The Forgotten Few!
Pakistan came into being as
a sovereign nation on the 14th of August 1947. Over 97
percent of its population is Muslim while the minorities consist of Hindus,
Parsis, Sikhs and Christians, to mention the major groups. Though they make
up a tiny percentage of the population, the minorities have played a
significant part in the nation’s history prior to the independence,
particularly in the development of the city of Karachi. Wealthy Hindus and
Parsis helped to setup the city as a center of commerce. They not only added
beautiful buildings, but also formed important institutions such as
hospitals, schools and other infrastructure. Along with the Memon and Bohri
community, Karachi owes its present importance as a hub of commerce and trade
to minorities as well.
The Christians who migrated
to Pakistan at the turn of the last century also had roles to play in the
country’s growth and prosperity. In fact, they have provided yeomen’s
service to the nation before independence, during the turbulent partition
period, in the early years when Pakistan was just starting up and up to the
They have served as
ambassadors in sports – Wallis Mathias, Milton Soares, P.P.
Fernandes. In law and civil administration we have names like Justice
Cornelius - a figure revered to this day for his dedication. Yet, their
services in the hour when their nation required them have sadly faded into
You may wonder where I am
leading to. Well, dear friends, I am referring to the exploits of
the Christian pilots of the PAF. Next time, on the 6th of September, when you
say a prayer for MM Alam and Rafiqui and Rashid Minhas, spare a line or two
for their colleagues – Middlecoat, Cecil Chaudhry, Nazir Latif and co.!
So, read on to learn about
the tremendous service given to the nation by the forgotten few!
Mervyn L Middlecoat
Wing Commander Middlecoat
was abroad when war broke out in 1971. He immediately
rushed back to his country to make himself available for active duty. This
act inspired all the squadron pilots. The day after his arrival, he took off
for a strike mission on the heavily defended Jamnagar airfield. While he was
returning after accomplishing the mission successfully, he was engaged by two
enemy Mig-21s. In the ensuing dogfight, his plane was hit by a missile. He
was heard to be ejecting over Indian territory and was officially declared
Missing in Action. This fearless man was posthumously awarded a Bar to
Sitara-i-Juraat - a testimony to his love of duty and courage.
an award has been previously received and an officer or soldier is again
commended, he is awarded a bar to the award. Very few members of the PAF have
earned the distinction of being awarded a bar to their Sitara-i-Juraat.)
Squadron Leader Peter
Peter Christie, also, was
not on active duty when the war started. He was with the
Pakistan International Airlines Corporations (PIAC) when he was recalled to
his squadron. He was always available for out of the way missions. People
close to him say that his sense of humour under war conditions, his
dedication to the cause of the country and his personal courage contributed
immensely to his squadron’s morale. On December
6, 1971, he was on duty as a navigator for a bombing run on Jamnagar.
He did not return and was officially declared Missing in Action. He, too, was
posthumously awarded Sitara-i-Juraat.
Group Captain Eric
Group Captain Hall played a
vital role in the 1965 war as the Station Commander of the
Chaklala Base. He truly led by example, flying himself and personally leading
several missions. This leadership raised the morale of his men to great
heights. Group Captain Eric Gordon Hall was awarded Sitara-i-Juraat for his
"courage and example beyond the call of duty". His contribution was
not limited to this, however, as this scribe found out something interesting
about Group Captain Hall in a usual supplement for the Defence Day of a
newspaper. A writer credited Group Captain Hall with the idea of turning
transport planes into bombers! Not only was this innovation surprising for
the enemy, it also proved highly effective for our forces.
Eric Hall rose to the rank
of Air Vice Marshal and eventually Chief of Staff, PAF. During his service,
he was in charge of a number of PAF bases and also served as the Commandant
of PAF Staff College, and Defence and Air Attaché’ in USA.
Flight Lieutenant Cecil
Three against ten! How do
you like those odds? This was the situation confronting three
pilots of the PAF on 6th September 1965! In one of the three planes was
Flight Lieutenant Cecil Chaudhry. They were on their way to attack Halwara
field when they encountered ten Indian Air Force Hunters. During the fight
the leader of the group, Rafiqui’s guns jammed so he gave Cecil Chauhdry
the lead. Cecil fought on ably, and managed to destroy two enemy aircrafts
over India. His friends were shot down, but he managed to return safely to
the base. This action was not a one-off occasion!
On 15th September, 1965, in
spite of insufficient information from Ground Radar, Flight Lieutenant Cecil
Chaudhry pursued his attack aggressively on enemy bombers and chased them 150
miles from his base. During the engagement, he destroyed one enemy Canberra
bomber. He was awarded Sitara-i-Juraat for his "acts of courage,
dedication and professional ability".
In 1971, as a Squadron
Leader, he served above and beyond the call of duty despite being shot down
over India and being injured! Cecil Chaudhry retired in 1986 as Group
Captain. During his career he commanded the prestigious No. 9 Squadron, as
well as Combat Commander’s School PAF.
William D. Harney
Do you remember that in
school there would always be this one student who was
everything you ever wanted to be? Diligent, systematic, effective and
accurate, as well as efficient – the total package! Well, imagine someone
like that - but in a war scenario, and you’ll get a glimpse of William
Harney. The man did everything including flying planes while having an
injured hand! Hard to believe? That is what his citation tells us. It says
that he flew 14 operational missions and all were "significant" in
establishing the PAF’s superiority. Flight Lieutenant William D. Harney was
He served with distinction
in 1971 and retired in 1974.
Just before the 1965 War,
Nazir Latif commanded a Bomber Wing. Under his leadership the
Wing was all set for operations and dangerous missions that required great
accuracy. Wing Commander Nazir Latif, like Eric Hall, led by example,
personally leading the most challenging raids including the famous raid on
Ambala. This was a target deep in Indian territory and supposedly guarded by
anti-aircraft missiles! He was twice hit by anti-aircraft guns, but he
pursued his attack and managed to land safely at his base. For his
"exceptional flying skill and valour" he was awarded
In 1971, too, while
commanding PAF Base Masroor, he served with distinction - flying several
dangerous missions. During his service he had the honour of commanding three
different fighter and bomber wings and two bases. He also served as Director
of Operations and Plans at the Air Headquarters. In 1972, after doing
yeoman’s service, he retired.
You may think that these
were the only Christians that excelled in our nation’s hours of need.
However, sources say that Christians have served the PAF from its inception -
Eric Gordon Hall, who came to India from Burma in 1942, was a pilot in the
RAF in the World War II and in 1947 opted to come to Pakistan. Steve Joseph
and M. J. O’Brian, like Eric Hall, rose to the rank of Air Vice Marshal and
achieved the penultimate position in the PAF and served as the Deputy Chief
of Air Staff. Air Vice Marshal O’Brian also achieved thea rare distinction
of having been so far the only PAF Officer to serve as the Commandant of
National Defence College. If I remember correctly, at least the first two
heads of the PAF were British officers who stayed on to help get the then
Royal PAF off the ground!
I won’t give the full
list, but will mention that out of 70 Sitara-e-Juraats awarded to PAF
officers in both the Wars, Christian officers won seven! Seven out of 70 is a
high number, as the Christian officers were in the minority. So, dear
friends, as I said in the beginning, by all means sing the praises of Rashid
Minhas, M. M. Alam and all the daring heroes that helped safeguard our skies
in times of peril! However, at the same time, it would do them no dishonour
to remember the gallant fliers I have mentioned above.
In our nation’s hour of
need the Christians and in fact all the people belonging to minorities in
general stood shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers whether serving
in the army, navy or in the air force. They faced the same hardships, made
the same sacrifices and even gave their lives in the service of the nation.
The PAF remembers her sons
no matter what creed they follow indiscriminately, heaping honour and
appreciation on them. I believe it’s only fair that the youth of the nation
are told about Middlecoat, Chaudhry and company so that these stalwarts will
not ever feel that their sweat, toil and blood was spent in vain!!!