Sunday May 29, 2022

The faithful disciple

Meeting the creator, close to Easter and Good Friday, must be blessings for Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, who earned this honour on 13 April, like a faithful disciple. He was a fighter pilot in Pakistan Air Force (PAF), who remained outstanding and brilliant throughout his career. He earned laurels for aerial attack on Halwarra (Bharat) along with his Officer Commanding Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui and a colleague Flight Lieutenant Younus Hassan. He narrated this epic battle of 6 September, 1965 at the 50th anniversary of No 5 Squadron, the den of bravery from where he and his other two colleagues took off to neutralize the Indian airfield of Halwarra. By the time they were taking off, the Pathankot airfield had already been destroyed by another formation of PAF. There was a feeling the mission to Halwarra may be delayed as the enemy was on guard. According to Cecil, Sarfaraz Rafiqui, the OC, was committed to the orders of superiors and pledged. “Even if I have to go alone, I will proceed”. The faithful disciple strengthened his commitment by saying “Sir, I will accompany you, even if it is hell”.

The chivalric triad was intercepted by a swarm of Indian aircraft with flakes and barrages of firepower all around in the sky. Cecil stated that during the encounter Sarfaraz Rafiqui shot one Hunter aircraft. Simultaneously, Younus Hassan was engaged by another formation of enemy aircraft which was visible to him. Cecil informed the leader about another formation of two enemy aircraft advancing towards them. Rafiqui said “Boy just keep my tail cleared; we will sort them out.”

While attempting to shoot the aircraft in range, suddenly the firing guns of Rafiqui got jammed. He preferred to stay in the war theatre asking Cecil Chaudhry to take over the command as a leader. Rafiqui then took over the position of No 2 for ensuring the tail clearance of Cecil. Now Cecil as No 1, acted smart by shooting another Hunter aircraft in sight. He by then had lost sight of his Officer Commanding. The battle was still on when another formation of aircraft charged Cecil with all their ammunition. Cecil jinxed and they both overshot him. Cecil was not going to spare them anyway, so he shot at them claiming another enemy aircraft to his kills. He called out Rafiqui, but there was no response. He saw Younus shooting another enemy aircraft in the sky. He asked Younus about the whereabouts of Rafiqui, which were also unknown to him. Cecil asked Younus to keep his tail clear while they neutralized the remaining enemy aircraft in air. Before aiming at the third kill in a row, he heard a thud behind, looking back it was evident Younus had been hit. Cecil did not see Younus bailing out. He immediately realised, running short on fuel and had to land 65 kilometers back. As a seasoned veteran, he managed to out-maneuver the aggressors and land back with a sorrowful thought of losing his OC and a colleague in action. Cecil continuously participated during the remaining war and shot an Indian Canberra aircraft on 15 September, 1965.

Cecil Chaudhry was born on 27 August, 1941 to a Roman Christian Catholic family of village Dalwall in the Salt Range area. His father Elmer Chaudhry hailing from East Punjab was a chief photographer of The Times, Lahore. Elmer Chaudhry also taught physics and mathematics at the St Anthony’s High School, Lahore. Cecil received early education at the same school. He earned his BS degree in physics from Forman Christian College, Lahore. He earned his glider pilot’s wing as an Air Scout in 1956 and joined the PAF Academy Risalpur on 12 March, 1958 in the 23 General Duty (Pilot) course. He was graduated as a Pilot Officer in June, 1960 and was posted to No 2 Squadron at PAF Base Masroor (Mauripur) for Fighter Conversion Course. His first posting as a professional was in No 5 Squadron, where he remained for five years till the war of 1965. The squadron was well prepared to take on the challenges of war. Cecil was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat after the war of 1965.

After the war of 1965, he took over as Flight Commander No 5 squadron and served wholeheartedly till he was posted to No18 Squadron. After his service at this squadron, he underwent “Flight leaders’ School” and later was posted to No16 Squadron. During the war of 1971, he took so many strike missions successfully. In one of these missions, his aircraft was hit, but he managed to eject safely near the border. He was picked up by Pakistani troops deployed there and was repatriated to his squadron. Despite his ejection, a day earlier he preferred flying war missions the very next day. He would say “We would land after a tiring war mission, take Nimboo-Pani and would again take off for another war mission.”

During his later career, he also commanded the famous No 9 Squadron (The Griffins). He also served as Deputy Director (Operations), OC Combat Commanders’ School and Directing Staff at the Air War College.

After retirement in June, 1986, he followed the footsteps of his father and joined “Punjab Education Foundation” as an educationist. He also served as Principal St Anthony’s School, where his father had served and he got early education. He was also appointed as Principal St Mary’s Academy, Lalazar, Rawalpindi. He remained an active human rights activist working for the welfare of special children and their education. He was also selected Secretary of All Parties Minorities Alliance (APMA) since its inception. He was also affiliated with the National Commission of Justice and Peace and played vital role in restoration of Pakistan’s Joint Electorate System in 2002. He also acted as a mentor for the famous human rights activist Shahbaz Bhatti.

Cecil got married to Iris Chaudhry in 1965. He was blessed with three daughters and a son. The daughters names are Michelle, Carol and Merlyn. His son Cecil Chaudhry (Junior) remained with National Committee for Peace and Justice for several years. His daughter Michelle founded “The Cecil and Iris Foundation (CICF)”, a non-profit NGO working for eradication of injustice in the society by advocating on behalf of the under-privileged, under-represented and marginalized groups.

He breathed his last on 13 April, 2012 and was conferred “Pride of Performance” by Govt of Pakistan in 2013, a distinction which only a few enjoy after retirement from the armed forces of Pakistan. He was given a befitting service funeral at the Lawrence Road Sacred Heart Cathedral. He is buried with full military honors at the Jail Road’s Christian Cemetery Lahore. A portion of Lawrence Road was also dedicated to him in 2014.