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Bombardier Gratien Fernando CGA (1915 – 5 August, 1942) was the leader of the Cocos Islands Mutiny, an agitator for the freedom of Sri Lankamarker from the British and a hero of the Sri Lanka Independence Struggle.

Wathumullage Gratien Hubert 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 Seychellesmarker and later to Horsburgh Island in the Cocos Islandsmarker.

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 Japanesemarker 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-martialed 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 Ceylonmarker. 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 Prisonmarker, 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 Kanatte cemetery, Borellamarker in an unmarked grave.

References

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



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