The glory days | Sunday Observer

The glory days

In 1987, the battle for the Herman Loos (HL) Challenge trophy was held at S. Thomas’ College grounds, Guruthalawa. Lt. Col. Wijesinghe headed to Diyathalawa with the Ananda cadet platoon. Wijesuriya, Perera and Dissanayake, cadet officers of Royal, Nalanda and D.S. Senanayake Colleges joined Wijesinghe on the journey.

However, the cadet officers were not allowed to stay at the camp in the night. All of them (except Wijesinghe) turned back. Wijesinghe phoned Principal Kudaligama instead. “I can’t tell you what to do Wije. But if you must pocket out any money, I’ll reimburse you,” the Principal said.

The unofficial order of Principal Kudaligama, made Wijesinghe stay on in Diyathalawa. A closed tiny shop right in front of the school was where he chose to spend his night. He slept on the cold floor and woke up early morning and after getting ready entered the camp wearing his tie. During the day he stayed close to the boys and in the evening returned to his temporary abode - the little empty shop, to sleep with his new companions - the mosquitoes.

That year, the Sergeant of the Ananda College platoon had a fall as soon as the platoon completed its PT table. At that time, the camp did not have many medical facilities. With no ambulance available, Lt. Col. Wijesinghe rushed the boy to the nearest hospital in a taxi.

According to the hospital authorities, the boy had, had a stroke and the doctors said that his life was saved because of his immediate admission to the hospital.

“'Sir, did we win?,' were the first words he said when he regained consciousness,” said Wijesinghe with tears in his eyes as he recalled the moment. “In fact, the motivation of boys is what kept us going forward and winning 9 HL cups under my leadership,” he said.

Winning the HL after 10 years in 1987 saw great jubilation in the College. Principal Kudaligama declared a half day holiday to the entire school to celebrate the victory.

In the same year the Ananda cadet platoon organised two events. One was a blood donation camp to celebrate the HL win and the other was the first ever Cadet Day in Sri Lanka. “I wanted to show our boys that I can lead them and that they can achieve greatness. That is the secret of winning at HL. Nothing else. When your followers feel that their leader is capable, they will march towards success with determination,” said Wijesinghe.

As the saying goes, ‘You can understand my success just by seeing the number of enemies I have made’, Lt. Col. Wijesinghe’s journey with Ananda's cadets was a challenging one.

One day at a HL camp, Lt. Col. Wijesinghe carried a boy on his shoulders to paint their billet. As some of the officers at the camp were against him, he had to face an inquiry over this incidence.

A Court of Inquiry was appointed to hear the case.

“Mr. Wijesinghe, are you an officer or not?”

“Yes, I am an officer, Sir”

“Isn’t carrying a boy cadet on the shoulder of a cadet officer, an insult to the position?”

“Yes, it is an insult, Sir”

“Then are you responsible for that offence?”

“No, Sir”

The members of the panel thought he would accept guilt. But Wijesinghe had an answer ready.

“It was a teacher at Ananda College who lifted an Ananda student” he said. The complaint was no more valid, and the inquiry panel dismissed the case.

“We did many things during that time. We visited Sri Pada during the off season. We went on trips. We organised events. We were there through thick and thin, through happiness and sadness with all members in the platoon. If there was a funeral of a member of the platoon, attending it was a must. Initially, I had to force them. Later they did it voluntarily as they realised that unity and oneness bring glory. It's proven that unity and commitment bring victory to all. I’m sure that the Ananda boys have that spirit in them. So, they can win another HL soon,” said Wijesinghe.