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First Indian fighter pilot for Royal Flying Corps in World War One will be immortalised in statue

The statue of the first Indian to fly as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps – the precursor of the RAF – is to be created in Southampton city centre to mark the ‘lost history’ of ethnic minorities fighting for Britain and the allies.

One Community Hampshire and Dorset (OCHD) and the Southampton Council of Gurdwaras has approved the design for the monument which will be created by West Midlands-based artist Luke Perry.

It is planned to be installed by April 2023.

Group Captain Hardit Singh Malik, an Indian civil servant and diplomat after becoming a pilot, became known as the ‘Flying Hobgoblin’ because he wore a specially designed helmet that fitted over his turban.

By the end of the First World War, he was credited with two kills during aerial combat. 

Of the four Indians who flew with the RFC and RAF in the conflict, he was one of two who survived.

He flew with 28 Squadron RFC and served on the Western Front in October 1917, flying a Sopwith Camel biplane on combat missions across France and Italy.

Group Captain Malik was one of around 130,000 Sikhs who took part in the conflict, according to the Sikh Memorial Fund.  

The statue of Group Captain Hardit Singh Malik, the first Indian to fly as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps, - the precursor of the RAF - is to be created in Southampton city centre to mark the 'lost history' of ethnic minorities fighting for Britain and the allies

The statue of Group Captain Hardit Singh Malik, the first Indian to fly as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps, - the precursor of the RAF - is to be created in Southampton city centre to mark the 'lost history' of ethnic minorities fighting for Britain and the allies

The statue of Group Captain Hardit Singh Malik, the first Indian to fly as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps, – the precursor of the RAF – is to be created in Southampton city centre to mark the ‘lost history’ of ethnic minorities fighting for Britain and the allies

One Community Hampshire and Dorset (OCHD) and the Southampton Council of Gurdwaras has approved the design for the monument which will be created by West Midlands-based artist Luke Perry

One Community Hampshire and Dorset (OCHD) and the Southampton Council of Gurdwaras has approved the design for the monument which will be created by West Midlands-based artist Luke Perry

One Community Hampshire and Dorset (OCHD) and the Southampton Council of Gurdwaras has approved the design for the monument which will be created by West Midlands-based artist Luke Perry 

On October 26, after the shooting down of a German aircraft, he was wounded and crash-landed behind Allied lines – his aircraft was found to have suffered more than 450 hits.

Mr Perry said: ‘Monuments such as this are a vital part of the fight for equal representation.

‘These artworks are long overdue thanks and recognition to the communities from around the world who have supported Britain in its past and continue to do so in vital roles, not just in the armed forces, but our health care and every aspect of modern life.

‘We are a beautiful and diverse nation; our artworks, as with all things, should reflect this.’

Alan Mercel-Sanca, OCHD co-founder and director of the UK Nepal Friendship Society, said: ‘This much-needed memorial will have truly national level educational and significance for the 21st century multicultural and diverse communities of Britain.

Malik flew with 28 Squadron RFC and served on the Western Front in October 1917, flying a Sopwith Camel biplane (file photo) on combat missions across France and Italy

Malik flew with 28 Squadron RFC and served on the Western Front in October 1917, flying a Sopwith Camel biplane (file photo) on combat missions across France and Italy

Malik flew with 28 Squadron RFC and served on the Western Front in October 1917, flying a Sopwith Camel biplane (file photo) on combat missions across France and Italy

Group Captain Malik was one of around 130,000 Sikhs who took part in the conflict, according to the Sikh Memorial Fund. Pictured: Soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army troops on the Western Front in 1916 the First World War. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

Group Captain Malik was one of around 130,000 Sikhs who took part in the conflict, according to the Sikh Memorial Fund. Pictured: Soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army troops on the Western Front in 1916 the First World War. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

Group Captain Malik was one of around 130,000 Sikhs who took part in the conflict, according to the Sikh Memorial Fund. Pictured: Soldiers from the Indian Service Corps with British Army troops on the Western Front in 1916 the First World War. ISC members were from all over India and also performed labouring tasks

‘Hardit Singh Malik was not just the first Sikh community member and BAME pilot, but a major UK level pioneer for our BAME communities as his story involved successfully challenging the racial exclusion notions of the day with his appointment as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.

‘History will judge that Malik was a true giant in what he achieved in regard to ending race-related segregationist perspectives and practices in our British armed forces in the First World War era.’

Lord Rami Ranger, chairman of the British Sikh Association and OCHD chief patron, said: ‘I am truly overwhelmed by the striking beauty and power of this exceptional design of the memorial, which captures the spirit and endeavour of this great RAF fighter pilot, Hardit Singh Malik, so well.’

Pritheepal Singh, OCHD director, said: ‘I am absolutely delighted with the final design. 

‘It testifies to the major contribution our Sikh and broader ethnic minority communities have made to our country, as we live in such a vibrant multicultural society here in Southampton.’

The life of Hardit Singh Malik: the ‘Flying Hobgoblin’  

Hardit Singh Malik was born into a noble family in the Punjab region of India in Novembe 1894. 

He grew up with a ‘lavish house, good food, horses and carriages, servants galore, private tutors and money’.

Malik was sent to England at the age of 14 and went to school at Eastbourne College before studying history at Balliol College, Oxford.

Although 1.2million Indians fought in the First World War – with 70,000 skilled – Indian pilots were virtually unheard of

Malik’s tutor at Oxford was said to be outraged when he revealed in 1916 that he was going to join the French air force. 

So the professor instead wrote to the commander of the Royal Flying Corps and Malik was given an ‘honorary’ commission as a 2nd lieutenant, flying Sopwith Camel biplanes.

Hardit Singh Malik fought in the Royal Flying Corps for Britain in the First World War before becoming the prime minister of the of the Punjabi city of Patiala in 1944 and later ambassador to France

Hardit Singh Malik fought in the Royal Flying Corps for Britain in the First World War before becoming the prime minister of the of the Punjabi city of Patiala in 1944 and later ambassador to France

Hardit Singh Malik fought in the Royal Flying Corps for Britain in the First World War before becoming the prime minister of the of the Punjabi city of Patiala in 1944 and later ambassador to France

He earned the affectionate nickname ‘the Flying Hobgoblin’ because he wore a special helmet made to fit over his turban.

Malik joined the RFC’s 28 Squadron, under the command of Major Billy Barker.

Barker had won the Victoria Cross and had 33 enemy ‘kills’ to his name, the highest of any First World War pilot.

Mailik joined Barker on a mission in October 1916 to shoot down German ace Manfred von Richthofen, who was famously known as the Red Baron.

Hardit was hit in the leg but was able to shoot down the pilot who shot him.

Once he landed, bleeding and exhausted, he found that his plane had been hit by more than 400 bullets.      

In an interview more than 65 years later he said: ‘It was the greatest luck. They shot all they had at me but not a single one hit me or any vital part of the plane. 

‘I definitely thought I was going to be killed. My mechanic said it was quite amazing how I ever got down. 

‘It was like a miracle. My pursuers just did not have the bullet with my name on it.’

Two bullets remained in Malik’s leg for the rest of his life.

He went on to serve with 28 Squadron in Italy before being based at Biggin Hill, in Kent, where he flew Bristol F.2 fighters.

He was officially credited with two kills but claimed six. 

Malik was one of only four Indians to fly with the RFC. 

The ace went on to have three children after marrying a lawyer. 

He joined the civil service after the war and from 1938 he was trade commissioner to Canada and the US> He then became prime minister of the Punjabi city of Patiala in 1944.

After Indian independence was sealed in 1947, Malik became the country’s first High Commissioner to Canada and went on to be India’s ambassador to France.

He died at the age of 90 in 1985.

Source: The Royal British Legion.   

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