In 1917 Hardit
Malik became not only the first Sikh but also the first Indian to fly with the Royal Flying Corps. Born in Punjab in 1894 to Indian nobility he was sent to England at the age of 14 for school attending prep school before enrolling at Oxford. He was a keen sportsman during his time at university proving to be an accomplished golfer and cricket player.
In 1915, following his graduation from Oxford he applied to join the Royal Flying Corps but was denied, no doubt on racial grounds. Instead he volunteered for the French Red Cross before being offered a commission in the French Aéronautique Militaire. While on leave in England he told one of his former Oxford tutors about being turned down by the Royal Flying Corps and his tutor appealed to General David Henderson, commander of the Royal Flying Corps, on his behalf.
In early 1917, he was commissioned as 2nd Lt. Hardit Singh Malik and began training in April. In the summer of 1917 he No. 26 Squadron and began flying Sopwith Camels. As an observing Sikh Malik continued to wear his turban while flying sorties, his superiors ordered him to wear a flying helmet and he had one which would fit over his turban made by a hatter in Piccadilly, London.
While with Major George Baker VC’s No. 28 Squadron Malik flew in an engagement with Manfred von Richthofen’s Jagdgeschwader 1 Malik suffered two bullet wounds in the right leg when he was hit by machine gun fire. Having shot down two enemy fighters his Sopwith Camel was unable to effectively climb and Malik was forced to run for home, flying at treetop level while being pursued by German fighters. He reached allied lines and was forced to crash land, upon inspection his plane was found to have ~400 bullet holes in the fuselage. After months of recuperation with shrapnel from the machine gun fire which had hit him still in his leg Malik joined a fighter squadron defending London from possible Zeppelin attacks.
Newsreel of Malik in Manchester accepting a new fighter plane (source)
In 1918, he was sent to Manchester to accept the gift of a new Sopwith Camel given by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce in honour of India’s contributions to the war (see image #1).
Malik remained with the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force until April 1919 when he returned home to India. He went on to become an accomplished civil servant later becoming a trade commissioner and was later first India’s High Commissioner to Canada and Ambassador to France. He died in 1985 at the age of 91. Malik holds the distinction of being the first Sikh and the first Indian to become a commissioned pilot with the Royal Flying Corps and sadly he was the only Indian fighter pilot to survive the war.
Two Royal Air Force Hawker Tempest Vs, no doubt at full pelt, intercept a V1 flying bomb during the latter stages of the Second World War. The V1, also known as the doodlebug or buzz-bomb, posed quite the problem for Britain as only the latest fighters could catch the things and once they did, simply shooting at one still detonated its high explosive contents. The solution was to fly up to within 6 inches of the V1s wing and use the airflow over the interceptor’s own wing to induce an unrecoverable spin. Damn hairy stuff.
RAF Spitfire - “Mod. XXX” - Toting Beer Casks to Soldiers in Normandy
British breweries donated free beer to soldiers during World War II, but just after D-Day, there was no room made to ship it over the English Channel. Spitfire mechanics and pilots worked together to modify pylons to carry either specially-modified drop tanks or beer casks to deliver brews to the troops. Official missions were stopped when the UK Tax Office warned brewers they would get in trouble for exporting beer abroad without paying taxes, but pilots still found ways to get beer where it was needed…