

The coup d'état was planned for midnight on 27 January 1962 under the leadership of De Saram with the support of troops from the Ceylon Artillery and Ceylon Armoured Corps as well as several other volunteer units. The plan was the detain the Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike at Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister, and round up government ministers, the Permanent Secretary for Defence and External affairs, the Inspector General of Police, DIG (CID), SP (CID), the Acting Navy Commander, and the Army Commander. Colombo would be placed under curfew and cut off from regular army units from the Panagoda Cantonment. After the coup members gained control, De Saram as General Officer Commanding Ceylon would command all military establishments and have Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke dissolve parliament.

However, an officer, who had been brought in on the plot the morning of the set date, warned the government and several of the plotters were arrested. De Saram drove to Temple Trees alone, but there he was arrested. Since no actual coup had taken place, the government had no real evidence to use to punish the accused and thus confined them to solitary confinement in hope of getting a confession. De Saram confessed taking sole responsibility of the coup. This would go one to become the prosecution's main article of evidence. On 3 June 1963, De Saram was convicted along with 11 of the other 24 accused to 10 years in jail as well confiscation of property after laws had been specially modified by the government in order to convict the plotters. The conviction was eventually overruled on appeal to the Privy Council, which ruled that the new Act had denied fair trial.[2]

Later life[edit]

De Saram spent much of the 1970s as a partner of DL and F De Saram and coaching the Royal College, Colombo cricket and rugby teams. He died on 11 April 1983 at age 70.

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