Unforgettable Burghers in the OTS of the 1950s


We have read some interesting stories in this newspaper about Burghers who flew their flags in the administrative services and elsewhere including in the sports field. But no one has yet written about the Burghers who rendered a yeomen service to the public to keep in touch with the outside world via telegraphic communications round the clock 24 hours day and night.

The Cable and Wireless Limited branch in Colombo was a British owned company which had it headquarters in London, responsible for hnadling all external telegraphic services in the colonies of the British Empire including India and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).

   The Cable and Wireless office and instrument rooms were housed in the left wing of the old Central Telegraph building in Colombo Fort. Cable and Wireless conducted all telegraphic communications with the external world overseas via old submarine cables and high frequency (HF) radio systems with transmitting and receiving equipment installed in the old CTO building. HF radio stations (transmitting and receiving) were located in the Negombo area linked by microwave to the CTO in Colombo.

 Cable and Wireless Limited of Colombo was nationalized with effect from June 1, 1951 and ran thereafter under the purview of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications as the Overseas Telecommunication Service (OTS).

The staff of Cable and Wireless were grouped as foreign and local. The foreign staff was all British, holding the key posts of Manager, Assistant Manager and Chief Engineer as well as other higher grade engineering positions. Local staff at the next level were almost all Burghers.

    They were a fun loving and smart lot with plenty of racy stories to relate. They were great sportsmen playing cricket, rugby, hockey and football and participating in swimming and athletics. They were also good at wildlife photography, ballroom dancing  etc. representing clubs such as BRC, NCC, Colts CC and Otter Aquatic Club.

I joined the OTS in 1958 in the fourth government batch of telegraphic trainees. The big man there in those days, simply known as the  Manager, was a Frenchman,  Mr Bourdox.

This is my effort of recording names and nostalgic memories of some of the Burghers with whom I worked. 

M. B. Poulier was the first Chief Supervisor (CS.) who replaced  the British Assistant Manager. A.D.H.Bilsburough.  He was a very efficient officer whose services were extended up to 62-years of age, two years beyond the pensionable age of 60-years. The next CS was L.E.(Coneal) Thomasz. Freddie Pereira, de Jonk, Oorlof and Henricus were all supervisiors; G.W.Forbes (sports secretary) , S Meynert , (who was my instructor in 1958 at the training school), Mervyn Fernando,  Fred de Hoedt, D.R.Ludowyke , Jumbo Blake (brother of Willie Blake who was the cameraman for Lester James Pieris’ award winning Rekawa), Rex de Hoedt, C.H.Jansz (pole vault champion of Ceylon). Fred and Hugh  Aldons who excelled in cricket, hockey, football, rugger and athletics, all representing the BRC.  D. Ludowyke and Mervyn Fernando both captained NCC.

The  Modder brothers,  P.M and C.S., excelled in cricket, athletics and hockey.   C H Jansz was another unforgettable sportsman – cyclist and pole vault champion who  represented SL at the Empire Games in New Zealand in early 1950s.  Jumbo Blake was a long distance runner.   Aubrey van Cuylenburg,  (Kinross Swimming and Lifesaving Club) was capped for Ceylon in swimming and water polo. He also played cricket.    J A Kaule,  represented Colts cricket club.  Stewart (water polo), the de Bruin brothers, Douglas and Ernie , Aubrey Van Cuylenburg, Douglas  Meerwall, the Ernst  brothers, Clifford and Becky, Ronnie Schrader, Pat Decker (wildlife enthusiast/photographer),  D Van Reyk (cartoonist), Allan White (ballroom dancer) and many more.

I was very happy in their company. They were all witty, friendly smart guys.      After Independence in 1948 they start to migrate mainly to Australia and Canada perhaps due to changing conditions in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), probably in search of greener pastures. Their departure was indeed a loss to our country.

(Most information of the earlier days was provided  by my senior colleague, Raja Panditharatne, now 90- years old and an Anandian cricketer, ex-OTS Officer of Cable & Wireless.   Aubrey V  also chipped in with some information from Australia.


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