Gratien Fernando

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Gratien Fernando
Colombo, Ceylon
Died5 August 1942
Welikada Prison, Colombo, Ceylon
AllegianceDominion of Ceylon Ceylon
Service/branchCeylon Defence Force
UnitCeylon Garrison Artillery
Battles/warsWorld 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, but did not join the party.[1] 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.[2]

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; 30 out of 56 soldiers of his unit took part.[2] 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.[3] The commanding officer on Cocos, Captain George Gardiner, an accountant in Colombo who obtained an emergency war commission, while focus of the mutineers' actions, also presided at the Field General Court Martial which convicted them.[3][2]

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'.[citation needed]

He was executed on 5 August 1942 at Welikada Prison, Ceylon, and two other mutineers shortly thereafter.[2] 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".[1][4] He was buried at the Borella cemetery in an unmarked grave.


  1. ^ a b Heartfield, James (2012). "Mutiny on the Cocos Islands". Unpatriotic History of the Second World War. John Hunt Publishing / Zero Books. p. 262. ISBN 1-7809-9379-X.
  2. ^ a b c d Perera, T. (April 20, 2008). "A burst of gunfire and all hell broke loose". The Sunday Times Sri Lanka. Wijeya Newspapers. 42 (47). ISSN 1391-0531. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Stanley, Peter (June 2001). "Review: Noel Crusz, The Cocos Islands mutiny". Journal of the Australian War Memorial (34). Archived from the original on September 11, 2001.
  4. ^ Djilas, Milovan (1977). Wartime. New York City: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 400.

Further reading[edit]

  • Noel Crusz, The Cocos Islands Mutiny, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001, ISBN 1863683100.