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Hardit Singh Malik


1947-2014 (Archived)
The Tribune - Magazine section - Saturday Extra

Hardit Singh Malik


Not many of the present generation would know very much about Hardit Singh Malik. He was the most distinguished Sikh of his time, and had a remarkable career as a sportsman, civil servant and diplomat. He was born into a well-to-do Sikh family of Rawalpindi in 1894. After schooling in Pindi for a few years, he proceeded to England for further studies.


He was then only 14. When World War I broke out in 1919, he volunteered for service in the French Red Cross, and ran an ambulance from the war front to different hospitals in France. After two years he returned to England and joined the Royal Air Force, the first non-Brit with a turban and beard to become a fighter pilot. He took part in dogfights with German war planes over Germany and France.

His plane was riddled with hundreds of bullets, of which two pierced his legs. He crashlanded in France, and while doing so, broke his nose. After convalescing for many months in England hospitals, he was back in the battlefield. When the war ended, he joined Balliol College, Oxford. He played cricket and golf for the university.

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As soon as he finished college, he was selected for the Indian Civil Service and posted to his home state. He returned home to India after 11 years abroad. He married the younger sister of his elder brother’s wife. Both girls came from a Hindu Arya Samaj family. Both turned devout Sikhs. In their homes, the days began and ended with recitations from Granth Sahib.

Malik served in many districts of Punjab before he was appointed Prime Minister of Patiala. He stayed in the post for three years till it was merged in Punjab in 1947. Pandit Nehru appointed him India’s first High Commissioner to Canada.

He stayed in Ottawa for three years before taking over as Ambassador of India to France. After a lifetime in service in India and abroad, he retired to his newly built home in New Delhi .

Malik had a passion for golf. He was seen at Delhi Golf Club every afternoon till almost the end of his life. He once expressed the wish to die on the golf course. That was not to be. He had a massive heart attack in 1984. A second attack in October, 1985, proved fatal.

Malik had no intention of writing his autobiography. He was persuaded by his wife and children to do so. It lay untouched for many years till his daughter Harji Malik took it upon herself to edit it and have it published. A Little Work, A Little Play: The autobiography of HS Malik (Book Wise) is now available in the market. It has an introduction by Pearson, who he befriended in Oxford, and who later became Prime Minister of Canada. It will be a source of inspiration to the present generation, specially to young sardars, who will learn how a person can be both devoutly religious and yet gain worldly success.

Sangat ji - Special thanks to Aman Singh ji for finding a photo of Hardip Singh Malik in our photo archives.
Dear SPNers,

I had a beautiful article on S. Hardit Singh Mallick in my archives, which has some additional informations regarding this great Sikh and some of his old beautiful photographs too. Its as below:-

The First Indian and SIKH to be a successful Pilot, Sportsman, Administrator, Diplomat & a Social Activist
S. Hardit Singh Malik– Whom I Knew – by Avtaar Singh
(Editor of North American Sikh Review of New York)

Was the second son of Sardar Bahadur Mohan Singh and Sardarni Lajvanti of Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan. Born on 23 November 1894, Hardit Singh Malik was coached privately at home until he was 14 and was than sent to the United Kingdom where he joined East Bourne Public School. Graduating from East Bourne, in 1912, he joined Balliol College, Oxford, where he received his B.A. (Honors) degree in Modern History in 1915.

He was among the very few Sikh boys who, true to their religious faith, attended British schools and colleges with full-grown, untrimmed hair and a turban. His scholastic achievements were matched by his sports prowess, getting his blues in cricket and golf. He played for Sussex; Oxford University and had the distinction of captaining the Cricket team, both at his school and college.

Hardit Singh, after graduating from Oxford, applied for an officer’s commission in the British Army at the advent of WW1. He was rejected on the grounds that no British soldier would tolerate being subordinate to an Indian officer. He went to France, where he served as a front-line ambulance driver before enlisting and being accepted into the French airforce. When his old Oxford tutor became aware of the situation he wrote the British authorities expressing outrage that ethnic bigotry should force a loyal British subject to be flying for the France. National pride overcame prejudice and Hardit Singh was allowed to enlist in the Royal Flying Crops as a pilot.

He joined the RFC as a cadet at Aldershot in 1917, the first Sikh and Indian to be in any flying service in the world. He was selected for fighters and went solo in a Cauldron after just two-and-a-half hours instructions. He was posted to Filton (near Bristol) flying the Avros, the Sopwiths and the Nieuports, the most advanced fighter at this time. At Filton, RFC pilots were taught combat tactics. Hardit Singh got his wings in under a month.

Lt. Malik Commanding Officer, Major William G. Barker, personally initiated Hardit Singh into the art and science of aerial combat, leading him into the first actions, that including those against the legendary "Red Baron". In one major dogfight, with over a hundred British and German fighters scrapping over the battle lines, Hardit Singh shot down his first German Fokker. He went on to notch another eight aerial victories in the weeks ahead, before he himself was wounded in action, but survived in amazing circumstances. After months in hospital, Hardit Singh rejoined the service, now renamed as the Royal Air Force, flying the Bristol Fighter, probably the best fighter of the war, with No.141 Squadron at Biggin Hill, a specialist unit created for defending London from raiding Zeppelins and Botha bombers. Most important fact, he staunchly refused to part with his turban and somehow managed to fit over it an outsized flying helmet, earning the affectionate nickname of "Flying Hobgoblin" from the ground crews.

He returned to India on 13 April 1919 and married Parkash Kaur, youngest daughter of Bhagat Ishar Das, an eminent lawyer of Lahore now in Pakistan. Back to England with his bride in July 1919, he sat for Indian Civil Service examination at which he came through with flying colors. He stayed there in England till January 1922 and returned to India.
Malik ji started his career as Assistant Commissioner of Sheikhupura district (now in Pakistan) and was soon promoted to Deputy Commissioner. This was a humble start and soon in 1930 he was posted as Deputy Trade Commissioner to London and then in 1933 was transferred to Hamburg (Germany) as Trade Commissioner. Returning to India in 1934 Malik ji served as Deputy Secretary and then as Joint Secretary in the Commerce Department of Govt. of India till 1937. From 1937 to 1944 he served as Trade Commissioner first in Canada and then in U.S.A.

On his return in India Maharaja Yadvinder Singh of Patiala borrowed his services where he served as Prime Minister of the state till 1947. It was due to his efforts a meeting was organised in Delhi on April 2, 1946, at the house of his brother Sir Teja Singh Malik between Master Tara Singh and Jinnah. Maharaja Yadvinder Singh of Patiala and Giani Kartar Singh were also in that meeting. Malik Hardit Singh was assigned to presenting the Sikh viewpoint as the principal spokesman. Jinnah's one overriding concern was to have the Sikhs rescind their opposition to Pakistan and lend his demand their support instead. He was prodigal of assurances, and told the Sikh leaders that the Sikhs would have a position of honour in the new State. But he refrained from elaborating. Malik Hardit Singh tried to extract from him a more specific enunciation and raised some concrete issues. He wished Jinnah to say what exactly would be the Sikhs' position in these and other instruments of State. Jinnah dodged him in wordy dues and ultimately, it proved to be fruitless.

After independence he was appointed free India’s first High Commissioner to Canada. During his two years he worked hard for the migrants from India and succeeded in having granted full citizenship to the Indian settlers, most of whom were Punjabis—largely SIKHS, in Canada.

His next appointment was as India’s Ambassador to France where he remained till retirement in 1957. Before heading to France, when he reported for final diplomatic instructions and other briefings from than the PM Nehru, he was asked to first go and settle the merger issues of Pondicherry state into India, which was than a French colony. This merger was solely due to his personal efforts with the French authorities. He received France’s highest award the French Legion of Honour from than President Koty in 1952.

His last years were spent in Delhi.My personal associations with him were at Sikh History Board, Bhai Veer Singh Sadan, New Delhi and host of others. Throughout his life he remained a devout Sikh serving with zeal, he happened to be connected with. He was playing golf until the age of 88. After a year long illness on October 31st,1985 ; completing his worldly journey he left for heavenly abode. Whole Indian nation especially SIKHS lost a jewel among them.


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