We salute you | Sunday Observer

We salute you

19 September, 2021

In 1979, the Sri Lanka Security Forces recommended the establishment of a higher education academy to the then Government of Sri Lanka headed by President J.R. Jayewardene to enable officers of the Tri Forces to gain higher academic qualifications.

The significance and the value of this farfetched initiative and its contribution to the country’s military might have been unknown at the time.

The consideration of the proposal paved the way for a team led by Maj. V.S.M. Jayawardane, which included highly respected and acclaimed academics in the likes of Prof. C. Patuwathavithana, Dean University of Moratuwa, Prof. P.W. Epasinghe, Dean of Mathematics from the University of Colombo, Prof. Kularatne and Prof. Fonseka also from the University of Colombo to visit the National Defence College (NDC) Pune India, the first ever Tri Service University in the world to better understand not only its benefits but also how best to establish and run such an academy.

Within two weeks of the report being submitted to the President through the Commander of the Army Maj Gen Dennis Perera, the initiative received a tremendous boost when Sir John Kotelawala, having been apprised of the proposed project agreed to make available a suitable location for the establishment of the proposed defence academy.

His privately owned ancestral property the ‘Kandawala Estate’ comprising 48 acres of prime land together with all its moveable and immovable property was donated through the Commander of the Army to the Government to establish the defence academy.

To date the academy archives proudly showcase the total inventory of Sir John’s mansion which was carried out by Major Rohan Athureliya and Major Gamini Gunasekara under the orders of the commander of the army. This was the first of many steps that made possible the setting up of the academy.


In acknowledging and reciprocating the contributions to the nation, October 1, 1980, President J.R. Jayewardene together with the Commander of the Army Major General Dennis Perera and his ADC Captain T.M. Bohoran, bestowed the honorary rank of ‘General’ on Sir John, by visiting him at the Cardiology Unit of the Colombo General Hospital, where he was undergoing treatment.

General Sir John Kotelawala passed away peacefully on October 2, 1980 and was accorded a state funeral with full military honours.

Further respect was bestowed on him by naming the academy, the ‘Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy’, by the Government and the Tri Services. Then Commander of the Army appointed Major V.S.M. Jayawardane to take over Sir John’s mansion and all belongings to the Army.

The academy was formally inaugurated at a ceremony by President J.R. Jayewardene October 11, 1980, at the Kandawala Estate in the presence of the three service commanders, senior officers of the Tri Services, and a host of other dignitaries.

The initial KDA staff consisting of the service officers of the three services moved into the premises in January 1981.

Major Gen. Dennis Perera took a keen personal interest and played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA). The Headquarters of the KDA was established at the Kandawala ‘Walauwa’.


Colonel C.M.N. Silva (popularly known as Col Mike Silva) was the first Commandant of the Academy with the Deputy Commandant being Lt Cdr. I.K.G. Lokubalasuriya.

The other key officers were Adjutant Major V.S.M. Jayawardhana, Squadron Commander Major L.C.R. Goonewardene and Troop Commander Flt. Lt. Sanka Wijesinghe and Capt. Raj. M. Fernando, the English Master.

Interestingly, the entire vehicle fleet belonging to the KDA at that time consisted of only the Commandant’s car, a Peugeot 504, a TATA 1210 Army Truck, one Mahindra Jeep and a solitary motorcycle for the use of despatch riders. This was the beginning of this great institution.

The very first Intake of Service Cadets joined KDA March, 1, 1981, consisting of 13 Cadets who attended the University of Colombo to read for the BSc Physical Science Degree, 19 to the University of Moratuwa to read for BSc Engineering Degree while two opting to read for the Degree in BSc Architecture

There was a publication for cadetship at KDA in July 1981, a half-page advertisement in the local newspapers calling for applications which was followed by a Govt. Gazette notification (No 149 of 10th July 1981).

There were 55,218 applications with the first interviews being held at Army HQ, Baladaksha Mawatha, Colombo 2.

The interview board comprised a few senior officers of the three services headed by Brigadier Cyril Ranatunge, who after a tedious shortlisting process selected 200 applicants for the second interview at Rock House Army Camp, Modera.

The process commenced with the Officer Quality Test (OQT) beginning at 7.00 am with a two-mile run followed by an obstacle course, leadership and speech test followed by lunch with Officers of Armored Corps at the Officers’ Mess.

After completing the medical test, the selected candidates faced the final interview at the Ministry of Defence under a special panel consisting of the Secretary of Defence Col. C.A. Dharmapala, Commander of the Army Lt Gen Dennis Perera, Commander of the Navy Rear Admiral A.W.H. Perera and Commander of the Air Force Air Vice Marshal D.C. Perera.


After the final interview, 27 candidates were informed by letters sent under registered cover of their enlistments. They were asked to report to the KDA on Monday, September 28, 1981 by 0900hrs.

The Cadets were to follow university lectures in streams for which they were selected, with the Engineering Cadets attending lectures at Moratuwa University being provided push bicycles to travel to the university.

Physical Science as well as General Arts Cadets attending lectures at the Colombo University were provided transport using the Tata1210 Truck, with the rendezvous point being Broody House, Bullers Road. Lunch was provided by the Volunteer Service Corps at the old racecourse building.

During weekends and university vacations military training was conducted at the KDA premises. Physical training and squad drill at the Kandawala Estate, and Ratmalana Airport premises.

Training in firing was scheduled at the Army Firing range at Panaluwa, while each Sunday morning arrangements were made to travel to S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia for swimming.

In addition to the stipulated curriculums of the respective faculties it was mandatory for all cadets to attend classes in map reading, field craft, leadership studies, weapons training, recreational activities, and English. International studies were also arranged at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, BMICH.

Dinner was served at the Cadets’ Mess. In formal attire with all cadets dressed in uniform or smartly dressed in shirt and tie, enabling all cadets even without realising to gradually sharpen their social graces and formal etiquette. Customarily after dinner all congregated at Sir John’s Bungalow for a bit of relaxation with the fortune to watch TV on the widest screen (60 inches) in the island at that time with the Cadet Bar offering refreshments for patrons.

Dinner nights were regularly held in the stately dining room of the Walawwa which was very much looked forward to by most cadets.

However, there was no letting up on the strict military routines with all Cadets required by 8.45 pm to go up to their private study located on the first floor of the bungalow. All these activities including the specific training enabling to mould the cadets into fine young men worthy of holding a Commission in our defense forces.

KDA Intake 2

Major L.C.R. Gunawardane, the Squadron Commander (retired as the Chief of Staff in 2002 as Major General) with Troop Commander late Capt. V.N.R. Rajasekera (retired as Major in November 1987 and passed away on January, 18, 2016 in the USA) and Capt. Raj Fernando (Prefect of Games and Cadeting Master, well-respected English Master of Prince of Wales College) were the live wires who provided the necessary initial infrastructure for Cadets at the KDA.

Major Gunawardana and his newly wedded wife Chrishanthi Gunawardane were frequent visitors on weekends on their 8 Sri XX68 orange color Vespa scooter.


She too sacrificed her quality family time for the welfare of Intake 2 cadets. Not to be forgotten were her home baked cakes and pastries which were treated like food from heaven by Cadets.

Major Gunawardane initiated and established all procedures, course materials and moulded raw young civilians to be worthy military officers.

He conducted military lessons day and night including weekends. We all still refer to the couple as ‘Dad’ and ‘Mom’ of the Academy with much affection and gratitude.

Captain Raj Fernando gave all support to Maj Gunawardane and Capt. V.N.R. Rajasekera for upbringing of all members of the Intake 2.

Capt. Fernando was the main architect of the KDA library, sourcing books on military history, political affairs, travel, geography, periodicals and Sir John’s photographs and albums offering much interest and information of historical value.

The first KDA greeting card

As requested by the Squadron Commander Maj L. C. R. Gunawardane, Service Cadet Viraja Leelaratne designed and illustrated the first ever greeting card for the KDA.

As a 19-year-old Cadet he was bestowed with admirable capabilities, and the greeting card he produced was very artistically drawn depicting his exceptional artistic talents. (Maj Viraja Leelaratne’s professionalism and attention to detail while serving at Joint Operation Command has been well narrated by the writer in his article “Remembering Heroes of Operation Eagle” appearing on (July 19, 2020 Sunday Observer).

On August 3, 1982 with the enlistment of 14 Cadets as Intake 3, cadets of intake 2 became seniors, ending the period of being Junior Intakes to Intake 1.

Intake 2 passing-out parade was held on May 7, 1985 at the Ratmalana Airport with Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister of National Security and Deputy Minister of Defence as the Chief Guest.

At the passing out parade the Sword of Honour was presented to the best all round service cadet and 1st in order of merit was awarded to Squadron under Officer Renuka Rowel.

The other cadets who received special awards were, 1st in Military Studies Service Cadet Sgt. Viraja Leelaratne, Character Grading Service Cadet Sgt. Palitha Saputhanthrie and Best Sportsman Service Cadet Sunil Wanniarachchi. All of them received their respective awards from the Chief Guest.


All these gallant men, now proud officers belonging to the KDA Intake 2 proceeded to their service final training and then went onto represent and perform their national duties of safeguarding the nation be it land, sea or the air to the best of their capabilities.

On November, 16, 1992 Naval Lt. Sadun Gunasekera who was the Flag Officer to Commander of the Navy Admiral Clancy Fernando sacrificed his precious life for the motherland.

They were assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber who drove an explosive laden motorcycle on to the Navy Commander’s Staff car.

Losing a batch mate who was dear and near was unbearable and a great tragedy.

Sadun was a brave and dedicated officer, and he was handpicked by the Navy Commander to be his Flag Lieutenant because of his exceptional qualities and bravery.

In 1986 Cadet Corporal Kapila Perera became the overall 2nd in the Mechanical Engineering Batch and Final Part III and highest average in the 1982 batch of University of Moratuwa and won the Fulbright and the President’s Award both.

He joined the Navy and during his training at the Naval Maritime Academy Trincomalee he was offered a scholarship to follow his Masters on Gas Turbines at the University of California from 1987 to 1989.

After returning he served on various gun boats and naval establishments. A few senior naval officers who wisely saw his potential facilitated Lt. Kapila Perera to continue his studies and read for his PhD in California on Turbulent heat Transfer, they were Commander Thisara Samarasinghe, Director Naval Training, Capt. Sarath Weerasekera, Capt. Prasanna Rajaratne Director Naval Personnel and Commodore K.R.L. Perera Director Naval Engineering.


During this period Lt. Perera was integrally involved in Operation Vadamarachchi where his services were highly praised and recognised. Also, from the same University completing his doctoral studies in 1993.

Rejoining KDA in July 1995 as a lecturer in the Marine and Mechanical Dept. he briefly went on to serve as the Acting Director, Academic Staff.

Subsequently Lt. Cdr. Kapila Perera submitted papers to leave the Navy on July 14, to pursue his career as an educationist.

He returned again to serve the KDA, as its Director Academic of Staff before becoming the Vice Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa. Later Prof Kapila Perera functioned as the Secretary to the Minister of Education.

An incident worthy of recounting that would have had a serious negative impact and changed the course of Prof. Kapila’s illustrious career if allowed would have been, when a local political (MP) belonging to his electorate unlawfully using his political powers (as many of us are sadly accustomed) seeking to take revenge from his family.

Just four months into his university studies (1981) he was sent home for one week over demands and influence of the said MP, a member of the UNP informing political authorities to strike out his name from Cadetship and enlistment to the Army.

Reason, his mother being supporter of the SLFP (In those days police and political clearances was a prime criterion and a compulsorily requirement for enlistment as officers of the Security Forces).

During that crucial week, Maj. Janaka Perera (Retired as Chief of Staff of the Army in 2001 as Major General, who was tragically assassinated on October, 6, 2008, by a suicide bomber) the Military Liaison Officer at the Ministry of Defence intervened and ensured his reinstatement to the KDA.


Brigadier Renuka Rowel (then) the Signal Brigadier Commander dedicatedly coordinated the Electronic Warfare (EW) activities of the Humanitarian Operation until the last stages leading to 2006-2009.

The Coastal Surveillance Radars and Battlefield Surveillance Radars (BFSRs) were positioned along the coastal belt and the FDLs to detect any LTTE infiltration and to obtain early warnings of such movements.

The Direction Finders and the Jammers modified by the Signal Workshop under the able guidance of Brigadier Renuka Rowel were deployed to provide the much-needed electronic support to counter measure enemy actions.

Mobile Direction Finders and Radars that were fabricated under him were used to attain mobile and flexible direction-finding capabilities.

As the Signal Brigadier Commander of the Humanitarian Operation, he carried out a pivotal role through brilliantly coordinated supportive measures with all the divisional commanders and the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

On Feb, 13, 1996 as Commanding Officer of SLNS Ranajaya Lt. Comd. Sisira Jayakody together with his fellow officers of SLNS Jayasagara, SLNS Weeraya and SLNS Ranadeera destroyed M/V Horizon (Vessel changed her name while sailing across Bay of Bengal) carrying large quantities of weapons, ammunitions, and explosives for the LTTE, worth millions of US dollars believed to have been purchased from Cambodia.

In 2007, Commodore Sisira Jayakody as the C/O of SLNS Suranimala with four SBS teams participated in unprecedented deep sea operations lasting over a week, named “Operation Hunter Killer IV” from August 31, to September 7, 2007 Commander of the Navy who closely monitored the sea movements with meticulous coordination.

This operation conducted with much bravery, valour and highly selfless services by Navy personnel enabled SLN to destroy three (3) LTTE arms shipments within a short span of 24hrs.

Rear Admiral Sisira Jayakody a hero with an unblemished naval record who pioneered many successes for SLN is regarded as one of the best to serve the Navy in the noble cause of protecting and serving one’s motherland.


Air Commodore Janak Wanigathunge was the Commanding Officer of Electronics and Telecommunication Wing at the SLAF Base Katunayake during the final stages of the terrorist war, 2010. He was the head of the team that was involved in the upkeep and maintenance of sophisticated ground and air communication equipment especially designed for avionics systems of Kfir and MiG aircraft.

They were able to maintain the highest serviceability of the aforesaid systems throughout the terrorist war with limited resources. Responsible for providing much needed communication coverage and support for Air and ground combinations, their acclaimed services made possible search, pinpoint and destroy targets accurately and precisely.

Most of such operations being carried out behind the main stage, he was another unsung hero, a gallant product of Intake 2.

Sunil Wanniarachchi captained the University of Colombo Basketball Team in 1984. His name was synonymous with sports and the Army. He went on to play ‘A’ division Rugby for the Sri Lanka Army as a second row forward and continued to represent the game at the highest level for many years.

His contribution towards Rugby and Basketball won him the prestigious Army colours. He was one of the toughest and most fearless players Army ever produced.

He played the game to the fullest and contributed towards many memorable victories for the Army. Sunil Wanniarachchi is a legend in the disciplines of sports he represented and his popularity and endearing nature earned him many fans and admirers. He was also trained to bring death to the enemy from the sky, as a qualified combat parachutist.

During the time of the final battle Commodore Sarath Amarasinghe (fondly called as SAS in the Navy) was CSD (Commodore Superintendent Dockyard) at the Naval Base Trincomalee in 2010.

The topmost technical post responsible for all repairs of ships and crafts. He had more than 50 technical officers and 3000 technical sailors directly reporting and working under him. Under his guidance his team worked day and night to ensure and keep the Sri Lanka navy fleet operational for sea battles.


The Navy’s success story from its very moderate status in the late eighties to the advanced status it enjoys now is remarkable. Senior Engineering officers like Rear Admiral Sarath Amarasinghe were an integral part of that story and the journey.

It was during this trying period of evolution many new types of ships, crafts, engines, and systems were introduced to the Navy fleet. He was among very few who not only pioneered the introduction of these systems but also was instrumental in developing the infrastructure to upgrade the training, repairs, stores, spare management including maintenance of all such engineering systems during the most critical period of the battle against terrorism and the history of the SL Navy. He is one of the silent heroes, who always displayed great character, resilience, and undeterred dedication.

Neville Jayamaha Captained the University of Colombo Rugby team in 1984. He was well renowned in the Rugby fraternity and played for CH&FC with distinction for several years. The pivotal position he occupied as a full back for CH with his towering kicks will be remembered by all rugby lovers of Sri Lanka. His gigantic, long distance goal kicking ability with consistent accuracy was one of his major strengths.

His towering penalty kick of almost 65 meters with his magical boots against CR at CH grounds in 1984 is well remembered and talked about even today by everyone who witnessed the match on that day.

He was swift on his feet and dazzled even his opponents with his booming and pinpoint accurate long-range kicks.

Maj. Gen. Ajith Rupasinghe as Director Supply and Transport too has rendered great service to Sri Lanka Army behind the stage, yet responsible in meeting out critical and essential services of timely provision of supplies to the men in green. His efficient well-articulated and managed support services enabled the front-line soldier to receive much needed supplies of rations, fuel, oil, and lubricants, the all-important necessities the ‘life blood of the army’.

Rajee Amarasinghe joined the Navy and retired as Sub Lieutenant in 1987. Subsequently he continued his higher studies and presently functions as a Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics, California State University Fresno. He earned two Master’s Degrees at the Purdue University before getting his Doctorate in Mathematics Education at the Indiana University.

Maj. Gen. Ranjith Rajapathirana holds the prestigious post of Judge Advocate, providing legal assistance to the military in all aspects be it in advising or presiding over court-martial cases and the handling and execution of military law. Given the various intrusions both locally and internationally the role and importance played by him in handling the legal aspects was of immense value to the Sri Lanka Army.

When the writer contacted Maj. Gen. L.C.R. Gunawardane and inquired about his recollection of his time as Squadron Commander at KDA, he recalled those golden days in the following manner, “With very limited resources, it was a most challenging but interesting task to train and transform 27 youngsters to be service Cadets. Whilst the emphasis was on their academics, moulding them to become good and effective leaders and service officers was also given the same emphasis.

In addition to military training with focus on military leadership, sports and recreational activities were encouraged to give the Cadets a “well rounded” military background.

The ultimate satisfaction of an instructor is not only to see a Cadet becoming an Officer but also progressing in rank, gaining recognition, performing well and eventually reaching the Two Star Rank.

His parting remarks being on this 40th Anniversary of the Intake, I wish the Intakes as a whole and each one all the very best in their future endeavors. It was a pleasure and a satisfying experience to be your instructor at the KDA.”

I was fortunate enough to contact the archangel of KDA, an officer with superb temperament who looked after all of us as a shepherd would look after his flocks from day one of KDA to the late 90s, well respected Capt. Raj. M. Fernando.

According to Capt. Fernando with a wistful dreamy recount of the days gone by, went on to explain that the cadets at the time were paid a monthly stipend of Rs. 100 per month which was a princely sum at the time. All their uniforms, clothes and sports gear were supplied by the KDA. They were occasionally given a pass to go out and the outings more often than not resulting in good revelry and interesting stories.

On their 40th anniversary, I would like to congratulate Officers of Intake 2, whom I trained, groomed, coached, and assisted to prosper in their respective services and ranks. It’s a great honour and immense satisfaction for an Officer Instructor to witness their successes. Best wishes Intake 2, I am proud of you all’.

In retrospect it’s with great pleasure and pride I wish to mention that most of the officers of Intake 2 of KDA were awarded RSP. RWP, USP and VSV for their bravery in defeating the enemy and in their unblemished services to our nation Sri Lanka.

The KDA ‘Great’ Intake 2, comprised of wonderful officers with excellent charisma and unmatchable qualities, they are Maj. Gen. Renuka Rowel ( Former Colonel Commandant Signals Corps, presently as Director General Research and Analysis MOD) Maj. Gen. Sunil Wanniarachchi (former Colonel Commandant General Service Corps) Maj. Gen. Ajith Rupasinghe (former Colonel Commandant Service Corps) Maj. Gen. Ranjith Rajapathirana (former Judge Advocate General) Rear Admiral Sisira Jayakoddy (former Director General Personnel and Chief Hydrography Officer) Rear Admiral Sarath Amarasinghe (former Director Marine Engineering) Air Vice Marshal Janak Wanigathunge ( Director Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering) Brig. Mahesh Perera, SLN Captain Maithree Silva, Lt. Col. Kanaji Wijesekera, Lt. Col. Prasanna Chandrasiri, Lt. Col. Sanath Wickramasooriya, Commander Champaka Paulis, Wg. Cdr. Ajith Samaraweera, Wg. Cdr. Sanath Sahabandu, Maj. Viraja Leelaratne, Maj. Jaliya Epa, Maj. Ajith Ratnayake, Maj Palitha Saputhanthrie, Lt. Cdr. Kapila Perera, Lt. Cdr. Prasanna Meemaduma, late Lt. Cdr. Saduna Gunasekera, SLN Lt. Sanath Dayaprema,, Sub Lt. Rajee Amarasinghe, C.L. Rajapake ( Chief Engineer Dept. of Agriculture), Neville Jayamaha (former VP at DBS Bank, London Branch and Head of Finance and IT ) and Tissa Abeykoon (former Deputy Director Business Statistics at Reserve Bank of New Zealand and Managing Director of Canterbury Educare Group).

I must also mention that three of the Officers of Intake 2, found their lifetime partners thanks to Sir John’s visionary generosity. First ever wedding among two children, the second generation of entire KDA/KDU Intakes took place on August, 16, 2021, Gayan son of Maj. Palitha Saputhantri married to Safna the daughter of Capt. Maithrie de Siva as both fathers are from Intake 2. Lightheartedly I am sure, Sir John must be very proud and happy that his beautiful property has been put to very good use in every way.

On this 40th Anniversary I salute my seniors of Intake 2, and of course our officer instructors for showing us the way and setting such high standards and traditions for us to follow. Thanks to the KDA and the University exposure, we made many friends who are holding high positions in Government, universities and in the private sector.

It is the same with our brother officers of KDA who are today scattered around the globe but the camaraderie and friendships we formed at KDA is still strong as ever. Either way they all have lived up to our motto of “The Motherland for Ever”.

I believe this was the vision Sir John had for the Academy when he donated his beautiful property. So far, the administrators have done an excellent job in their mission to keep alive the aspiration of Sir John. My fervent hope and wish is this endeavour will continue down the generations in the same manner without blemish and would be distractions.

It was purely to have a Higher Studies Academy for young Military Cadets only – an Institution to produce nothing but the best officers with qualified personnel with professionalism. May we never lose sight of that vision.

Finally, I will be failing my duty if I do not acknowledge the unwavering support received from senior officers, batch mates and friends for this article. It’s time for all of us to live up to the motto of our beloved KDA. “The Motherland for Ever”.