|Tuesday, 10 August 2004|
Instructor Commander M. G. S. Perera - the founder of the Naval Academy
by M. H. Weliwitigoda, Lieutenant Commander SLN. (Rtd.)
These lines are penned on the commemoration of the fifth death anniversary of the late Instructor Commander M. G. S. Perera. For twenty three long years he trained, taught, and inspired a generation of naval officers in this country, some of whom went on to hold the rank of 'Commander of the Navy'.
Instructor Commander Perera, fondly called 'MGS' or 'Steve' by his colleagues, started his naval career in August 1949 as a Petty Officer/Stoker Mechanic. He was drafted on board H. M. Cy. S. Vijaya when this 'Algerian class sweeper' was gifted to the then Royal Ceylon Navy by the Royal Navy. I too was on 'Vijaya' as an 'Able Seaman' and had the occasion to serve with him.
He was by nature calm, quiet and moved well even with sailors junior to him. With a Licentiate in Mechanical Engineering (LME), he was 'over-qualified' as a P.O./S.M. and was soon promoted as an Engine Room Artificer Class - 1 and retained on board. It was during this period that we had a close association and became family friends.
In fact I joined the Navy one month ahead of 'MGS' in 1949 and retired (prior to being re-called for further active service in July 1982 until October 1986) after one year of his retirement. Hence I had close contacts with him, "from his start to the very end in the Navy" and beyond thereafter, up to the grave.
The Colombo Plan Exhibition was held and the Navy was required to exhibit their wares in an exhibition stall to educate the public on the role played by the Navy in the defence of the country.
In addition to working models of Radar, Anti-Submarine detection sets, Depth Finders and armaments, a scale model of H. M. Cy. S. Vijaya was turned out by 'MGS' which was the cynosure of all viewers. (I believe this model is now at the Naval and Maritime Academy Trincomalee).
First instructor officer
The Naval hierarchy soon realised and decided that 'MGS' could be put to better use with his qualifications and he was commissioned as a Lieutenant, direct entry in the Instructors' branch.
He was the pioneer and the leader in this branch which was later expanded to a cadre of eight officers, the best he could get and specializing in various disciplines, to train cadets recruited to the Navy prior to sending them to Dartmouth for their Midshipmen and Sub-Lieutenants' courses.
I was selected to be commissioned and was trained by 'MGS' in Mathematics, Trigonometry and Navigation. He was an excellent teacher, with patience and the ability to explain a problem till it was understood by the student. His greatest asset was the ability to come down to the level of the student's intelligence.
'MGS' got regular promotions and ended up Instructor Commander/Director Naval Training and the First Commandant of the Naval and Maritime Academy at Trincomalee.
Birth of the academy
In 1966 he was entrusted with the arduous responsibility of designing, equipping and establishing an academy for formal naval training and maritime studies in this country. Within a short period of about 18 months, the basic infrastructure for the academy had been set up successfully in Trincomalee.
With this accomplishment, the Naval and Maritime Training Academy (NMA) was formally commissioned on July 18, 1967.
It was born of a Navy much derided and, a battered hulk, left to rot, for many years, as a result of the "far Eastern Cruise fiasco" of 1961/62. What turned the Navy round was the Academy and that "Academy was MGS", as he not only gave birth but also life to the academy. Almost all the officers who serve the Sri Lanka Navy today, have gone through the portals of this great institution.
'MGS' did not think the Academy was useful to the Navy alone, either. He even then, considered the Academy as a 'National Institute', and that the Navy, alone, could train all sea-going personnel.
As reported in the 1969 issue of "Vidusidu" the then official journal of the Academy, he undertook to train personnel qualifying themselves for merchant marine service from the Police, Ceylon Shipping and Ceylon Fisheries Corporations.
Many of those trained went to sea with 'Academy Certificates'. On reaching the age of fifty five he retired in the year 1972. The Navy's loss was the gain of Walker Sons & Co. Ltd., who employed 'MGS' as the Senior Manager of the Fibreglass & Boat Building Section for three years.
During this period, the Ceylon Shipping Corporation (CSC) was recruiting deck-officer cadets for the Corporation and was in search of a suitable Training Instructor. The Corporation offered this post to 'MGS' giving him the position of Staff Captain.
He then served the 'CSC' for eight more years before age and poor eye sight took its toll. Many are the Master Mariners who had the privilege of being trained by 'MGS' as well as most of the Senior Officers of the Sri Lanka Navy.
The Naval and Maritime Academy which was the vision of the late Commander M. G. S. Perera, has today got University Status (in 2001) and was awarded the President's Colours, which was presented at a colourful ceremony held on the Marine Drive on December 13, 2003, by the President.
"They shall not grow old as we who are left behind,
This appreciation may also serve to enlighten the present day officers and sailors in the Navy that the Naval and Maritime Academy which has reached such great heights in the field of naval training in this country today, was the creation with much foresight and devotion of Instructor Commander M. G. S. Perera. He was not only its first Commandant, but also its founder.
It is sad to note that we are yet to see even a portrait of him on display at the Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee.
Produced by Lake House