Commandants all - from Asoka to Niranjan to Priyantha


(Down Memory Lane from the Garrison town of Diyatalawa -3)

I was pleased to receive an email from (Retd) Major General SMA (Asoka) Jayawardane who is now domiciled in the US. Let me begin with his email "I read your Article on Intake 13 in 'The Island' newspaper of 26 Oct 2017.

Very interesting. I didn't know you had a brother Rohana in Intake 13 and now serving in the army. Can you please, tell me his Unit and present Rank and Position he holds and where he is based for my personal knowledge. You have used a lot of your energy and time to create this article. As mentioned by you I was the Commandant. In fact at that time I was also the first Commandant of the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA). Intake 13 had good officer cadet material. As mentioned by you, it produced two Army Commanders. You also mention that the other Intake that produced two Army Commanders was the Intake which had Kottegoda and Sarath Fonseka. That is Intake 2. I was its Chief Instructor.

I will be waiting impatiently to read your next article. Hope I won’t miss it! Warm regards, Asoka J"

I will reply him later. May be after this article. I was/am extremely fond of him because he is very humane. Sri Lanka lost people like Asoka to the US. Ask Gen Daya Ratnayaka about Asoka, and he will tell you why he respects him so much.

I also received a call from Baghdad from (Retd) Major General Niranjan Ranasinghe (NR) He followed it with an email. He is Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Iraq now. This is an edited version of it: "I assumed duties as the Commandant on 15th of January 2000. I had a good look at the Academy and decided on priorities. I had decided that the most important thing that was lacking in the Academy was a Monument for all the fallen Officers, and we decided to utilize the Academy funds for the Monument. I wanted all the names of fallen Officers recorded as per each year, and secondly, I wanted a Clock Tower to face the Parade Grounds so that all Officers and Officer Cadets would set their watches to the Academy time. Next we got the entire area cleared up and then developed on my outline idea so that we had a Line of Peace and veering wall, the height and distance from the Line of Peace, indicating years of heavy fighting with the terrorists.The details of Officers were collected from Army HQs and rechecked again with each Regimental HQs and the Pay and Records Office at Panagoda. Once the list was confirmed as accurate, we got the names engraved on Granite slabs; the work was done in a shop opposite the CTB Depot at Avissawella. These slabs were transported carefully to Diyatalawa and erected in their proper place. The Clock was fixed by W A de Silva and Co. The rest is history as you say and this was my lasting contribution to the Military Academy. We also planted a row of Na trees (Ironwood) which as you know is the National Tree of Sri Lanka, behind the wall, some of which can be seen already, rising above the wall. I guess there are about 1000 names of fallen officers recorded on the wall, including those of 2009. The meaning of the wall has been explained well by Lt. Col. Kelum to you and it appeared accurately in the last article. He was a Captain when I was the Commandant with the rank of Brigadier. I ended up serving 2 and 1/2 years as Commandant to be the 3rd longest serving Commandant"

Today, The Military Academy in Diyatalawa is headed by a battled hardened, very sharp and a thoughtful Brigadier Priyantha Senaratne of the Commando regiment. He is from Intake 25. Priyantha’s military awards and decorations include ‘Rana Sura Padakkama’ - a gallantry medal awarded to hm four times for his bravery in the battlefield. It speaks a lot if a special gallantry award has been awarded not once, but four times to an Army Officer and that too to a Commando. He must be tough as nails. His other medals include, "Desha Puthra Sammanaya" (Purple Heart), "Purna Bhumi Padakkama", North and East Operations Medals, Riviresa Campaign Service Medal, 50th Independence Medal, Sri Lanka Armed Services Long Service Medal, Foreign Service Medal and the Medal for the United Nations Mission in Haiti.

I immediately got a liking to Brigadier Senaratne who assumed duties as the Commandant, Sri Lanka Academy on 22 December 2016. I could see that he was unassuming and patriotic to the core. The Brigadier also could see the world beyond the Army. He is fully committed to his duties as the Commandant of the Academy. He hosted a dinner for me at the officers’ mess and I saw him continuously telling his officers to see and learn from the world outside, to achieve greater heights for the country first and for them, and also to take the cadets they were training beyond the Army. May be I should have spent more time listening to his stories from the battlefield. Priyantha told me how once in the deep jungles, his then senior and instructor, Major Vijith Welikala shared his dreams. I have met Vijith several times with my brother. Today Vijith is a very successful Commando turned businessman. Vijith started adventure tourism in Sri Lanka with the Ella Adventure Park. Only a commando would have done that and he sure did so because even former Commandos do the impossible.

I also met an energetic officer, Colonel Nalinda Niyangoda from Intake 31, Commanding Officer, Officer Cadet Wing and two of his instructors. We exchanged views and he says he was trained by my brother’s batch mate, Late Lt Colonel Angelo Peiris. He paid a glowing tribute to him. He also spoke of another gallant officer, Colonel Jayavi Fernando of the Special Forces. I still remember Jayavi and my brother Rohana coming to see me on powerful Army bikes to my work place down Vauxshall Street in Colombo, before they went to Belgaum in India for commando training. Memories do not fade away easily.

Bharatha Gunathilaka is the Superintendent of Radio Graphics at the Diyatalawa Hospital. He is more a journalist than a medical man, having edited a magazine on the Garrison Town. He gives a voice to the people in Diyatalawa with his writing and is very passionate about his small town. I was very happy to meet with him and spent more than an hour speaking to Bharatha. He says the population of the multi-ethnic town of Diyatalawa is 40,000 and describes Diyatalawa to be very peaceful. I couldn't agree with him more with one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Bharatha says it is because the Army sub-culture and most are farmers involved in paddy and vegetable cultivation. He says there is a huge bond between the forces, which is nearly 4000 in number, at any given time and the people of Diyatalawa. "We always hear military sounds here and see Troops all the time. We see them marching, doing physical exercises. Hear them fire. Many also depend on the forces and do business", said Bharatha. He also said many from the area have joined the Army and serve the nation and it is because they have seen the troops all the time that children from Diyatalwa and Bandarawela aspire to join the army. He pointed out Lt Colonel Kelum Wickremasinghe as one such example. A smiling Bharatha said "We just have one cinema hall in Diyatalawa and we have to travel to Bandarawela for entertainment and we don’t even have a petrol shed here" Diyatalawa no doubt is very badly neglected by politicians.

Lt Colonel Kelum Wickremaratne later drove me to Fox Hill. It looks like Fox Hill has now become more famous because of the Motor Cross. However, it is where the Army men and women practice firing from mortars to Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). He showed me around and his pick-up truck had no problems in taking us to difficult places. Kelum explained to me that the Army owned nearly 3000 acres of land in the garrison town of Diyatalawa, in addition to the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Navy. Wonder what is the Navy doing in the hills? Please ask the Brits first. Our people just followed. The good Colonel tried to explain to me about the British and the Boer prisoners and I told him "Hell with the Brits and their prisoners. We got better things to do". However, let us not forget about the British brutality and how they plundered the earth and the holier than thou approach. But, I salute you Lord Naseby who I was fortunate to have met during one of my visits to Britain. God Save the Sri Lanka Army.

NEXT WEEK : 00km to Paradise.

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