Sardar Hardit Singh Malik (23 November 1894 – 31 October 1985) was an Indian civil servant and diplomat. He was the first Indian High Commissioner to Canada, and then Indian Ambassador to France. He was the first Indian to fly as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. He also […]
Sardar Hardit Singh Malik (23 November 1894 – 31 October 1985) was an Indian civil servant and diplomat. He was the first Indian High Commissioner to Canada, and then Indian Ambassador to France.
He was the first Indian to fly as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. He also played first-class cricket between 1914 and 1930.
It all started with a Sikh student studying in Oxford expressing his wish to join the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in 1917, when the war had reached a crescendo. Sardar Hardit Singh Malik was initially denied permission to join the force; he was instead asked to serve as an orderly in an Indian military hospital. “He had to overcome institutional racism to become a fighter pilot for the British before he took on the Germans,” said Harbakhsh Grewal of UK Punjab Heritage Association, one of the organizers of the widely acclaimed ‘Empire, Faith, War: The Sikhs and World War One’ exhibition in Britain.
A disappointed Malik then went to France to help out the beleaguered French as an ambulance driver. There, too, he asked if he could volunteer in the air force. The French agreed. Malik then wrote to his tutor in Oxford about it, who then took it up with the chief of the RFC and said it would be an embarrassment if a British subject had to be employed by the French. “That’s when I heard from General Henderson, chief of RFC, who asked me to see him. After that meeting, I was sent for training and got a commission in the RFC as a fighter pilot,” Malik had said in a TV interview in the early 1980s. Malik became the first Indian fighter pilot of the RFC, which became the Royal Air Force during the war. With a precedent thus set, the RFC opened its doors to Indians.
He trained at No.1 Armament School from April 1917 and was commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant into No. 26 Squadron on 22 June 1917. As an observant Sikh, he wore a turban instead of a helmet, and later wore a specially designed flying helmet that fitted over his turban. As a result of his unusual helmet, he was nicknamed the “Flying Hobgoblin”.
Malik joined the Indian Civil Service and had a distinguished career. He became Independent India’s first high commissioner to Canada, and Jawahalal Nehru is believed to have made him Indian ambassador to France to use his goodwill among the French to settle the return of French colonies to India. Britain, however, always remembered Malik as the “turbaned young fighter pilot who shot down Germans in the air”.
~ Source: TOI