The 3rd Decade (1942 – 1951)
On 9th September 1943 Rev. Fr. Nicholas Perera retired after his long and fruitful service to St. Peter’s and the obvious replacement for him was Rev. Fr. Basil A Wiratunga OMI who had joined the staff of St. Peter’s on 24th January 1931 and served as the Vice Principal, and Prefect of Games from 23rd October 1933. Fr. Basil Wiratunga who had obtained his degree from the University of London graduating with an honours degree in English duly took over the reins of St. Peter’s on 9th September 1943.
Unfortunately for Fr. Wiratunga, as mentioned earlier, his Rectorship began with St. Peter’s forced to function from three different locations, Milargiriya (to St. Francis Xavier’s Seminary), Minuwangoda and Dehiwela (to St. Mary’s College, Dehiwela which Fr. Nicholas had been responsible for opening). Despite this obvious drawback, Fr. Basil Wiratunga guided St. Peter’s with much distinction bringing many an accolade.
1944 saw the Cricket Big Match series revived after the war years of 1942 and 1943. Though losing this match, happily for the Peterites they were able to turn tables on the Josephians in 1946 and 1947.
Having functioned from three different locations since February 1942, happily for St. Peter’s, students and staff marched back to the familiar surroundings by the Wellawatte canal on 9th September 1946 after the College buildings were derequisitioned on 7th September 1946. The flag staff and the pond at the front lawn are two landmarks left by the Royal Navy which still stand.
The Right block (or the southern block) of the original building forming the ‘E’ in the front facing Galle Road, was converted to a two storey block in 1946 by Fr. Wiratunga.
Though operating from different locations, not forgetting his earlier role as the Prefect of Games and despite the absence of cricket for two years (1942 & 43) and rugby for six years (1942-1947), he ensured that sports was also a success at St. Peter’s. He took a difficult decision in changing the cricket coach, bringing in Ret. Major General Russel Heyn and for the first time since the Big Match series commenced, St. Peter’s led by Dion Walles beat St. Joseph’s at cricket in 1946 and repeated the success in 1947, also under the leadership of Dion Walles.
Rugby was revived as fast as was possible and the sport recomenced in 1948. Apart from his efforts at expanding facilities for education with larger buildings, Fr. Wiratunga, a staunch supporter of sports also had the pavilion built and opened 18th December 1948 by Senator Sir John Tarbet.
In the year 1950, on the 20th of October, news of the passing away of Rev. Fr. D J Nicholas Perera reached College which was indeed saddening for all Peterites young and old. Two minutes silence was observed after the announcement was made by the acting Rector at the time Rev. Fr. Mervyn Weerakkody. The body was brought from the Archbishop’s house to College and after the Requiem Mass at the chapel, the body was taken in procession to the College Hall. Among the dignitaries who called to pay their respects was Mr. D S Senanayake, Prime Minister and floral tributes were received from many, chief among them being one from the Governor General, H.E. Rt. Hon. Lord Soulbury.
The funeral procession from Bambalapitiya to Borella cemetery was joined at different points by the Director and staff of St, Benedict’s College (Fr. Nicholas’ own school), the Rector and staff of St, Joseph’s College (where he taught and worked before being assigned to St. Peter’s) and the Old Boys’ of his beloved St. Peter’s. The pall-bearers at the cemetery were Sir Gerald Wijekoon, Sir Francis Soertsz, Chevalier Abraham Gardiner, Mr. E W Kannangara, Chevalier S A Hamer, Mr. L J D Fernando, Dr. P R Anthonis and Mr. A O Wirasinha.
Meanwhile, Fr. Basil Wiratunga approached the administration of the school in a calm and unruffled manner. He had personally taken over the lead role in ensuring that English flourished at St. Peter’s from the time he joined the staff and it was only natural that university entrants from St. Peter’s increased.