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Bhathiya, Sashi and two daughters

Extracts from the book “READ BETWEEN THE LINES” By Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne Former Navy Commander & Former Chief of Defence Staff Managing Director Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Chairman Trincomalee Petroleum Terminals Ltd.

We studied together at Royal College. He was two batches senior to me, but we were in the same Cadet Platoon. He was our cadet Sergeant in 1978 Platoon. Bhathiya was a very cheerful person. He was smart and liked to wear fashionable clothes. When we all were wearing baggy shirts and trousers issued by Cadets Corps, Bhathiya had his own uniforms stitched to his size. Since school days, he wanted to join the Army, and was very excited about it. He joined the Army as an Officer Cadet into the first Short Service Commission batch of 1979 and was trained at the Indian Army Officer Training Academy in Chennai and subsequently, joined the Artillery Regiment of the Sri Lanka Army.

Bhathiya

As young officers, we both worked together in Mannar. I was the Officer-in-Charge of an isolated Naval Detachment in Talaimannar, and he served in the Brigade Headquarters in Talladi, Mannar. We used to have security meetings every fortnight at the Brigade Headquarters headed by our boss at that time, Brigadier Daya Wijesekara. As the land route from Talimannar to Mannar was not secure, I used to travel by a speedboat. The meeting was usually held on Saturdays. After the meeting, my Arty friends, Bhathiya, Roshan, Athula, Bandula (Logistician) and CLI friend (Trinitian) Chandana will approach Brigadier Daya and get permission for me to return to Talaimannar on Sunday. Brigadier Daya handed over the Brigade to then Brigadier Srilal Weerasooriya (who later became the Army Commander and our High Commissioner in Pakistan). We worked very hard as young officers and seniors were very fond of us.

So, the evening party on Saturday will start at eight ‘o’ clock after strong warnings from our Battery Commander (BC) at that time Major Thibbatumunuwa (rose to the rank of Major General later), Major Nissanka Wijesinghe (rose to the rank of Major General and appointed as the Chief of Staff of the Army), Major VR Silva (rose to the rank of Major General later) and Major Mahesh Samaraweera (rose to the rank of Major General later) not to drink too much and not to break glasses. However, after convincing them of good behaviour, the party starts and Old Arrack and beer will flow till late into the night.

Those were the good old days that we enjoyed in 1985/86 in Mannar. The only soft spot of Bhathiya had been his sweetheart Sashi, a Vishakian. He will talk for hours explaining how beautiful she is and his future plans for their married life. When we were fighting the LTTE and merrymaking in the Officers Mess during our free time and not very serious about our future, he had plans for his future and wanted to live a happy life.

Bhathiya was an avid reader of Military History. He used to learn about Artillery units of other Armies. He trained his gun crews very well. Apart from looking after guns, he was given an additional task to escort Mannar-Anuradhapura logistic convoys, which he loved to perform despite enemy landmine threat. He always volunteered to escort a convoy in one of the two legs, either from Mannar to Murunkan or from Murunkan to Madawachchiya/Anuradhapura. Whether he is training his gun crews in Thalladi or doing convoy duties, he used to wear his uniforms very smartly. His boots were always “spit and polished” and shining like a mirror. His men were very fond of him. He always trained his men to be professionally fully competent. He was an exemplary military leader to his men.

One of these days Bhathiya will come to my detachment on a holiday. He enjoyed driving his open jeep in Mannar roads. I used to take him to Sand Banks off Talamannar. We leave after sunset in our boats and camp out in the Sand Bank for the night. On a moonlit night, while drinking Rockland Lemon gin with fresh lime soda, (we used to get four bottles of local hard liquor per month on duty-free rate. At that time, the most preferred brand was Rockland Lemon Gin), eating deep-fried jumbo prawns, sitting on the edge of the sandbank with feet in sea water, and he will start advising me on the importance of a married life, which was Greek to me those young days. Not like us, he had a clear vision and wanted to live a long and a happy married life.

As he got married to Shashi, who was his school time sweetheart and relative, the daughter of Army Commander, General Hamilton Wanasinghe, VSV, USP, ndc (who later became CDS and Defence Secretary), he never used this connection to be away from War. A few days after his wedding, he went back to the War front. He was always brave and patriotic.

Bhathiya and Sashi had two lovely daughters, Druveesh and Sachini. Much later in service, when I asked about his two daughters, his eyes used to light up and say “I am their hero”. Bhathiya paid supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle on 22nd April 2000.

I was not able to attend his funeral as I was involved in a special mission in the Eastern area and I asked my wife Yamuna to attend. There were two funerals of distinguished Royalists who had made the supreme sacrifice on the same day at the Borella general cemetery. They were; Major General Percy Fernando of the Commando Regiment and Brigadier Bhathiya Jayatilleka of the Artillery Regiment. Both paid the supreme sacrifice during the Elephant Pass battle.

My wife who is considered as a “strong” lady in the military circles cried for days recollecting how Bhathiya’s two daughters wept during the funeral. She says no child should ever go through such an agony in their life.

We were invited to the weddings of both the daughters of Bhathiya last year. We saw the void Bhathiya has created to his loving wife and two daughters with his untimely demise. Pictures of young Bhathiya with Shashi and daughters were flashed during both the Weddings as a tribute to him. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of all the Sri Lankan children. And we shall never forget him, Brigadier Bhathiya Jayatilleka, RSP, IG, our Royal College Cadet Platoon buddy.

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