|Happenings of July 1983- A comrade remembers…|
|Friday, 25 July 2008|
Madagal army camp in the Northern coastal line of Jaffna was known for its peaceful surroundings and the beautiful sea lapping at the edges of the camp perimeter. That July night in 1983 was like any other and the soldiers cheerful, as they always were in "Charlie" company, 1st battalion the Sri Lanka Light Infantry. A young lieutenant, twelve infantrymen and two soldier drivers were preparing to set out on a vehicle patrol. They would not have imagined for a moment that thirteen among them would never return.
Twenty five years later when a soldier takes his mind back to circumstances in which comrades have been lost, strange events seem to string together. To begin with the men of this fateful patrol belonged to the advanced platoon of Charlie company, which was the first to reach Madagal, otherwise they would not have been out that night.
Nissanka (Vas Gunawardena), the young lieutenant who was in charge of the patrol was always known for his cheerfulness. This night was not his turn but as he had come with the advanced platoon he was instructed by company commander to be in charge of the patrol of the evening. Soldiers like Perera GP, a boxer who had made the battalion proud and Sunil MB had already decided to retire early from the army after five years service. Rajatilleke and Wijesiri, fresh out of training school were keen to join the patrol. Prera a senior driver volunteered to take the wheel of one of the two vehicles that night as he always enjoyed being on duty with his colleagues. Manapitiya and Karunaratna would always keep the platoon entertained by their subtle sense of humour. Sergeant Telakaratne was new to the group but a mature junior leader who kept the young soldiers well motivated.
The patrol set off in a jeep and a truck around 21.45 hours on July 23. Mobile patrols had been instructed to move in two vehicles due to the increasing threat by separatist rebels. As they prepared to be out most of the night, the company sergeant major after the final check even ensured that his men had the full coffee flasks sufficient for the next few hours.
Sometime around 23.20 hours that night the patrol lost radio contact and search patrols were dispatched by the battalion headquarters from Palaly. These patrols were to later discover the dead bodies of 13 soldiers ambushed by separatist rebels in Thinnaveli, a small village through which the road from Palaly to Gurunagar runs. The ambush had been well planned. The rebels targeted the leading jeep planting a landmine under a culvert which then obstructed the truck which was following. Perera RAU a physical training instructor and Sumathipala were the only two to survive, though injured during the initial gunfight and grenade attacks. They avoided death by scaling a parapet wall and were later to call for reinforcements.This was the first time a group of soldiers this size was fatally ambushed and the events that followed have been interpreted in many different ways over the past two and a half decades. Less known are some strange occurrences. Lieutenant Vas Gunewardena had bought an alarm clock in preparing for this tenure to Jaffna. In an eerie turn of events this clock left in his room had stopped ticking at 11.45 pm on the fateful night, probably around the time that he would have passed away. Amarasinghe another soldier who died in the fighting mentioned before leaving that night that it would be his last patrol, but could not explain himself further as he just smiled on.
This incident in July 1983 impacted the whole lives of families of these thirteen soldiers forever. Violent conflict was to follow with mistrust replacing communal harmony and the social fabric of the island nation was to change. The people of all communities have since remained at the receiving end with the breakdown of public security and increase of violent crime as in most other conflict situations.
The two injured soldiers who survived were evacuated to the military hospital Colombo and travelling down from Jaffna around July 26 to visit them was bizarre. The roads were empty as the transport system had broken down. An elderly Tamil gentleman with a small 'Ford' suitcase stranded in Jaffna town was offered a lift. It was later realized during the long drive that he was a senior surgeon at the Wellawatta Nursing Home and that his family too had been seriously affected by the fresh violence and looting in Colombo. Most of the discussion between Dr J and me was dominated by his work.
We exchanged our contact details when we parted when we reached Colombo. On seeing my name he stopped for a minute, smiled and said "I remember this surname, I was the doctor in charge the day you were born!". Dr J was later to help many soldiers of "Charlie" company 1 SLLI, whenever I requested his assistance.
Well, twenty five years down the line many things may have changed but not the sea in Madagal which still continues lapping lazily at the edges of the palmyrah shores. I can almost hear it..........
(Courtesy : Daily Mirror )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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