17th June 2021 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Celebrating the Queen: Sri Lanka’s Royal Connection

This week, we celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday. The Queen has reigned for longer than any other Monarch in British history with a Platinum Jubilee (70 years since her Coronation) planned for 2022. Her extraordinary reign has seen her travel more widely than any other monarch – and one third of her total overseas visits have been to Commonwealth countries.

In 1954, just five months after her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II engaged in a royal visit to Sri Lanka. This was the first visit to Sri Lanka by a reigning monarch. She was accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. The ten-day tour included a royal procession through Colombo where she opened the first session of the second Parliament of Ceylon, a train ride to Kandy, and tours of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Nuwara Eliya.

They visited again in 1981 to witness the construction of the Victoria Dam, Sri Lanka’s largest hydroelectric project, constructed by a UK firm.

On the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence, Her Majesty issued a public message stating, “The relationship between our two countries has continued to grow over the years, and it is my hope that the connection between our people continues to flourish in the years to come”.

As Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty has helped build a unique family of nations spanning every continent, including Sri Lanka. In a previous Commonwealth Day message, Her Majesty said:

“It is always inspiring to be reminded of the diversity of the people and countries that make up our worldwide family. We are made aware of the many associations and influences that combine through Commonwealth connection, helping us to imagine and deliver a common future.”

The Duke of Edinburgh’s car remains on display at the Galle Face Hotel, Sri Lanka.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who passed away earlier this year, served in the Royal Navy and took part in active service during the Second World War. This included time spent in Sri Lanka. The Duke of Edinburgh assisted a naval team surveying the harbour in Trincomalee. He purchased a car to drive himself there and back, and the car is now displayed at the Galle Face Hotel.

He leaves an everlasting legacy through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, which have had a huge impact on thousands of people, including many young Sri Lankans.

In the documentary “The Queen’s Green Planet” with Sir David Attenborough, Her Majesty shared her dream to create a global network of protected forests by encouraging people from across the Commonwealth to plant trees. The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy was launched, and the restoration of ten hectares of forest land in Trincomalee has been dedicated in her name. The project aims to enrich the eco-system by restoring degraded forest lands to ensure a productive environment for wildlife, and to protect watersheds and biodiversity.

A forest site in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, which is being restored following deforestation, has been dedicated to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy.
*photo credits: queenscommonwealthcanopy.org

The Queen has also taken practical steps to curb single-use plastics by banning plastic straws and bottles as well as other non-recyclable items from being used across Royal homes and Palaces.

Mangroves site in Pubudugama near Puttalam, Sri Lanka, where the UK is supporting efforts to deliver nature-based solutions that protect biodiversity and livelihoods through the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton said:

“We are delighted that Sri Lanka is taking part in the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. I’m proud that the UK is also working with Sri Lanka to support the restoration of mangroves and wetlands to provide nature-based solutions to climate change. We will continue to support projects under the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance and Commonwealth Litter Programme. We look forward to new initiatives that are under consideration to strengthen the UK’s ties with Sri Lanka.

The Duke of Edinburgh was also renowned for his passion for wildlife conservation and the environment. He was co-founder and first President of the World Wildlife Fund from its foundation in 1961. The WWF was created to secure funding to protect places and species under threat from human development. In that spirit, the UK is working with Sri Lanka to develop an insurance scheme that aims to help farmers affected by the human-wildlife conflict.

The Queen’s official birthday is usually marked by the Queen’s Birthday Parade, known as Trooping of the Colour.  This sees over 1400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians coming together in a great display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare. In light of the Covid pandemic, the ceremony held this year was smaller but memorable in its tribute to Her Majesty. – https://www.royal.uk/trooping-colour 

The Trooping of the Colour has marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years. *photo credits: www.royal.uk

In a speech shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic, the Queen noted heart-warming stories of people around the world coming together to support each other.   She acknowledged the pain of separation from loved ones, and thanked those who stayed at home to protect the vulnerable. Her Majesty extended an appreciation and heartfelt thank you to the frontline workers as they work to save people.

She saw the opportunity for people of all faiths, and of none, to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation. In closing, the Queen said:

“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”