VR, Officer and a GentlemanJuly 20, 2011, 7:03 pm
He joined the Regular Force as an Officer Cadet in 1974 and was commissioned to the 4th Regiment of the Sri Lanka Artillery in 1976. As an officer, due to his efficiency and commitment, he gained his promotions quickly and ended up as a Major General in 2004.
This sportsman and military leader, served the Army for more than three decades and was one of the officers who took part in humanitarian operations to save the innocent Tamil and Muslim civilians from the ruthless terrorists.
Who is this military officer?
He is Major General Vidanage Ratnasiri Silva, popularly known as V. R. Silva or VR.
He hails from a very respectable family from Kurunegala. His father, the late John De Silva was a businessman from Koggala. Later, he settled down in Kurunegala. V. R.’s mother was the late Prema De Silva. They had nine children, six sons and three daughters. V. R. is the fifth in the family.
V. R. Silva had his education at Maliyadeva College, one of the leading Buddhist schools in Kurunegala. Maliyadeva was started with one student in June 1888 at a place at Bodhiraja Mawatha, near the present Kurunegala Central Bus Stand, by the late Anagarika Dharmapala and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, with the assistance of several donors. The school was earlier named Kurunegala Buddhist Institution. The school was managed by the Buddhist Theosophical Society. The first Manager of the school was the the late A. M. Abegunaratne. In 1927, the name of the school was changed to Maliyadeva College.
The golden era of Maliyadeva College dawned with the appointment of U. B. Wanninayaka as the principal. He later became a politician and Member of Parliament and was an honest and respected minister. From 1961 to 1980, Maliyadeva developed to become the most popular educational institution in the North-Western Province and today it is one of the finest schools in the country.
VR the Sportsman
V. R. was a good sportsman. He captained the Under-14, 16 and 19 cricket teams in 1968, 1970 and 1933. As an outstanding schoolboy cricketer, he was appointed vice-captain of the Central Province team. Sports and V. R. were inseparable. He probably created a record at Maliyadeva by captaining three sports disciplines - cricket, soccer and rugby football.
He captained the Under-16 soccer team in 1970 and went on to captain the first fifteen rugby and athletic teams. He was a superb athlete and was the champion athlete in the age groups of (Under-12, 16 and 19) and won the Public Schools (Under-15) 80 meters hurdles. He was an excellent hurdler, triple and long jumper.
"My most unforgettable school cricket match was the Maliyadeva-Dharmapala encounter in 1973. I had a fresher laden side (Six). Another significant incident was that two of my brothers – Sumith and Ranjith, too played in the side. Dharmapala was such a strong outfit that they qualified to play in the limited overs tournament. Under my captaincy, we managed to beat this experienced Dharmapala side."
VR captained the Army cricket team and obtained Army Colours. Further, he was a versatile sportsman while in the Army. He played rugby football and was a member of the Army pistol shooting and squash teams. Later, he was the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Army Cricket Committee for 10 years, which won all major trophies. He toured Barbados with the Defence Services cricket team as the Manager, in 2003.
Major General V. R. Silva is one of the most highly decorated military officers. He served more than 29 years in the North and East and was in the forefront of the humanitarian operation launched by the Defence Forces.
"We are all grateful to the Commander-in-Chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Secretary Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. With their guidance and advice, our Defence Services personnel were able to bring Sri Lanka under one umbrella after three decades. We paid a big prize to achieve this. It was achieved by blood, sweat and tears, plus discipline and commitment. The greatest achievement is the dawn of peace," stated VR.
"Our main aim was to save the innocent people from the terrorists. They were used as human shields. When I was the operational staff officer at co-ordinating headquarters in Mannar, under Colonel Daya Wijesekera, a wounded terrorist was brought in. He was shot by their own group and abandoned. He was almost dying. We had a difficulty in taking him to a government hospital. We did not have any medical officers as they were engaged in humanitarian operations in thick jungles. We administered treatment and after three days, the terrorist recovered. We treated him well. We were so happy that we were able to save his life," said VR.
As a military officer, he followed the commando advanced course, advanced gunnery, survey, long gunnery, staff course, senior command course and senior command artillery, international affairs and security studies course and obtained the National Defence University Degree.
Silva held a number of important posts such as intelligence and staff officer – Commando Regiment, staff officer co-ord HQ (Mannar), sub-unit commander (Jaffna), General staff officer, Jaffna, commanding officer RFT Battilion (Mannar) commanding officer, Field Regiment Artillery (Vavuniya), colonel general staff (Elephant Pass) brigade commander (Batticaloa), artillery brigade commander (Jaffna) director planning, army headquarters, general officer commanding (Muhamale, Jaffna), director general, general staff – joint operations headquarters, general officer commanding (Galle, Kandy, Ratnapura, Hambantota and Yala).
He was decorated with the Rana Sura Paddakama, Vishita Seva Vibushana, Uttama Seva Paddakama, Purana Bhumi Paddakama, North-East Operations Medal, Riviresa Campaign Service Medal, 50th Independence Anniversary Medal 1998, Sri Lanka Army 50th Anniversary Medal 1999, Sri Lanka Armed Services Long Service Medal 1979, President’s Inauguration Medal 1978, etc. This military officer took part in major offensive operations (Humanitarian Operations), conducted since operation Vadamarachchi.
Silva visited many countries for training and seminars such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Israel, Czech Republic, UK, USA, China, Netherlands, the Maldives and Singapore.
V. R. was appointed as the Commissioner General of Prisons on 28th May 2009.
He re-organised the Prison administration and some of the innovations he started are (a) Training Centre for youthful offenders at Ambepussa (b) Establishment of a security and intelligence division (c) Child and mother care centre for convicted mothers at Kalutara (d) Informal and educational facilities (e) Promotion scheme for officers.
There are three major prisons that are situated in Colombo, Mahara and Bogambara. There are 20 remand prisons and 23 lock-ups, and two open prison camps. There are about 11,000 convicted prisoners and about 13,000 remand prisoners. There is a staff of about 4500 in the Prisons Department.
He is married to Shanthini from Kurunegala. She studied at Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala. They are blessed with two sons. The eldest son, Pradika was born in India, studied at Royal College and presently is following an engineering degree at the University of Ruhuna. He too is a fine sportsman, a fine athlete and a basketball player. The younger son is Rakitha, who is studying at Royal College, Colombo and will be sitting for his Advanced Levels in August. He is a member of the Royal College rowing, basketball and athletic teams.