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Hardit Singh Malik, the Original 'Flying Sikh' Who Was A Fighter Pilot In World War IIndiatimes15 May. 2016Almost 1.3 million Indians fought in World War I, but there was one who flew an aircraft andsadly, we don't know anything about him. Sardar Hardit Singh Malik, was the first Indian, orrather Asian to join the Royal Flying Corps and participate in aerial combat on the westernfront during which he battled and shot down German fighters.Malik was born on 23 November, 1892 in a Sikh family from Rawalpindi, Punjab which was apart of pre-partitioned India. Hardit Singh went to England at age 14, did his schooling fromEnglish Public School, Eastborne College, from where he went to Balliol College at Oxford.After graduating with honours, his co-curricular achievements wereapplauded as he was good in both cricket and golf.Times of IndiaDuring World War I in 1914, he was in his second year at Oxford andmost of his British colleagues volunteered to join the fighting services.Sardar Hardit Singh Malik too wanted to join. He was initially denied permissionto join the force and was instead asked to serve as an orderly in an Indian militaryhospital. But he overcame institutional racism to become a fighter pilot forthe British before he took on the Germans.When he was initially denied permission, a dejected Malik then wentto France to help out as an ambulance driver and asked the authoritiesif he could volunteer in the air force. Thankfully, the French agreed.Malik wrote a letter to his tutor at Oxford giving him the good news.The tutor then took it up with the chief of the RFC and said it would be anembarrassment if a British subject was employed by the French.After a long struggle, Malik was finally sent for training and was commissionedin the RFC, becoming the first Indian fighter pilot. RFC would go on tobecome the Royal Air Force during the war and it was Hardit Singh'scommissioning that led RFC to open its doors for Indians.As cool as this story is, it gets better. During the course of the war,Malik shot down six German fighters. In those early days of aerial combatfighter pilots tried to shoot each other down with pistols and rifles ifthey came too close to each other. In fact, fighter pilot's life expectancy inthose days was barely 10 days in combat. But Sardar Malik survived theentire war despite getting wounded in action. He suffered injuriesto his leg while dogfighting with the German pilots.In those days he was the first to be posted to the new squadron and wasfondly known as a Sikh from Rawalpindi. Malik never parted ways withhis turban, and somehow managed to fit over it, an outsized flying helmet,earning the nickname of 'Flying Hobgoblin' from the ground crews.Unfortunately he was credited with only two kills.But that's not all there is to his story.Later, Malik served as Joint Secretary to the Government of India from1934 to 1937 and as India's Trade Commissioner to the United States andCanada, based in New York, from 1938 to 1943. Additionally, he was alsothe Premier of the state of Patiala from 1943 to 1947.In 1949, he became the Indian ambassador toFrance after which he retired in 1956.After retirement, he returned to his first love, golf, even with two Germanbullets still embedded in his leg. Sardar Hardit Singh lived till he was 91,passing away on 31 October 1985.For more details of his service and exploits in the Royal Flying Corpsduring WWI, and that of Indralal(Laddie) Roy the other Indian pilot whoserved in the Royal Flying Corps, shot down 9 German aircraft and wasawarded the DFC, please readFOR KING AND ANOTHER COUNTRY by Shrabani Basu.
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