Yesterday night I was taken aback by the news of Arjan Singh passing away to cardiac arrest. I mean it was just weeks back when we saw him at the Rashtrapati Bhawan during the induction and swearing in ceremony of His Excellancy Ram Nath Kovind.
Marshall of Air Force Arjan Singh (98), who was also the last surviving 5 star rank officer (apart from Field Marshalls Sam Manekshaw and K.M Cariappa). Commissioned in 1939 he was from one of the first batches of native Inidan Officers to fly Spitfires of RAF in WW2. He was also the last surviving Indian officer, who was a combat fighter pilot in WW2, also won Distinguished Flying Cross in Arakan Campaign (1943).
On 15th August 1947 he led a squadron which flew it’s formations over Red Fort.
Post independence he played an important role in setting up the early phase of IAF. In 1965, he became Air Chief Marshall only at 45 years, which is still the youngest for any 4 star rank Officer across all three wings of Armed Forces of India. The 1965 Indo Pak War saw first time full scale deployment of the Indian Air Force and Arjan Singh played the pivotal role, shepherding IAF as the erstwhile Air Chief Marshall.
Going by various neutral sources and post war assessment tribunals, IAF sorties accounted for greater kills over PAF head to head, despite subsonic Folland Gnat and Hawker Hunters being inferior n outdated to transonic F86 Sabres. Thus hadn’t it been for the IAF’s hawk eyed vigil & kill under the marshalling of Air Marshall Arjan Singh, Pakistan’s Defence Day (6th September) wouldn’t have been a figment of fictional hoax.
Post war he held the post for 5 years, which is till date longest serving tenure of an Air Marshall and retired in 1970, at the age of 50.
Post retirement, he became a diplomat and served as India’s Ambassador to Switzerland & Vatican, High Commissioner to Kenya and also was Delhi’s Lt. Governor.
All of these incidents happened before i was born. So reading and writing about these facts are simple narration of historical facts, anecdotes and events. But the incident which left an indelible mark in my memory was the one which unfolded on the morning of 27th July 2015 at Palam air base. Here we had the corpse of our Greatest people’s President (83) resting in his coffin, and a functionally paraplegic wheelchair bound geriatric, thirteen years senior to late Prez, pulled a la’ Carl Brashear (Men of Honour) i.e. “to Stand up by the wheelchair and Walk” to pay homage and respect to Abdul Kalam. That was indeed a surreal moment and remembering and writing about it still gives me goosebumps. This will go down as one of the most powerful yet poignant images of the Twenty First Century.
Rest in Peace Marshall Arjan Singh (1919-2017)