Remembering him on his 83rd birth anniversary, 27th July 2023.
Denzil Lakshman Kobbekaduwa was born in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) on the 27th of July 1940. It is appropriate at this moment of time to write a few words about this legend on his 83rd Birth Anniversary.
He was a legendary sportsman, a great military officer who was able to command the respect of all Sri Lankans, and a person with humane qualities loved and respected by his followers locally and internationally.
Denzil had his nursery education at Hillwood College Kandy and followed his primary and secondary education at Trinity College Kandy. During his tenure at Trinity College, it was clearly identified that he was a personality with great leadership qualities with the ability to focus on his classroom activities and skillfully apply himself in the field of sports.
The school authorities recognised his capabilities and first appointed him as a school officer of the Lemuel House which he represented. Due to his commitment and the respect he commanded Denzil was appointed as a School Prefect and later as the Senior Prefect of Trinity College Kandy. In his classroom work, he successfully completed the GCE (O/L) Examination and subsequently completed the H.S.C. Examination and qualified to gain admission to the University of Peradeniya to continue with his Tertiary education. However, Denzil being a Sportsman and an outdoor personality opted to join the Sri Lanka Army (then Ceylon Army).
Denzil was a person who contributed immensely in the field of sports when he was a senior student
at Trinity College. First, he represented the Lemuel House at Rugby Football, Hockey and Cricket. During this period, he went on to represent the Trinity College 1st XV Rugby Team, 1st XI Hockey Team and 1st XI Cricket Team. He also Captained the 1st XV Rugby Football team in 1959 and was awarded the Rugby Lion. He was also the Vice captain of the 1st XI Hockey Team and was awarded the Hockey Colours.
General Denzil Kobbekaduwa s contribution to the Sri Lankan society as a Sportsman and a Military Officer has been enormous. Over the last 3 plus decades many people have written articles related to his Military activities and the leadership, he gave in the battle front. However, it is appropriate to write a few words about his contribution in the Sri Lankan Sports arena specifically in the field of Rugby Football. At the initial stage as an Officer of the Sri Lanka Army he along with his fellow officers initiated a program to develop Rugby Football within the Army and he himself played for the Army Sports Club in the Clifford Cup tournament conducted by the Ceylon Rugby Football Union. (S.L.R.F.U.) He went on to Captain the Army Rugby XV and later on coached the Sri Lanka Army team. He also played for the Defense Services Rugby XV in tournaments conducted by the S.L.R.F. U. Denzil also played Rugby for Kandy Sports Club and went on to Captain the club team in 1969. This year Kandy Sports Club ended the season as the
Runner up at the Clifford Cup tournament conducted by the S.L.R.F. U. He also played for Upcountry Rugby Football team and was the captain of the team as well. His final objective was to play for Sri Lanka which he successfully accomplished.
Having played Rugby at Club level and at national level he retired from playing the game but took up to coaching Rugby Teams. He was able to coach the Trinity College Kandy 1st XV team. (His Alma Mater) for four years 1967 to 1970 and Army Sports Club team for several years. Having done Rugby coaching assignments, he took up to the administration of the game. He was appointed as the Secretary of the S.L.R.U. in 1973 / 74. This was the year Asia Cup Rugby Tournament was held in Sri Lanka. Japan won the tournament while Sri Lanka ended up as the Runner up.
He also took up to assignments of Rugby Refereeing and was nominated as an A grade referee of the Sri Lanka Rugby Referees Society. Denzil was appointed as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rugby Referees Society and was nominated as a Referee of the Asian Rugby Referees Society. He was also the Sri Lankan Rugby Referee / Manager of the Sri Lankan Rugby team on many overseas tours of the Sri Lanka Rugby team during that era. Neutral Referees was the call of the day to officiate Schools Rugby Football games. However due to his impartial refereeing he was the first Trinitian to officiate a Bradby Shield game, Royal College Vs Trinity College. And from Royal it was Jagath Fernando who blew the whistle.
Denzil was also a sitting member of the Duncan White Sports Foundation which supported Athletics. This legends contribution to the sporting arena was all voluntary services and no remuneration was received by him. On the 14th of January 2023 at an awards ceremony conducted by the S.L.R.F.U. a special award was presented by the Rugby stalwarts of Sri Lanka to honour the services rendered by Denzil for Sri Lanka Rugby. The award was presented by Ajith Abeyratne on behalf of the S.L.R.F.U,. another distinguish Rugby personality and was received by Mrs. Lali Kobbekaduwa..
Now I will present a short review regarding his career with the Sri Lanka Army. After leaving Trinity College in 1960 Denzil joined the Sri Lanka Army (Ceylon Army) as an Officer Cadet and had his initial training at the Military Academy in Diyathalawa. After successfully completing the training Denzil moved to United Kingdom for Military Training with the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst UK. Having successfully completed the 2-year Military Training Course at Sandhurst he returned to Sri Lanka and joined the Armored Crops Regiment as a young officer. He being a capable officer had an excellent career with the Sri Lanka Army starting as a Lieutenant and rose to a Major General over a period of time. During this period, he also had overseas Military training assignments, Technical and Transport / Young officers for Armored Crops officers in Bovington UK, Staff College Camberley UK and Royal College of Defence Studies Staff College England. As a battle hardened legendary Military Officer General Denzil Kobbekaduwa was able to command the respect of fellow Military Officers and other Ranks of the Sri Lankan Tri Forces, STF, Sri Lanka Police. It should be mentioned that he was a person loved and respected by the entire Sri Lankan community. He gave the leadership to the fellow officers and soldiers in the
battle front against terrorism. Vadamarachchi operation, Operation Balavegaya a beach landing to
save the Elephant Pass Security forces camp, evacuation of the security forces trapped in the Jaffna
Fort are some of the operations he was able to carry out successfully.
On the 8th of August 1992 the assassination of General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and fellow officials by the political terrorist rocked the country and the entire security forces of the nation was demoralised. However, it took almost another 15 years for the Sri Lankan security forces to regroup and end the war by defeating the deadliest terrorist group the L.T.T.E.
During General Denzil Kobbekaduwa Military career, he received many gallantry awards for the services rendered by him to the Sri Lankan Security forces and the Sri Lankan society. Details of the awards are as follows,
- Rana Wickrama Padakkama
- Rana Sura Padakkama
- Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya.
- Uttama Seva Padakkama.
- Desha Putra Sammanaya
- Vadamarachchi operation Medal
- Puurna Bhumi Padakkama
The late General Kobbekaduwa’s wife Mrs. Lali Ratwatte Kobbekaduwa received the Uththama
Pooja Pranama Padakksama Medal in 2010.
For the past 31 years General Denzil Kobbekaduwa’s family and friends have remembered him and bestowed merits on him by offering dane to the religious institutions and conducting memorial services. His Regiment the Armored Crops has conducted a memorial ceremony on the 8th of August in front of his statue in Anuradhapura for the past 30 years.
As a conclusion remark I wish to mention that as a person who associated with Denzil for over four decades we miss the guidance provided by him very much.
May your journey in Sansara be a pleasant one until you attain Nirvana.
Respice finem (Look to the end.)
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
27 – 07 – 2023