When the Defence Academy was eleveated to Universoity status, Gen. Denis Perera (Bottom) was made the first Chancellor
The Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers is a distinguished Association of Senior Officers, composed broadly of Generals, Admirals and Air Marshal and subcategories among these high ranks, now officially in retirement from the services.
The association is engaged in a broad range of activities pertaining to the areas of international relations, defence policy, institutional development and comparative studies and historical research relating to the three services.
In this context, they have brought out a biography of Deshamanya General Denis Perera former Commander of the Sri Lanka Army titled General Denis: Epitome of Leadership.
The General, a pioneering and seminal contributor to the growth, expansion and the inculcation and enforcement of high standards in all matters connected with the development of the Army was possessed of a commanding personality allied to a sense of personal modesty.
Therefore, when about to retire it was suggested that he should write his memoirs, he replied politely ‘that I will leave to others’. Those ‘others’ in the form of “The Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers” have now acted on the General’s comment which at the time it was made, he no doubt felt would not bear fruit. Sadly, he is not with us to appreciate the commendable effort that has gone into bringing out this publication.
The book relates the central role he played in upgrading the Training Centre at Diyatalawa to the status of a well-constituted and well-resourced academy...
The book is important in many dimensions: The General was among the first batch of officer cadets who were sent to the Sandhurst Military Training Establishment in Britain at the dawn of Ceylon’s Independence.
From that point onwards, Denis Perera’s career and growth of the national army were coterminous.
In this unfolding scenario, the young officer gradually acquiring more seniority and entrusted with more responsibility showed his qualities of hard work, consistency, bold initiative and implementation capacity.
Perhaps, there was an element of destiny in all this. Denis happened to enlist as an officer cadet on the 10th of October 1949, the day the Army was formed, which also happened to be his birthday!
The book contains well-researched facts, figures and dates. It has in a commendable manner gathered up important details that would have been scattered in files, documents, regimental records, the Training Centre at Diyatalawa and many other places.
These have been woven into the narrative in an easy and readable style enriched further with interesting personal recollections of many persons. As one reads, one feels the difficulty of separating the person from the institution, the institution that he was doing so much to build.
At the end of the book, there is the reproduction of a moving eulogy delivered by Brigadier A. P. R. David at the memorial service for the late General at the All Saints Church, Borella on October 14, 2013. In death as in life, General Denis Perera was loved and respected.
This book then is a valuable contribution to the biographical literature of the country. It is all the more valuable in that there is a comparative dearth of writings on the institutions and personalities relating to the armed services.
The information, episodes and material in the book, however, transcend the institutions that form its background and have many elements of universal application and relevance.
There is very little knowledge in the civilian sectors about matters relating to the intense training, discipline and standards that are promoted and inculcated in service by men and women.
The knowledge and insights provided in this book are important, relevant and valuable to all professional groups and persons who themselves have to follow conventions and codes of discipline, establish focus, provide leadership and aim at the achievement.
There is very little knowledge among civilians about the intense training, discipline and standards that are promoted and inculcated in service by men and women.
The Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers has therefore provided a valuable public service in bringing out this book. It is plain that much hard work, research, discussion and skilled drafting had gone into the production of this biography which is enhanced with well-selected pictures and photographs. The writers and editors while paying deserved homage to a great military personality and gentlemanhave also skillfully made the publication relevant to the wider circle of professionals in this country.
The impact made is, therefore, greater than the life and times of a single person, important as he was.
The book relates the central role he played in upgrading the Training Centre at Diyatalawa to the status of a well-constituted and well-resourced academy. In striking fashion, the narrative records the growing seniority, positions, responsibilities and achievements of the subject of this biography.
The Major Army Cantonment at Panagoda; the Combat Training School at Ampara. The setting up strategically of cantonments in various planned locations; the raising of new Regiments, many of them of great note and importance later, such as the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment, The Rajarata Rifles, later to become the Gajaba Regiment; the Commando Unit, the Women’s Corps and others, were all the products of his vision, energy and initiative.
The book also relates the negotiations conducted with Sir John Kotelawala and success that was had in persuading Sir Johnto gift his Kandawala Estate in Ratmalana to set up the Defence Academy for the higher education and training of officers of all three services.
Quite deservedly when the academy was elevated to the status of a University, General Denis Perera became its Chancellor.
There were many other achievements to his credit as a military personality. They are all contained in the book. But one that needs special mention is the General’s role in coordinating the compilation of the important publication entitled the “History of the Army Fifty years on”
The biography also knits together many interesting stories and anecdotes relating to the training at Sandhurst, travel on the continent, the resourcefulness and problem-solving skills that were displayed when required, camaraderie among colleagues and idiosyncrasies of trainers among other matters. The book also brings out charming vignettes of family life encompassing different generations and families. It contains reminiscences of children, grandchildren, in-laws, friends, colleagues and subordinates. All reflections display both affection and respect. The positive impacts on others’ lives are clear. The biography is therefore not a mere historical record or a chronicle of events and personalities. It is also a warm and living human document.
Finally, the book unfolds the General’s post-retirement activities and the responsibilities he undertook as High Commissioner to Australia with concurrent accreditation to many other countries, including Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as the important role he played in the private sector of Sri Lanka, as Chairman or a member of the Board of Directors of many companies.
The General’s interests and accomplishments did not stop there. He was a member or high office holder of many important associations, including being President of the Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers.
Writer, Deshamanya M. D. D. Pieris is a former member of the Ceylon Civil Service (SLAS) and Secretary to the Prime Minister and has served as Secretary to several Ministries as well.