Gemunu Watch receives President’s and Regimental colours
President Mahinda Rajapaksa presented the 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 August 15 at the Gemunu Watch Regimental Headquarters at Kuruwita.
While the Regimental Centre guards were commanded by Major M.M.B.P. Perera, the Commanding Officers of the three battalions’ guards were Lt. Col. K.M.N. Kulasekera, Major L.D. Annakkage and Lt. Col. M.K. Thushara respectively.
The old colours of the three battalions were presented on the same day in 1980 by the then President J.R. Jayewardene at the Galle Esplanade.
A detailed backgrounder on the presentation of colours has been written by Brigadier Hiran Halangode (retired), 13th Commanding Officer of the First Battalion and Commander of the Air Mobile Brigade in the liberation of Jaffna, who is also the eldest son of the founder of the regiment, the late Brigadier (then Lt. Col.) J.F. Halangode.
Colours were basically a large flag with distinctive markings mounted on a pike and were carried in battle over 5,000 years ago in Egypt and later 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.
The President’s and Regimental colours are presented to regiments for their loyal, disciplined, honourable and enduring service 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 honour 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 3,031 soldiers, while 12 officers and 393 soldiers who were missing in action are feared dead, 63 officers and 1,438 soldiers were permanently wounded or disabled and 31 officers and 2,534 soldiers were 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.
Officers Lt. Col. J.A.L. Jayasinghe, Captain U.G.A.S. Samaranayake and Captain H.G.M.K.I. Megawarna and Corporal P.H.N. Pushpakumara of the Gemunu Watch were among the 19 from the army who were posthumously awarded the Parama Weera Vibhushana (equivalent to Britain’s Victoria Cross) for bravery and conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy.
Over 2,200 troops of the regiment have also served with distinction with UN forces in Haiti and lately in Lebanon.
More than 56,000 troops have served the country since the inception of the regiment. (The total number of troops mobilized by colonial Ceylon for World War II was 40,000).Today the strength of the Gemunu Watch is 17,000 comprising all ranks, more than the whole of the Sri Lanka Army at the start of the Eelam conflict.
Sturdy veterans of many battles who had brought glory to the regiment, many of them highly decorated, together with newer entrants, totalling 47 officers and 379 men were on parade. They represented all 23 battalions of the regiment. They were immaculately dressed in olive green uniforms with the distinctive red hackle, a feather plume, on their dark blue berets. They stood ramrod straight and as tall ‘as a sergeant major’s eye’.
The Army Band No. 2 from the Diyatalawa Garrison together with men from Army Band No. 1 from Colombo, 64 in all, under Captain P.G.A.R.S. Kumara played martial music.
Over 2,800 officers, their spouses, serving soldiers and their families, 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.
The parade commander was Brigadier Jagath Pakshaweera, son of the 1980 parade commander Colonel P. Pakshaweera, 82, when colours were first presented. The latter attended the ceremony in a wheelchair.
On arrival by helicopter, President Rajapaksa was met by Maj. Gen. Leonard Mark, Commander Security Force Mullaitivu. Army Commander Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya and Colonel of the Gemunu Watch, Maj. Gen. Susil Udumanagala received the President. The consecration, blessing and dedication of the new colours were performed by the religious leaders of the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim faiths.
Addressing the troops on parade, President Rajapaksa said that he was very proud of them and had the fullest confidence in them. The colours 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 President added.
The Regimental Commander assured that the colours would be guarded resolutely.Months of arduous practice, pride and high morale backed by meticulous planning and tremendous effort had produced an excellent parade. Invitee US Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Patrick Schuler (US 82nd Airborne Division) remarked that the drill was brilliant. No one could dispute that.
The First battalion will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on December 7 at Diyatalawa, the spiritual home of the Regiment.
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