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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 present day.  

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 obscurity!

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!

 

Wing Commander

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.

 (When 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 Christie

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

Gordon Hall

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 Chaudhry

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. 

 

Flight Lieutenant

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 awarded Sitara-i-Juraat.

He served with distinction in 1971 and retired in 1974.

 

Wing Commander

Nazir Latif

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 Sitara-e-Juraat.

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!!! 

 


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