My IAF Training Days 1941

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This is a previously unpublished hand-written account by Air Marshal Anand Ramdas Pandit , PVSM AVSM DFC 1707 F(P).  Discovered by the family and painstakingly transcribed, this was released for publication on the 100th anniversary of Air Marshal Pandit’s birthday. 

My IAF Training Days 1941 – Air Marshal AR Pandit PVSM AVSM DFC

At the end of every year, it is customary to take stock of achievements and failures gone by. A yearly balance sheet is a relatively simple matter but how does one go about it when a period of over 3 decades has to be covered?

There are some who meticulously maintain a diary, for them it is a straightforward process. I do not belong to that class, so I have to rely entirely on my memory. But believe you me when the dam bursts open, the memories start rolling down and are so crystal clear that every little detail is projected on the screen of your mind.

A young man in June 1940, at Indore, still at large, groping in the dark for that ray of kindly light to lead his way. Having decided wisely or otherwise not to pursue his college studies only to come up eventually in the queue, to join the “Baboos”. Having decided to do some vocational training instead and completing short courses in Radio Communication and Electrical Engineering, the young man found himself at a loose end. All avenues appeared closed due to the War which was only a few months old. All avenues? No, not all, for there was a demand for young men to join the Defence Forces. So, this young man decided to take the plunge and that young man was me.

At that time my father was an honorary Lt Col in the Holkar army. Although a civilian officer he was required to wear a uniform. I remember having stared at that starched Khaki uniform many a times and wondered if I would be lucky to find myself in one some time. Because of my father’s rank and position I did enjoy some privileges. One of them being the use of the Cavalry horses for riding. I went regularly every evening for riding. I always dressed myself in riding breeches and made sure that the Rajput turban which I tied was at the cockiest angle possible. I had also arranged with my riding master, the timings, in such a manner, that I would always pass the Girl’s High School when the girls were coming out of their school gate. What a terrific delight I took when the girls tried to get away from the path we came trotting by. Major General Carpendale was the C-in-C of the Holkar Army and always appreciated my riding whenever he happened to be around. As a matter of fact, he was the one to goad me into applying for a commission in the Indian Army. He got my application forwarded to the Army HQ at Simla. I also applied for commission in the Air Force.

By July there was no news from the Army HQ or the Air Force. What was I to do? My father advised me to fill forms at the college, which was just opening after the summer vacation. I too thought that it was better to do that than sitting idle. So I joined The Indore Christian College and started attending classes. Then came the telegram from the Director General of Civil Aviation to appear before an interview board at Bombay. This was for pilot’s training. The Civil Aviation Dept. was training pilots for eventual entry into the Air Force. A team consisting of about 5 members were going all over the country, interviewing young men and selecting them for pilot’s training at the various flying clubs. As soon as the call was received, there was strong opposition from all my relatives, friends and well-wishers (?). Going to war was bad enough but going for military flying was worse than committing suicide, they said. My father was the only person who left the decision to me. So I pacified the old ladies of the family by saying that I was only going for an interview. With their blessings (I might not even be selected) if I was, the choice of proceeding for training would also be with me so why start mourning about it from now?

For the first time in my life, I travelled alone by train to Bombay. I stayed in a lodge opposite the Dadar railway station. The interview was in the Fort area. The interview board was known as the Ginwala Committee after the name of its President. One of the members of the board was Flt Lt S Mukerjee of the Air Force. Not having appeared before any selection boards earlier, I should have been but was somehow not at all scared. This may have been more due to my ignorance than anything else. Or perhaps I could not care whether I was selected or not, making me frank and fearless. I was also not quite used to conversing in English. However, I must have fared well because I was asked to go for the medical examination immediately after the interview.

Oh, yes! I must narrate an incident here. The President asked Flt Lt Mukerjee if he wanted to ask any questions. Mukerjee thought for a time and then shot out, “Are you related to the Pandits in Bombay?” Equally fast I shot back “No, Sir”. In retrospect, I think I need not have been that fast in replying because I was to find out later that Mukerjee was then courting a pretty lady named Sharada Pandit in Bombay. Not that my affirmative replying would have made any difference because as the later events proved, I was selected in spite of that.

Civil Aviation Scheme No. 2 entailed the selection of about 100 young men for flying training. I was told that there were nearly 4000 to 5000 applications. On selection, the candidates were to get all the training, boarding and lodging free and get a stipend of 100 rupees a month…When I heard that there were so many applicants, I was very pessimistic about the outcome.

The interview was in August and time was getting on. In my own mind, I was more than sure that I could forget about it. The old ladies and other elderly people in and around the family were very happy that the whole episode turned out to be just one of those happenings, like a dream to be forgotten. I also did not really think very much and started catching up with my studies. I used to burn the midnight oil day after day. I filled in the Final examination form to be written in March ’41. A friend or two now and again teased me about wanting to be a pilot but that did not upset me. Out of 5000, only 100 were to have been selected. Where did I stand a chance? Then came a printed reply from the Army Headquarters, Simla, that my application for the King’s commission in the Indian Army had been registered but since I was underage I would be called up only after attaining the age of 20.

Air Force Selection and Karachi Flying Club

And then the day dawned! I do not remember the date but it was in the first week of December 1940. One fine afternoon there was a telegram asking me to report within 8 days at the Karachi Aero Club for flying training. Eight days to prepare, pack, travel and report at Karachi. How could I do it? Clothes were to be stitched, not even knowing what sort of clothes were required by a pilot under flying training, route of the journey to be found out, tickets to be purchased. Could he travel all the distance by himself having travelled only once alone to Bombay? And of course, was he to go or not? The response from the expected quarters was of course wailing and crying and wet dissuasions but I made up my mind for myself. My father appreciated it and never once opposed it. He said that the decision was mine and he hoped that I should never have any occasion to regret it. One mad rush once the decision was made, and on schedule, I was on my way. I had never seen tears in my father’s eyes before. He was reported to be a stern and stonehearted man but bidding me goodbye, he was different and that unexpected show of emotion endeared him to me. I can now imagine what must have been passing through his mind. “Am I doing right in allowing my son to go? God forbid if something were to happen to him. What would all these people say? They were bound to blame me for knowingly sending my son to certain death. At the same time was it right for a parent to come in his son’s way when he had selected his path? Then again, he was a mere slip of a boy, what did he understand about worldly things? But you were old enough to weigh all the factors. Should you have not dissuaded him? Poor boy! Had his mother been alive, she would have never let him go”. The train started off, the tearful friends and relations started fading away in the distance, but the chain of thoughts continued to unwind for hours thereafter.

A young, uncertain and slightly lost boy was stepping off at the Karachi station from a train after having travelled for 3 days and 3 nights. It certainly was not a comfortable feeling to arrive at a strange place when dusk was just settling in. Thousands of miles away from home, no friendly or familiar face to look up to.  A co-passenger, Gohel, got off at Drigh Road station and wanted me to do the same. He had told me that he was also attending the same training but I was told repeatedly not to trust strangers, so I decided to carry on to the Karachi Main Station. I had also written to a friend and a classmate of mine at Indore who was studying in the Karachi Engineering College. I lost some time looking for him and then panic started gripping me. A small steel trunk and tiny bedding were all I had and I kept on lugging it up and down the platform. When the crowd had thinned out, I decided to go to the nearest hotel for the night. After asking the station staff I was directed to one about a furlong away. The place was filthy. The people were so different and talked Hindi but in a different way that it almost sounded like a foreign language. I was so dog-tired that I just did not want to do anything. I sat down in the armchair ignoring the bed which was anything but inviting. “Why have I landed myself in this situation? Would it not be wiser to catch the next train back?” Until the last minute, my grandmother was imploring me not to go. Her old shrivelled face in tears. I could see her so clearly. “You know when your mother died, I had promised her that I would look after you, your brother and sister. What would her old soul be saying? Please do not go. If you have to go, then wait for a few months. I am not going to last for more than a few months. Then you can do whatever pleases you.” The face of my father with tears at only the corners of his eyes appeared before me in an enlarged projection form. How much anxiety and anguish have I caused him? Those friends of mine who were not quite sure whether they should have admired me for this foolhardy undertaking or sympathized with me as if I was forcibly being snatched away from them by some cruel fate. They stood there with either an expressionless face or grinning stupidly. While all this panorama was passing through my mind, the smells of onions and garlic being fried in preparation for a pulao or a curry continued to blow into my dark room. I guess I must have been put up in that spare room on top of a cook-house which no one would otherwise take. I knew not what time it was nor did I care. Like in a trance I sat and dreamt on.

I thought of the recent past few months. I had just returned from Bombay after completing Diploma courses in Radio Communications and Electrical Engineering. I had passed with honours The City and Guilds London examination in the 2 subjects also. How proudly I displayed those beautifully printed certificates without realizing at that time that they were not worth the paper they were printed on; at least not at that particular time. I had dreams of starting a workshop, which as time went by, would become a thriving one. How different I was and how proud I felt that while my classmates continued their routine college studies, I had already obtained technical qualifications which would set me off much before them on to a profession and a career. I went boasting about it and started acquiring a superiority complex. I made enquiries about obtaining the electrical and electronic test equipment and tools from various local firms. After all, I must have all those before I start off the repair shop. They directed me to Bombay, Calcutta and Madras offices. Alas! There were no replies from these places and the wind was being taken out of my sails. There was a danger that my hovering in the air was to bring me down to earth with a jolt. Then I learnt that with the war going on in Europe all imports had been stopped so I could forget about setting up anything. What a disappointment! I thought that the world had come to an end. I started hiding from my friends, shunning their company. This is when my father suggested that I resume my college studies. He has always been a tower of strength. My daydreaming puts me to sleep. I wake up with a start. I look around and find myself in a dingy hotel room. I then realize that I am in Karachi and it is already morning. I did not waste any time leaving my night abode, hoping never to set eyes on it again.

DrighRoad Map

DrighRoad Map
Figure 1: Map of Karachi and Drigh Road Airfield

I hired a “gaddi” (horse drawn buggy) to take me to Karachi Aero Club and was told by the gaddi-wallah that it was 10 miles away. I did not believe him but agreed to pay him the demanded 10 rupees. It is a long way to the Karachi Aero Club and I wondered if I was really being taken for a ride by the bearded “gaddi” driver. After a seemingly never-ending ride I was left by the driver at the gate of the Aero Club, on a main road, all alone. There was not a soul in sight. I saw a huge metal shed which I came to know later, was built as a hanger for the R101 airship which never arrived from Europe. In the distance was also a tall tower, as tall as the Qutub Minar. This was also built for mooring the airship R101.

DrighRoad Tower
Photo 1: Drigh Road – The R101 Airship Hangar and R101 Mooring Tower in the background. Karachi Flying Club was beyond the tower.

I picked up my trunk in one hand and the bedding in the other, and jumping the gate, which was closed and locked for some reason, I started walking. After 15 to 20 minutes of walking, I came to a house and enquired about the whereabouts of the Aero club. On being told that I was to report there for flying training, I was directed to go to the mooring tower about half a mile further on. The first person I met on reaching the tower was Gohel who took charge of me straightaway and took me to his room.
Figure 2: Entry from HSR Gohel’s logbook about meeting Pandit (yellow underline) (Courtesy : Gita Gohel Rathore)

There were 3 or 4 rooms at the base of the mooring tower where we were to be accommodated. I met the others. Amongst them were Hussain, Hasim Ali Khan, Irani, Latif, Choudhari, Hanif, Chadha and of course Himmat Singh Gohel. We were all to be put under the care of Captain Finglas who was on the administrative staff of the club. We were also to have our meals with him. He met us in the evening and told us what all was required of us.


Photo 2: Cadets at Karachi Aero Club 1941 – L to R: Pandit, Hussain, Hafiz, U/I, Gohel , Sanjana, Latif, Irani, HA Khan (Photo Courtesy : Gita Gohel Rathore)

That evening Gohel and myself climbed up to the top of the mooring tower as the lift had long been unserviceable. The Drigh Road airport where the aero club was located presented a beautiful sight from that elevated vantage point. In the distance, we could also make out the outlines of the city or what we thought to be Karachi. That night we walked to Capt Finglas’ home for our first meal. Being a strict vegetarian, I had practically nothing to eat and envied Gohel and others who were relishing the non-veg delicacies on the menu. Capt Finglas also introduced us to the Western table manners, laying of the table with the correct placements of the cutlery and the crockery and their uses for different types of dishes. I felt that it was impossible for me to ever learn all that. On all such occasions, in future also, I always felt that I shall never get used to these strange manners of behaviour and then started feeling homesick every time that happened. We had no conveyance so walked back to the “tower” on the first night.

Our routine at Karachi started very early in the morning when it was still dark. We did our PT just outside in the open. One thing that I remember was that no tea was served in the morning and there was no hot water provided for bath. After PT we had a cold shower, got ready for breakfast at Finglas’ and then off to the Aero club. Two main personalities we met were, Major Jones, the chief flying instructor and Mr. Tomlin, the Chief Engineer. Major Jones gave us an idea of what all we were required to do while under training there. Tomlin introduced us to the four-stroke engine and the Aerofoil. I also touched an aircraft with my hands for the first time in my life and what a proud moment when I got into the open cockpit of the Gypsy Moth trainer aircraft! We were to be trained on the Gypsy Moth and the Tiger Moth aircraft. We had two other flying instructors. They were both Indians. Mr. Mistry and Mr. Malik. I was assigned to Mr. Malik. Anyway, that day there were no flying instructions as we were still to be given our flying clothing. After lunch we went to buy our flying equipment. We bought a leather helmet and earphones (only tubes as there was no radio set in the trainer aircraft), flying goggles and a flying log book to maintain a record of flying.

For a few days we had lectures on The Theory of Flight, Aero-engines, Airframes, Meteorology and Navigation before we had our first flight. The flight lasted only 15 mins. But I felt so enthralled and was so busy observing the countryside that I do not think I paid any attention to what my instructor was saying. When I was asked to hold the flying controls, I mechanically did so but my attention was all focused outside the cockpit rather than on flying the aircraft until I realized that the instructor had already landed and we were bumping towards the aero club building. I know that the instructor must have concluded that I was more interested in taking a joy ride than learning to fly!

Our first introduction to what is known in the Air Force jargon as “Line Shooting” must have been after our first familiarization flight. All of us must have had a similar experience as mine but everyone was starting to tell tales of how he flew the aircraft and had no difficulty whatsoever in handling the flight controls. Each of us had now done about 4 or 5 flights when we were visited by two Royal Air Force flying instructors, Flt Lts Middleton and Bishop. They flew with us and with our instructors for 2 or 3 days. After their departure, we could make out that they were unhappy with our progress and blamed the flying instructors for it. Within a week we got instructions to proceed to different flying clubs in India. Some of us were sent to Bengal Flying Club at Dumdum (Calcutta). We were booked via Lahore and Delhi and travelled at Government expense by Intermediate class on the railways. We were also given Rs. 10 each for travelling expenses. It was early Jan 1941.

Onward to Bengal Flying Club

On arrival, we found our way from Howrah station to the Flying club. We were shocked to see that we were to live in tents. We had our daily meals at the club. There were 2 or 3 other tents and the batch which had come before us also lived there. There were 3 or 4 instructors at the Bengal Flying Club – all Indians. Mr. Chitamber was the Chief Flying Instructor. Mr. Montes and Mr. Gosh were the other two. Then sometime later Mr. Rhodes, a tea planter instructor also joined. They were all jolly persons and used to get together often with their wives in the evenings at the Flying Club bar. I particularly remember one person, Mr. Dhargalkar who used to be Maharaja of Dharbhanga’s personal pilot and often came to the club with Sri Chitamber. We were all goodie goodie boys and were not allowed to make use of the bar.

Raja Gohel was a little more experienced than Abbas Hussain and myself in worldly affairs. One day we pooled up enough money to buy a bottle of beer. I still clearly remember how the 3 of us hid behind our tent and consumed the contents of the bottle without being caught by any of the instructors. What an exalted feeling of achievement we all felt then! Our flying instructions continued in the mornings. My instructor was Monte. A short man who was kind, unlike my previous instructor, Mr. Malik at Karachi. He took great interest in our training. His calm and sympathetic attitude made us learn fast. He was a polished flier and whenever he demonstrated an exercise, his flying which was very very smooth, impressed me very much. I did my solo after 7.30 hours of dual instructions. In February, boys from the previous batch were sent to the Initial Training Wing at Walton, Lahore for Air Force training. We were also told that we would be following soon. In March I did my flying tests for pilot’s “A” license. All 3 of us gained our Flying licenses after successful completion of the ground examination, which was conducted in Theory of Flight, Air Navigation and Indian Aircraft Rules. We were also required to undergo tests in performing a figure of “8” over the airfield without going outside the limit of the aerodrome and also spot landing on the airfield circle after a “Glide Approach”.

We had hardly any social life. On Sundays we used to sit in the club verandah watching the members of the club flying the aircraft as we had a holiday on Sundays. In the afternoon we went by bus to Sham bazaar and Chorangee for window- shopping. Oh yes, in Calcutta for the first time in our lives we became the proud possessors of a suit each, which we got stitched. Grey Panama suiting selected after a lot of thinking! It cost us Rs. 45/- each. Apart from the occasional shopping sprees, we went for regular evening walks. Of course, the early morning PT and ground lectures were routine features. In March we had a visit by Flt Lt Bishop and flew with him. On his being satisfied with our flight progress, we were ordered to proceed to Lahore for 6 weeks General Service Training in the Air Force.

ITW Walton

We were received at Lahore station by Air Force personnel and taken to the I.T.W (Initial Training Wing) at Walton. We were accommodated in the hostel of a school or a college. The headmaster of the school had been put in uniform and was our officer commanding in the rank of Wing Commander. Wg Cdr Hogg was an old fatherly person. Apart from him, there were other instructors of whom I remember Flt Lt Stockwell—the Professor, Sqn Ldr Geddes, the chief ground instructor and Sgt Symes the P.T. instructor. They were all very strict with us and while at Walton we hardly had any time to breathe because our daily schedule used to be so tight.

Here, we got up at 6 AM, got ready for PT while it was still dark. PT lasted for about 45 mins commencing with a run. We then rushed back for a bath and put on the uniform, which was issued to us in the first week of our arrival. Breakfast commenced at 0800 and had to be finished to attend classes at 8.45. We formed ourselves into sections and marched to our classrooms. Sometimes the routine started with a drill and sometimes with classes.

We were not allowed to go to Lahore until we passed our saluting test. This took some doing because perfection was difficult to achieve particularly in the eyes of Sgt. Symes, our PT and drill instructor. We were all Flt Cdts, just below the officer status but above the non-commissioned officer status, so Sgt. Symes always addressed us as “Sirs”, but invariably followed by the choicest and pungent sarcasm. For example, one day on parade Hafeez had not had his weekly haircut so Sgt. Symes stood behind him and asked, “Ain’t I hurting you, sir?” For a while Hafeez did not know whether he was being addressed, then when he realized it he did not guess what Sgt. Symes meant. Hafeez said, “No, sergeant”. “Well sir, I shall because I am standing on your hair.” That was his way of indicating that Hafeez had not had his Tommy-cut. Somehow there was never any love lost between Hafeez and Sgt. Symes. Sometimes he used to say to Hafeez, “For God’s sake don’t walk like Frankenstein, Sir.” Or better still, “Did you gentlemen sirs see the pregnant frog walking by?” (pointing at Hafeez).

Stockwell taught us Maths, English, current affairs and Air Force history. He was a typical school master and I am sure did not believe in the old saying “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Geddes was more polished and taught us Air Force Organization, Theory of Flight and other service subjects. The lectures lasted till 1300 hrs. when we marched back to the mess for lunch. A few of us were expected to give short talks on the subjects allotted to us on the spot for 3 to 5 mins. each before we moved to the dining room area. The meal was a sit-down one and lasted till about 1430 hrs. We did our homework between 1500 and 1600 hrs. after which we were expected to go for games. We played hockey, football or handball.

Some days we went swimming. I knew just little swimming and was scared of water. Sgt. Symes got after me when he saw that I stuck to the shallow end. “Sir, would you please jump from the diving board?” There was no question of not obeying so I went up to the board and hesitated there until I got a shout from below. Sgt. Symes was in the water and said, “I am not here to drown unwanted kittens.” I closed my eyes, said a quick prayer and plunged down. I was pulled out of the pool with water streaming out of my nose and mouth. After that, I always jumped from the board without being asked by Sgt. Symes to do it.

Games got over by 1800 hrs. and we rushed back for a shower to get ready for dinner. All present had to go and wish the senior-most officer present, a good evening. No one was allowed to sit. There was a seating plan and we were to enter in pairs according to the seating plan with seniors entering last. There was a President who sat at the head of the table and a “Mr. Vice” at the other end. Invariably we got detailed as “Mr. Vice” in turn while the President was always one of the instructors. The meal proceeded in perfect silence. Table manners such as “No one to start until everyone is served. And the President starts eating.” The waiters never started clearing the table until the last man had finished eating. After the dessert the table was cleared of cutlery and crockery except the glasses to drink the toast, which was done on special dining-in nights only. Two decanters of sherry and wine, like Madeira, were placed before the president and Mr. Vice. Both of them removed the stoppers and placed them on the table. The bottles were passed clockwise around the table. Only the right hand was to be used. After you filled your glass the decanter was not to be lifted but slid along the table to the person on your left. Waiters were to clean the hall before the President was to hit the gavel, stood up and said, “The King”. Mr. Vice stood up and said, “Gentlemen, The King.” All of us stood up and raised our glasses and said, “The King” and drank the toast after which we all sat down. The cigars and cigarettes used to then be passed around and after the President lit his cigar, it was taken as a signal by others to light up their own. If a President was a non-smoker, then he announced, “Gentlemen, you may smoke.” Except on special dining-in nights when the President made a speech, we adjourned to the anteroom where coffee used to be served. The President was always the first to get up from the table and Mr. Vice, the last. On adjourning to the anteroom we had a debate on some point of common interest. By 2030 we said “Goodnight” and departed to our rooms. The lights were put off at 2200 hrs. We did our preparation or homework for the next day during the period 2100 to 2200 hrs. Invariably we dropped dead after this strenuous day’s schedule.

Photo 3: No. 8 Pilots Course – Pandit standing 6th from right, last but one row

Our course at the I.T.W. was given the title “No. 8 Pilot’s Course”. You will recollect that our batch consisted of about 100 but at the I.T.W. we were approx. 60 to 65 which meant that nearly 40 boys were suspended at the Flying Club stage. All courses before us were commissioned as Acting Pilot Officers, as soon as they reported to the I.T.W. but from our course, to our great disappointment, the Govt. decided to start the Cadet Officers Scheme. This meant that we were not commissioned. When some of us started demurring, we were told that we would be commissioned as soon as we finished our Elementary Flying training. Anyway we had no choice. There were about 10 dropouts at this stage also.

The rest of us were divided into two groups at the end of 6 weeks of training at Walton, Lahore. One group was sent to No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School at Begumpet (Hyderabad). The other group went to No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School at Jodhpur. We saw very little of Lahore because as stated earlier, we were allowed to go to town only after we passed the saluting test. This took nearly 3 weeks so we managed to go to Lahore only twice or thrice. We were provided with a service transport for this purpose and had to get back to the camp by a certain time. During these visits, we patronized the standard restaurant in the Mall. It was a very popular spot those days. We did no shopping as we never had enough money for that purpose. On completion of our training, we were interviewed by our commandant, Wg Cdr Hogg, who met us individually. By the time my turn came, I was sweating profusely because some of the people who came out of the Wingco’s office were almost in tears. Someone then whispered that they must have been told that their training was being discontinued. I was very apprehensive because none of us had been given any idea during our stay there as to how we were faring. Anyway, I walked in a trance into the Commandant’s office and was happy to hear that I had done well and was to proceed to No.2 EFTS at Jodhpur for further training. I quickly saluted, turned about and marched out before the old man had time to change his mind!

No.2 EFTS Jodhpur

Our journey by train to Jodhpur was very eventful as far as I was concerned. We were 4 of us in the compartment. Since it was terribly hot, we had asked for a block of ice to be put in the compartment. It was about 2/3 o’clock, when the bearer was putting aerated bottles in the ice container, one of them burst. A piece of glass hit me just below my chin and I started bleeding profusely. There was a big commotion. My companion pulled the chain and stopped the train. One or two of them tried to apply pressure on my throat to stop the bleeding and almost strangled me in the process. Someone rushed to the guard to find that the First Aid Kit was so ancient that the injection needles in it were rusted beyond recognition. Then the whole train was searched for a doctor but unfortunately, none could be traced or no one came forward to render assistance. The next station was informed by the guard of the train on emergency telephone and requested for a doctor. By the time the next station had been reached the bleeding had more or less stopped and the quack who was available there put a bandage on the wound. Jodhpur was also informed by telegram to meet the train on arrival with an ambulance. I was meanwhile given a pill which must have been a kind of a sedative because I slept until the next morning when we reached Jodhpur. Pilot Officer Milneday, the Adjutant met us and I was whisked off to the hospital. The doctor put a couple of stitches on the cut and conveyed the good news that the shrapnel had missed my windpipe by 1/16th of an inch and that I was lucky otherwise it would have meant certain death. I thanked God for this.

Fortunately, my wound healed up very fast and did not affect my training at all. First week or so was spent in equipping ourselves with flying clothing. Then ground lectures to prepare us for flying. We had about 10 instructors, all from the Royal Air Force. Sqn Ldr Bonnar was the Commanding Officer. There were also 3 civilian Indian flying instructors. Mr. Parekh, Mr. Mehta and Mr. Rhodes who had come from Bengal Flying Club.

I was assigned to Mr. Manubhai U Parekh along with Gohel and one more Flt Cdt. Our drill and PT instructor as well as the maths teacher were also civilians belonging to Jodhpur. We were accommodated in the Annexe and tents put up temporarily behind the hotel building. Incidentally, the hotel was out of bounds for us trainees. We were issued with bicycles to move around the place. It was the month of May 1941 and Jodhpur was terribly hot. We commenced our flying training in the last week of May. Manubhai Parekh was a charming and affectionate man on the ground but he was just the opposite in the air – a real terror. He would shout at you at the slightest mistake saying there was no room for error. There were times when I used to be in tears in the cockpit. I remember 2 occasions when I just left the controls after a very violent dual instructional sortie which Mr. Parekh decided to give me.

On the ground we all always exchanged notes and I was told by one of the boys of the previous course that he had actually been hit by Manubhai on the hand with a joystick when he failed to satisfy him. However, as soon as he came out of the aircraft, he used to be all sympathy, affection and so fatherly that one forgot all the shouting in the air. My flying training continued despite Manubhai’s show of temper in the air and I was sent solo after 6/7 hrs. of dual flying. The day I went solo I was the happiest person because until that day I was convinced that Mr. Parekh was going to ensure that I was thrown out of training at this stage. We kept on flying throughout the summer.

Photo 4:At No.2 EFTS Jodhpur – Pandit standing 3rd from left last row. Maharaja of Jodhpur seated centre

On the ground I was more than happy with my progress and I was also considered above average in PT and all other games. I was appointed the captain of my group. In Jodhpur as compared with Lahore we had enough time to enjoy ourselves. We often went for camel rides, picnics and sightseeing. The Maharaja was very pro-Air Force and held an honorary rank in the RIAF. He and his brother Raja Ajit Singh used to invite us trainees for dinners and other outings. I vividly remember His Highness’ dinner at his Sardar Samand countryside palace. We were entertained to swimming and dancing. We also saw a tiger consuming a buffalo tied to a tree. This was a special treat to be seen through the binoculars. The poor animal used to be tied down to a pole about a mile or so from the palace. Floodlights were focused on the spot. As soon as the wailing of the animal stopped, it was assumed that the tiger had killed the animal and the lights were switched on. All the visitors were then treated to the sight of the tiger consuming his meal. The swimming pool was beautifully lit by underwater coloured lights and we had a glorious swim. Raja Ajit Singh invited us in batches to his Bal Samand House and we were treated to some exquisite dances. There was also an excellent zoo at Bal Samand stocked with well-fed tigers, leopards and other wild animals. Just next to the airfield the Maharaja had started constructing a new palace on a hillock and we were not allowed to fly over it or the town itself. Jodhpur fort was worth a visit.

Those days Jodhpur airfield was surrounded by wide stretches of wild bushes which abounded in deer, chitals and buck. Our instructors used to go low flying with us and chase herds of deer. It presented a fantastic picture as hundreds of these animals chased by low flying aircraft ran for their lives. Some of the instructors also indulged in shooting from a low flying aircraft, landing in the field, picking up their shikar and bringing it back triumphantly to enjoy a venison dinner. The instructors were friendly with a number of Rao Rajas who lived near about the aerodrome. I remember one day when I was flying with an RAF instructor, he kept circling a house nearby at terrace level until someone came out and waved a white piece of cloth. Later I learnt that this was done for the benefit of a beautiful lady who resided there! Near the State House was also the famous Polo ground of Rao Raja Hanit Singh. Whenever we could we would cycle down to the ground and watch the game of polo which used to be played, if I remember correctly every Thursday. Rao Raja Hanit Singh and his sons were considered world-class polo players. Most of us youngsters were busy with our flying and groundwork but there were a few who were more enterprising and made friends with some local socialites and also formed some romantic and sentimental attachments in Jodhpur.

Our training in Jodhpur was to last for 3 to 3 ½ months. Some of us could not go solo and were taken off flying training. However, they were sent for Observers training. I remember two of my very good friends Madhu Akut and Kailash Chand were sent for this to Ambala. We had a prince in our batch. Raja Saheb of Jawhar. He and I became good friends. Unfortunately, he did not do too well as a flier but was presented with the pilot’s wings at the end of his training at Jodhpur.

We were still Flt Cdts and hoped that we would get our commissions as soon as we finished our training at Jodhpur. By 1941 we had more or less finished our flying and then the final tests started. This was yet another hurdle to cross and we again became tense and apprehensive as the exam date approached. A number of boys had already been suspended from flying training earlier. Twice I too was punished for bad flying. The punishment used to be running around the perimeter of the aerodrome with your parachute on your back.

Then dawned the day when Manubhai took me up and said that this was the trip to prepare me for the final test which was invariably with the OC and Chief instructor, Sqn Ldr Bonnar. I must have really flown well that day or Manubhai was being especially kind but there were no scenes created in the air. After this, I went solo to polish off some of the weaknesses pointed out in my aerobatics. For example, I used to be good in Rolls and roll of the top of the loop to the left but slightly weak on the right. So I kept on practising one roll after the other to the right. Then Sqn Ldr Bonnar took me up for the final test. We did everything that was taught to us – steep turns, instrument flying, aerobatics and forced landings, ending with a perfect 3 point landing. I was flying with confidence and although the chief instructor did not utter anything during the flight, I could feel that he was more than satisfied. When we stopped in the dispersal he merely said, “good, please send the next man.” I got down, saluted him and walked triumphantly back to Manubhai who was waiting near the flight office and asked, “How did it go?” I did not want to commit myself, so I said, “I think it was all right, sir.” He was not satisfied but did not press the point.

However, the next day Manubhai invited Gohel and myself to his house for tea. We were introduced to his wife and also met his children. He was very happy and told us that both of us had done well and he was proud of us. On our request, he also gave us each a snap of himself. On the reverse side of the snap given to me was written, “To my dopey but stubborn Pandit.” Later I came to know that in my assessment by Sqn Ldr Bonnar I had been given an “Above average” remark. Sqn Ldr Bonnar asked me to fly with him one day when the instructors were doing the formation. All our instructors would get together now and again to put up a 10 or 12 aircraft formation to show us how it could be done. I was, therefore, particularly happy that the leader of the formation, Sqn Ldr. Bonnar asked me to fly with him in his aircraft. That turned out to be my last flight out of Jodhpur. We were ordered to report to Service Flying Training School, Ambala. That was the first week of Sept. 1941.

Photo 5: Capt Manu Parekh (centre with wings)

1 SFTS Ambala

On arrival at Ambala, we were hoping to be commissioned as promised but there was no sign of it. Oh yes! Our batch which had been divided between Begumpet and Jodhpur from I.T.W. was reunited at Ambala, but of course, there were a number of faces conspicuous by their absence. These were colleagues who were suspended from flying training. Some of them were at Ambala doing their Observers training as Navigators. Out of the 120 odd who were selected to undergo flying training at the civil clubs we were now only 25 left in the 8th Pilots Course. God only knows how many of us will remain to earn the flying wings and ultimately start our flying careers! We all eagerly waited for a week to be told that commissions would be given only on completion of our training in Ambala. This was a bit too much for us to digest and we spewed it out by putting up a joint representation to the authorities saying how promises were broken by them and that we should now be commissioned, or we had no choice but to go home. The authorities must have taken a serious note of this because we were told that as soon as we finished the first half of our course, we would be awarded wings and commissions; the date of commission being the date we commenced our training at Ambala.

The chief flying instructor at the Advanced Stage was Sqn Ldr Middleton and at the Applied Stage was Sqn Ldr Powley. I was put in the “C” flight. The flight commander was Flt Lt Woodroffe. My instructor was Flt Lt Tate but after taking me up for 4 to 5 dual flights he was posted out and I was assigned to Flt Lt Stott. Stott was a huge man known for his unsmiling and tough attitude towards life. It was said that he was a London Bobby joined up for the duration. Whatever the truth both of us took an instant dislike to each other. Had he had his way I would have been thrown out of the Ambala training, but fortunately for me Woodroffe and Middleton were very understanding and soon gave me a change of instructor.

We were busy being trained on the Hawker Audax and the Hawker Hart aircraft. They were originally Army Cooperation aircraft and bi-planes and had fabric covered wings. The rear cockpit was really meant for an observer or an air-gunner. There was position for a revolving gun platform on which a Lewis gun could be fitted. However, some of the aircraft were fitted with dual controls. The instructor normally occupied the rear seat whereas in Tiger Moth, the instructor flew from the front seat. The Audax and Hart were bigger, heavier and more powerful than the Tiger Moth on which we were trained at the Elementary Flying Training Schools.

Because of the attitude of Flt Lt Stott, I spent some very unhappy and anxious days at Ambala. We had a busy time—alternately flying in the morning and afternoon lectures or afternoon flying and morning lectures. Some of our senior Indian Air Force pilots used to take us up in the Tiger Moths and the Leopard Moth for navigational training and instrument flying. There were Plt Off Rehman, Fg Off P C Lal and one or two others. Fg Off G S Singh took me up for a few training sorties after I was taken away from the terrors of Flt Lt Stott. We commenced training in Ambala in Sept. 1941 and by the end of November, we had graduated to the Applied Stage where the stress was on operational training such as air photography, air gunnery, formation flying etc.

During the night flying training, we had a fatal accident involving Plt Off Gulam Nabi Khan. He was a pathan hailing from Peshawar. On the final approach, he undershot and went into a tree between our officer’s mess and a church. He was burnt along with the aircraft. I happened to be in the mess at that time and saw Gulam Nabi still strapped to his seat but the fire was so extensive that no one could have dared to go near it. Khan must have been killed immediately on impact before the aircraft caught fire. This was a very sad event and of course very demoralizing for us trainees. I remember how we were all assembled the next morning and given a pep talk by the instructors preparing us for many such happenings during the war and our flying careers.

At Ambala we had plenty of time to relax. We used to cycle down to the town and saw Hindi films as often as possible. We also got ourselves photographed individually and in groups after we were commissioned. Although the rank indicator stripe on our shoulder and our sleeves was so thin as to be unnoticeable, we were very proud of it. After finishing the Advanced flying, we were commissioned as Pilot Officers. We also had to wear the letters VR (Volunteer Reserve) on our collars.

Pandit Gohel
Photo 6: Newly minted Pilot Officers Pandit and HSR Gohel with VR collar badges and their Pilot’s badge. 

All of us were instructed to open a bank account each at the Imperial Bank of India Ambala Cantt. A long association started with the bank in Nov. ’41. We were also, as promised, commissioned with effect from 14th Sept. ’41. From the back-pay that we got, I remember, my roommate, Nair, and I bought jointly a “His Master’s Voice” portable gramophone for Rs. 75/-, then a large amount, sharing Rs. 37-8-0 each. At Ambala when we arrived No. 6 Pilots Course was finishing their training. Notably on this course were Fg Off PC Lal, Plt Off Asghar Khan, Noor Khan Akhtar, Tutu Amber, Padam Singh Gill and Cheema. The other courses under training at this place were No. 5 and 6 Observers Courses and No. 7 Pilots training course. Most of the members of the No. 6 Observers course were our ex-colleagues who were taken off pilot’s training. Notably amongst the 7th Pilots Course were Fg Off Rajaram, Plt Off Bobb, Barker, Kagal, NB Lal, Ganguly, Sanyal and Imtiaz Khan. Before the departure of No.6 Pilots course we had a group photograph taken of all the trainees under training in Ambala.

No.1 Service Flying Training School, Ambala (November 1941)
Photo 7: Group photo of 6,7,8 Pilots Courses and 5,6 Observers Courses. Pandit seated 4th from left on the ground. To Pandit is sitting left of  Gulam Nabi Khan. (3rd from left first row) (Photo Courtesy Gita Gohel Rathore)

As I’ve said earlier from Nov. to the end of Jan ’42 we were learning the operational exploitation of the aircraft. In aerial photography, we flew 2 pilots in one aircraft – one doing the flying and the other operating the camera. In Air Gunnery also 2 of us flew together – one flying and the other observing the strikes of the ammunition or the bomb. Vickers machine guns were used for air to ground and air to air firing. In Ambala, we did not do any live firing except for low-level bombing with practice 8 and a half pound bombs. For our live firing, we were taken to Kohat by train and from Kohat to Miranshah by air for the live firing exercises. I remember going with Flt Lt Hammerbeck in an Audax from Kohat to Miranshah when he told me how one day I shall look forward to flying in these areas for operations. The entire area was over rugged barren hills and narrow valleys. The entire area was treeless and the consequences of a forced landing anywhere en route would mean capture and torture by the hostile tribesmen who were the habitants of these areas known as Waziristan. Although I did well in bombing and air-to-ground front gun firing my air-to-air exercises were poor. The strikes attained on the sleeve-target towed behind the Wapiti aircraft were as low as 1 in 100 and 3 in 150.

No. 9 Pilot’s course arrived at Ambala in Oct/Nov.’41. We were awarded the flying badges. There was no passing out parade. One morning we were lined up on the tarmac and the station commander pinned the coveted wings on our chests. However, in the evening there was a party in the Mess. We, trainees, were not allowed to consume any alcoholic drinks. As the training was coming to an end we were asked by our instructors where each of us would like to be posted. There were No. 2 and No. 3 Squadrons at Kohat and No. 4 was on the verge of being formed. No. 1 Squadron was on its way to Burma so there was no chance of anyone going to that squadron. In addition, there were 6 Coastal Defence Flights at Karachi, Bombay, Madras, Cochin, Calcutta and Vizakapatnam. Naturally, everyone opted to be posted to the Coastal flights as they were located in cities where the young pilots could show off. 8th Pilot’s course, on completion had thinned down to 21 or 22 pilots only. Most of us were posted to Nos. 2, 3, and 4 Squadrons at Kohat with only a few people going to the Coastal flights. On our course the best trainee trophy was awarded to Plt. Off. Dastur and the best in Aerobatics trophy to Plt Off Bohman Sanjana. Both these officers were killed soon after in flying accidents within a year of joining their respective Squadrons.

Photo 8: No 8 Pilots Course passing out.
L to R Back Row – Georges, HSR Gohel, Zal Sanjana, Mehta, Rao, Sequeira
Middle Row – Joe Ezekiel, TAM Andrade, Atal, Hussain, Goordeen, Guha Roy, AR Pandit, D Ranga Reddy
Front Row – Pratap Lal Singh, Irani, Dorabji, BS Dastoor, Behman Sanjana, Anwar, Keshav Reddy, Chakravarty, R Atmaram

We had a big sendoff party in the Mess. The junior course No. 9 Pilots course was playing host to us. I vividly remember Plt Off Tahilramani treating us to classical and light vocal Indian music. It was remarkable about this officer. He stammered and stuttered extensively during normal conversation but sang so fluently without any interruption that it was unbelievable that he suffered from any disability. We were allowed to consume alcohol for this party but I do not remember anyone drinking anything stronger than beer. We were also given 14 days leave before joining our new units. I was posted to No. 2 Squadron.

Photo 9: Flight Cadet AR Pandit, Jodhpur, 1941

1. This is a handwritten article by Air Marshal Pandit typed by his daughter Mrs Kalpana Moghe. The original article was untitled.
2. Some photographs are from the personal collection of Air Marshal Pandit
3. Other photographs are taken from courtesy of contributions made by family members of other veterans like Gp Capt HSR Gohel, Plt Off Ghulam Nabi Khan and others
4. Map of Karachi and article review by Jagan Pillarisetti.

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