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The search for my uncle - Plt Offr Mehmood Butt

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Amongst my varied interests is constructing aircraft scale models and I was lucky to acquire a kit of a Hawker Fury with a set of PAF markings. The Fury was one of the first aircrafts to equip the PAF and I wanted to finish it in PAF colors. A search on the net reveled exactly what I was looking for; a PAF Fury in camouflage colors. But what I also found was a very historical photo of Sqn Leader (later Air Marshal) Nur Khan accompanying the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan on an inspection of his Fury Squadron. Air Marshal Nur Khan had started his flying career in the Royal Indian Air Force and flown combat missions in Burma with No 8 Squadron during the Second World War. I found another picture of him (standing in the foreground wearing a peak cap) on the website of Bharat Raksahk and read with interest the history of the Royal Indian Air Force during the Second World War.

The history of the Air Forces of India and Pakistan has a common genesis and as I browsed through the pictures and articles, coming across some gems, out of the depths of my memories, I remembered something my mother had told me. She had mentioned that her brother, my uncle Mehmood Butt had a been a RIAF pilot flying in Burma and had told her how difficult it was to fit his 6 foot body frame into the cockpit of a Hawker Hurricane. At Partition he decided to stay on in India, and transferred to the Indian Civil Service where he had a distinguished career with his final assignment being Chief Secretary of the United Province.

One of the few photographs retained by the Author's mother - of  his uncle Mehmood Butt.

I had a very good idea of what he looked like in his youth from the picture that my mother always keeps on her bedside table and out of curiosity I started looking for a face that resembled him amongst the many pictures on the web site of Bharat Rakshak. I concentrated on the squadrons that flew Hurricanes but not knowing which squadron he had flown with, it was difficult to narrow my search and since he was living in India, it was equally difficult to check with him. The strange coincidence is that at this very time when I was thinking of him and how nice it would have been to talk to him about the war and so much else, he was close to the end of his journey through life. In Oct 2010 I received the sad news that he had passed away.

Unfortunately, I had not been in touch with his son Akbar Butt for a long time but having now got his email address, offered my condolences and mentioned my search. Akbar had no idea of the squadron number but what he did have and would send me was a photo of his father shaking hands with Lord “Dickey” Mountbatten.

I waited for the photo to arrive with the same eagerness that a child waits for Christmas. When I looked at the amazing photo I knew I had struck gold and dived back into the Bharat Rakshak web site. I now had two solid leads to work on. The first was a visit by the Supreme Commander Allied Forces, Lord Louis Mountbatten to a frontline squadron; an event that had to be on record. The second lead was the Sikh officer standing with his back to the picture who was certainly the squadron commander.

The Author's cousin in India forwarded this photograph from his late father's collection - Mehmood Butt is seen shaking hands with Lord Louis Mountbatten - then Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in India and Burma (SEAC).  

There couldn’t have been too many Sikh Squadron Commanders and both these leads came together in the picture below of Mountbatten decorating a Sikh Squadron Leader. Lord Mountbatten pins the DFC award on Squadron Leader Arjan Singh, No 1 Squadron RIAF.

Lord Louis Mountbatten awards the DFC to Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh of No.1 Squadron during a visit to Imphal. 

I was pretty certain that the two pictures have been taken on the same occasion and it didn’t take much searching to confirm that No 1 Squadron RIAF was flying Hawker Hurricanes. Gleefully I informed his son Akbar that my search was concluded but it was premature and faulty. However, a few days later I was back into the Bharat Rakshak web site looking for some other information when I came across the picture below and realized that out of the nine RIAF Squadrons operating in Burma, no less than three were commanded by Sikh officers at the same time! Life is rarely easy.

 

RIAF Squadron Commanders Meet, the Sikh COs get together. L to R Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh, Sqn Ldr Mehar Singh and Sqn Ldr Prithpal Singh.

So I was back to my search and finally in the history of No 6 Squadron, I came across the following :- “In March Sqn Ldr Mehar Singh (6th Squadron) received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). ……… Both Air Marshal Baldwin, AOC Third TAF, as well as Lord Mountbatten, the Supreme Commander SEAC, visited the squadron during this period, and one of them (it is not certain which – sources differ on this detail) personally invested Sqn Ldr Mehar Singh with the decoration.”

So now we had possibly two Sikh squadron commanders decorated by Mountbatten; one from 1 Squadron and the other from 6 Squadron. When I shared this story with one of my colleagues he commented: “Look at the way Mehar Singh is standing in the group photo of the three Sikh squadron commanders. It is the same posture with arms spread open that the Sikh squadron commander has in the photo of your uncle and Dickey Mountbatten. And in both photos he is wearing the Karha”.

The arc of search had narrowed but I still hadn’t hit bull’s eye till I came across the unit rosters of all the entire Indian Air Force Units of the Second World War. According to the web, these lists have been built by painstaking reading of the pages in the Operational Record Books (ORBs) of Units held at the National Archives, Kew, UK. Many of the names were entered in the ORB without identifying service numbers. Sometimes the initials were not given. To compile the data background research was carried out - by comparing dates of commissioning, dates of postings in other units etc - to assign the correct Service Number from the master database.

I first scrolled down the roster of 1 Squadron and drew a blank but when I checked out the No 6 Squadron list, there he was. No initials. No service number. But certainly “Plt Offr Butt”, third from the bottom in the extract reproduced below. My search was over. Armed with this information I approached Bharat Rakshak and got an immediate response from the site webmasters who further confirmed that “Fg Offr” Butt had flown operational missions with 6th Squadron and even found a ‘sortie report’.

A Sortie report filed in the records of No.6 Squadron - addressed to Air HQ, it provides details of a mission flown by Fg Offr G C S Babra and Fg Offr Butt on 11 Dec 1943. Three days after this sortie, the photograph of Fg Offr Butt shaking hands with Lord  Mountbatten was taken.

From the squadron war diary an entry was found  that puts a date to the picture of my uncle and Mountbatten: "14/12/43. Louis Mountbatten visits the Squadron and meets the officers"

6th Squadron was a specialist reconnaissance unit and its first operational deployment was in Nov 1943 at Cox’s Bazar to support the Second Arakan Campaign. It was dangerous work because at that time the Allies did not have air superiority and in one particular fortnight in Feb 1944, the squadron lost five aircrafts and five pilots. Fortunately my uncle survived. I am grateful to the Bharat Rakshak for having provided such detailed information that I could piece together the wartime history of my uncle, Pilot Officer Mehmood Butt.


The Author's search for his uncle's service record was made all the more difficult as it appears his uncle left the IAF by 1945 - and thus details cannot be found in the October 1945 Air Force List (From which the IAF Officers Database gets its information).  There were only four officers with the last name "Butt" in October 1945 and none was a pilot.  

Text and Photographs (of Mehmood Butt)  reproduced with kind permission Syed Ali Hamid

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 October 2011 04:05  

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