It is rather strange that as a nation we tend to forget or fail to perpetuate the memory of distinguished persons who have rendered outstanding service to the motherland. The 100th birth Anniversary of the late Air Vice Marshall Rohan Amarasekera fell on 21st May 2016. Regrettably nothing noteworthy was organized by the state or the Sri Lanka Air Force to pay tribute to this great personality.
It is unfortunate that time has dimmed the memory of many like A.V.M. Rohan Amarasekara who was a great man. The manner in which the late A.V.M. earned an enviable reputation was essentially in his remarkable demonstration of responsibility both in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Ceylon Air Force. “The price of greatness” as eloquently asserted by Sir Winston Churchill was “responsibility”. This concept fashioned his whole life and brought to bear on the 640 squadron in the bomber command he served with utmost distinction in the Sri Lanka Air Force, he commanded as the first Sri Lankan Commander.
Amarasekara, a native of Kegalle received his early education at Kingswood College and later Wesley College. Young daring and adventurous, he decided to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the most turbulent years despite stiff opposition from his elders. Joining the R.A.F in 1940 at the age of 24 he distinguished himself as an air gunner serving 153 squadron and 640 squadron, two famous R.A.F. operational squadrons where he earned a reputation for his daring exploits. He served the longest in the 640 squadron.
Rohan Amarasekara was the most decorated Asian in the British Royal Air Force (R.A.F) and a hero who flew not less than over 80 sorties over Hitler’s Germany during the war years. While Herman Goering’s Luftwaffe, the Nazi force pounded Britain in an effort to demoralize the British and destroy its fighting capabilities Rohan Amarasekara started as a gunner in the R.A.F and became a fighter who could be depended on to hit a target from an aircraft during an era where advanced techniques available for today’s Airmen were not available.
With an enviable record of operational flights(sorties) over Nazi Germany and occupied territory during World War II he was decorated for bravery with the most coveted flying award the Distinguished Flying Cross “DFC” and Bar. His contemporaries admired him with great affection.
He and Air Commodore Fred Paple who was his pilot and later his Squadron Commander in the 640 squadron undertook many missions together and Paple had dedicated the book he published titled ‘An anecdotal history of the 640 squadron’ to those who served the squadron. He has in his book dedicated one chapter to “Amare” as he was known in the squadron whom he admired and respected for devotion to duty, attention for detail and impeccable conduct whether in the Air or on the ground.
After a period of distinguished service in the R.A.F. anxious to make his services and experience available to his motherland and the Royal Ceylon Air Force(RCyAF) which was being formed he returned to Sri Lanka.
On his return he was closely associated with Air Commodore J. Bladen during the formative years of the RCyAF. Functioning as the Chief Of Staff when Air Vice Marshall J.L. Barker relinquished command of the RCyAF, he assumed duties as the First Sri Lankan Commander on 1st November 1962. He continued to command the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) till 1st December 1970 and retired from service at the age of 57.
He systematically reorganized the Sri Lanka Air Force to meet the exacting demands of a developing country, and built it to a status of a force to be reckoned with virtually inversely proportionate to its size and despite being the most junior of the armed services. He set a high code of ethics to his officers and he set exemplary standards for others to emulate. His exemplary ethical conduct, integrity and moral values left an indelible impression on those who came into contact with him. He adhered to a strict code of professional rectitude. A man of principles, he never hesitated to speak for what he believed in.
He never bowed down to any outside pressure or interference. He always stood steadfast to his principles, maintained what was right at all times with his personal example of a life of devotion to the country and the force.
He brought to bear on his office as Commander, the dignity and pride which enabled him to weather the many storms easily and philosophically. AVM Amarasekaera by every description was a great man, he resolutely believed in the immortal assertion by Henry Ward Breecher – “Greatness lies in not being strong, but in the right use of strength”.
The government of the day had to rely heavily, during two abortive Coup D’etats, on the Air Force. Amarasekara with the Air Force played a significant role in quelling successive attempts to overthrow the government. The dependence on the Air Force and non-involvement of any Air Force personnel in successive attempts to overthrow the government, unmistakably demonstrated the firm and sound principles and the high values he had inculcated in the minds of the Air Force Officers and Airmen.
The hallmark of his makeup was his patent simplicity, humility, modesty and accessibility. There was no vestige of superciliousness or assumption in him. He was never overbearing or self-opinionated, but unostentatious, always keeping a low profile. He was calm, alert, active, efficient and adaptable. Above all, his humanism knew no bounds.
On his retirement he led a rather subdued life. His life revolved around his family – his wife Aloma whom he loved dearly, his son Ajith and daughter Rosanthi whom he brought up with admirable care and affection carefully inculcating humane and moral values in them. Ajit after a very impressive academic achievement at Cambridge University obtaining a Doctorate, today is a very eminent Electronic Engineer. Roshanthi is a very accomplished young lady who has earned an admirable reputation as a beauty culturist.
Their home was an abode of peace, love and tranquility. He actively pursued study of contemporary religions. He would regularly indulge in spiritual mediation. With his wife Aloma he would discuss religion particularly the facets of impermanency of life after losing many of his contemporaries in the squadron. He wrote a few booklets on the various facets of Buddhism. The most impressive and soul searching was his book “The power within” dedicated to his dear friend D.C.O.T.Amarasekera . AVM Amarasekera declined many prestigious appointments offered to him whilst on retirement. When he died he did not have a house of his own in Colombo, he had to rent out one in the suburbs.
His ancestral properties in Kegalle had been encroached on by other people. Till his death he could not recover these. Amarasekara passed away on 20th March 1974 and was accorded a fitting funeral. The funeral service was unique and was in accordance with his wishes –Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islamic services were held at his graveside.
Sri Lanka lost a great man. Apart from his remarkable and enviable professional record, throughout his life he epitomized humanism, gentlemanliness, traits which are now fast disappearing. Sri Lanka lost a great man who should be remembered for his service by his successors and country alike.
Despite the significant contribution made to the Sri Lanka Air Force as the First Sri Lankan Commander, the Air Force and the country have not made any endeavour to perpetuate his memory in a proper manner. Regrettably, while other Commanders of the Sri Lanka Air Force were promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal AVM Amarasekera was not even promoted posthumously.