Lalin's Column: Presentation of President’s and Regimental colors to the Gemunu Watch (1)
HE Mahinda Rajapakse graciously presented President’s and Regimental colours to the Regimental Centre Gemunu Watch and new President’s and Regimental colours to the Diyatalawa based First, Galle based Second (Volunteer) and Matara based Third (Volunteer) Battalions of the Gemunu Watch on 15 August 2012 at the Gemunu Watch Regimental HQ, Kuruwita. While the Regimental Centre guards were commanded by Major MMBP Perera, the Commanding Officers of the three battalions’ guards were respectively Lt Col KMN Kulasekera RSP, Major LD Annakkage and Lt Col MK Thushara.
The old colours of the three battalions were presented on the same day in 1980 by the then President of SL at the Galle Esplanade.
A very informative article by Brigadier Hiran Halangode RWP, RSP USP, (retired) 13th Commanding Officer of the First Battalion and commander of the Air Mobile Brigade in the liberation of Jaffna, on the back ground to the presentation of colours was published in the Island of 13 August. He is eldest son of the founder of the regiment late Brigadier (then Lt Col) JF Halangode.
‘…. Back in that wonderful world where we used to be happy, where we greeted the rising sun with light hearts and saw it setting without fear. In that cheerful world….’ (A G Gardiner)
Colours were basically a large flag with distinctive markings mounted on a pike They were carried in battle over 5,000 years ago in Egypt and later on in other armies throughout the ages. They were a rallying point and marked the location of the Commander. No longer carried in battle, they are today a symbol of the regiment, guarded with zest and pride. They are paid compliments (saluted) by all ranks when unfurled.
President’s and Regimental colours are presented to regiments for their loyal, disciplined, honourable and enduring services to the nation in war and peace, in Sri Lanka and abroad. They are a symbol of the loyalty, spirit, history, pride, prestige and traditions of the Regiment. They are a constant reminder of comrades who laid down their lives for the honor of the regiment. In time battle honours will be emblazoned on the Colours. They are its heart and soul.
In the conflicts of 1971, 1988/9 and the Eelam campaign the Gemunu Watch lost 138 officers and 3031 soldiers killed 12 officers and 393 soldiers missing in action feared dead, 63 officers and 1438 soldiers permanently wounded or disabled and 31 officers and 2534 soldiers wounded in action. In the latter conflict, battalions of the Regiment which at one time numbered 27, were involved in all major battles in every part of the country.
Three officers Lt Col JAL Jayasinghe, Captain UGAS Samaranayake Captain HGMKI Megawarna and one soldier Corporal Pushpakumara PHN of the Gemunu Watch were amongst 19 from the army who were posthumously awarded the Param Weera Vibushana for bravery and conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy. It is SL’s equivalent to Britain’s Victoria Cross which is awarded for valour.
Over 2,200 troops of the regiment have also served with distinction with UN forces in Haiti and lately in Lebanon. A total of over 56,000 troops of the regiment have served the country since the inception of the regiment. (The total number of troops mobilized by colonial Ceylon for WW 2 was 40,000).Today the strength of the Gemunu Watch is 17,000 all ranks, more than the SL Army was at the start of the Eelam conflict.
The backdrop to the parade was the gentle Sabaragamuwa hills. Though not as alluring as the emerald hills of Uva that are home to the First Battalion, it reminded all present that these were ‘Highlanders’ on parade.
There had been heavy rain at Kuruwita around 4am that morning. Willing troops set to immediately the rains stopped and not only sponged but also brought and spread considerable quantities of sand over the grounds to ensure the parade was not impeded. The rain fortunately also helped to keep the high morning temperatures down during the parade.
Sturdy veterans of many battles who had brought glory to the regiment, many of them highly decorated, together with newer entrants, totaling 47 officers and 379 men were on parade. They represented all 23 battalions of the Regiment from all parts of the Island. They were immaculately dressed in olive green uniforms with the distinctive red hackle, a feather plume, on their dark blue berets. They stood ram rod straight and as tall ‘as a sergeant major’s eye’. Not a flicker of even an eye lash was seen.
The Army Band No 2 from the Diyatalawa Garrison together with men from Army band No 1 from Colombo totaling 64 under Captain PGARS Kumara played up lifting martial music and popular airs which made the troops drill even better.
Over 2800 officers, their spouses, the serving soldiers and their families, the disabled soldiers of the regiment, the next of kin of those who made the supreme sacrifice and retired officers and soldiers of the Regiment and their wives had come to pay their respects. It was to be a very emotional and revered ceremony.
The parade commander was Brigadier Jagath Pakshaweera RSP USP, son of the 1980 parade commander Colonel P Pakshaweera (age 82) when colours were first presented. The latter attended the ceremony in a wheel chair.
After the troops under the parade second in command Colonel MWAA Wijesuriya RSP, marched onto the parade grounds to the tune of the regimental quick march ’Highland Laddie’, the old colours were uncased. The parade commander then took over. The old colours were handed over to the Colour party with its escort as the band played ‘The standard of St George’. The Regimental Sergeant Major drew his sword, the only occasion that he would so do and saluted the old colours. The parade then presented arms. The old colours were marched off in slow time past the gathered onlookers and were trooped between the ranks on parade. They then marched off the parade ground for the last time to the traditional and haunting strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Before the Colours are laid up finally they may be trooped through the respective towns of the three battalions.
HE President Mahinda Rajapakse arrived by helicopter. He was met by Maj Gen Leonard Mark RSP USP, Commander Security Force Mullativu who escorted him to the entrance of the Regimental Headquarters of the Gemunu Watch. The Army Commander Lt Gen Jagath Jayasuriya USP and the Colonel of the Gemunu Watch Maj Gen Susil Udumanagala RSP received the President and accompanied him to the saluting dais.
The parade presented arms to their Commander in Chief. The National anthem was played. The parade commander then reported the parade to the President. The President inspected the troops in an open vehicle accompanied by the Army Commander, the Colonel of the Gemunu Watch and the Parade Commander. The band played some popular Sinhala tunes ‘Jathiya Jathiya’, ‘Ganga diya reli gala’ and the perennial favourite ‘Suwanda Rosa Mal’.
The consecration, blessing and dedication of the new colours followed. Religious dignitaries of the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim faiths blessed the Colours which had been placed on piled drums by the Regimental drummers. They reminded the Regiment that the colours signified their allegiance to the head of state and the country and exhorted them to uphold the honour and sanctity of the Colours. They charged the Regiment with the protection, preservation, welfare and good order of the people and to remember their courageous comrades who laid down their lives, faithful to their duty.
Blessings given by clergy of all faiths was first introduced to the Army by the First Commanding Officer of the Gemunu Watch long before it had colours, when its insignia was so blessed at its Battalion day anniversary parade. The President’s and the Battalions colours have been blessed annually at Kataragama since 1981. The new colours too were taken there to be blessed that same evening.
The President then went forward to where the new colours were resting on the piled drums. Receiving them one at a time from an officer, he presented them to the two kneeling colour officers of each of the four colour parties. He touched the colours and paid his respects to the new Colours.
The President addressing the troops on parade said that he was very proud of them and they had his fullest confidence. The colours he said were a symbol of their duty to the country. He entrusted the colours to the Gemunu Watch as it carries the name of the most famous warrior King of Lanka, Dutugemunu, and was second to none in the loyal and courageous performance of its duties to the country. He expected the Gemunu Watch to maintain the highest standards of military professionalism and conduct.
The Regimental Commander responded by thanking the President. He said it was an immense privilege for the Regiment to be presented with Colours. He gave his word that the Regiment would guard its colours resolutely .He pledged complete and unwavering loyalty of the Regiment in its service to the head of state and the country. Each of the three battalion commanders in turn too pledged the faithful and loyal service of their battalions.
The parade then presented arms to the new Colours while the band played the National anthem. A splendid march past with the new colours flying, followed in slow and quick time to the tunes of ‘Scipio’, ‘By Land and Sea’, ‘His Majesty’, ‘Royal Artillery March’, ‘May Blossoms’ and ‘Over the waves’. The parade then advanced 15 steps in review order to the traditional review march, the ‘British Grenadiers’ and halted without a further word of command. They then presented arms to the President as the National anthem was played.
The President then made a short stirring speech. He said the parade was of a very high standard and the troops had been steadfast. He asked the Regiment to be extremely vigilant in the future too. A visibly happy president then departed.
The Colours were marched off .The parade commander handed over the parade to the second in command who marched the troops off the grounds. The spectators dispersed to different rendezvous for a grand celebratory lunch.
Officers of the Gemunu Watch and their wives had a rare opportunity to meet the President in the Regimental Officers’ Mess before lunch was served.
Months of arduous practice, pride and high morale backed by meticulous organization and tremendous effort had produced an excellent parade worthy of this magnificent occasion. An invitee to the parade, US Defence Attaché Lt Col Patrick Schuler (US 82nd Airborne Division) remarked that the drill was brilliant. No one would argue with that.
The First battalion will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on 7 December 2012 at Diyatalawa, the spiritual home of the Regiment.
‘Tarry not, forward’ (Translation of the Pali motto of the Gemunu Watch)
- Asian Tribune -