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Sepala Attygalle

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Allegiance  Sri Lanka
Education  Royal College, Colombo
Years of service  1942-1977
Service/branch  Sri Lanka Army
Name  Sepala Attygalle
Rank  lieutenant-General
Died  January 2001

Sepala Attygalle wwwceylonmedalscomraw20filesAtty01jpg
Unit  Ceylon Light InfantrySri Lanka Armoured Corps
Commands held  Commander of the Sri Lankan ArmyChief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army
Battles/wars  World War II1971 InsurrectionawardsLieutenant of the Royal Victorian OrderWar Medal 1939–1945
Other work  Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defence, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
Awards  Deshamanya, War Medal 1939–1945
Battles and wars  World War II, 1971 JVP Insurrection

General Deshamanya Don Sepala Attygalle, LVO, ADC, idc, psc, SLAC (1922 – January 2001) was a Sri Lankan military leader, civil servant and diplomat. The longest serving Commander of the Sri Lankan Army (1967–1977), he went on to serve as the Permanent secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.


He is most notable for successfully crushing the 1971 Insurrection in a matter of months and becoming the first Sri Lankan army officer to be promoted to the rank of a four star general. He is known as the "Father of the Armoured Corps" and was The Equerry to The Queen during her coronation in 1953.


Sepala Attygalle was educated at the Royal College, Colombo where he became the Head prefect, won colours in both athletics and rugby and was the Senior Sergeant of the Cadet Contingent of Royal. Thereafter he went on to study at the University of Ceylon. He graduated from the Staff College, Camberley in 1953 and the Imperial Defence College in 1966.

Military career

With the outbreak of World War II seeking a King's Commission, he joined as a cadet officer taking the Sword of Honour at the Army passing out parade following basic officer training at Diyatalawa in 1941 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Ceylon Light Infantry and underwent advance training in India.

After the war, he was demobilized and served as an Assistant Controller of Textiles and Assistant Controller of Exports and Imports.

When the new Ceylon Army was established in 1949, he joined it and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 1 Battalion, Ceylon Light Infantry as a regular officer, promoted to the rank of captain on the same day he was assigned as staff officer in the General Staff. In 1950 he was appointed as Aide-de-camp (ADC) to Lord Soulbury, the Governor General of Ceylon and was promoted to the rank of major in 1952.

In mid 1952, he followed a Company Commanders' Course at the School of Infantry, Warminster and a Land/Air Warfare Course at the School of Land/Air Warfare. Thereafter he was attached to the 1st Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, in Germany, serving with the NATO Forces in Europe.

In 1953 he relinquished the appointment at the Army HQ general staff, left for the United Kingdom for Staff College, Camberley and was thereafter seconded to the 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards. During this time he was appointed Equerry to HM Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation and served as military liaison officer to the High Commissioner for Ceylon in the United Kingdom. On his return to Ceylon, he took up command of the Echelon Barracks.

On 10 October 1955, D.S. Attygalle raised the 1st Reconnaissance (Recce) Squadron as the Cavalry Arm in the Ceylon Army in the lines of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards. On 17 December 1955 a Combined Services Buddhist Mission led by Major Attygalle left for Burma on board HMCyS Vijaya, to represent the Armed Forces of Ceylon at the Buddha Jayanthi Commemoration Celebrations, and present a gift of a Bodhi tree sapling. In 1958, the recce squadron was expanded to a regiment and Attygalle was appointed as its first commanding officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel. The 1st Reconnaissance Regiment became the core of the Ceylon Armoured Corps.

In 1962, he was promoted to the rank of colonel; he took up command of the Panagoda Cantonment, whilst serving as commanding officer, Ceylon Armoured Corps. Thereafter he became the commander of the Task Force Anti Illicit Immigration in 1963, later the inspector of training, Army Headquarters. He became the Chief of Staff of the army in 1964 after relinquishing command of the Ceylon Armoured Corps and relinquished command of the Task Force Anti Illicit Immigration in 1965.

On 1 October 1967 Brigadier Don S. Attygalle took over as the Acting Commander of the Army after the retirement of Major General B.R. Heyn. Promoted to the rank of major general, he was confirmed as Commander of the Army shortly. Under his leadership the army crushed the 1971 Insurrection within two months, and he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general on 4 April 1974, thus being the first officer of the Sri Lanka Army to hold this rank. When he retired on 13 October 1977, after having served for ten years as commander, he was promoted to the rank of general, thus becoming the first Sri Lankan army officer to hold the rank of a four-star general and longest-serving Commander of the Army.

Later life

On retirement from the army, he took up appointment as Additional Secretary, Ministry of Defence and Chief Co-ordinating Authority in the Ministry of Defence in 1977. In the early 1980s, with the escalation of the Tamil Militancy, he was appointed as permanent secretary, Ministry of Defence and served as National Defence Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka. He played a major role during the Vadamarachchi Operation until Indian intervention stopped it midway. During this time he was the founding chairman, Air Ports and Aviation Services and chairman of Air Lanka. In 1990 he was appointed as High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom.

His military funeral in January 2001 was well attended by his family, friends and colleagues who gathered to mourn his loss.


He was married Brighty, they had one son Suraj and two grandsons Damin and Shaminda.


He was made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (Military Division) (MVO) by Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of the services rendered by him, during her Majesty's visit to Ceylon in 1954 which was later upgrade to lieutenant in 1984. For wartime service in World War II, he had earned the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939–1945, and for service in the Ceylon Army, he received the Ceylon Armed Services Long Service Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal and the Ceylon Armed Services Inauguration Medal. For service in the Sri Lanka Army, he received the Republic of Sri Lanka Armed Services Medal and the Vadamarachchi Operation Medal for his later service as Secretary of Defence.


  • Attygalle was promoted to the rank of general upon his retirement in 1977.
  • He was awarded the title Deshamanya from the Government of Sri Lanka.
  • He was a made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order, which was later upgraded to Lieutenant.
  • Doctor of Literature (honorary) by the University of Sri Lanka.
  • References

    Sepala Attygalle Wikipedia