Fallen in the name of Freedom

They died for something which may be trivial to many of us. A piece of high ground on a salty sand dune or a landing area in a landmine filled beach, or simply protecting a Cadjan bunker in some remote corner of the country. But when the dusk settles on this protracted war and the final analysis is done we will most probably realise that every sacrifice these thousands made had a reason and purpose. For if not for those brave men and women willing to die to protect few square meters of land we would have lost everything which many of us usually shout about, sovereignty, freedom and dignity.


Caring for the living

While remembering the fallen this week takes precedence over all else, Remembrance Week is also about doing something for the living. In fact, the sale of poppy paraphernalia is aimed at raising funds to support welfare schemes for disabled soldiers and assist families of war heroes.
The eruption of tension in the north and east since the beginning of this year has left many soldiers wounded in action, adding to an already large community of differently-abled heroes of war. It has often been said that while memoriams are held in plenty for those who have died at the front, the country tends to forget the living heroes who have to go on with their lives, facing an added challenge of a physical handicap.
The Ex-Servicemen’s Association is one organisation dedicated to taking up the cause of the disabled personnel. Their grievances are many – redress is hard to come by and this was especially true in the ceasefire years when the focus shifted away from the war effort after almost two decades.
Lately however, there has been a shift in policy with regard to personnel wounded in action, with the forces themselves, in particular the army opting to retain many of them in active service. This method not only helps to keep morale alive for all those out on the front, but also continues to give those wounded in action purpose within the forces, resulting in less mental breakdown as a result of lacking direction or purpose after sustaining a permanent handicap.
The Sri Lanka Army’s Rana Viru Sevana rehabilitation arm provides vocational training, psycho-social counselling and reintegration counselling to personnel wounded in action. The army’s Rehabilitation Directorate was established in 1988 to look into the task of rehabilitation of the soldiers with a disability. The directorate currently looks after 13 Ranaviru villages in the country and teams of rehab experts travel to these areas twice a year to conduct workshops and clinics. Self-employment generation is a method becoming popular for rehabilitating wounded personnel.
During Poppy Remembrance Week this year, give generously not only in tribute to the fallen, but also in the awareness that those who are survived need your help to live.


A poppy to remember …

We live in times of war. There are occasional breaks of ceasefire and hopes for peace, but still, we live in the expectation of unexpected outbreak of violence, in any part of the country. We have been living in this state of war for the last 20 years.
When we live in times of war, some of us turn patriots – others turn cynics. Perspectives on the value of human life change and religions shift and make room to venerate a new group of deities, soldiers.
It is not only those of us living in this island nation that venerate and pay homage to those who die in the name of ‘national security.’ When November comes it is time for the whole world to remember those perished in wars.

By Vindya Amaranayake
Come November, we witness the appearance of flashes of red poppies, in shops, on pavements and people selling them on streets. A little two-petal flower with a black centre; what does it signify? What secrets does it hide beneath its delicate red wings?
Their secrets are best revealed in a poem written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in 1915, who served in World War I. It captures the plight of the soldiers who perish in war, away from their homes and loved ones and have to be buried in foreign lands.
Since the Middle Ages, Flanders’s strategic location has made it a major battleground in Europe. It falls partly near the Belgian city, Ypres. Interestingly, Belgium has been called ‘an accident of history’ as it is made of leftovers of other European countries and in various times in history has been part of the Roman, French, Spanish, and Austrian Empires.
During World War I there was continuous fighting in French Flanders and in West Flanders. In World War II, the battle of Flanders began with the German invasion of the Low Countries in May 10, 1940 and ended with the surrender of the Belgian Army and the evacuation of the British at Dunkirk in May 26–June 4, 1940.
The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders fields where over half a million war casualties from Belgium, Britain, and British Commonwealth countries had been buried and thus became a symbol of Remembrance Day. This poem has become an important Remembrance Day poem in Allied countries which contributed troops to World War I, particularly in countries of the then-British Empire.
Inspired by McCrae’s poem, American Moina Michael wore poppies to honour the war dead. She also began to sell poppies to raise money for disabled veterans. After meeting Moina Michael in 1920, Frenchwoman Madame E. Guerin started selling handmade poppies to raise money for poor children who were living in the aftermath of the Great War. Soon thereafter Field-Marshall Earl Haig, the former British Commander-in-Chief, encouraged the selling of paper poppies to raise funds for veterans. This tradition spread to Canada, then to the United States, then across the globe.


In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- Colonel John McCrae


The Sri Lankan equivalents

The wartime remembrance poppy is of red corn colour (papaver rhoeas). This variety is a common weed in Europe and artificial paper versions of this are used in many countries, worn to commemorate those killed in World War I. In the countries that belonged to the former British Empire poppies were sold commemorating Remembrance Day, which falls on November 11.
In Sri Lanka during the inter-war periods, 1918-1939, there were rival sales of yellow suriya flowers (portia) by the Suriya-Mal Movement on Remembrance Day. Since funds from the poppy sales were not given to Sri Lankan ex-service personnel but were sent home to Britain. However, now poppy sales are used for used for Sri Lankan ex-service personnel.
Since 1983 Sri Lanka has been at war with a section of its own population. Thousands of soldiers along with a several times more civilians have perished in the war since then. So, in every November, we in Sri Lanka too remember and commemorate the service of those soldiers who dies protecting the country from terrorism. Thus, the appearance of poppies has become a sign of significance for us Sri Lankans too.
Recently, we witnessed the birth of another movement by the name of Manel Mal Movement, to collect funds in the aid of disabled soldiers. However, this did not attract much public attention and poppy still remains as the single most recognised symbol of remembering soldiers across the globe.


Song for war heroes

By Gihan Indraguptha
They died for something which may be trivial to many of us. A piece of high ground on a salty sand dune or a landing area in a landmine filled beach, or simply protecting a Cadjan bunker in some remote corner of the country. But when the dusk settles on this protracted war and the final analysis is done we will most probably realise that every sacrifice these thousands made had a reason and purpose. For if not for those brave men and women willing to die to protect few square meters of land we would have lost everything which many of us usually shout about, sovereignty, freedom and dignity.
We Sri Lankans are said to be a resilient bunch. This usually is meant as a complement since many outsiders find it difficult to comprehend how we as a nation can just simply move on from one tragedy to another without batting an eyelid. This resilience may help us survive through this traumatic period, but in being resilient will we forget to remember?
This week the world remembers its fallen heroes. Nations big and small will remember the many scarifies made by generations of their patriots in protecting their people. The poppy week will be marked in Sri Lanka too remembering the many heroes who have sacrificed lives for the sake of protecting the land of their birth. 128 dead 600 wounded, 102 dead 116 wounded, these maybe mere numbers to many of us who hear the daily casualty figures coming from the Northern theatre of war. But each of these digits represents a human being, a human sacrifice and dozens of others whose lives would be changed forever because of that number.
Today let’s do something uncharacteristically Sri Lankan. Let us at least for this week see beyond the numbers and celebrate because the scoreboard this week shows that we “got more of them” than “they got us”. Let us at least this week remember those who sacrificed themselves for a greater cause than anyone of us - the sovereignty of our mother land, the dignity of our forefathers and the freedom of our children.
Sri Lanka’s two decade old conflict has produced its share of heroes. From Generals to Corporals many a man and woman have paid the supreme sacrifice in carrying out their noble duty. Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatna of the Sinha regiment became a legend for his heroics at Elephant Pass in 1991. In what LTTE Leader Prabakaran called the “Mother of all Battles”, the rebels in a final desperate attempt tried to break through the defenses using an amour plated bulldozer driven by a suicide cadre. Hundreds of LTTE cadres were coming behind the bulldozer trying to move in to the camp. When it was obvious that the suicide truck cannot be stopped by gun fire Lance Corporal Kularatna ran towards the improvised bulldozer, lobbed two hand grenades and fell dead from the many bullet wounds he had suffered in the process. One soldier’s bravery had saved nearly 600 soldiers protecting the embattled camp. A few days later the troops led by Maj. General Denzil Kobekaduwa and Brigadier Vijaya Wimalarathne rescued the men trapped at Elephant Pass through a daring amphibious operation. These two senior soldiers would themselves die a year later in Jaffna, while planning an operation to liberate the peninsula.
Since the inception of hostilities early this year, over 700 security forces personnel have died according to official figures. Many acts of heroism were recorded in the recent fighting. On two occasions this year the LTTE targeted vessels carrying ferrying personnel to Trincomalee. On these occasions, a few brave sailors protected the Jetliner and the Pearl Cruise passenger liners both with well over 800 personnel on board. At the end of the confrontation on Vesak Poya day, 17 sailors died protecting the passenger vessel. The outriders who protected the Army Commander against the suicide bomber who targeted him inside the Army Head Quarters, the dozens of soldiers who died in the attempt to open up the sluice gates at Mavilaru and those who died in the dry plains of Muhamalai have all joined in their brethren who had paid the supreme sacrifice for the sake of freedom.
Sometimes their acts of heroism may not be recorded in the annals of history, some times those writing history may forget that the actual act of heroism is the fact that these men and women made a conscious choice to put themselves in harm’s way. The Nation today pays tribute to all those heroes from time immemorial till this day, who died in the name of Sri Lankan freedom.