"We are starting with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state. No matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations... Pakistan will provide its minorities an ample field for the outlet of their genius and they should come forward and play their role as true citizens in making Pakistan one of the greatest nations." — Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Founder of Pakistan)
Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s message conveyed hope as well as a challenge. The minorities of Pakistan took up the challenge boldly. The Christians who are a majority among the minorities of Pakistan have played a leading role in this regard. They have excelled in every field of life – be it the armed forces, the civil services, the judiciary, education, sports or the noble profession of healing and caring for the sick and wounded.
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had the pleasant and proud privilege of receiving a very effective contribution from its Christian members. It is, therefore, befitting that we pay our tributes to them on the auspicious Christmas Day, which happily coincides with Quaid’s birth Anniversary.
Air Vice Marshal Eric Gordon Hall
Leading the forefront in order of chronology is Air Vice Marshal Eric Gordon Hall. Born in 1922, the young Eric migrated to British India from Burma after the Japanese occupied it in 1942. Having lost his father, an actively serving army officer in the war, young Eric enlisted in the ranks of the Royal Air Force and within weeks his potential was recognised. In December 1943, he was selected for the officer cadre and was commissioned as a pilot. For the remaining period of the war, he served with flying colours.
With the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947, Flying Officer Eric G Hall opted for Pakistan and was initially posted to Risalpur to help train and build up the PAF. Through his vision and dedicated hard work, Eric rose to the prestigious rank of Air Vice Marshal and the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and Chief of the Staff. During his service tenure, he commanded a number of PAF bases and also served as the Commandant of PAF Staff College, and Defence and Air Attaché in the USA.
Eric Hall’s finest hour came in 1965 when as a Group Captain he was commanding the air transport base at Chaklala (Rawalpindi). With war being imminent, he was conscious of PAF’s handicap of the absence of heavy bombers. Eric Hall set up to fill this gap. He struck upon the unique idea of converting PAF’s C-130s to the role of 'Heavy Bombers'. With some modifications, these were made capable of carrying up to 20,000 lbs of bombs. Having conducted trials to prove the efficacy of the use of C-130s in this hitherto novel and innovative role, the Group Captain volunteered to lead the first bombing mission that happened to be over Kathua bridge, on September 11, 1965.
This was a daring move and one of the finest examples of a commander leading from the cockpit.
The mission was not only fraught with danger, but the totally unarmed C-130 was also highly vulnerable to enemy action. But the success of this mission which was unique in the history of flying prompted the higher command to authorise 13 more bombing missions on the C-130, including the precision bombing of Indian heavy guns at Atari on the banks of BRB Canal. The success of all these missions proved that Air Vice Marshal had hit the bull’s eye with his innovative idea. For his valour and vision, Eric G Hall was awarded ‘Sitara-e-Jurat’.
After a long heroic life, he breathed his last on June 17, 1998, in Maryland USA, where he had settled after his retirement in 1975.
Air Vice Marshal Michael John O’Brian
Another prominent Christian hero was Air Vice Marshal Michael John O’Brian. He was commissioned in April 1946, but after partition, he came to Pakistan as a Pilot Officer. He joined the No 6 Air Transport Squadron of PAF, which was eventually commanded by him. He saw action in the 1965 War. Afterwards, he served as the Commandant of the PAF Academy and subsequently, was posted as Commandant of the National Defence College, which was a distinction that he has been so far the only PAF Officer to achieve. Air Vice Marshal O’Brian rose to the penultimate position in PAF and served as its 14th Deputy Chief of the Air Staff. He retired in 1976 and is currently residing in Australia.
Air Commodore Nazir Latif
Air Commodore Nazir Latif was born in 1927 and joined the 8th GD Pilot’s Course. Because of his high standard of flying, he was upgraded to the 7th GD (P) course and graduated in 1950. He soon established a name for himself in the annals of flying. On October 27, 1964, Wing Commander Nazir Latif set a new world record by successfully leading a four-aircraft loop on B-57s.
Just prior to the 1965 war, as a Wing Commander, Nazir Latif commanded a Bomber Wing. Under his able command, the bomber wing had been well-prepared and well-trained to undertake daring but accurate bombing missions deep inside the enemy territory. Wing Commander Nazir Latif led the most challenging raids including the successful attack on Ambala which was deep inside the Indian territory and was believed to be defended by batteries of Soviet-supplied SA-2 Surface-to-Air-Missiles. On two occasions, anti-aircraft guns hit his aircraft, but he flew back his aircraft and landed safely after pressing home his attacks accurately. For his exceptional flying skills and valour, the Government of Pakistan conferred on him the gallantry award of ‘Sitara-e-Jurat’.
In 1971 too, while commanding the PAF base at Masroor, he actively participated in the war and flew numerous daring bombing missions. During the course of his service, he commanded three different fighter and bomber wings and two bases. He also served as Director of Operations and Plans at the Air Headquarters. After a long and meritorious service, he retired in 1972. He is currently serving as Director of Operations in a Charter Air Service in the Middle East.
Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie
Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat was another outstanding pilot who deserves special mention. He was a brilliant officer right from the beginning. On his graduation with the 16th GD (P) course in 1954, he was awarded the trophy for the best performance in ground subjects.
Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, Middlecoat was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman besides being an outstanding pilot. Flying different aircraft in his service career, he came to master the F-104 Starfighter.
On February 2, 1958, PAF pilots put the world in awe and wonder by performing a 16-aircraft loop for the first time in Aviation History. Then Flight Lieutenant Middlecoat participated in this epoch-making achievement by flying the difficult slot positions. Furthermore, Squadron Leader Nazir Latif was also a part of this 16 Sabres’ immaculate formation loop.
He was commanding the No 9 Squadron during the 1965 war and believed in leading from the front. He kept the morale of the Squadron very high and guided his pilots in a highly professional manner. For his leadership and devotion to duty, Squadron Leader Middlecoat was awarded the coveted gallantry award of ‘Sitara-i-Jurat’ in 1965.
On the outbreak of war on December 3 1971, Wing Commander Mervyn L Middlecoat was on a training visit abroad. He returned to Pakistan immediately and joined operations with such zeal and keen interest that he inspired all Squadron pilots. The day after his arrival, he was detailed on a strike mission to the heavily defended Jamnagar airfield. While returning after the successful mission, he was engaged by 2 enemy MiG-21s.
In the encounter, an enemy missile hit his aircraft. He was heard to be ejecting in Indian territory and was officially declared ‘missing in action’ and later ‘presumed dead’. For his devotion to duty, determination and courage, he was awarded a bar to ‘Sitara-i-Jurat’.
Squadron Leader Cecil Chaudhry
Cecil Chaudhry, the son of Faustin Elmer Chaudhry, the famous press photographer of the daily Pakistan Times, Lahore, was born in 1941. His interest in aircraft and flying brought him to the PAF and he graduated in 1960. He soon established himself professionally and in 1965 was working as Flight Commander (Training) under the renowned fighter pilot Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui.
When war broke out on September 6, 1965, Cecil busied himself flying numerous Close Support Missions to ward off the Indian ground attack against Lahore and Sialkot. He was detailed to fly a dusk strike mission against Halwara under the command of Squadron Leader Rafiqui. There were unavoidable delays in their take-off and Halwara got forewarned because of the PAF's successful air strike against Pathankot. When Rafiqui, Yunus and Cecil reached their target Halwara, numerous Hunter aircraft of the Indian Air Force intercepted them.
During the engagement, after shooting down one Indian Hunter, Rafiqui’s guns jammed and he handed over the lead to Cecil. The three fought bravely against heavy odds, but Rafiqui and Yunus were shot down while Cecil managed to return safely after shooting down a Hunter. The loss of his mentor Rafiqui and friend Yunus enraged Cecil and he fought the rest of the war aggressively and with determination. For his acts of courage, dedication and professional ability, Cecil received ‘Sitara-i-Jurat’.
During the 1971 war also Cecil, by then a Squadron Leader, fought with valour. On December 7, during his second mission of the day over the Zafarwal-Shakargarh sector, Cecil’s aircraft was hit by ground fire and badly damaged. He had to eject into enemy territory, but he managed to make good his escape and reached Sargodha base safely. He continued to fight valiantly despite fractured ribs and exacted his revenge on December 11, when he managed to shoot down an Indian SU-7 fighter right over the area where he had lost his aircraft.
During the course of his service, Cecil commanded the prestigious No 9 Squadron and the Combat Commander’s School PAF. He retired in 1986 with the rank of Group Captain. Not one to sit idle, he took time to educate himself and subsequently became the Principal at St Anthony’s School in Lahore. He continues to turn out scores of motivated young men who are bubbling with zeal and enthusiasm to serve their country with dedication, pride and honour.
Squadron Leader William Desmond
Squadron Leader William Desmond Harney, a navigator of exceptional courage and dedication to duty needs special mention.
Born in Chittagong in 1937, after receiving his early schooling at St Placids, W D Harney joined PAF Academy in 1957 and graduated in 1960.
In 1965, when war broke out, W D Harney was posted as a navigator in a Bomber Squadron.
During the war, despite a hand injury, he voluntarily undertook 14 bombing missions and especially the most hazardous ones to Adampur, Halwara, Jodhpur, Pathankot and Ambala. In all the missions, he excelled in leadership, courage and devotion to duty. His mission planning and execution of the missions were so meticulous that despite heavy odds, he always reached his targets and contributed significantly to the accuracy of the attacks. For his display of extreme courage and professionalism, W D Harney was awarded ‘Sitara-i-Jurat’.
Squadron Leader W D Harney participated wholeheartedly in the 1971 war also and undertook a number of daring missions. He retired in 1974 and decided to settle in Australia where he had gone to attend to his ailing father.
Squadron Leader Peter Christy
Squadron Leader Peter Christy was a jolly, hardworking and dedicated officer. He served as a B-57 navigator and flew a number of successful operational missions in 1965. In 1971, Peter Christy was on deputation to PIA when he was recalled for war duties. He displayed great keenness to fly, and despite overwhelming family obligations and responsibilities, he was always willing to take on any mission at any odd hour of the day or night. His sense of humour under war conditions, his dedication to the cause of the country and his personal courage contributed immensely to the Squadron’s morale.
On December 6, 1971, Squadron Leader Peter Christy was detailed as a navigator for a bombing mission to Jamnagar. He failed to return from the mission and was officially declared “missing in action”. For his personal example and complete devotion to duty, he was awarded ‘Sitara-i-Jurat’.
It is of the paucity of space that only seven names have been dwelled upon in detail but the rank and file of Pakistan Air Force is full of names of Christian officers and men who have contributed significantly to the formation of PAF and later kept the national banner flying with courage, dedication and dignity.
To name a few, ‘Steve Joseph, Edwin Nazirullah, James Jebb, Patric Callaghan, Stephen Israel, Springett and Game are among the pioneering pilots with Leslie de’ Cruz the Navigator, Alfred Jagjivan the Air Gunner, Marston the Armament Officer, Robert Ritchie, J E Lewis, H J Caldens, J M Octavious and H W Hyland the Admin Officers and C M Revis the Education Officer among the pioneers. Later John Carrapiett and Saleem Gohar fought valiantly in the Indo-Pak Wars. Out of these, besides Eric Hall and M J O’Brian, Steve Joseph also rose to the rank of Air Vice Marshal and achieved the penultimate position in PAF and served as the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff.
It is interesting to note that out of a total of seventy Sitara-i-Jurats awarded to PAF officers in both wars, Christian officers won seven.
The tradition continues today as the mantle is passed on to generation after generation of Christians in PAF who continue to give their best to PAF and their country as an embodiment of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s dream and message.
The faces and the names of the men in blue
shall be ever-changing,
With each generation that will prevail in its time,
and then pass on into history.
But the courage and the honour
of the Pakistan Air Force
shall endure forever,
for they are its very heart and soul.
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