On our journey from Childhood to OLd Age, we constantly interact with people. Some of them we meet and interact with over long periods time, our dear ones, our friends and also those who are not so friendly. Yet, there are others whom we meet only once or twice but cannot ever forget them. I have already penned one such story about a person named Pistumlal. I however have a clutch of stories about similar persons I cannot ever forget even though I do not know or remember their names! I will attempt to narrate one such incident today.
It was a cloudy day late in 1963. I was about to finish my tenure of duty with the Battle Axe as its adjutant. I had been posted to the Panthers who were, like the Battle Axe, located at Ambala. I was in the process of clearing out from one unit and moving to the other. I was to move to my new unit in a day or two. I had some paper work to attend to. It was late in the afternoon. The flight offices were closed. We were then operating off the Green Fields dispersal off tented accommodation. A couple of gangs were working in the technical area. I was in the Adjutant’s tent. The afternoon was busy for me as it was lonely at the same time. My work was suddenly interrupted by some commotion and the sound of people running. I put my files aside and came out of my tent to inquire what the matter was.
The scene that greeted me was quite confusing. There was some commotion around a Hunter aircraft parked outside a blast pen for last flight servicing. A young airman was hanging along the fuselage next to the cockpit ladder. His head was inside the cockpit, his hands were hanging by his side, and his feet were off the ladder. It seemed that the canopy had closed on his neck and he had passed out through suffocation. One airman was supporting his legs to prevent his neck from snapping. One sergeant of armament trade came running to disconnect the canopy from outside. As I looked on, the young technician was brought down. He was unconscious as he lay on a canopy cover spread on the ground as his emergency bed. I ran back to the adjutant’s tent to arrange medical support. At that part of the evening, the fire-rescue-ambulance support were not on an alert state. Flying had stopped some time earlier; every one was on ‘stand easy’. To get an ambulance to reach the spot took some time, and every second of that wait seemed like an eternity.
We ultimately reached the military hospital. Doctors took charge of the situation. The young airman was saved.
Unnoticed through this turmoil, one airman knelt next to the unconscious body of the stricken airman and continuously gave him artificial respiration. He performed this task continuously for about forty five minutes. This lad was not medically trained. He just happened to be around the spot of the incident as an electrician on duty. He had just been a Boy Scout in his school days and had been instructed on emergency help for respiratory problems. But for his dedicated intervention, the technician caught by the canopy would not have survived.
I left the unit a few days later. Ajit (Peter) Rawley took over the duties of being the Adjutant to Battle Axe One from me. About a week later, I asked Peter about the welfare of the stricken airman and about some Service Recognition for the lad whohad kept his friend alive. I was happy to learn that the technician was doing well. He had been discharged from the hospital. He was given some leave and he had gone home with his father who had come to take him home. I was also happy to learn that the young man who had provided respiratory support had been recommended for a Vayu Sena Medal. The sad part of the story is that this recommendation was reduced to a CAS’s commendation by the Command HQ and was further diluted to a letter of appreciation of the station commander by the Air HQ.
I have forgotten the name of this airman. Even his face is now obscure in my memory. I however remember the incident and I hold that man in high respect for his dedicated support to his comrade.
22nd October 1962 in Ambala started as a typical north Indian morning. Overnight drizzles followed by a low overcast. Very little chance of any meaningful flying activity surely, but the morning had to start with the customary ‘Met Briefing’. Ambala was at that time a very busy fighter station. With Seven (Battle Axes) and Twenty Seven (Flaming Arrows) squadrons flying Hunter Mark56 and Twenty Three (Panthers) and Two (Arrows) flying Gnat Mk 1, the skies above Ambala were full of aircraft through the morning hours on most days when the weather permitted such activity. The base was being commanded by Group Captain CG Deveshar, our old CI from Hakimpet days Read the rest of this entry
Our lives are but long strings of incidents. The incidents themselves are little beads that get threaded over a string of time. As time goes by, the beads recede into obscurity and are lost sight of. Yet, after many years, if one decided to pick up one of these discarded strings and looks at one of the beads threaded there on, one finds that though encrusted in dust, the bead itself has lost none of its colour, nor its ability to revive the taste and smell of that time.
As I travel back in time to 1962 and pick one incident, I find that it is as complicated as one could be. It has all the little shades of events and emotions to be remembered as a story. So, here you are….. Read the rest of this entry
For the year 1966 I wore two hats at work. My primary job (as I was told by my bosses) was to be the Station Flight Safety Officer of Ambala. My primary job (in my own eyes and according to the official posting order that I had received) was to be the flight commander of Number 18 Squadron. There was a difference in the two interpretations that had to be reconciled. Read the rest of this entry
The men and women of the officer cadre in the central government services, be they of civil or military persuasion, are expected to be ready to become appointed experts. I mean they are first appointed to a job and are then expected to become experts on the special features of the appointment they are given, instantly if possible. Those who cope with this style of functioning survive and progress, those who do not and are from the military part of the services are allowed to gently fade away at a relatively young age. I had got quite used to this style of functioning. Some times such appointments are thrown at you without pre-thought or prejudice; you get it thrown at you merely because you happen to be there. (This happened to me when I got selected to be the project manager of the Jaguar induction project somewhat later in my life). At some other time you are given such appointment to groom your growth in the service. (This happened to me when I was made to perform the duties of the Senior Technical Officer of the Squadron under then Wing Commander Katre commanding 7 Squadron on Hunter aircraft in 1962-63). And then some time you get picked for a job because some one wishes to remove you from your present appointment. My story today is about one such incident. Read the rest of this entry
It was a long week end. The monsoon had arrived over the Punjab. The weather was atrocious. It had been raining incessantly for most of the past seven days. Flying had stopped. Most of us were in a holiday mood. But alas I was the Duty Officer for the week. Most of the telephone lines were down because of the heavy rain. I was therefore not even comfortable staying home and consuming tea/pakoda, some thing that my dear wife Leena was good at supplying. By about ten in the morning, I went to the Station HQ and settled in. I was the senior flight commander of 23 Squadron (the Panthers) and I was then preparing for my staff college entrance examination. Such a morning was ideal for immersing oneself in books and magazines, and I was ready to do just that. Read the rest of this entry
I completed my staff college course with the RAF in December 1965 and I returned to India. I was then posted to Number 18 Squadron at Ambala as a flight commander. My new boss, Wing Commander Aubrey Michael, was apparently not happy to receive me for reasons unknown to me. He loaned my services to the station to function as the Station Flight Safety Officer (SFSO) and asked the next senior officer Flight Lieutenant KC Khanna to function as the flight commander in my place. He however told me that officially I would continue to be a part of the unit and he would continue to be the IO (Initiating Officer) for my ACR (Annual Confidential Report). The post of the SFSO that was given to me was challenging and I was happy to fill that appointment, I would however have been happier to be the SFSO in addition to my task as a flight commander to the unit rather that in lieu of as the case had turned out to be. The challenge before me was simple. I had to retrieve my rightful position in the hierarchy of the unit without making a fuss about it. Thus began my tenure with the Bullets. It was a short tenure lasting only one year, but it was a year full of learning and growth and fulfilment, a year that I thoroughly enjoyed. Read the rest of this entry
In our young days, our ‘Flying Pay’ element of our remuneration was called ‘Flying Bounty’. There used to be an injunction in the Air Force Regulations that all officers of the flying branch will do their utmost to keep themselves in current flying practice. The accounting regulations quantified currency in flying as at least six hours per month when an officer was on a regular flying appointment and at least 3 hours per month when an officer was held against a non-flying appointment. The Accounting Instructions made such currency in flying a precondition for payment of the ‘Flying Bounty’. The accounting instruction considered the ‘flying bounty’ to be an annual allowance. Thus the count of hours that could be considered for qualifying for ‘currency in flying’ would start from the beginning of the financial year. Any flying done say in March of one year would not count for April of that year. Conversely, if a person flew 72 hours in April, he could draw flying bounty for the whole financial year without flying a single minute from May to next March. It was a stupid set of regulation and thank God it has been scrubbed. Read the rest of this entry
It was nearing lunch time on 24 December 1965. I was hungry and fed-up of waiting. At long last JP returned to his office clutching a file and wearing a broad smile. He patted my back as he got into his own chair. ‘It is all done’, he said. ‘I have your posting order here.’ JP, my dear friend Jyoti Prasad Gupta, was the Assistant Director Personnel (Officers) -1 and I had just returned from the Royal Air Force Staff College Andover after a year long stay there. I was being posted to Number 18 Squadron Air Force as a flight Commander. The Squadron was flying Gnat aircraft and was located at Ambala. I was replacing Squadron Leader DS Jafa who was moving on to another squadron. No 18 Squadron had been raised recently, less than a year ago. It was being commanded by Wing Commander Aubrey Michael, a very respected figure within the Air Force. Read the rest of this entry
I had joined the Panthers in November 1963 as a Flight Commander and had needed just twenty eight days to be declared operational on type. Therefore, my story today must have been set on a cold Sunday morning early in December 1963 . I do not have my logbook handy at this moment so I cannot quote the exact date. Tradition demanded that I get rostered for a holiday stint at the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform) as soon I get declared operational on type. I claimed no exception for myself; I found myself on the ORP on that Sunday. By chance, the other pilot on duty was the other new flight commander, Reggie Upot. We were no strangers to each other. He was my instructor when I was a pupil in the Flying Instructors’ school, and he was my CO when he was commanding the FIS and I was his Chief Ground Instructor. He was now my senior colleague.
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