The 10th death anniversary of Admiral Clancy Fernando, former Commander of the Navy fell on November 16. His name is etched in the annals of history as the highest-ranking Sri Lankan military officer to make the Supreme Sacrifice for his Motherland.
Admiral Fernando was assassinated on November 16, 1992 at 0835 hrs along the Galle Face Centre Road in the heart of Colombo. He was on his way to the Naval Headquarters at Flagstaff Street in the Galle Buck from his official residence “Navy House” at Longden Place, Colombo 7.
It was a bright sunny Monday in November and I called Admiral at the residence to indicate my inability to join him on the drive from residence to office. By then he was getting ready for breakfast with the family and he said, “Thank you, I’ll be there” and replaced the receiver, not knowing that it was the last telephone conversation in his life.
After a few minutes, I switched on the communication set to monitor his movement. Suddenly, I heard confused exchange of messages and within seconds my office telephone rang. On the line was the wife of
Admiral and she could only say “Shemal”. Within seconds I whisked off in my vehicle and as I drove pass the old Parliament, I saw it all.
As I approached the scene with tears in my eyes many things crossed my mind. Until I saw Admiral Fernando lying face down as if asleep sprawled diagonally across the seat inside the vehicle, which had turned turtle, I did not believe that he was dead. Then I realised that it was all over and the cruel death had snatched him away from our midst.
Surely Admiral Fernando had been killed instantly by the blast. He could never have known what had happened to him. To die with no time for fear or regrets, doing what he enjoyed as a brave Naval Officer, escaping the horrors of increasing decrepitude or senility, to end not with a whimper but with a bang that reverberated around the country – that truly was the fate he would have chosen for himself.
That was my recollection of the gruesome scene of assassination of Admiral Clancy Fernando, the 11th Commander of the Navy. I deem it a privilege to have known him, enjoyed serving him as his Aide and Personal Secretary throughout his tenure of office, which spanned from August 1, 1991 to November 16, 1992 and received his wise counsel.
Young Fernando joined the then Royal Ceylon Navy on December 17, 1957. His path into the Royal Navy was smoothed by ardent desire; his success within it was owed to his merit and efficiency.
He became Acting Commander of the Navy on August 1, 1991. This promotion fortified him for the struggles that lay ahead. It did, but until the official letter arrived he did not allow himself to be certain that he had achieved the ambition of his lifetime of becoming the Commander of the Navy. “First Day as COMNAV” was his diary entry for August 1, 1991.
He always had time for each and everyone who sought his advice or assistance. And with patience of a monument listened and listened and advised and helped them all even in the smallest way possible. Almost all went back with a sense of relief. The little acts of kindness he did from day to day were remarkable.
As a practising Buddhist he displayed the quality of equanimity to its fullest. I was amazed when at times he faced both triumph and disaster alike. Similarly he accepted any defeat or disaster – and he faced many in his day – with a sense of stoic calm that used to stun me.
Sri Lanka Navy and the whole Nation bade farewell to him with full Naval honours with heavy hearts and the epilogue of the funeral oration still lingers in my memory, “Sir, though you have departed from us, your name and service shall be remembered by us forever as a great Patriotic Officer and a Gentleman, a true Son of Mother Lanka who has made the Supreme Sacrifice in defence of our country. As you fade away beneath the waves, we will steer your course with all guns blazing”.
Captain Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, psc