By Capt Dr Sena Nanayakkara(Retd)
The Sri Lanka Ex-Service Persons Association (SLESPA) in the UK held its annual New Year’s Eve Celebrations at the Novotel London Heathrow. It was a tremendous success and a memorable event. The hall was filled to capacity. The atmosphere was electric.
The guest of honour – Councillor Mr Manoj Warnapala – who graced the occasion on behalf of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in the UK, on arrival, was introduced to the organising team & the executive committee of the SLESPA-UK by the president, Capt Dr Sena Nanayakkara(Retd).
Councillor Mr Manoj Warnapala was invited to light the traditional oil lamp followed by the president, Capt. Mahen Abeysekera(Retd), Lt. Comdr Kapila De Alwis(Retd), Capt Sampath Dinesh(Retd) & Mr Aloysius Gnanapragasm (the organising team ), past presidents Wing Com. Sanath Sahabandu(Retd), Col. Pasan Kularatna(Retd) and the treasurer Flt.Lt (Dr) Deepthi Ratnayake(Retd).
The president of the SLESPA UK , Capt.Dr Sena Nanayakkara (Retd) welcomed the Guest of Honour and all the guests for their presence in sharing the special occasion with the members, their friends and families.
He then gave a brief resume of the main activities of the Association since its inauguration in 2009, which also highlighted the ongoing commitments to several worthy charities in Sri Lanka, including the Hisata Sevena Project which offers assistance to deserving severely disabled ex-service victims in Sri Lanka. A short video clip was shown on the big screen to show glimpses of the association activities over the preceding years.
The guest of honour Mr Manoj Warnapala in his speech conveyed sincere apologies from the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, Her Excellency Mrs Amari Wijeywardena, and wished the Association every success in their endeavour to provide substantial assistance to the deserving ex-service personnel in Sri Lanka.
All the dinner guests enjoyed the sumptuous hot buffet Sri Lanka style meal, preceded by mouth-watering starters and followed with a choice of desserts. Plenty of refreshments including wine and scotch whisky were provided free to all the guests.
The enthusiastic crowd – young & old alike – filled the dance floor, thanks to the beautifully well selected music played by the popular live band, The FrontLine. Couples flocked to the dance floor when the favourite live band played an almost non-stop session of Baila. The two Dhola drummers also kept the lively crowd entertained for almost half an hour and was a big hit & a big surprise.
In-house raffle draws with plenty of attractive prizes for the lucky winners were conducted intermittently by the Master of Ceremonies, Capt. Mahen Abeysekera(Retd) to raise much-needed funds towards the Hisata Sevena Project. Also, an auction raised more money towards the charity- Hisata Sevana Project, thanks to the donation of a return air ticket courtesy of Sri Lankan Airlines.
The count down to the dawn of the New Year 2017 was beautifully timed a few minutes before midnight with a big bang of lively music to enable all the guests to hug each other and wish a happy and a prosperous New Year. Everyone was treated with the traditional ‘ Kiri Bath’ & ‘Lunu Miris’ afterwards.
An independent team (Nipunika Kalupahana, Maitre Gunasekera & Suran Fernando) judged a Baila competition, and the ten raffle prizes were given away by the better halves of the executive committee to the lucky winners.
The celebrations continued until 2.30am, with the singing of the Sri Lankan and Great Britain National anthems bringing everything to a fitting finale.
Proposing the final vote of thanks was the Secretary & the Master of Ceremonies, Capt Mahen Abeysekera(Retd).
Special thanks must go to Mr Manoj Warnapala, Councillor, SLHC for his presence. Also to all the sponsors and donors for the expensive raffle prizes: Sri Lankan Airlines, Honey Moon Restaurant, Third Eye Travel, Todaton Service Garage, Kalu’s Hideaway, Athgiri Safari Tours, Mount Lavinia Hotel, Citrus Hotel Hikkaduwa, Heritage Weligama, Security Forces HQ Jaffna, and Eden Resort Beruwala.
A special mention should also go to Novotel Hotel Management, Chandana, The Frontline Live Band and all the members and the guests for their active participation and financial support towards the Hisata Sevena Project Raffle.
Last but not least, my sincere thanks must go the organisers led by the energetic secretary Capt Mahen Abeysekera(Retd) and his dedicated team, Lt. Comdr Kapila De Alwis(Retd), Capt Sampath Dinesh(Retd) and Mr Aloysius Gnanapragasm for their efforts to make this event a great success.