Hardit Singh Malik was born on 22nd November 1894.

Hardit Singh Malik was born on 22nd November 1894 and was the first Indian to fly into combat with the Royal Flying Corps.

Hardit was educated at a public school,Eastborne college and went on to Balliol College Oxford. Malik was a student at Oxford when the War broke out and, like many of his fellow students, decided to sign up for the Royal Flying Corps. Initially he was denied a commission by the Royal Flying Corps and so intsead made an application to the French Air Corps and was accepted.

Malik’s tutor at Oxford thought it scandalous that the British Corps should refuse commission to a subject of the Empire, especially as the French were willing to oblige. He therefore took it upon himself to write to General Henderson, the head of the Royal Flying Corps, pleading Malik’s case and as a result a Malik was offered a cadetship.

He reported to No.1 Armament School on 5th April 1917, and was commissioned into No.26 Squadron on 22nd June 1917. Malik’s days with No.26 Squadron were relatively uneventful but once transferred to No.28 Squadron he saw plenty of action in the skies above Flanders. A specially designed helmet was worn by Hardit over his turban.

The following is an account from The colonial troops who fought the Allies’ war, 1917 Indian pilot Hardit Singh Malik is guiding his single-seater biplane fighter up through thick cloud behind his renowned Canadian flight commander, William ‘Billy’ Barker, in search of enemy aircraft.

Their dangerously blind ascent finally ends as they emerge into clear blue sky — and into a formation of German planes, which immediately start firing. Malik’s plane is hit, and pain rips through his right leg.

Amazingly both Barker and Malik survived to tell their stories, a testament to both their courage and skill. As the first Indian to fly into combat with Britain’s Royal Flying Corps, Oxford-educated Malik was a trailblazer and was the only Indian aviator to survive the First World War.

After the war he joined the Indian Civil Service and later the Indian Foreign Service and eventually served as Indian Ambassador to France. For the rest of his life Malik proudly carried the remnants of the bullets firmly embedded in his leg and lived till he was 91.

Neera Sahni, Research Services Leader, Parramatta City Council Heritage Centre, 2014