Hardit Malik

First World War


Hardit Malik, or the ‘Flying Sikh’ as he became known, was the first Indian pilot to join the RFC. Born on 23 November 1894 in Rawalpindi in India, he was sent to England at the age of 14 to complete his education. Here, he attended Eastbourne College and went on to study history at Oxford. A keen sportsman, he played cricket for both his university and the county of Sussex.

With the outbreak of war, Malik was determined to serve, and volunteered for the army. His race proved a barrier, however, and he was rejected by the army twice. Seeking service elsewhere, Malik was accepted by the French Red Cross and later applied to join the French Air Service. His former university tutor, Francis Fortescue Urquhart, was outraged by Malik’s treatment and wrote to the Commander of the RFC. Malik was subsequently given an ‘honorary’ commission as a Second Lieutenant and posted to No. 28 Squadron on the Western Front in October 1917. Just weeks into his posting, Malik accompanied his flight commander in an attack on an enemy airfield. While Malik did successfully shoot down one enemy aircraft, the poor weather conditions and unexpectedly large numbers of German fighters led to a challenging encounter that resulted in Malik’s aircraft being hit by at least 450 bullets. For the rest of his life, Malik had bullet fragments lodged in his knee. He was briefly posted in Italy, but returned to England in February 1918 after developing an allergy to the castor oil used in the engine of his Sopwith Camel. Here, he joined No. 141 Squadron and flew two-seater Bristol Fighters on Home Defence duties. A few months later, in the summer of 1918, Malik went to France, where he remained for the duration of the war.

Officially credited with two kills (although he claimed six), Malik was one of only four Indian pilots to fly with the RFC. He was the only Indian aviator that survived the First World War. Following the war, Malik enjoyed an accomplished career as a civil servant and diplomat. He was involved in the early discussions that led to the formation of the Indian Air Force.

On 30 October 1985, at the age of 90, Malik died in New Delhi.