During that time when one’s race was one of the biggest deciding factors when judging one’s loyalty (or the lack thereof) to a person, Hardit Singh Malik rose to break such barriers and judgment by becoming the first Indian to serve in Brittain’s Royal Flying Corps, proving that not all Indians studying in Britain were “potential revolutionaries” as they were perceived. Moreover, he would also become the first Indian High Commissioner to Canada and the Indian Ambassador to France. Here’s his story.
Not a Potential Revolutionary
Hardit Singh Malik was the second son of Sardar Bhadur Mohan Singh and Sardarni Lajvanti. He was born in Punjab, British India (now part of Pakistan). When he was 14, he traveled to England, where he attended a prep school, then Eastbourne College, and finally at Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1915.
Malik wanted to enter the military when World War I broke out, so he attempted to join the Royal Flying Corps, along with his university friends, right after graduating. His attempt was denied as Indians studying in Britain during the early 1900s were seen as potential revolutionaries, so they were not admitted into the army. Because of this, he instead served as an ambulance driver in the French Red Cross. Soon, he offered his services to the French air force. When his Oxford tutor “Sligger” Urquhart heard about it, he wrote a letter of commendation addressed to General David Henderson, commander of the Royal Flying Corps. This letter secured Malik a cadetship, and by April 6, 1917, he was given the honorary temporary commission as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to fly Sopwith Camel, a single-seat biplane fighter aircraft.
Malik was a devout Sikh, so he was provided with a helmet specifically made to accommodate his turban. Thus he earned the nickname “The Flying Hobgoblin.”
The Flying Hobgoblin’s Journey
Malik was assigned in the 28 Squadron under Major Billy Barker, whose obsession was shooting down the Red Baron. Barker also earned the Victoria Cross and is credited with the most number of enemy kills among the WWI pilots.
On October 26, 1916, Hardit Malik and two others chased the Red Baron over Passchendaele, where they were surrounded by enemy fighter planes. Malik was unfortunately shot in the leg, but he was still lucky that his fuel tank did not explode after it was hit. In his state, he managed to shoot down his attacker and then flew 40 miles, all while three German pilots were tailing and showering him with fire from the ground. Four hundred of these enemy bullets would hit Malik’s plane. Other than the bullet in his leg. He managed to land it behind Allied lines but was knocked unconscious and badly wounded.
Later on, he would be part of the 141 Squadron at Biggin Hill, Kent. There, he flew the Bristol F2 fighter plane and was deployed to France. In May of 1918, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and by the summer, he was stationed at Bapaume, then Nivelles. He was at Aulnoye-Aymeries when the war ended.
End of War
Malik was credited with two kills by the end of the war. His claim, however, was that he had six victories. This would have made him a flying ace and the one of only two in World War I. The other one was Indra Lal Roy. He was also one of the two Indians who flew with the RFC and RAF to survive the war. The next Indian to enter RAF as a pilot would not be for another decade.
He returned to India when the war was over and married in April 1919 to Prakash Kaur, daughter of a lawyer from Lahore named Bhagatishvar Das, and they would have three children. Soon, he decided to join the Indian civil service. He would also be the trade commissioner to Canada and the US from 1938 to 1944. He became the prime minister of the city of Patiala in Punjab in 1944, too.
After India received its independence in 1947, Malik would become the first Indian High Commissioner to Canada and, later on, ambassador to France.
Hardit Malik died in 1985, just three weeks before his 91st birthday, after a long period of illness. He left behind his wife, three children, and awesome stories of how he broke the barriers with everything that he did and accomplished in his life.