Christian heroes of 1965 war and beyond
Unfortunately, our young generation is not aware of the Christians’ role in either making or defending Pakistan
Pakistan marked the 50th anniversary of its second war with India and has paid tributes to the heroes of the 1965 war. The war lasted for 17 days and then ended in a stalemate after the Soviet Union and the US’s intervention. Though Pakistan annually celebrates September 6 as Defence Day, this year it was celebrated fervently and, according to the news, these celebrations are going to continue for a month. The Pakistani media continues to publish stories of the bravery and sacrifices of our soldiers and is broadcasting programmes paying tribute to them. In fact, the whole nation seems zealous and very proud of our forces.
While I was watching some programmes on television, I noticed that our young television presenters lack appropriate knowledge of Pakistani Christian war heroes. I felt that they were curious to know more about them and the more they learned, the more astounded they were. It was not their fault as we have been promoting hate against Christians and other religious minorities through our schools and colleges for the last several decades, and have become a different nation from the one envisaged by our Quaid. Pakistan has gradually developed its image as an Islamic country achieved for Muslims, making Christians and other religious minorities more vulnerable. Now they are under constant fear of their neighbourhoods, lives and churches being attacked.
Unfortunately, our young generation is not aware of the Christians’ role in either making or defending Pakistan. However, the truth is that Pakistani Christians have always been at the forefront whenever Pakistan has needed them; they fought shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers to defend their country whether in 1948, 1965, 1971, Kargil or Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The list of Pakistani Christians soldiers who fought courageously on different fronts against the enemy, even giving up their lives defending the country in the 1965 war is very long but, sadly, their stories are hardly published for political and religious reasons. This has resulted in dividing the nation instead of making it one great country as envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam. Today, many consider non-Muslims alien and even anti-Pakistani while the truth is that they supported Quaid-e-Azam in the making of Pakistan and played a significant role in building and defending Pakistan.
Pakistan has not always been like this; people used to live in peace and harmony. Christians have played an important role in all defence forces, particularly in the air force where many were promoted to high posts like Air Vice Marshal B K Dass who also signed the first air transport agreement with China. A few gallant and courageous officers were awarded with the highest honours like Sitara-e-Jurat and Tamgha-e-Basalat for their incredible services and sacrifices in defending their country in 1965.
Air Vice Marshal Eric Gordon Hall was commissioned as a pilot in 1943 but at the time of partition in 1947 he opted for Pakistan. He was initially posted to Risalpur and given the onerous task to help train and build up Pakistan’s air force. Through his vision, dedication and hard work, Eric rose to the prestigious rank of air vice marshal and the deputy chief of air staff and air attaché in the US. In 1965, when war was impending, he was aware of the lack of heavy bombers; to fill this gap he converted the air force’s C-130s to heavy bombers, which were made capable of carrying up to 20,000 pounds of bombs. To prove the efficacy of the use of C-130s he led the first bombing mission successfully over Kathua Bridge on September 11, 1965 and the higher command authorised 13 more similar missions. Eric G Hall was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat in 1965.
Air Commodore Nazir Latif graduated in 1950 and in 1965 he led the most challenging raids including the successful attack on Ambala inside Indian territory. On two occasions, his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft guns but after a successful attack he flew back and landed safely. For his exceptional flying skills and valour the government of Pakistan conferred the Sitara-e-Jurat on him. Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat was commanding the number Nine Squadron during the 1965 war and believed in leading from the front. For his leadership and devotion to duty he was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat in 1965. Cecil Chaudhry graduated in 1960. He was the son of Faustian Elmer Chaudhry, a famous photographer who witnessed the 1940 Resolution of Pakistan and was an active member of the movement for Pakistan. In 1965, Cecil was working as a flight commander (training) under renowned Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui when war broke out. He busied himself flying numerous close support missions to ward off the Indian ground attack against Lahore and Sialkot.
When Cecil and his comrades, Rafiqui and Yunus, reached their target of Halwara they were intercepted by numerous Hunter aircraft of the Indian air force. During the engagement, Rafiqui’s guns jammed and he handed over the lead to Cecil. The three fought bravely but sadly Rafiqui and Yunus were shot down while Cecil managed to return safely after shooting down a Hunter. The loss of his mentor Rafiqui and friend Yunus enraged Cecil and he fought the rest of the war aggressively and with determination. For his acts of courage, dedication and professional ability, Cecil received the Sitara-e-Jurat.
Squadron Leader William Desmond Harney joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Academy in 1957 and, during the 1965 war, he voluntarily undertook 14 bombing missions including the most dangerous ones to Adampur, Halwara, Jodhpur, Pathankot and Ambala. Against the odds, he always reached his targets and hit accurately. For his display of extreme courage and professionalism W D Harney was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat.
Squadron Leader Peter Christy served as a B-57 navigator and flew a number of successful operational missions in 1965. On December 6, 1971, Squadron Leader Peter Christy was detailed as navigator for a bombing mission to Jamnagar. He failed to return from the mission and was officially declared missing in action. For his personal example and complete devotion to duty he was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat.
Apart from the PAF there are many army and navy officers who fought in the 1965 war like Colonel Tressler at Chamb sector, Colonel K M W Herbert at Zafarwal and Shakargarh, Colonel K M Roy at Bedian, Brigadier Anthony Lamb at Khemkaran. Brigadier Austin, Colonel L C Roth, Lieutenant Colonel Derick Joseph, Major Ramon and Brigadier Austin were awarded the Tamgha-e-Basalat.
It is for scarcity of space that only a few names have been mentioned in detail but the rank and file of the PAF, navy and army officers is full of names of Christian officers. It is interesting to note that out of a total of 70 Sitara-e-Jurats awarded to PAF officers in both the wars, seven were won by Christian officers. The tradition continues today as the mantle has been passed on from generation to generation; there are several Christian officers who are fighting against terrorists and will continue fighting for their country whenever their country needs them.
It may be an astounding revelation for many, but if Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif wants to see his action plan about eradicating extremism and protecting minorities succeed, then the government must appropriately mention Christian services and sacrifices in school and college curriculums. It is in the best interest of the country and the best tribute to our Christian heroes.