Chapter 29 - War Clouds and the Second World War

Dr Percy De Zylwa recalls that after he finished his studies at Trinity College, Kandy, during the period 1935 to 1937 when he was a medical student, he shared a room in Mrs Wilson’s Boarding House with Cecil Wilford Rowlands (nicknamed “Podgy”). He remembers that they were the best of friends and never a cross word was spoken during the time they spent together. Cecil Wilford worked at Rowlands Garage as an engineer in the Refrigeration Department as the company was agents for the American “Frigdaire” refrigerator.

Sybil May Rowlands (nee Ebert)

While Dr Percy went to Medical College, Cecil Wilford went to work at Rowlands Garage and in the evenings they would have their evening meal and C.W.R. would go courting May Ebert whom he married in 1938. When Cecil Wilford returned he would go to bed and even though Dr Percy had to study until late at night, he never complained about the light being on until all hours of the morning.

Dr Percy De Zylwa also relates a story about a time that he wanted to see his parents who were in Negombo. Cecil Wilford obtained a car from Rowlands Garage and they set off for Negombo. C.W.R was driving and ran into the back of another car that was driven by an university student who was taking his girl friend for a drive. There was great consternation as the girl had absconded from home without her parent’s permission and the whole episode had to be “hushed up”. It was agreed that Rowlands Garage would repair the damaged vehicles and no one would know about the accident. Later, friends of Dr Percy accused him of being the driver, as Cecil Wilford who was a good driver would never have had an accident such as the one mentioned.

Cecil Rowlands at Negombo
Dr Percy also recalls that when he needed a skelton for his studies, A.P.Rowlands gifted him one that he bought in India. When his parents bought him a “Bug Fiat” which they presented to him in Nuwara Eliya, A.P.R would insist on maintaining and repairing the vehicle for a very nominal sum.

A.P.R also nominated Dr Percy and four other medical students for membership of the Royal Colombo Golf Club, which he says at that time were probably the only students on the island who were members of a Golf Club.

In 1934 Daphne Rowlands married Phillip Dodwell (nicknamed “Doddy”) de Costa. A son Anton was born in 1936.
Cecil and May Rowlands’ Wedding Group
On 25th June 1938, Cecil Wilford Rowlands and May Sybil Ebert, daughter of Albert Edmond Ebert and Sybil Adelaide Ebert (nee Perera) were married at St Paul’s Church, Kinsey Road. The Brides Maid was Yvonne McCarthy (nee Kellart) and the Best Man Vere Rowlands (Dad’s cousin).

When Ed Rowlands migrated to Australia in 1960, on the “Orion” berthing at Freemantle, Western Australia, Pat and Yvonne McCarthy welcomed him to Australia by picking him up in their “Holden FJ” and took him to lunch at their home in Mount Lawley. Perth. After 10 days at sea, the journey through the streets of Perth was a new experience and an exiting introduction to life in Australia.

Wedding Portrait of Cecil Wilford and Sybil May Rowlands
The Directors and staff of Rowlands Limited in recognition of the contribution made by Cecil Wilford Rowlands to the company, collected funds that were obviously increased considerably by the Directors and A.P.Rowlands in particular bought a present for the couple that today has become a family heirloom.

Cecil continued to work at Rowlands Limited in the Refrigeration Department, training to become a Refrigeration Engineer.

Cutlery Set Wedding Present from Staff of Rowlands Limited
On 4th November 1939, their first son Edouard Francis Rowlands was born while they were residing at No 6 High Level Road, Kirrilapone.
During the Second World War they resided in Mutwal, near the Colombo Harbour and later after the Japanese air attack on Ceylon moved to Wellawatte, where Muriel Sybil Rowlands was born on 2nd July 1942.

On 2nd December 1939, Cecil Vere Rowlands, Wilford and May’s Best Man, married Norma Edith Raffel, daughter of Percival Raffel and Adeline Raffel (nee De Kretser) at the Dutch Reformed Church, Bambalapitiya, Colombo.

Their first child, Peggy Rowlands was born in 1940.

In 1941, the Ceylon Rupee, while still at par with the Indian Rupee, was declared a separate currency.

Vere and Norma Rowlands Wedding Group
In the 1940’s, George Fredrick Rowlands married Eileen Rock. George had a traumatic childhood, his mother died when he was aged 4 and he was brought up by his Aunt Gracie, until A.P.R married again in 1925, when at the age of 7, he again had to move into a new home environment and then lost an eye in an accident. The Specialists in Ceylon removed his left eye but they could not halt an infection that was spreading to his brain (this was before Penicillin and Anti-biotics). His father took him to England and the Harley Street Specialists had limited success in eliminating the infection. A.P.R then took George to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, where prayer and holy water miraculously healed the infection in the eye.

The miracle that A.P.R. witnessed convinced him that this act of God was a sign that he should follow the Roman Catholic faith.
George and Eileen Rowlands Wedding Group
He converted to Roman Catholism and in 1949 when the Roman Catholic Church in Ceylon wanted the statue of our Lady of Fatima brought to Ceylon from the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, A.P.R paid for the conversion of a suitable truck into a vehicle to take the statue to all the Roman Catholic Churches and Parishes in Ceylon and covered all the costs of transport.
After the Second World War George bought a lot of the surplus equipment of the American and British Armed Forces that they left behind after the Second World War and he ran a used vehicle yard on the way to Negombo. The family were present at one of his parties that he gave at this site by the beach.
Dr Percy de Zylwa also says that he owned an electronics business. George raced in an MG converted for racing, and also the “Zephyr” that was made by A.P.R and even with only one eye was very successful in winning several major motor races

George Rowlands with son Griffith and daughter Anne

The MG was known as the “Filby Special” as the car was originally raced by A.E.F.Filby of Rowlands Garages who were the agents for MG. The “Filby Special” was a modified MG TC with a 1250cc engine with twin SU racing carburetors a race camshaft, lightened chassis and transverse leaf spring front suspension (a la Ferraris’), special wire wheels, 12 to 1 compression ratio pistons, alloy cylinder, etc.

George and Eileen divorced in the late 1940’s and he married again in the 1960’s Nalini Rajapakse. A daughter Koomarin Odel Rowlands was born in 1970. Tragedy once again struck the Rowlands’ in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) when in 1978, George and Koomarin were found murdered in their house at the Gothatuwa property.

Ed Rowlands “inherited” the MG TC in 1960.


In 1943, Rowlands Garages became a public joint stock company named Rowlands Limited, in which the founder A.P.Rowlands had no vested interest. The land on which Rowlands Garage stands at Turret Road belonged to Mr A.R.H. Canekeratne who leased it to the company. His son Ranjan Canekeratne was the Managing Director of Rowlands a few years ago. A.P.Rowlands bought himself out of the company that he founded and then went into business to manufacture bus bodies based on truck chassis imported from the United Kingdom for the Ceylon Transport Board.

He was also busy marketing the Rowlands Safety Lamp and the “Excelsior” Watchman’s Clock that he invented.

On 7th May 1945, May Rowlands gave birth to Marie Victoreen Rowlands, her second name to commemorate the end of the Second World War.

Sybil Adelaide Ebert (nee Perera) Albert Edmond Ebert
Mother and Father of Sybil May Rowlands (nee Ebert)

1 comment:

Kerry McCarthy said...


Hello all Sri Lankan's .

Reading through "A Bean Two Leaves and a Bud " I note mention of my mother Dorothy Yvonne McCarthy (Kelaart ) .

Would anyone know the date that Pat & Yvonne McCarthy arrived, by air, in Perth, Western Australia . It would most likely have been in the early months of 1948

Regards to all

Kerry McCarthy