India’s First ‘Ace’ Fighter Pilot

- July 21, 2020

By Samyukhtha Sunil In the wake of the Great War of 1914, India, like most other European colonies, was not spared the devastating amount of damage and destruction across its territory. Over one million Indian soldiers were deployed to fight battles both within the country and overseas. Over a span of four years, the war cost the lives of nearly 74,000 Indian soldiers. Very few Indians served in the Royal Air Force and were trained to fly combat jets at that point in history. Amongst them was a gifted fighter pilot whose legacy went on to be recognized as ‘India’s first fighter ace’; Lieutenant Indra Lal ‘Laddie’ Roy was the youngest and the only Indian fighter pilot to be awarded the title of ‘ace’. 102 years on, his story of pure bravery and valour stands strong.   Indra Roy was born on December 2, 1898, in Kolkata to Piera Lal Roy and Lolita Roy. The Roy family was influential and illustrious with most of its members having tasted success either in the field of bureaucracy or sports. Having done most of his growing up in London, Indra Roy was still in school in 1914 when war was declared.  As a bright teenager, Indra was determined to serve in the war and signed up for the cadet forces in his school. Indra turned down a scholarship from the prestigious Oxford University and did not let anything stand in the way of his dream of becoming a fighter pilot. He was enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps after two long-drawn attempts. With his exuberance, charm, and undying determination to learn, he swiftly climbed through the ranks. He also became wildly popular amongst his fellow pilots. Roy was soon flying over parts of France and dared to perform dangerous manoeuvres way ahead of his experience. However, on December 6, 1917, Indra’s fighter jet was shot down by the Germans in France and he lost consciousness and endured a severe injury. The doctors declared him to be dead, sending his mortal remains to a morgue.  In a dramatic turn of events, Indra, in fact, was not dead and regained consciousness while he was still at the morgue. He banged loudly on the morgue door, terrifying the morgue owner who only let him out upon the arrival of medical officials. Despite his miraculous return from death itself, Roy was deemed unfit to fly and was asked to prepare for a long journey towards recovery. Even in those moments, it is believed that his passion for fighting in the war remained unwavering. He invested the majority of his recovery period designing aircrafts that prioritized the safety of the pilots that operated them. He created innumerable sketches of aircrafts during t...

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