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.

RAF Sopwith Camel. (unknown RAF photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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.”