Sqn Ldr. Hemango Nath Chaudhuri

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Sqn Ldr. Hemango Nath Chaudhuri – 1st Commanding Officer of 7 Squadron

1565 GD (P)

Wing Commander Hemango Nath (Hem) Chaudhuri was born on 1st Nov. 1909 In Calcutta.

He is described as, “one of the most colourful and unique men to see service with the IAF. Suave, intelligent and erudite ‘Hem’ Chaudhuri made a lasting impression on his colleagues and seniors alike.

He hailed from a distinguished Bengali family that has produced many renowned lawyers and writers. His family were the zamindars of Haripur and the family was known as Chaudhuris of Haripur in the province of Bengal, British India. His father KC Chaudhuri was a very successful Criminal law barrister in Calcutta. His mother Pramila was the daughter of WC Bonarjee, who was the first president of the Indian National Congress. He had three other siblings. Two of his brothers joined the Indian Army. The eldest Jayanto Nath Chaudhuri later rose to the post of General and Chief of the Army Staff. The younger brother D Chaudhuri joined the Armoured Corps regiment, 2nd Lancers.

He did his schooling at Highgate School in London and later Trinity Hall in Cambridge University. Hem was a keen sportsman and he distinguished himself during college in football and was an excellent and strong swimmer.

He became a full-fledged Barrister-at-law from Lincoln’s inn1931.  His brother Jayanto chose to go on to Sandhurst (UK) for his Army training. On completion Hem returned to India and joined Andrew Yule and Co, a private company in Calcutta as a Mercantile Assistant. He also had a passion for flying and thus had obtained an Amateur Pilot’s Licence too while flying at the Bengal Flying Club in Calcutta.

In November, 1939, was invited to join the IAFVR. On 14th November 1939 he joined the flying training at FTS in Risalpur. In those times, whenever a person reported for Officer’s training, he was immediately given the rank of Pilot Officer (Acting).  From 1st October, 1940 to 31st March, 1942 he was posted to No. 3 Coastal Defence Flight at Calcutta, where he was the Officer Commanding of the flight. An incident during this time, of his swimming prowess was often mentioned whenever his name came up. On one sea patrol Hem was flying with Wg Cdr. Ker, the Commanding Officer of the Coastal Defence Wing in a Bristol Blenheim on a sea patrol. While over the sea, a hundred miles from the coast, the Wing Commander wanted to come in low to investigate a boat in the waters below. They came down to fifty feet and circled over the boat. After investigation, just as they were climbing, the aircraft’s starboard engine packed-up. They were so low that they could not jettison their bomb load. Nevertheless, they managed to make a smooth touchdown on the water. The Blenheim floated for half an hour. They tried to inflate the dingy but it burst. The three crew stood on the wing till the aircraft sank. The C.O. decided to swim out to a fishing boat a little distance from the aircraft. Hem too had to swim for it, passing the Wingco easily reaching the boat easily after half an hour’s swim. This incident was in a lighter vein often referred to as ‘The Boat Race in the Bay’.

On 1st April, 1942, he was posted to No. 353 Squadron. On 1st July, 1942 he assumed command of the squadron. He served in the squadron up to 30th November, 1942. On 1st December, 1942, He took over as Commanding Officer of the newly raised No. 7 Squadron at Vizagapatnam.

In his book “My years with the IAF” Air Chief Marshal PC Lal describes him in the following manner:

“Hem was well read and played games to keep fit. Drank heavily, but as he said, he could hold his drink. He was cheerful witty and at timed boisterous in his merry making. He was fond of wine but not of women, his wife Moneesha and he had time for their children. At mess parties, as the evening rolled into early hours of the next morning, Hem chose to punish the dissidents who did not join him at that late hour by visiting them in their rooms, throwing them out of their beds, summer or winter, and subjecting them to minor indignities. All this was done and accepted in good faith. But after such nights of revelry, he was on duty exactly on time, clean shaven and bathed, utterly sober with perhaps tell-tale bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep. If anyone in his squadron was late, there was punishment. If anybody had not found time to shave, who normally should have tried to pass it off by saying, “I intend growing a beard and a moustache”, he was held to his word. He was not allowed to shave for quite a while and had to go about looking shabby and feeling uncomfortable till the CO thought he was contrite enough and had expiated for his sin. Hem was more western than Indian, a ‘Brown Sahib’. But I have seen him in the mess, not quite inebriate but not quite sober either, singing-although he was no exactly a Paul Robson-and making other Bengali youths of his squadron line-up and sing with him the popular Bengali patriotic song: “Dhana dhanye pusgpe bhara”. His flying had the stamp of his personality. It was competent and a little over confident. While at OUT Peshawar, he was flying an Anson when he spotted a small caravan of Pathans on their camels, a common sight in that area. Hem was suddenly possessed by one of his whimsical moods. “Let’s get those buggers off their camels”. He was the CO. Nobody could contradict him. So he did what he said. He started flying so low over them, swooping down repeatedly that those poor men did ultimately dismount, made their tall awkward animals sit down and in fear anger and misery and sat themselves down beside their frightened and puzzled animals………one could almost hear the choicest Pushto abuses. Hem, older than most people in this set-up had quite a standing. Even apart from his age,, which sometimes gave rise to some difficult situations. After a flying accident at the station, the Station Commander prohibited low flying. But Hem with his entire squadron did a low flying beat-up at Peshawar. The argument of course, with a wink and a twinkle in the eye was that, if the boys are scared of low flying even in a peace station, how on earth will they fight a war? And where else, if not at an Operational Training Unit?”

Sqn Ldr. Hem Chaudhuri served in the squadron up to 5th June, 1944.

On 1st January, 1945, he was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’.

After the World War II was over, he opted for an early release from the Indian Air Force. On 27th October, 1945 the Air force was sad to see the back of one of its most respected, illustrious and distinguished Officers after logging over 2000 hours of flying in seven different types of aircraft

He went back to Calcutta and re-joined Andrew Yule and Co. Nevertheless, his passion for flying remained alive till his very end. He joined the Bengal flying Club. Air Chief Marshal PC Lal I his above mentioned book describes Hem’s fateful end in the following words:

“One fine day (on 28th March, 1949) he went up and was flying over the river. He swooped down in a dive from which he failed to pull out, plunging strait into the water. It was that with his flamboyance, he tempted fate once too often. Was it a mechanical failure? It was a premature end of a colourful man and a warm personality, loved by the men he led”.

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