Tag Archives: Mauny-Talvande

Taprobane Island: Part 6 – Does the Dead Count Haunt Taprobane Island?


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Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Does the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande haunt Taprobane Island?

Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933), a Sri Lankan born Canadian-English businessman, philanthropist, adventurer, and writer thinks so.

Sir Christopher Ondaatje
Sir Christopher Ondaatje

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Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to a Burgher family of Dutch and Indian origin. His name comes from an Indian ancestor called Ondaatchi from Thanjavur, South India.

In the early 18th Century, Adrian Van der Meyden, the Governor-General of the Dutch East-India Company, summoned a physician to the King of Tanjore from the clan of Ondaatchi to Ceylon to treat his ailing wife. The physician arrived in Ceylon on June 9, 1659, from Tanjore. He treated the sick woman with a bath of water in which 23 jungle herbs were boiled. She recovered fully. The physician’s success in curing the lady led to the Governor to become his friend. In appreciation, the Governor appointed him as the First Doctor of the Town of Colombo.

In 1660, the physician got converted to Christianity. He adopted the name ‘Michael Jurgen Ondaatch’. He married a Portuguese woman named Magdalene de Cruz (1640-1688). Michael Jurgen Ondaatch died in 1714.

After Christopher Ondaatje’s alcoholic father lost the family fortune, Christopher had to leave school a year from graduation. In 1956, at the age of 33, he emigrated to Canada, arriving in Toronto with almost no money. He quickly became a wealthy stockbroker and was one of the three founding members of Loewen Ondaatje McCutcheon. He became a multi-millionaire in the publishing industry by founding the Pagurian Press, which he later sold to the Bronfman family.

Christopher Ondaatje represented Canada in the four-man bobsled at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. He is the author of 11 books including The Man-Eater of Punanai and Woolf in Ceylon.

I have reproduced below an article, wherein Sir Christopher Ondaatje gives an account of his tryst with the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at about three o’clock in the afternoon on November 27, 1946.

The Count haunts Taprobane
By Sir Christopher Ondaatje

I first heard the scream in 1946. Actually, it was more like a repeated plaintive gasp than a scream, and this was followed by a long low hissing noise, somewhat like air being released through someone’s teeth. I was only twelve years old and holidaying with my parents, two sisters and my brother Michael on Taprobane Island off the coast of Weligama, a fishing village on the south coast of what was then Ceylon.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon and we children had been sent to our rooms for an afternoon nap – quite a normal thing to do in the tropics. It was a very hot November afternoon. We had been playing and swimming most of the morning on the long crescent shaped Weligama beach only a few yards from the tiny Taprobane Island on which Count de Mauny Talvande had built a unique and magnificent house on the red granite rock covered with palms and jungle scrub. He bought the Island in 1925 and it remained in his possession until he died.

I didn’t know it then, but the Count had died in 1941, only five years before we rented the Island from the subsequent owners who had bought the extraordinary island for Rs.12,000 at an auction in 1942. It really is a magical island, only about two acres in area, and the Count christened it Taprobane because its original pear shape looked a little like a miniature Ceylon. He ignored its local name which had always been Galduwa. The first stones were laid out in 1927 and despite the fact that the island had been used by locals as a cobra dump (he eventually got rid of them) he set about building an enormous octagonal central hall which was thirty feet high and twenty feet at its widest point. The so-called Hall of the Lotus was lined with eight panels of inlaid wood which were dyed a dull gold and eau de nil, and bore a design of lotus buds and flowers.

The dome is supported by eight square pillars of Wedgwood blue, 24 feet in height, and on either side of these two light columns, 12 feet in height making sixteen in all – terra-cotta with gilded capitals support a white stone traverse which join the pillars with an arch of 10-feet span. This is hung with curtains of soft eau de nil silk, a deep brocaded border of art nouveau design at the bottom, black and gold on a cream ground. These curtains are kept open during the day, drawn only at night.

All the rooms converge into the hall through eight arches; nothing interferes with the full view of the interior, nor with that of the terraces and gardens which are seen through the carved mullions of doors and windows. A frieze inspired by the Sigiriya frescoes runs along the white stone walls. After Count de Mauny had finished building and decorating his building one could look from the centre of the hall through wrought iron and brass gates northwards to the entrance through towering palms and a vast array of tropical foliage. To the east one could see the Italian gardens the Count had created. The land sloped down to a well fed by a spring below sea level. East, and overlooking this garden, was the Count’s own bedroom.

He loved the sunrise and, looking southwards, there was nothing between the small triangular lawn outside his bedroom window and the South Pole. Every morning the Count would lie in bed and listen to the gardener raking the leaves off the gravel path with an ekel broom. Everything, the house, the garden, and furniture of his own design and making, was in perfect harmony. There was a marvellous view up the palm-fringed Weligama bay to the north-east, and at low tide one could easily walk the few yards to and from the shore. However, at high tide the water was chest high and women and children used to be carried by servants to the small pier that led to the entrance steps. After a restless and turbulent life in France and England the Count spent many happy years in his unique island home – less a fortress than a pavilion.

As I said, I first heard the scream in 1946. It was late in November and I was having a nap in the room next to the Count’s old bedroom. In those days there were no doors to the bedrooms – only the thin silk curtains which we pushed open and shut along solid brass curtain rings. I knew no one was in the Count’s bedroom because my mother and father, who had been sleeping there, had driven to Galle with a tea-planter friend of theirs, H.L. ‘Tank’ Roche who was also staying on the island. We
were left in the charge of our ayah or nanny. The others were still asleep, and I heard the gasping cry very clearly so I got up and looked into the Count’s bedroom, only to see his large empty ebony bed. And then I heard it again – a long plaintive repeated gasp. A sudden queer sensation passed over me and I felt a little faint. But this disappeared quickly. Far from being terrified I entered the room and looked on either side of the bed for something or someone who could have made the anguished sound. I saw nothing so returned to my room next door to wait for the others to wake up.

I told no one anything about the scream until two evenings later when we waded across the water to the Weligama Rest House for an early evening dinner of fried prawns and fish curry – my father’s favourite. In those days the main road ran behind the Weligama Rest House and not in front of it. At low tide, one could run down the front steps of Taprobane and literally run across the shallow surf in bare feet, over the wide sandy beach and across a little bit of scrub grass to the Rest House. The food was marvellous and the Rest Housekeeper, Jayakody, was very kind to all of us. While we were having dinner – in fact, we had almost finished and were having a second helping of buffalo curd and kitul panni or honey, that Jayakody jokingly said to me, “Did you hear it?

What?” I said, not even remembering the scream.

You heard nothing? Nothing at all? What bedroom are you in?

I told him. And then I remembered my experience and told him that I had indeed heard rather a horrible scream or groan a couple of days earlier. My father was actually quite annoyed that I hadn’t told him anything about it.

Ah yes,” Jayakody said. “That’s the Count. He died two days ago, you know, on November 27, 1941, of a heart attack. Angina pectoris. He was visiting a friend in Jaffna on the Chelvarayan Estate in Nawatkuli. And then they buried him up there in St. Mary’s Burial Ground which is a Catholic cemetery. It was a real shame. He always wanted to be buried on his island. He came here with practically nothing, but he built this fabulous house. It was the only place he was really happy. He was deeply in debt, which is why his island was sold. But he wrote a remarkable book about it, “The Gardens of Taprobane” which is very difficult to get. None of his family went to the funeral which was organised by an English solicitor whom he didn’t even know. He often comes back but usually at this time of the year. And his awful gasping for breath and his last sounds are usually heard by the gardener outside his open bedroom windows. It is quite a usual occurrence and no one pays any attention anymore. He was seventy-five years old and died a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

During the early part of the night, we made our way back to Taprobane Island with flares and torches. We children were still in high spirits and enjoyed being carried over the high tide by the servants who made several trips to and from the Weligama beach to collect us. My father and mother were unusually quiet. Not surprisingly they didn’t sleep in the Count’s bed and bedroom that night or on any subsequent night. They simply collected their bags and clothes from the Count’s bedroom and
moved to the spare guest room over the servants’ quarters facing the Weligama beach.

Source: The Sri Lankan Anchorman, Toronto, Canada.

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Taprobane Island: Part 5 – Succeeding Owners of The Island Paradise


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Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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On November 27, 1941, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande died of a sudden heart attack at 3 o’clock in the afternoon while visiting a friend at the Chelvarayan Estate, Navatkuli, 3.73 miles (6 km) south of Jaffna in Ceylon.

John Lambert, an English solicitor at the Chelvarayan Estate, is registered as the person who buried the body of Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at St Mary’s Burial Grounds in Jaffna, Ceylon, with none of his family members present.

The Ceylon Daily News, in its edition of Friday, November 28, 1941, printed the following in its obituary column:

“The death has occurred in Jaffna yesterday of the Count de Mauny, who had resided in Ceylon for over twenty years, making his island home, Taprobane, off Weligama, one of the most attractive showpieces of the kind. A French Catholic, the count became a naturalized Englishman.

He was married to a daughter of the 4th Earl of Strafford and had one son, Mr V A de Mauny, who served with the British Navy in the last Great War and rejoined when the present hostilities broke out.

The late Count de Mauny’s principal hobbies, in which he was himself an adept, were the laying out of beautiful gardens and furniture craftsmanship, which he turned into an art. Besides his own at Taprobane, many of Colombo’s most pleasing gardens owe their inspiration to him. His book The Gardens of Taprobane published in London some years ago met with good reception.

Count de Mauny who was nominated to the Weligama Urban Council, took a keen interest in public affairs and there was a time when he was a prolific writer to the newspapers. At one period he was even a member of the Labour Union.

The funeral takes place this morning.”

While the above obituary states that Maurice “… had one son, Mr V A de Mauny, … “, it does not mention anywhere anything about his daughter Alexandra.

Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande’s son, Victor Alexander, passed away in 1978, and his daughter Alexandra died in 1989. They were both childless. Seweryn Chomet mentions a rumour that Victor Alexander had an illegitimate son in Ceylon who eventually emigrated to New Zealand.

Even after the Count died, Taprobane Island continued to draw new generations of romantics.

Taprobane Island remained in Victor Alexander’s ownership until it was sold by public auction in 1942 for Rupees 12,000.

In 1946, when Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933) was 12 years old his father had rented the island from the owners who had bought it at the auction.

The island changed hands to various people, and none of them lived there long as the Count did.

Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999). An American expatriate composer, author, and translator.
Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999). An American expatriate composer, author, and translator.

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Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999), an American expatriate composer, author, and translator was a child prodigy. He could read by the time he was three, and within the year he was writing stories. Soon, he started writing surrealistic poetry and music. In 1922, at age seventeen one of his poems, “Spire Song“, was accepted for publication in the twelfth volume of Transition, a literary journal based in Paris that served as a forum for some of the greatest proponents of modernism – Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Paul Éluard, Gertrude Stein and others.

In 1947, Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco, and his wife, Jane Bowles followed him in 1948.

Bowles visited Ceylon for the first time in 1949. He wrote:

Like most people, I have always been certain there was a place somewhere on this planet that could provide the necessary respite from all reminders of present-day chaos and noise, a place to which one could escape and, having escaped, shut the figurative door, there to breathe pure air and hear only the sounds provided by natural forces. So it was with tremulous excitement that I first saw the little island of Taprobane, in Weligama Bay off the south coast of Sri Lanka. Here was a site that seemed to have all the requisite qualities: It was scarcely more than a hummock of black basalt rising above the waves of the Indian Ocean, yet was heavily covered with high trees that left visible only a glimpse of the house at its summit. I had never seen a place that looked so obviously like what I was searching for. And I felt that it was aware of me, that it silently beckoned, sending forth a wordless message that meant: Come. You’ll like it here.

Three years later, I signed the necessary documents and became the owner of this tiny parcel of paradise. The erstwhile proprietor, a rubber planter named Mr Jinadasa, also bred racehorses and bet on them. When a horse in which he has great confidence failed to justify his hopes, he found himself in immediate need of cash. My informant in Sri Lanka wired me in Madrid, and as soon as the news arrived I rushed out to cable the money.

I inherited a couple who were resident gardener and maid, and who continued their work as if they were still in the employ of Mr Jinadasa. In aspects they had worked for several owners, scarcely knowing them apart, and were aware only that their employer must be addressed as Master. The island had belonged to various people in the recent past, and none of them had kept in very long. It was a pleasure dome, a place they used for weekend parties. The only person who had actually lived there was the Comte de Mauny Talvande, who had built the house and furnished it after reclaiming the island from its former status as the local cobra-dump. (All cobras found in the region were put into sacks, carried across to the island and left there since in Sri Lanka one doesn’t kill snakes). In order to settle in, I needed to buy only new mattresses for the beds, and lamps and kitchenware. The furniture, made of the heaviest kinds of tropical wood, was well-nigh immovable.

In 1951, Bowles purchased the island from its owner, Mr Jinadasa, for English Pounds 5,000. He lived there for many years, alternating seasonally with his better-known home in Morocco.

In 1952, during a three-year self-internment on the island, Bowles wrote his most successful novel, “The Spider’s House.” He incorporated the villa as one of the principal settings in the book. In his diary, he wrote of early-morning tours of the garden:

the sun, although scarcely risen above the headlands to the east, is already giving off an intimate, powerful heat, and the distant flotillas of fishing boats later slip past the white line of the reefs into the open sea, their furled sails like the dorsal fins of giant sharks”.

The American art collector, bohemian and socialite, Peggy Guggenheim, the Moroccan artist Ahmed Yakoubi, and British science fiction writer, science writer, and undersea explorer, Arthur C. Clarke were among those who visited Taprobane Island during Paul Bowles’ tenure.

In 1956, at his wife’s insistence, Bowles sold the island to the Irish writer Shaun Mandy and moved back to Morocco.

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Frederick Lorensz de Silva

Shaun Mandy sold Taprobane Island in the late 1950s to Sri Lankan lawyer and politician Edmund Frederick Lorensz de Silva, MBE, who was once the Mayor of Kandy, Member of Parliament and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to France and Switzerland, and a former Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya from 1990 to 1993.

Frederick de Silva known to the residents of Kandy and outside as ‘Fred’,  was the second son of veteran politician and statesman late Mr George E. de Silva who fought to achieve Independence and Adult Franchise for his country along with national leaders like late D. S. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Baron Jayatilleke, E. W. Perera, A. E. Goonesinghe and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.

Like his father who dominated the Criminal Bar for well over 30 years, Fred dominated the Criminal Bar for 58 years with a lucrative practice and his colleagues and litigants called him the ‘Lion of the Kandy Bar‘.

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Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ

Sir Desmond de Silva and Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia.
Sir Desmond de Silva and Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia.

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Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ (born December 31, 1939), a prominent British lawyer, and former United Nations Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone inherited Taprobane Island from his father Frederick Lorensz de Silva.

Sir Desmond married Princess Katharina of Yugoslavia, cousin of Queen Elizabeth and one of Queen Victoria’s great-granddaughters. They divorced on May 6, 2010.

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Thasseus Klossowski de Rola and his wife Loulou de la Falaise at a holiday in 1977. (Copyright: Roger Viollet | Nisberg Jack, Keystone)
Thasseus Klossowski de Rola and his wife Loulou de la Falaise at a holiday in 1977. (Copyright: Roger Viollet | Nisberg Jack, Keystone)

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The island became neglected for many years until a brief period in the 1970s when writer Thadée Klossowski de Rola, the younger son of the Polish-French modern artist Balthus, held court there and captivated many a young visitor!

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Geoffrey Dobbs

Geoffrey Dobbs
Geoffrey Dobbs

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In the 1970s, the Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Geoffrey Dobbs, a very successful Anglo-Australian hotelier, first saw the Taprobane Island in an airline magazine. Struck by the beauty of the place he fell in love with it. He patiently negotiated with the de Silva family and obtained it on a long lease. Eventually, he bought the Island from them. In 1995, Geoffrey Dobbs moved in and restored the island to its heyday.

A resident of Sri Lanka for the last 18 years, Geoffrey Dobbs is one of the key players in the tourism renaissance of Sri Lanka. He opened the first boutique hotels in Sri Lanka’s south-west, restoring two colonial mansions in Galle: the Sun House and the Dutch House. He has another beach retreat at Tangalla and more recently restored Lunuganga, the jungle retreat near Bentota.

Dobbs was one of the key figures in raising money and awareness for the tsunami relief for Sri Lanka and founded the charity “Adopt Sri Lanka” in 2001 with the objective to assist rebuilding and rehabilitating local communities on the coastline of Sri Lanka and to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. Having originally worked with other NGOs, Adopt Sri Lanka is now principally operating in the Weligama and Tangalle areas on long-term projects, rebuilding the fishing industry, restoring small businesses for widows and helping with education and housing.

He runs a “twinning” program which connects Sri Lankan schools with schools around the world.

He is the founder and president of the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association, Hong Kong. Every February he plays host to the world’s only beach elephant polo tournament held in front of his idyllic island of Taprobane on Sri Lanka’s south coast.

In 2007, he set up the Galle Literary Festival, which has now become a well recognised annual event.

Dobbs has a natural love for water and spends as much time as he can in or near the sea. He is a keen enthusiast for traditional boats and said:

“I have had a Chinese Junk in Hong Kong for over 25 years and was a member of the 1995 expedition sailing a bamboo raft across the Pacific Ocean to prove the Chinese reached America before Columbus.”

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Taprobane Island: Part 4 – Victor Alexander Christian Henry George de Mauny


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Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Victor Alexander Christian Henry George de Mauny
Victor Alexander Christian Henry George de Mauny (Source: christies.com)

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Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande named his son born on April 19, 1899, as Victor Alexander Christian Henry George de Mauny.

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HMS London
HMS London

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In 1912, Victor Alexander joined the British Royal Navy as a cadet. When First World War broke out in August 1914, he was appointed to the battleship HMS London, a Formidable-class battleship in the Royal Navy.

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Anzac Beach: 4th Battalion landing at 8 am on April 25, 1915
Anzac Beach: 4th Battalion landing at 8 am on April 25, 1915

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He assisted in landing the Australians at Anzac Cove as part of the amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey by predominantly Australian and New Zealand forces on April 25, 1915, and himself spent several days at Anzac Cove.

In 1919, he resigned his commission. He was placed on the Emergency List on March 8, 1919. He went back to Ceylon to work for the Rosehough Tea Company, first as an Assistant and then as an under-manager.

While his father, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande, was residing at Weligama in 1931, Victor Alexander resided at “Boxmead”, Turret Road (now Dharmapala Mawatha), Colombo – 7.

On September 8, 1939, mobilised by the Royal Navy, he was appointed to Ramsgate’s naval shore base HMS Fervent as a midshipman.

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British troops evacuating Dunkirk's beaches.
British troops evacuating Dunkirk’s beaches.

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Victor Alexander was engaged in the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, France, between May 27 and June 4, 1940. He served on this ship up to June 21, 1940.

He was mentioned in dispatches (The London Gazette of Friday, August 16, 1940). The recommendation states:

“Between Noon on 30 May and 0815 Hours on 4 June 1940, Lieutenant De Mauny was continuously engaged under way on evacuation duties without any intermission. He commanded in succession Ocean Breeze, Haig and then as Navigator in a group of Skoots, in Pascholl. He brought back more than 300 troops from Dunkirk beach in surf conditions on two separate occasions and was notably more successful than other small craft working in the same areas. On 31 May, when he was eight hours off the coast, his ship was subjected to continuous air attack. He displayed great devotion to duty under fire, and marked initiative, and was favourably reported upon by his Senior Officers on more than one occasion.”

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Pascholl, a Dutch schuyt
Pascholl, a Dutch schuyt

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He served as a navigator in Pascholl, for a group of Dutch schuyts (flat-bottomed sailboat, broad in the beam, with a square stern; usually equipped with leeboards to serve for a keel) used to ferry combat soldiers from the shore to the ships.

Promoted Lieutenant Commander on October 1, 1940, Victor Alexander served in HMS Brighton from October 1940 to August 1941.

He then commanded HMS Saltburn, a Hunt-class minesweeper built for the Royal Navy during First World War, but deployed as Royal Navy Signal School’s tender, for training.

At the end of March 1943, he commanded the patrol sloop, HMS Mallard, deployed in the North Sea. While serving in this vessel, The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 11th of December, 1945 mentioned that he received the Distinguished Service Cross award, the Royal Victorian Medal, G.VI.R., “For distinguished service during the War in Europe.”

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HMS Impulsive
HMS Impulsive

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Later in the war, he served in the battlecruiser HMS Renown, and then the destroyer HMS Midge. He took command of HMS Impulsive in July 1945.

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WARSHIP COMMANDS LISTED FOR VICTOR ALEXANDER CHRISTIAN HENRY GEORGE DE MAUNY, RN

Ship Rank Type From To
HMS Saltburn (J 58) Lt.Cdr. (emergency) Minesweeper 25 Aug 1941 1 Jan 1942
HMS Saltburn (J 58) Lt.Cdr. (emergency) Minesweeper 5 Feb 1942 30 Mar 1943
HMS Mallard (L 42 / K 42) Lt.Cdr. (emergency) Patrol vessel 30 Mar 1943 1 Jul 1945
HMS Impulsive (D 11) A/Cdr. (emergency) Destroyer 1 Jul 1945 24 Oct 1945

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After World War II ended, Victor Alexander Christian Henry George de Mauny, DSC, RN, returned to Ceylon and became Chairman of the Rosehough Tea Company.

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