The late Major Montague Jayewickreme
He fought for Sri Lanka’s Independence

By Lloyd Fernando
(Former Secretary to the Governor, NWP)
Few young men of today, except those who have read the political history of this country, know that the late Montague Jayewickreme was a member of the Working Committee of the Ceylon National Congress, the body that fought for Sri Lanka’s Independence. He was there in the days when Kandy’s George E. de Silva was President of the Congress and two precocious young men bursting with ideas of socialism were joint secretaries. They were none other than former President J. R. Jayewardene and former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake. That was the controversial period when Congress youth were asserting themselves against the conservatism of old timers.

Montague Jayewickreme was the grandson of the well-known Southern philanthropist, Mudliyar Samaraweera and a nephew of Sir Henry de Mel. But wealth and riches did not stand in the way of a man who wanted to serve his people.

Soon after the State Council era when elections were held for our first Parliament, the gallant major from Weligama contested the Weligama seat for the first time and won. D. S. Senanayake, now referred to as "The father of the nation" selected the major to propose the Address of Thanks to the speech from the Throne. It was seconded by the late M. D. Banda. One year later, ‘D.S.’ made him Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour.

Major Jayewickreme took to politics at the age of 21 when he ran a local body; he was Chairman of the Weligama Urban Council. From then onwards, it had been a question of ‘Monty’ chasing politics as if it were some kind of a Field Marshal’s baton he waved in the way of a houdini.

The Major got on to his first State Council job as Parliamentary Secretary, with the exuberance of a man in the springtime of his life. He worked as if he had never worked before, under the shadow of ‘D.S.’. He became Chairman of the Colombo North Reclamation Scheme of which the Secretary was no less a person than the late Mr. Oliver Weerasinghe, the Government Town Planner and later Town Planning Consultant to the United Nations.

Success came to Monty as the "Ruhunu Kumari" which he started when he was Minister of Transport. When his friend, Dudley Senanayake first became Prime Minister over four decades ago, Monty was chosen for the important job of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs. Dudley knew that no job was too difficult for the army officer so used to military precision. So, he entrusted him with launching a big operation — a drive against illicit immigrants who were coming in from India. To the Major, it was nothing short of a war operation. He called it "Operation Monty" and deployed the forces and the police to apprehend and block all approaches to Sri Lanka for unwelcome visitors from Rameshwaran and Dhanushkodi.

The gallant major from Weligama knew that with his record of hard work, he would some day be a respected Minister of the Cabinet. His chance came when another soldier, the late General Sir John Kotelawela became Prime Minister. The General, also an Infantry man, knew his men. He appointed Monty Minister of Transport and Works. As Transport Minister, he focused much attention on the Railway. He started the express trains like the "Yal Devi" and the "Udarata Menike".

The national carrier Air Ceylon which also came under his purview was subject to improvements. It was Monty who initiated the Air Ceylon-KLM link. As a result of this link, many Air Ceylon aircraft crews were able to proceed to Netherlands for specialised training.

During the days of the National Government of Dudley Senanayake, the senior Parliamentarian from Weligama was given the largest portfolio — he was made the Minister of Public Works, Posts and Telecommunications. It was during his term of office that he introduced direct dialling, which was a novelty, then in Colombo, spoken of by Sri Lankans in London returning to Colombo. The Major introduced the direct dialling system to the Southern, Western and Central Provinces.

The Major was also the man behind the Ella-Wellawaya Road which is a short cut to the Southern Province from Uva. He also built the Galle by pass, Weligama by pass and the longest of them all — the Weligama Marine Drive.

Former President J. R. Jayewardene, when, he took over the reins of government in 1977, he gave Major one of the most prestigious portfolios, namely, Public Administration and Home Affairs, and later, another combination in keeping with his knowledge of planting and agriculture in which he holds a Diploma from the School of Agriculture, Peradeniya. Monty then became the Minister of Public Administration and Minister of Plantation Industries.

He streamlined "Public Administration" and gave a new look to resthouses that came under his purview.

As Plantation Industries Minister, he gave the small holders a better deal and explored new overseas markets for our tea.

Major Monty Jayewickreme had his early education at Richmond College, Galle and later went on to qualify in Agriculture.

The battle-scarred veteran of elections since 1947, the Major was a keen sportsman excelling in tennis and golf. He was the President of the Bandarawela Tennis Club for well over half a century, perhaps, a record for the Guiness Book!

In the evening of his life, he took over the Governorship of the North Western Province, and during his term of office here, he alleviated the living conditions of the poorest of the poor, that could well be a lasting monument to his services to the nation.

His wife who predeceased him a few years ago, was the youngest in the famous philanthropic family of Amarasuriyas of Galle. He has two daughters, Devika, and Kisani who was married to that renowned thoracic surgeon, the late Dr. T. D. H. Perera.