A three-level atom in Λ configuration trapped in an optical cavity forms a basic unit in a number of proposed protocols for quantum information processing. This system allows for efficient storage of cavity photons into long-lived atomic excitations, and their retrieval with high fidelity, in an adiabatic transfer process through the 'dark state' by a slow variation of the control laser intensity. We study the full quantum mechanics of this transfer process with a view to examine the non-adiabatic effects arising from inevitable excitations of the system to states involving the upper level of Λ which is radiative. We find that the fidelity of storage is better, the stronger the control field and the slower the rate of its switching off. On the contrary, unlike the adiabatic notion, retrieval is better with faster rates of switching on of an optimal control field. Also, for retrieval, the behaviour with dissipation i non-monotonic. These results lend themselves to experimental tests. Our exact computations, when applied to slow variations of the control intensity for strong atom-photon couplings, are in very good agreement with Berry's superadiabatic transfer results without dissipation. © Indian Academy of Sciences.