The mortal remains of the only five star Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh were on 18 Sep 17 consigned to the flames with full state honours at Brar Square, New Delhi in the presence of political and military who’s who attending the solemn ceremony. The farewell tunes played by military bands, a Sukhoi aircraft fly past in the missing man formation (flown by air force at a funeral or memorial service to honour a fallen pilot or comrade), helicopter flyby carrying the IAF flag and a 17-gun salute marked the dignified ceremony with characteristic military precision. Arjan Singh had passed away in the Army’s Research and Referral Hospital suffering a cardiac arrest on 16 Sep at the ripe age of 98. Born at Lyalpur (now Pakistan) on 15 Apr 19 into a soldier’s family, his four generations lineage goes back to the military. His father and ancestors were all mostly from the Cavalry having served in the Royal British and then the Indian Army. However, he chose to join the air force when selected for the Royal Air Force’s Empire Pilot Course at Cranwell in 1938. His first posting as a pilot officer, after commissioning in Dec 1939, was at Karachi where he got a chance to operate against the NWFP tribals with his Westland Wapiti biplane. Thereafter, his indomitable courage and leadership was evident during the WWII Burma campaign. Initially, he flew as a pilot officer and later took over as the leader of the same squadron. It was here that Lord Mountbatten personally decorated him, in a unique ceremony on the battlefield, with the Distinguished Flying Cross describing him as a ‘fearless and exceptional pilot’.
His post independence distinctive career started with élan when the IAF called upon him to lead the fly past of more than 100 aircrafts over the Red Fort on the day of India’s independence in 1947. From then on, his dedication, flying and administrative skills kept pushing his career graph that rose to the pinnacle when he became the Air Chief on 01 Aug 64. It was his appointment at the helm of affairs, which brought out the best in him. Leading the IAF with qualitatively inferior aircrafts vis-à-vis Pakistan’s fleet in the 1965 operations, his astuteness, resilience and determination elevated the IAF to an advantageous air superiority position, after suffering heavy losses initially. Thereafter, he also shaped the future of the IAF after the war when he converted them from propeller to jet engine aircrafts. He had taken over the fledgling IAF as an Air Marshal and when the government upgraded the appointment, he became the first Air Chief Marshal of independent India and continued to serve until his superannuation in Jul 69. The grateful nation conferred on him the Padma Vibhushan for his meritorious service rendered during the war. He continued his mentorship and guidance to the IAF to become the first Marshal of the Air Force in Jan 02, a 5-star appointment given only to two army heroes, Field Marshals Manekshaw and Cariappa, before him. During his chequered military career he flew at least 60 different types of aircrafts through multiplicity of operational and peacetime conditions.
Even after his retirement, he continued to serve the nation in various administrative and diplomatic appointments. He went as India’s ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and then to Kenya as the Indian high commissioner in 1974. On his return, he served as Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor from 1989-90. In between, he also served as a member of the Minorities Commission. He was an awe-inspiring figure, both in his military career and in public life. The most touching moment of this was noticeable when he was wheel chair bound but still managed to lay a wreath and give his final salute to Dr. Abdul Kalam, his former supreme commander, in his full ceremonial regalia. The grateful nation paid a befitting tribute to the gallant air warrior whose legend lives on and will continue to inspire the future generations. Rest in peace Marshal, you gave your best to the Nation.