The Prep Scout – One Who’s Hard to Match by Sujiv Fonseka

‘…the average Ceylonese schoolboy is woefully backward in his hobbies – which is not surprising when you consider how meagre are the facilities at his disposal. He is not even encouraged to think of them as important. But, I believe that it is a boy’s hobbies that lead him to his profession.”

On its own, this remark by William Thomas Keble, the Founder of S. Thomas’ Preparatory School, may appear just one of many pithy observations during his years as a schoolmaster in early 20 th century Sri Lanka. It must have been to alleviate this stifled environment, however, that Keble ensured Cub Scouting was inaugurated at Prep School in June of the year of its founding in 1938, when the school itself was less than two months old. Picture, if you will, the romping grounds for those eight-year-old ‘Wolf Cubs’, as they were known then. Fort Rose and Holywell formed the school’s only buildings, with a few haphazard sheds accommodating other expanding needs. The neighbouring properties were mainly single storeyed bungalows, their spacious lawns dotted with coconut trees. The School grounds, and those at the Bishop’s House across the road, afforded ample prospects for games and activities. The distant horizon that underscored those picturesque sunsets, so keenly watched by the boarders from the spacious verandas of Fortrose, did not yet reflect the impending chaos of World War 2. The school’s longest serving staff member and later Headmaster, the legendary Mr. J.S.L. Fernando, would not even arrive at Prep School for another four years.

Mr. Keble could not have realised at the time that this small Cub Scout pack would go on to form a significant part of his broader legacy at Prep School.

There was sufficient interest among the boys in that first year for the 39 th Colombo Scout Group of S. Thomas’ Preparatory School to be formally registered as a Cub Pack in 1939. And through all the changing scenes of Prep School in the years since, through physical displacement, war, and civil strife, generations of boys have donned the dark blue and light blue scarf as members of 39 th Colombo, exerted an influence on all aspects of Prep School life, and gone on to be men of outstanding character and good citizenship. All of this in their quest to fulfil the final exhortation of the founder of the Scout movement, Lord Baden Powell, to ‘Try and leave this world a little better than you found it’.

On February 12th, 1941, a few months before School’s third anniversary, Mr. Keble addressed a group of eleven year olds who had just entered the Standard VI. These were the twelve recruits who formed the first 39 th Colombo Scout Troop and were divided into two patrols – the Sea Hawks and the Woodpeckers, six of them having been from the Cub pack. All boys over the age of ten were eligible to join, under Mr. E.C.S. Perera, Scout Master, whilst those under that age group were part of the Cub Scout pack being run by Mrs. C.H. Irvine.

Troop meetings in those early years were held on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, with Tuesdays reserved for badge work and games whilst Saturdays were spent on exciting outdoor activities including hiking, tracking, and pioneering. Four months later, the Deputy Chief Commissioner of Ceylon invested fourteen Scouts as the first members of the 39 th Colombo Scout Troop. Ms. L.A.L. Blanchard, composer of the school song, marked the occasion by writing the Prep Scout Song, ‘S. Thomas’ Prep School Scouts are we’. 39 th Colombo should be proud to be the only organizatiion in the School with its own song – that, too, composed by Ms. Blanchard herself!

The first Scout Camp was held on the grounds of ‘The Durdans’ at Alfred Place – then a large colonial bungalow that stood on the premises now occupied by the well-known hospital of that name. Mr. Keble, the intrepid traveller, had by then published a highly regarded book on his travels across the country, ‘Ceylon Beaten Track’, which no doubt spurred a love of the outdoors among those pioneer scouts of 39 th Colombo. The surviving activity records of the 1940s and early 1950s, limited mainly to the Scout Report in the School magazines, indicate that camps were held in various parts of the Colombo district and within the school premises. In addition, the Scouts played an active part in the life of the School, holding campfires, Parent’s Days, and presenting the Guard of Honour for the chief guest at the school prize giving- a tradition that continues eighty years later.

It is noteworthy that even after the School’s unceremonious eviction from the Kollupitiya premises during World War 2, from 1942 to 1946, 39 th Colombo was not undone by the disruption. Scouting and Cubbing carried on, albeit in a muted manner, from the Prep School at Bandarawela and from our temporary home at Alwis Place in Kollupitiya. To aid continuity, Mr. Keble had an able lieutenant in Mr. Norman Grey Abeynaike, an early member of the Prep School staff. Mr. Abeynaike took on the mantle of Headmastership in 1943, but, even amidst the stress of war time operations, continued as the Chief Scouter at Prep School. He was assisted by several staff members including Mr. Irvine, Mr. Buell, Mr. Jayasekara, and Mr. Welagedara, who served as Scoutmasters during the displacement and after the return to the Kollupitiya premises. The Scouts themselves appear to have been resilient to these external shocks, rolling on merrily with their Colombo activities, whilst Troop members who relocated to S. Thomas’ Prep Bandarawela assisted Mr. Keble in commencing the 6th Bandarawela Scout Group there. Mrs. Helen Keble is listed as one of the early Cub Akelas at Bandarawela, whilst their son Anthony is recorded as a Cub Scout.

Brigadier C.P. Jayawardena, a prominent member of Sri Lankan society and later aide-de-camp to the Governor General of Ceylon receives regular appreciation for his support to 39 th Colombo during the 1940s. In 1950, Brigadier Jayawardena, by then the Chief Commissioner of Scouting in Sri Lanka, donated a challenge shield for the Best Scout at Prep School in memory of his son, Christopher, who had been one of our first students. This shield continued to be presented as an internal award until recently and it is a privilege for 39 th Colombo to have been so intimately associated with such a prominent member of the movement.

In 1949, a few years after the return to Kollupitiya, Mr. A.F. (Faith) Obeysekara, joined the staff and was appointed the Cub Scout Akela. He later took over running the Scout Troop and presided as chief Scouter during the difficult years of Mr. Abeynaike’s illness.

With the sudden demise of Headmaster N.G. Abeynaike in 1951, 39 th Colombo lost one of its pioneers and most faithful friends. The man who had done so much to build up 39th Colombo, and was himself an Assistant District Commissioner and a Deputy Camp Chief (now Leader Trainer) at Scout Headquarters, had departed at the prime of his life. Such a sudden shock may ordinarily have spelled disaster for the future of the Scout movement in School had it not been for Mr. Abeynaike’s foresight in having identified Mr. Faith Obeysekara as the best man for 39 th Colombo, much like he himself had been hand-picked by Mr. Keble. This ensured that the Scout Troop had a strong leader at the helm to ensure its continuity in the early 1950s. The records from this era indicate that the Troop continued with its activities and outdoor programmes and by 1950 had also set up a ‘Scout Den’ within the premises, which gave the boys their own ‘club room’. The Cubs and Scouts also published a 39th Colombo newspaper known as ‘The Good Turn’ under the guidance of Mr. Obeysekara and Mr. Samarasekara in 1950. Although there are no known surviving copies, it was likely the first student-run newspaper in Prep School history. Interactions with other Troops included football and cricket matches with the Scout Troops at S. Thomas’ College and Royal College, and active participation in the Ceylon National Jamborees and all district activities.

Just as Scouting was picking up the pace at 39th Colombo, the Education Department’s ever evolving legislative landscape dealt the lethal blow to Prep Scouting that even World War 2 had not. The Standard VI at Prep School was abolished in 1953, thus spelling doom for the first incarnation of the 39th Colombo Scout Troop. This simple sentence from the School magazine of December 1952 signals the abrupt end:

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A group photograph of the Cub pack in the 50’s

With the abolition of the sixth standard, we will be compelled to wind up our Scout Troop next year, as the rest of the school belong to the Cub age-group’.

Thus, the 39th Colombo Scout Group reverted to a Cub Pack for the first time since 1941 and would remain that way for over a decade.

Mr. Faith Obeysekara continued as chief Akela of the Cub Scout Pack with every intention of rebuilding the Scout Troop at some point in the future when he hoped Prep School would once again be allowed to retain its students beyond the age of 10. With the expansion of the school in the 1960s, Mr. J.S.L. Fernando, who was by then the deputy Headmaster, hoped to resume the 39th Colombo Scout Troop. Mr. Fernando, having been a Scout himself and assisted the Scout Troop as a Scout Master from time to time, was a keen supporter of the movement and understood its importance on moulding the ideal Prep School Boy.

These good intentions came to a disastrous end when Mr. Faith Obeysekara passed away after a sudden illness on his way home one school day afternoon in 1965. In the blink of an eye 39th Colombo had lost the strong arm that had guided its destiny after the death of Mr. N.G. Abeynaike fifteen years earlier, and it seemed that nobody could step in to fill this void. Unable to identify a suitable replacement, Mr. Fernando worried that his plans to expand 39th Colombo into a Scout Troop would disintegrate and temporarily shelved the idea until he was appointed Headmaster two years later.

Perhaps it was just as well, for the greatest Scoutmaster of them all would soon arrive.

Janaprith Fernando
Mr. Mauraice Weragoda with the Troop at Pedro Scout Camp in the 90s’

Mr. Maurice Ernest Weragoda joined S. Thomas’ Prep School in 1967, within the first year of Mr. J.S.L. Fernando’s stewardship as Headmaster. Equally proficient in English and Sinhala, Mr. Weragoda went on to teach Mathematics, Sinhala, Health, P.T., Divinity, and Social Studies. In addition, he was the House Master of Keble House, the Sectional Head of the Middle School, the master-in-charge of Rugby and of the Prefects. His indelible imprint on various administrative functions of the school likely continues to date, including his system of scheduling the time tables and the introduction of the Traffic Warden patrol. He was also known by generations of Prep School boys as the master in charge of discipline (read: caning!) and was seemingly omnipresent in every aspect of School life. His greatest legacy, however, is having revived the 39th Colombo Scout Troop in 1969, which he helped evolve far beyond its previous incarnation to be one of the most active, prestigious, and innovative Scout Troops in Sri Lanka.

Here are Mr. Weragoda’s own words, reflecting on the 25th anniversary of the 1969 revival of the Scout Troop in 1994:

‘It was way back in 1969 that Prep School retained her Grade 5 students to continue their studies in the post-primary section, with the addition of a Grade 6. This practice of ending primary education at Kollupitiya had been the case for most of the past 30 years of the School’s history. Therefore, we see that the J.S.L. Fernando era is significant in Prep School growing to a junior secondary school where the students were prepared for the NCGE Examination conducted by the Education Department, and subsequently for the GCE O.L. Exam.

Along with the expansion of the School, Headmaster requested me to expand the 39th Colombo Scout Group with the addition of the Scout Section, which I carried out in all faith. In September 1969, I enrolled many Wolf Cubs (who were now of Scout age) to the Troop. A good majority of the boys were from the English medium. I remember a few of them from those early years, including Chanaka Amaratunga, David Sena, Sivaprakasam, Suren Wikkramatilleke, Thilainathan, and Matthew, among others.

Having formed the Troop, I found it extremely difficult to convince Headmaster to take the boys out on Camp, which was the most attractive event to a boy doing Scouting. I was asked to conduct such Training Camps within the city of Colombo. The first Patrol camp, therefore, was conducted at the Ladies’ College premises. Another was at Wellawatte. The first Troop Camp was conducted at an abandoned poultry farm in Talangama in 1970. Thereafter, annual Troop Camps were held in all parts of Sri Lanka, except the Northern province.

39th Colombo entered show business as early as 1970, taking part in the Colombo district Gang Shows. As many as 28 Prep Scouts were on stage in the first show, far outnumbering all other Troops in the district.

I gratefully remember leaders such as Bala Navarathnaraja, O. Mendis, and Claude Halpe who gave of their BEST to 39th Colombo to grow in strength and stature.

A difficult period passed by when the Patrol Leader’s Council yearned to have a permanent DEN of their own. “The Den” was on the agenda of every Council meeting of the Patrol Leaders. Our Headmaster, who has a background in Scouting, found us a permanent place in the Fortrose building to identify ourselves. For nearly a decade, the Scouts of the late 70s and early 80s worked hard at various school events and Sports Meets to earn the money to build and equip the Den. The present generation of Scouts should be grateful to those past scouts of the early 80s who toiled hard and achieved their goal.

“Look Wide” is the motto of the Senior Scouts. In the mid 1980s, 39 th Colombo made another entry – this time to International Jamborees in the USA, UK, Australia, India, and Japan.

At the completion of 25 years, the Troop has produced many President’s Scouts who hold responsible positions in public life. The Troop has four Wood Badge holders and Leaders who serve Colombo as District Scout Leaders and Assistant District Commissioners. In the 25th Year, the 3rd Prep Gang Show, produced by a Prep Scout, is yet another achievement for the Group.

May 39th Colombo achieve higher goals to serve the BOY and the MOVEMENT’

Maurice Weragoda, Group Scout Leader
(extract from the souvenir of the 1994 ‘Prep Gang Show’)

In the formative years of the early 1970s, Mr. Maurice Weragoda was assisted in building up the Scout Troop by a fellow member of staff, Mr. Bala Navaratnaraja. The wives of these Scouters also played an important role; Scouts of this era recall the late Mrs. Weragoda often attending outstation camps as a chaperone, cook, and a mother to the boys who often were away from home for the first time in their lives. Mrs. Navaratnaraja (also a member of the staff) served as a senior Akela of the Cub Pack.

Mr. Weragoda had previously started a Scout Troop at Cathedral College, Kotahena, and was well networked in the movement. He was initially helped by the ScoutLeaders of St. Benedict’s College, including Mr. C. Pathmanathan, Derek Soertz, and Randy Solomons. Mr. Claude Halpe, a past Scout of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and son of distinguished Scout Leader Captain Vernon Halpe, arrived in 1977 and helped Mr. Weragoda propel the Troop to new heights. He was assisted in the late 1970s by past Prep Scouts Suren Wikkramatillake, Devapriya Senanayake, and the late Tissa Wimalasekera (who later met with an untimely death in the USA). It is an interesting coincidence that two former Scouts from the 21st Colombo Scout Troop of St. Joseph’s College, Headmaster N.G. Abeynaike, and, later, Claude Halpe, played such an important role in the Prep Scout Troop at two different stages in its history. Prep Scouts of today should be thankful to those leaders who rendered yeoman service on a purely voluntary basis for a Troop that was not their own. They are among many other unsung heroes that sustained 39th Colombo over the decades.

Prep School was finally able to see the culmination of its efforts by producing a President’s Scout (the highest award for Scouting) with Suren Wikkramatilleke, who is today the District Commissioner of Colombo, winning the award in 1978. The full list of winners of the President’s Scout award from 39th Colombo are as follows:

  • 1978 – S. de S. (Suren) Wikkramatillake
  • 1984 – J.S. (Janaprith) Fernando
  • 1987 – C.S. (Cheran) Rajaratnam
  • 1990 – R.C.I.S. (Ruwan) Saram
  • 1991 – T.C.N. (Chaanaka) Jayasekera
  • 1992 – K. (Krishyanthan) Gopalapillai
  • 1992 – J.S. (Jonathan) Rajaratnam
  • 1994 – V.A.C.K. (Chaminda) Akmeemana
  • 1994 – D.M.C. (Diluk) De Silva
  • 2003 – M.D. (Milinda) Silva
  • 2004 – A.P.S. (Sujiv) Fonseka
  • 2016 – A.R.K. (Akhila) Ranawake
  • 2016 – J. (Jethro) Jeyaraj
  • 2020 – N. I. (Nandun)Thotawatte
  • 2021 – D. (Dimitri) Jayawardene
  • 2022 – R. Abaiyan
  • 2023 – A. Dissanayake

An outsider may pass glib judgement that 39th Colombo, for all its achievements in Sri Lanka Scouting, boasts only 13 President’s Scouts in the 50 years since the 1969 expansion. Other prominent Troops in the country may produce the same number in a single year. Overlooked in such rash judgement, however, is the fact that 39th Colombo is one of the few Troops where the Scout’s career essentially comes to an end at the age of 16, after which the boy leaves the School. It is testament to the dedication of these 13 Scouts, and those who will win this award in the years to come, that they continued their Scouting journey at their mother Troop even after leaving School at the age of 16 and going on to other schools such as S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia or other schools, since they all won the President’s award a year or two after leaving school. This required active participation in the life of the Troop, whilst balancing the many challenges that life after Prep School inevitably entails. The Scouts of today have much to be thankful for the dedication of these and many other past Scouts who, though they may not have achieved the President’s Award, faithfully returned to their alma mater to and helped run the Troop for many years after leaving school.

The period after Mr. J.S.L. Fernando’s retirement in 1994 and Mr. Weragoda’s retirement in 1995 saw several large-scale changes in the administration and running of the Troop. For the first time in its recent history, the Troop was in the charge of the 16 year olds in Grade 11, as there was no qualified Scout Leader on the staff for guidance. These changes did ‘rock the boat’ quite drastically, and the ripples and riptides generated impacted the Troop for the next ten years. It is a testament to just how ingrained Scouting was in the fabric of Prep School that for almost a decade the Troop was able to function under the guidance of only its Grade 11 students, whilst still participating functioning as a regular and active Troop. Credit must also be given to Mr. W.R. Jayaweera, a member of the staff who, although not a Scout himself, volunteered as the teacher in charge in 1995 and eventually worked his way up to winning the Wood Badge award and assisted the Troop to the best of his ability. By 2005, however, the traditions of the past had all but eroded and the Troop was threatening to float astray as an essentially rudderless ship with the upcoming retirement of Mr. Jayaweera. The good intentions with which Mr. Keble founded 39th Colombo must surely have resulted in the continued bouncing back of the Troop, where, in a fortuitous meeting with Headmaster Casie Chetty, Mr. Suren Wikkramatilleke, advised that the best approach to revitalisation would be to invite Mr. Maurice Weragoda to once again play some part in the Troop that he had nurtured for over 25 years. Mr. Casie Chetty, who placed great importance on the role of Scouting in the life of Prep School, readily agreed; Mr. Weragoda had recently fully retired from teaching at his alma mater, Trinity College, Kandy, and had returned home to Colombo in search of his next challenge. The impact of Mr. Weragoda’s ‘return home’, as it were, is best summed up in following extract from the Headmaster’s report of 2006, just one year after Mr. Weragoda was invited back to the 39th Colombo fold, where Mr. Casie Chetty writes:

‘ In conclusion, very special mention must be made of the energy, enthusiasm, and dynamism infused into Scouting in the School by Mr. Weragoda. He has made a significant contribution within a brief period and has been instrumental in the revival of Scouting at Prep. School. His impact has been noticeable and I am extremely pleased that his careful planning, methodical approach, and his responsible attitude is transforming the manner in which the boys approach their Scouting. I thank him for his contribution and for making such a difference to Scouting overall’.

Once again, the greatest Scoutmaster of them all had arrived, ushering in period of prosperity for the Troop.

39th Colombo became an active Troop once again, fully participating in all aspects of district and national Scouting life. It is not necessary here to dilate on the excellent standard of Scouting built up in the past 15 years, but suffice it to say that it is reflected in 39 th Colombo having won the Mayor’s Flag award for the best Troop in the Colombo District in 2016, 22 years after the flag last graced our Troop. 2016 also marked 39th Colombo finally entering the Northern Province by attending the Jaffna Jamboree in that year, thus having finally marked its presence in every part of Sri Lanka.

Newspaper article about the First Gang Show

Prep School Scouts entered show business in the early 1970s, having joined the Colombo Gang Show as members of the cast. Being one of the few Troops that ran Scouting in English, it had the ideal strength in the District to participate. Another strength was its central location, where, through the kind courtesy of Headmaster JSL Fernando, the School premises were made available to the Colombo Gang for practices. During this time, the skill and commitment shown by the Prep Scouts, who were among the youngest participants, began to be noticed by the District Officials. However, the disturbances of 1983 had put an end to Colombo Gang Shows and, amidst much resistance, 39th Colombo made the bold decision of staging its own Gang Show, titled ‘Lessons to Learn’ in 1988, in honour of the Golden Jubilee of Prep School. This was followed by ‘As We Go Along’ in 1991, and, finally, ‘Celebrations’ in 1994. No gang shows have been staged in Sri Lanka since then, with 39th Colombo being the only School troop to have been bold enough to take on this mammoth challenge to put on a variety show of music, drama, and dance involving over a hundred cubs, Scouts, and their entire families. Several prominent names in the theatre and drama scene in Sri Lanka today had their first stage exposure during these Gang Shows, perhaps fulfilling Mr. Keble’s desire that hobbies would indeed go on to form the basis for the boy’s profession in later life. The Prep Gang remembers with gratitude the technical contributions of M/s K.M. Anthony, Jith Peiris, Lylie Godrige, Robert Joseph, Janaprith Fernando, and Mrs. Sally Molligoda, Kamani Hewagama, Niromi Wikkrematillake, and the many parents of Scouts who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to raise funds to stage three profitable Gang Shows.

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Newspaper article about the First Gang Show
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A group photograph taken at an International Jamboree

Prep Scouting provided the wonderful opportunity for over twenty Scouts to have represented Sri Lanka across the globe since the 1980s, having attended Jamborees in the USA, UK, Australia, India, Singapore, Japan, and Sweden.

Janaprith Fernando
Leaders of 39th Colombo Scout Group

39th Colombo has been fortunate to have consistently numbered among its ranks leaders who contributed to the development of Scouting in Sri Lanka. Mr. N.G. Abeynaike, the first Headmaster, held both the Cub and Scout Wood Badge and, at the time of his death in 1951, was a Deputy Camp Chief (now known as Leader Trainer) in the movement. Mr. Faith Obeysekera’s contribution in those early years cannot be overstated. Headmaster J.S.L. Fernando had been a Scout at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, and was a long-standing member of the National Scout Council, the executive branch overseeing the countrywide movement. Mr. Maurice Weragoda has achieved the Wood Badge, as well as numerous awards and the Medal of Merit from the President of Sri Lanka for services to Scouting. Long serving Cub Scout Akelas such Mrs. S.J.S. Peramune, and others such as Ms. R. Sethua, Anusha Perera, E.R. Jebaratnam, Selvaratnam, Yoga Sathasivam, and Elsie Benedict contributed much to the development of the Cub Packs and the movement in Sri Lanka. The School can never forget the contributions of the two grande dames of the 39th Colombo Cub Pack, Ms. Charika Muttiah, famed in both Prep School and the Colombo District association for her organizational and administrative skills, and Ms. Gita Perera, who went on to be the Assistant Chief Commissioner for Cub Scouting in Sri Lanka. The generations of Cubs, and indeed, all Prep School students who were in their care at School are indeed grateful for the foundation these two ladies laid in their lives. Their protégé, Ms. Yvonne Charles, has since 1993 continued their good work in the Cub and Scout groups at 39th Colombo, and is today considered to be the rock on which Prep Scouting stands. She also held the role of Assistant District Commissioner for Cub Scouting in Colombo. After over a decade, we have a staff member fully committed to Scouting in Mr. Ravindu Hulladuwa, who has breathed new life in to the orderly administration of the Troop. And ever ready to support our every activity is Headmaster the Reverend Dushantha Rodrigo, who has not only taken the time to fully immerse himself by visiting our camps and activities, but envisions a Troop of 100 boys in the near future; something we hope will be a reality very soon.

39th Colombo may be the only Troop in Colombo to have produced two District Commissioners in the district- Mr. Suren Wikkramatilleke, our first President’s Scout, and Mr. Janaprith Fernando. Mr. Suren Wikkramatilleke served as District Commissioner of Colombo from 2015 to 2020 at a time of great development in the movement in Colombo.

Janaprith Fernando
Janaprith Fernando (Former Scout, Scout Leader) of 39th Colombo Scout Group, the first Sri Lankan to be elected to the Asia Pacific Regional Scout Committee

Mr. Janaprith Fernando, the Deputy Chief Commissioner of Scouting today, joined the movement as a young Prep Scout in 1979. As the Scout Leader of 39th Colombo in the 1980s and 1990s and representing Sri Lanka at international Jamborees as contingent leader, he went on to assume roles of increasing responsibility, in 2005 becoming the District Commissioner of Colombo Scouting. In 2012, Janaprith became the first Sri Lankan to be elected to the Asia Pacific Regional Scout Committee, and is now the Chief Commissioner of the Sri Lanka Scout Association.

The track record of 39th Colombo in Prep School and its achievements as a Troop would be enough to fill several pages. However, just a few of the achievements include:

  • Producing the chair of the first national Scout Youth Forum in 1983;
  • The first to hold Inter Patrol Sports Meets on a grand scale;
  • The largest representation at Colombo District Gang Shows;
  • The first (and only) School Scout Troop in Sri Lanka to stage its own Gang Shows as successful fundraiser – three in the space of 6 years;
  • The first (and only) School Scout Troop in Sri Lanka to stage its own Gang Shows as successful fundraiser – three in the space of 6 years;
  • The first to organize Father-and-Son camps;
  • Producing two District Commissioners of Colombo, a Deputy Chief Commissioner, and the first Sri Lankan to serve on the Asia Pacific Regional Scout committee;
  • Organizing multiple talent contests for the participation of all Prep School boys. Some of the participants went on to become professional musicians in later life;
  • Producing three Organizing Commissioners of the Colombo Camporee (Mr. Weragoda, Janaprith, and Suren);
  • Organizing the first inter-Troop relay carnival in Sri Lanka;
  • Inaugurating the first student-run Newspapers in the School (‘The Good Turn’ in the 1950s and ‘The Prep Scout’ in the 1980s);
  • Inauguration of a Scout Troop at Ambegamuwa Maha Vidyalaya, Ginigathena;
  • Having annual camps and outings to all parts of the island;
  • Building huts for the homeless and bus shelters in various remote parts of Sri Lanka;
  • Organizing the first fundraising Dinner Dance for Old Boys of Prep School, (Prep Nite 1994)
  • Winning the Mayor’s Flag award for the best Scout Troop in the Colombo District in 1992, 1994, and, after a long absence, in 2016.
  • Organising a night out under canvas for former scouts from different batches to get together

Scouting is an activity focused on character building through fun, which undoubtedly leads to the inner prankster and practical joker emerging from within some of the most (seemingly) angelic boys.

Past Scout Jerome Amarasinghe, writing in a 1994 edition of The Prep Scout newspaper, recalls arriving at an opening rally flag ceremony at a camp, only to find someone’s underwear hoisted and fluttering in the breeze. Camp toilets at Camporees and outstation camps were particularly tricky for those Scouts who were in the Troop before the early 2000s. These were often merely a deep pit located between railway sleepers, with minimal privacy and sometimes no doors. A misstep in the dark of the night could result in a very nasty accident, whilst it has been known for clothes slung over the basic partitioning to have mysteriously disappeared whilst the person that belonged to them was still inside using the facilities!

Young recruits of the late 1990s and 2000s may have tales of ‘Johnny the Ghost’ and the seemingly headless Priest that roams Fortrose at night permanently etched into their memories. Late night obstacle courses organized within the School premises were not for the faint of heart, where the seemingly innocuous school buildings transformed into something altogether more eerie in the total darkness at night and every sound seemed amplified a hundredfold.

Scouts of the late 1970s may remember a particularly memorable overnight camp on Bible Rock, where the Scouts found Mr. Weragoda complaining of a chest pain on the way down the next morning. The Scouts rushed him to hospital under the impression that he was having a heart attack. After being checked out and released from the Kegalle hospital quite late in the evening, the group of scouts got in to the first bus to Colombo, only to realise that a few boys and Mr. Weragoda had missed boarding the bus. With some difficulty, they persuaded the bus driver to stop the bus and let them off, but, in their haste, left behind all the quartermaster’s equipment including kitchen utensils. It was a costly trip for the Scouts, who then discovered that there was, in fact, no heart attack and Mr. Weragoda had only been suffering from fatigue!

Some years later, at an Annual Camp at the Dimbulla Club grounds at Radella, the Scouts were transported to the Nanu Oya Station in an estate lorry. By the time they reached the station the train was ready to pull out, and, with the boys and baggage given priority to get on, most of the equipment had been left behind on the lorry. Mr, Weragoda had rush back to the lorry and have it race ahead of the train to reach the Talawakele station by road to load the equipment at the next stop.

Ever the strict disciplinarian, Mr. Weragoda once took offense to the language being dispensed by some Prep School boys at an outstation Camp in the 1980s (B****y, B****r etc.) and announced a ‘ban on all ‘B’s’ at camp. So seriously did one young recruit take this formidable master, he was later heard explaining to Mr. Weragoda that he had only been late for rally as he had been ‘on the way to the ‘ungalow’ to fetch a ‘ucket’ so that he could go to the ‘athroom!’.

Scouts must remember with fondness the enjoyable long trails in various parts of the country, visiting waterfalls and places of interest, the traditional hike to Fox Hill after visits to Diyatalawa, camping in the forests, camping, and freezing over-night stays at Horton Plains and on top of Piduruthalagala. Perhaps the Scout who left all the cooking utensils at the Horton Plains Park office at check-in prior to making the trek to the campsite may not have such fond recollections, as he was promptly sent to retrieve the utensils with nothing but a torch to keep him company in total darkness and freezing weather – a forty minute walk each way! Another memorable experience for Scouts camping at the Pedro National Scout Centre in 2014 was to look on in amusement as the bus that was supposed to take them back to the Nanu Oya railway station struggled for three hours to emerge from a mud pit near the camp entrance, only to have the Scout Leaders chuck them into a closed wooden tea lorry- baggage, equipment, and all- and make a mad dash through winding forest roads in total darkness to avoid missing their night train back to Colombo. It was also great fun for Mr. Weragoda, who had joined the leaders for the camp, and casually informed the lorry driver that he was, by now, an old hand at these last-minute lorry adventures!

The Prep Scout’s capacity for creativity around filling their stomachs has not dimmed with the passing of the generations. At a recent Camporee, a particularly ravenous Scout kept asking one of the Scout Leaders for permission to visit the soft drinks stall, only to be denied on the basis that sugary drinks are bad for the health. After several failed attempts, the same boy then came and asked for permission to go to the hot dog stall with a friend. On being informed by the Leader that he knew perfectly well that the boy is a vegetarian, and to kindly stop fooling around, pat came the reply, ‘no, sir, my friend is going to eat the hot dog sausage, while I will eat the bun!’

Past Scouts of Prep School often meet their classmates who express regrets that they never tried out Scouting during their time in school. This reality dawns on them, often many years or decades later, when they realise they missed the thrill of a lifetime. We hope that future generations of Prepites will make the maximum use of the opportunity afforded to them to participate in this adventure, as the founder of Scout Gang Shows, the great Ralph Reader, wrote in a song many years ago:

“Get out and come in boys we’re waiting for you, And you’ll be delighted you came. To enjoy the joys of the Scouting boys it’s a great, great game. A thrill of a lifetime is waiting for you”

Scouting in the fabric of Prep School’s history is like an ocean iceberg- a very small portion of it is visible above the surface. Yet the scale of its presence beneath the surface is difficult to comprehend.

As heirs of a glorious past and stewards of a wondrous future, it is expected that the 39th Colombo Scouts will continue to uphold the rich legacy handed down to them. And, perhaps, yet another chorus from Ralph Reader will best reflect the hopes of both Lord Baden Powell and of W. T. Keble for the future of Prep Scouting:

‘…Ever onwards doing our best
Down any trail adventure may lead
Boys from the North, South, East and the West
Of every Colour and Creed…
Lift up your hearts
Brothers are we, ever to be
All through the wide, wide world
United as one’

In the end, perhaps it was Mr. Subatheris – the faithful school office assistant of a bygone era who students of the 1980s and 1990s will remember as the ‘Roneo man in white’ – that put it best. Having faithfully cyclostyled hundreds of sheets for yet another edition of ‘The Prep Scout’ newspaper, his succinct observation to the Senior Scouts of the 1980s communicated more than any history of 39th Colombo can aspire to when he said: ‘Prep නම් Scouting, Scouting නම් Prep’, (Prep is Scouting, and Scouting is Prep).