Sepala Attygalle

General Deshamanya Don Sepala Attygalle, LVO (14 October 1921 – 15 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.

Don Sepala Attygalle

Lt Gen Attygalle.jpg
Born14 October 1921
Died15 January 2001
AllegianceSri Lanka
Years of service1942–1946,
RankSri Lanka-army-OF-9.svg General
Service number0/50010
Commands held
Other workPermanent Secretary Ministry of Defence,
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 full general. He is known as the "Father of the Armoured Corps" and was The Equerry to The Queen during her coronation in 1953.

Early life and educationEdit

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. Once completing schooling, he entered the University College, Colombo.[1]

Military careerEdit

Second World WarEdit

With the outbreak of World War II in 1940, Attygalle left his studies at the university college to join the Ceylon Defense Force with its wartime expansion and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Ceylon Light Infantry on 15 November 1940. He underwent basic officer training at Diyatalawa, where he took the sword of honour at the army passing out parade in 1941 and thereafter underwent advanced training in India. He was promoted to the temporary rank of Captain in 1943. He was demobilized 9 March 1946, and had been the Defence Services 100-metre Champion until 1944.[2][3]

Government serviceEdit

Following the end of the war, he joined the government service as the Assistant Controller of Textiles and thereafter served as the Assistant Controller of Exports and Imports.[2]

Ceylon armyEdit

With the formation of the new Ceylon Army on 10 October 1949 following the passing of the Army Act; he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 1 Battalion, Ceylon Light Infantry as a regular officer on 22 October 1949, promoted to the rank of captain on the same day, he was then assigned as the General Staff Officer - Grade 3 (GSO3) at the Army Headquarters, Ceylon. On 27 July 1950 he was appointed as an Extra Aide-de-camp (ADC) to Lord Soulbury, the Governor General of Ceylon, succeeding Major Bevis Bawa. He was promoted to rank of major on 1 January 1952 and was appointed GSO2, Army Headquarters in February.[4]

From May to July 1952, he attended the Company Commanders' Course at the School of Infantry, Warminster and the Land/Air Warfare Course at the School of Land/Air Warfare from October to November 1952. Thereafter he was attached to the 1st Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, in Germany; serving with the NATO Forces in Europe. On his return he resumed his post as GSO2, Army Headquarters.[4]

In January 1953, he relinquished his staff appointment at the army headquarters and left for the United Kingdom to attend the Staff College, Camberley. On 2 June 1953, he was appointed Equerry to HM Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation. On completing the staff college course, he was seconded to the 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards. During this time he served as a military liaison officer (military attaché) to the High Commissioner for Ceylon in the United Kingdom. On his return to he took part in the formation of the "D" Company, 1st Battalion, Ceylon Light Infantry of which was appointed officer commanding.[4]

Ceylon Armoured CorpsEdit

In 1955, Major D.S. Attygalle was tasked with raising a reconnaissance unit and on 10 October 1955, he formed the 1st Reconnaissance (Recce) Squadron as the Cavalry Arm in the Ceylon Army in the lines of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, with himself as officer commanding. 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. On 25 December 1955, he was appointed Officer Commanding Troops, Echelon Barracks, and served till 9 August 1956. On 1 October 1958, he was promoted to the rank lieutenant colonel and appointed the first commanding officer of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment, with the expansion of the recce squadron to a full regiment. The 1st Reconnaissance Regiment became the core of the Ceylon Armoured Corps. He attended a training with the Royal Armoured Corps from March to April 1959. Held the post of the commanding officer, 1st Reconnaissance Regiment until March 1964.[5][4]

TFAII and Chief of StaffEdit

On 1 December 1962, he was promoted to the rank of colonel; he took up appointment as Commander, Army Force Panagoda, whilst serving as commanding officer, Ceylon Armoured Corps. In June 1963, he went on an official visit to Yugoslavia, where he underwent a guerilla warfare training course. Having relinquished his post of Commander, Army Force Panagoda on 13 August 1963, he was appointed Commander, Task Force Anti Illicit Immigration on 14 August 1963, later he also served as the Inspector of Training, Army Headquarters. He was then appointed Chief of Staff of the army on 21 March 1964. He relinquished command of the Task Force Anti Illicit Immigration on 30 June 1965 and in 1966 he attended the Imperial Defence College. On his return he resumed duties as Chief of Staff.[4]

Commander of the ArmyEdit

He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier on 22 September 1967 and appointed as Acting Commander of the Army after the retirement of Major General B.R. Heyn. On 1 October 1967, Attygalle was promoted to the rank of Major General and confirmed as Commander of the Army. 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. On the day of his retirement, 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 full general and longest-serving Commander of the Army.[4]

Later lifeEdit

On retirement from the army, he took up an appointment as Additional Secretary, Ministry of Defence, and Chief Co-ordinating Authority in the Ministry of Defence in October 1977.

Secretary of DefenceEdit

In the early 1980s, with the escalation of the Tamil Militancy, he was appointed as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence on 15 August 1983 succeeding Colonel C. A. Dharmapala, and serving as National Defence Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka. He played a major role during the Vadamarachchi Operation which was stopped midway by Indian intervention. During this time he was the founding Chairman, Air Ports and Aviation Services and Chairman of Air Lanka. He step down as Secretary, Ministry of Defence on 16 February 1990 and was succeeded by General Cyril Ranatunga.[4]

High Commissioner to the United KingdomEdit

Following his tenure as Secretary of Defence, he was appointed as High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom in March 1990 and served till August 1993 when he was succeeded by General Cyril Ranatunga.[4]


He died on 15 January 2001 in Colombo following a brief illness and his military funeral took place at the General Cemetery, Borella on 17 January.[4]


He was married to Brighty Attygalle who died in July 2010, they had one son Suraj and two grandsons Damin and Shaminda. His brother was Dr. Gamini M. Attygalle, FRCS a leading anaesthesiologist, who was married to Kalyani Wijewardene, daughter of Don Walter T Wijewardene and sister of Upali Wijewardene.[6]

Honors and decorationsEdit

During his military career Attygalle had been award several decorations. He was made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (Military Division) (MVO) by Queen Elizabeth II during her Majesty's visit to Ceylon in 1954, which was later upgraded to Lieutenant (LVO) in 1984.[7] For wartime service in World War II with the Ceylon Defense Force, he had earned the Defence Medal (1946), the War Medal 1939–1945(1946) and the Efficiency Medal (Ceylon) (1950); and for service in the Sri Lankan Army, he received the Ceylon Armed Services Long Service Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal, the Ceylon Armed Services Inauguration Medal and the Republic of Sri Lanka Armed Services Medal.





See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Last post for two Generals Archived 7 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b "From Captain to Army Commander – Sepala Attygalle's illustrious career". Island. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  3. ^ "" THE CEYLON GOVERNMENT GAZETTE" (PDF). Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Deshamanya General Don Sepala Attygalle LVO ADC idc psc". Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  6. ^ A distinguished doctor who was respected for his rare qualities
  7. ^ "No. 40170". The London Gazette. 11 May 1954. p. 2775.

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by Commander of the Sri Lankan Army
1967 - 1977
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Succeeded by