Gratien Fernando

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Gratien Fernando
Born 1915
Colombo, Ceylon
Died 5 August 1942
Welikada Prison, Colombo, Ceylon
Allegiance Dominion of Ceylon Ceylon
Service/branch Ceylon Defence Force
Rank Bombardier
Unit Ceylon Garrison Artillery
Battles/wars World War II

Bombardier Wathumullage Gratien Hubert Fernando CGA (1915 – 5 August 1942) was the leader of the Cocos Islands Mutiny, an agitator for the independence of Sri Lanka from the British.

Fernando was born to Sinhalese Buddhist parents. His father was a superintendent at the Ceylon Telegraph Office.

He went to school at St Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia. He was later converted to Roman Catholicism. He was impressed by the program of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and by the anti-imperialist literature which it circulated. He was very much an anti-racist in his attitude and at the beginning of the Second World War joined the Ceylon Garrison Artillery in order to fight fascism. He was shipped off with his unit first to the Seychelles and later to Horsburgh Island in the Cocos Islands.[citation needed]

Here, he argued with his officers and agitated for action among his colleagues: his agenda was the opening of the battle against British colonialism. He finally persuaded a core group to rebel, seize the island and signal the Japanese that they had done so. On the night of 8/9 May, led by Fernando, men of the unit mutinied. However, their plan failed and the rebellion was suppressed the next day. The leaders of the mutiny were court-martialled and condemned within a week.

Fernando’s father petitioned the army authorities to commute the death penalty and asked Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, the Civil Defence Commissioner, to intercede with Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, the British Commander of Ceylon. However, when Layton interviewed Fernando, he was adamant that he did not wish to be reprieved or pardoned. He told his family 'I’ll never ask a pardon from the British: that would disgrace the cause. Many years hence the World may hear my story'.

He was executed on 4 August 1942 at Welikada Prison, Ceylon, and two other mutineers shortly thereafter. They were the only British Commonwealth troops to be executed for mutiny during the Second World War. Fernando showed defiance to the end, his last words being ‘Loyalty to a country under the heel of a white man is disloyalty’. He was buried at the Borella cemetery in an unmarked grave.

References[edit]

  • Noel Crusz, The Cocos Islands Mutiny, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001.