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AVM Ekanayake Edward (Rohan) Amerasekera DFC & Bar. R.Cy.A.F.

By Charles M. Ameresekere
 

Seven years ago when I first started collecting medals, my father, whose group of medals was the first in my collection, said "You should ask Aunty Aloma for Uncle Rohan's Medals. He won the DFC twice in the last war." Fancy that, if not for my hobby I would never have known that my father's relative was a war hero. After doing some research and with the help of Mrs. Aloma Amerasekera and the offices of the RAF, London and the SLAF, Colombo, and the No 158 and 640 Squadron Associations, I have pieced together his story.

Ekanayake Edward Amerasekera was born in Kegalle, Ceylon on May 21, 1916, and was one of the seven children of Edward Henry Ekanayake Amerasekera and
Joselina Amerasekera (nee' de Silva Samarasinghe Siriwardena). Orphaned at the age of four, he was brought up by his uncle and aunt, Victor and Eda de Silva Siriwardena and later lived with his eldest sister, Hyacinth and her husband, Ashley Peiris at 'Ash Court', Kegalle. He received his education at Wesley College in Colombo (1925-29), Kingswood College in Kandy (1929-32), St. Mary's, Kegalle (1933-34) and at the Pembroke Academy (1935-39). Early in his life an astrologer had predicted that one day he will be a great commander, but young Edward could not figure out how that would come about.

At the outbreak of the war Edward joined the Army, but his sister and other family members objected and somehow got him out before he was shipped overseas. He, then, secretly applied to join the RAF on Sept 19, 1940, was selected and left for England with the first batch of RAF Recruits from Ceylon in June 1941 on the S.S. Exeter.

They reached England on Sept 28, 1941 and he enlisted at Euston on Sept 30, 1941 as an Aircraftman 2nd class RAFVR with the service number 1396932. He was reinstated as U/T Observer on Nov 3, 1941 and posted to 5 ITW on Dec 13, 1941. On Feb 20, 1942 he was promoted to Leading Aircraftman and was posted to 1 Empire Air Navigation School on May 2, 1942, followed by a posting to the 1 Advanced Flying Unit on Sept 26, 1942.

As a young RAF Airman in training, England 1941

On Nov 30, 1942 he was remustered as an Air Navigator, promoted to Temporary
Sergeant and posted to the 10 OTU in Abingdon, Berkshire, where he 'crewed up' with Sgt. Stan Emms' crew. They were sent on April 27, 1943 to the 1652 HCU to convert from Whitleys to the heavier Halifax bombers and on June 13, 1943 they got their first squadron posting to No 158 Squadron based at Lissett, Yorkshire.

This Squadron was equipped with Halifax II's and engaged in strategic bombing duties. They flew their first mission on June 21, 1943 to Krefeld. Whilst with this Squadron, on July 29, 1943 he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, General Duties (Navigator) Branch RAFVR with the Service number 155926.

By Sept 7, 1943 they had completed 16 Operations and it was at this time that they were posted to No 35 Squadron of the Pathfinder Force. The PFF had asked for a volunteer crew from No 158 Squadron and though they had not volunteered they were sent. They spent the rest of September training with the PFF Navigation Training Unit and when it was known to the PFF that they had not volunteered for Pathfinder duties, they were posted back to No 158 Squadron in early October, 1943 to continue their tour.

These transfers show up in the RAF Records as follows-
No 158 Squadron microfilm shows "...13 June 1943 arrived with crew ex-1652 Conversion Unit. Sept 1943 Posted to No 35 Squadron." No 35 Squadron's records show "Amerasekera posted in W.E.F. 29 July 1943 from No 158 Squadron. Posted back to 158 Squadron 4 Oct 1943."

P/O Amerasekera flew a total of 20 missions with Sgt. Stanley W. Emms and crew from 21 June 1943 to 18 Nov 1943 before he was screened to do a tour of instruction. These missions were flown just before the end of the Battle of the Ruhr, through the Battle of Hamburg and at the beginning of the Battle of Berlin, and included targets such as Krefeld, Wuppertal, Gelsenkirchen, Koln, Aachen, Hamburg, Peenemunde, Berlin, Essen, Mannheim and Monchen-Gladbach. Twelve of these missions were flown on the aircraft HR755/NP-X (Xpress Delivery).

Surviving members of Emms' crew at a Squadron Reunion
Left to Right - John McGuire, Stan Emms and Geoff Almond

The crew consisted of F/Sgt. Stanley W. Emms (Pilot), P/O E.E.Amerasekera (Nav), F/O P.H.Ackling (B/A), W/O Geoffrey S. Almond (Wop), Sgt. D.G.Cree (M/U/G), P/O John McGuire (R/G) and Sgt. W.S.H.Strong (F/E). The crew were decorated at the end of their tour, mainly for dedication and bravery shown on Nov 11, 1943 on their mission to Cannes. This incident is mentioned below in Amerasekera's DFC Citation. Emms, Cree and Strong received the DFM, Almond was awarded the Bar to his DFM (he had won his DFM previously with No 102 Squadron), which was one of 60 issued for WW2 & Amerasekera, McGuire and Ackling were awarded the DFC. McGuire rose to the rank of Wing Commander, receiving the OBE in addition to his DFC. Today, McGuire, Emms and Almond are the only surviving members of that crew.

Amerasekera was promoted to Flying Officer on Jan 29, 1944 and was awarded the DFC (L/G Feb 15, 1944). The Citation is as follows- "This officer has displayed a high degree of courage and determination in navigating his aircraft to the target and back, often under great difficulties. In November 1943 whilst on a flight to a distant target, the oxygen supply failed early in the sortie. P/O. Amerasekera, though suffering from lack of oxygen and extreme cold continued his duties and the mission was
successfully completed. This officer has proved himself to be a navigator of outstanding ability."

While on Instruction duties, Amerasekera had flown on one Operation, of which details are unknown.

Upon completing his time as an Instructor, Amerasekera joined the No 640 Squadron on Aug 16, 1944. No 640 Squadron which had formed in January 1944 at Leconfield from the C Flight of his old Squadron (No 158) and was now equipped with Halifax III's. Initially he flew eight missions with F/O Fred J. Papple (Pilot), F/Sgt S.I. McLean (B/A), Sgt. R.G.Gunstone (Wop), Sgt. T.W.Dakin (M/U/G), Sgt. J.W.Burns ((R/G) and Sgt. D.S. MacDonald (F/E), replacing their regular navigator 'Ade' Hyde DFC, who had been injured. The targets included Gelsenkirchen, Boulogne, Neuss and Calais.

Fred Papple's Crew. Standing L ro R: Sgt. Gunstone,
Sgt. Burns, Sgt. Dakin and Sgt. McDonald.
Seated L to R: F/Sgt. McLean, P/O Papple and F/O Amerasekera DFC.

 

When Papple's crew completed their tour, Amerasekera flew one mission with P/O F.W. Mills and crew (on Nov 29, 1944 to Essen) and then 'crewed up' with F/O A.J."Bert" Jeeves (Pilot), F/O M.J.Cruthers (B/A), F/Sgt.A.V. Syddall (Wop), Sgt.R.E.Draper (M/U/G), Sgt.F.Smith (R/G) and P/O W.H.Harding (F/E), to fly another 22 Missions from Dec 5/6, 1944 to March 19, 1945.
 

Bert Jeeves' Crew

This crew flew most of their operations in the aircraft PN182/'N for Nuts', and their targets included Essen, Hannover, Saarbrucken, Gelsenkirchen, Dusseldorf and Dortmund.

Bert Jeeves' crew in front of their aircraft 'N for Nuts'.
Standing L to R: Smith, Jeeves, Syddal and Draper.
Front L to R: Harding, Cruthers and Amerasekera.

RAF records show that F/O Amerasekera DFC ended his tour with No 640 Squadron on Oct 12, 1944, but actually he continued to fly until March 1945 with the permission of the C/O, in order to complete his second tour. His last Operation was on March 18/19 1945, to Witten. He had flown a total of 52 Operations in these two tours.

Amerasekera during his tour with 640 Sqn. Visible
under the Navigator badge are the ribbons for the DFC and the 1939-45 Star

Amerasekera was back with the No 158 Squadron from May 6, 1945 to Aug 14, 1945. Here on July 29, 1945 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and was awarded the Bar to the DFC (L/G Nov 30, 1945), with the following citation- "This officer has completed his second tour of operational duty. In December 1944, whilst on route to Essen, his aircraft was engaged by searchlights and heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered causing severe damage to the aircraft. Despite the fact that shell splinters penetrated his compartment, F/O. Amerasekera took evasive action and completed his allotted task. His other targets have included the Ruhr Valley, Chemnitz and Hanover. On all occasions, F/O. Amerasekera has set a fine example by his tenacity and devotion to duty."

The incident mentioned in the citation occurred on December 12/13. 1944 during the outward journey to attack Essen. Their aircraft was illuminated by a cone of searchlights and almost immediately received severe damage by anti-aircraft fire. While Jeeves took violent evasive action to escape the searchlights, Amerasekera calmly continued with his work.

Alex Syddall recalls another (or perhaps the same) incident and I quote "The only time I ever saw 'Amer' look disconcerted was when on our return from either Essen or Chemnitz, he picked up his parachute which he had stowed under his Navigator's seat, to find pieces of Flak embedded in it! But for that parachute he would have been somewhat uncomfortable or at worst the SLAF would not have had Amer as Chief of Staff!"

In addition to the DFC and Bar, he received the 1939-45 Star, the Air Crew Europe Star with the France and Germany bar, the Defence Medal and the War Medal. He was released from service on July 20, 1946 and his last day of service being November 3, 1946. He resigned his commission on November 4, 1946 with permission to retain the rank of Flight Lieutenant. All his surviving crew mates and Bomber Command colleagues remember him with great affection. Ian Roberts of the No 640 Squadron remembers him in his article "Leconfield's League of Nations" as "Handsome and dapper, with hair swept back and parted precisely down the middle, Amerasekera hailed from Ceylon. He completed 52 Operations, requesting permission from the C.O. to stay with Jeeves' crew in order to do so. He flew 22 operations with the New Zealander Jeeves and 8 with Fred Papple. I remember him most vividly with red nose and red cheeks as he was rolled in the snow during one of the inevitable snowball fights between the sergeants' and the officers' messes.
After the war he completed a pilots' course and eventually rose to be Chief of Air Staff of the Sri Lankan Air Force. He was an unforgettable man."

In a later interview, speaking of his RAF days, Amerasekera recalled "It was a wonderful experience; we simply lived in them forgetting everything else." Amerasekera returned to Ceylon in late 1945 and served at the RAF Station in Kandy as an Interpreter, with F/Lt. Peter Chadwick, who was in charge of the Civilian employees at RAF Kandy. Here he worked until August 1946.

Amerasekera changed his middle name from Edward to Rohan. His service record in the Department of Civil Aviation and the Royal Ceylon Air Force reflects this change. Though he was a Christian, he was very much interested in Buddhist Philosophy, even during the war, and became an ardent student of Spiritualism, Mysticism and mooted for a 'Universal Religion'. He also wrote six booklets about these subjects.

He joined the Department of Civil Aviation on Aug 20, 1946 as the Assistant Aerodrome Officer (Flying Control) at the Colombo Airport in Ratmalana, while on leave from the RAF, and on Oct 1, 1950, he was promoted to Acting Airport Controller. He followed some training in England, where he met up with some of his former crew members. He left this Department on May 15, 1951 to join the newly formed Royal Ceylon Air Force under the Commandership of G/Cpt. Graham Clerke Bladon OBE, an officer seconded from the R.A.F. On May 15, 1951 he was commissioned as Pilot Officer (Service number 01002) and promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader with effect from the same date.

While in R.Cy.A.F. he attended the following Courses- No 67 Officers Advanced Training School course at RAF School of Administration, Bircham Newton (Jan 5 to Feb 27, 1953), No 24(A) Long Photographic Intelligence Course (Strategical Wing) at RAF Wyton (March 2 to April 2, 1953), No 11 Staff College course at RAF Staff College, Andover (April 1953 to March 1954) and the Senior Officers Course at the Imperial Defence College, London (Jan 4 to Dec 15, 1961).

On Oct 1, 1955 he was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander, followed by promotions to the ranks of Group Captain (July 1, 1959), Temporary Air Commodore (Nov 13, 1962), Air Commodore (Jan 1, 1964) and Air Vice-Marshal (Oct 1, 1967). Rohan Amerasekera held the following appointments in the RCyAF- Senior Air Staff Officer, Air Force HQ, Colombo from May 14, 1955 to May 21, 1955, Chief of Staff, Air Force HQ, Colombo from May 21, 1955 to Dec 17, 1960, Senior Air Staff Officer, HQ Unit, Colombo from April 22, 1962 to Nov 13, 1962.

While with the RCyAF, Amerasekera trained as a Pilot, first in Chipmunks and later in the Jet Provost under the guidance of 'Paddy' Mendis, who would later succeed him as Commander of the RCyAF. Mendis recalls that though Amerasekera wore his full Wings as a Pilot, he had a soft corner for the Half Wing he wore as a Navigator on his many missions over Germany.                                 

The Day Amerasekera received his Pilot Wings

On Nov 13, 1962 the astrologer's prediction came true when he became the first Ceylonese Commander of the R.Cy.A.F., succeeding A/V/M. John Lindsay Barker CB, CBE, DFC.

Air Vice Marshal Rohan Amerasekera DFC and Bar
(RCyAF), the First Ceylonese to command the RCyAF

He retired from that post on Dec 31, 1970 after nineteen years and seven months service in the Royal Ceylon Air Force, handing over command to A/Cdr Padman "Paddy" Hariprasadha Mendis.

Whilst in the service of the RCyAF, Amerasekera received the Coronation Medal of Queen Elizabeth II, The Ceylon Armed Services Inauguration Medal (Cey/Gaz Nov 4, 1955) and the Ceylon Armed Services Long Service Medal.

Rohan Amerasekera died on March 20, 1974 at the age of 57, and is survived by his widow Aloma (nee' Dender) whom he had married on Nov 12, 1958, his son and daughter. He was accorded a funeral with full military honours by the Government of Ceylon and in deference to his wishes, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islamic religious services were held at his graveside. His ceremonial sword and the miniature medals are on display at the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum.

Rohan Amerasekera's Miniature Medals displayed at
the SLAF Museum. Please note that the Bar to the DFC is missing and the
'France and Germany' Bar is sewn incorrectly between the ribbons of two
medals. It should be sewn on the ribbon of the "Aircrew Europe Star"

THE BOOKLETS WRITTEN BY ROHAN AMERASEKERA ON SPIRITUALISM

FOREWORD

A whole life-time, nay, many life times were packed into a few years of my life in the Second World War. I volunteered for the Royal Air Force in search of adventure and I had an abundance of it. I found myself in the midst of death and destruction, in the thick of fun and gaiety. I understood joy and sorrow, as I saw them then, amidst life and death. I had friends today and they were gone tomorrow. I became callous and insensitive to finer feelings. I began to live for the day. Money, friends, everything
was only for the day.

At the end of so much death and destruction and the release of pent up feelings and nervous tensions within me, I began to wonder what this was all about. Is there a meaning in life or are we like drift wood tossing aimlessly on the ocean? Was there a purpose in the changes that took place for me so fast and so furiously? Why were so many maimed, why did so many die and I remain unscathed?

I spent hours delving into books, thinking and meditating. An understanding of Karma now points to me the true significance and purpose of life. I venture to communicate to you this understanding which guides my life.

E. R. A.

Royal Ceylon Air Force,
22nd January, 1965

1996 -2002, Charles Ameresekere. Content may not be copied by any form without the prior consent of the Author.