Michelle Chaudhry has requested publication of this wonderful account of the life of Cecil Chaudhry, written by Major (Retd) Justin Sharaf. We publish the article to remember a former hero and mentor for our community and more so, to inspire the next generation:
In the history of Pakistan, there have been many great names who gave so much of themselves to, and for their country. In today’s convoluted culture, their stories will read more like fairy tales! But that is what legends are made of; “TRUE FAIRY TALES.”
In the history of the Pakistan Air Force, there never was, there is not and there never be one; like Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry!
Cecil was one of five Children, three sons and two daughters of F E Chaudhry, a journalistic legend himself. Cecil and younger brother Anthony joined the Pakistan Air Force and excelled.
Everyone had to strive beyond excellence because at that time, Pakistan had a few outdated aircraft and was greatly outnumbered by the Indian Air Force. In the company of “Shooting Stars,” Cecil rose head and shoulders above ever single aviator in the extremely competitive Pakistan Air Force.
It would take a big book to do justice to the achievements of my very dear friend, my hero and role model Cecil Chaudhry. However, I would like very briefly, to reminisce about who Cecil, a very devout Catholic, as a person.
As a dashing young Flight Lieutenant who excelled in flying, Cecil was selected to be the ADC (Aide de Camp) to the President of Pakistan, Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan. He was the envy of every young officer, but Cecil did not want this. When he took up his very prestigious appointment, the President instantly noticed the high caliber of the officer and said to him: “Cecil you must be very happy to be my ADC.”
Cecil replied; “Sir, I am NOT happy but I will do my duty with absolute loyalty, far and beyond the best of your expectations.”
Surprised the President asked; “Why are you not happy? This is an appointment that very few officers are ever considered for?”
Cecil replied, “Sir, I joined the Pakistan Air Force to be the best Fighter Pilot in the world; not to be a glorified Butler.”
The President embraced Cecil and sent him back to his Fighter Squadron.
A few Months later, the same President, would award the SITARA-A-JURRAT (Highest Award for a living combatant) to Flight Lieutenant Cecil Chaudhry of exceptional gallantly. In the 1965 war, Cecil had shot down the highest number of Indian Fighter Jets in Ariel combat.
Cecil was part of the “First Strike” Air Craft into India in both the 1965 and 1971 wars. On three separate occasions, he was the sole surviving pilot returning to base.
Soon after this, he went to the UK for an advanced training. The problem was that the Advanced Course” in the UK would be on the British made “Hunter Fighter Bombers”, which Pakistan did not have and India had many. So Cecil had to stop over in Jordan for a very brief familiarization on the Hunter Fighter Bomber.
He arrived in the UK and had to declare that he had no flying experience on the “Hunters.” The British thought he would not be able to complete the training because; all officers from every nation on this “course” were “ACE” pilots who had a minimum of several hundred hours of flying on this particular Jet Fighter. To make matters worse, Cecil was the “Poster Boy” at every party on the Royal Air Force Base, while all other students were in their rooms studying.
Cecil emerged from the “Course on the Hunter Fighter Bomber Jets” at the top of the class, with the highest marks ever in the history of the institution. He broke all existing records and to this day, holds the world record for “Air to Air” and “Air to Ground” targets. All this, when there were no electronic aids like “laser” or “camera guidance targeting systems” and aiming had to be done by the naked eye of the pilot, through the “gun sights” of the fighter aircraft.
He commanded the first Pakistani squadron of the Mirage 5 Fighter Bombers and led the first strike into India in 1971. During one such mission, his Jet Fighter was shot down and during ejection he broke four ribs. On reaching the ground he made his way to a Forward Pakistan Army Position and was taken into custody by the soldiers, who recognized and began to adulate him. Cecil demanded to be taken back to his air base. He was immediately hospitalized but he refused to stay there and with help from his brother Anthony, put on his flying suit again. Much against the passionate pleas of all doctors and senior and junior officers of the Air Force, Cecil refused to be in a hospital bed, when his country was at war!
He was in great pain, but insisted on being helped into the Cockpit of a jet fighter. With four broken ribs, Cecil carried out fourteen more Attack Missions deep into India before the 1971 war ended.
Once again he had the highest score of Indian Air Craft shot down in aerial combat. He was now awarded his second SITARA-E-JURAT.
Cecil was sent to the USA to train on the F-16 Advanced Jet Fighters. He amazed the Americans by not only finishing his course in half the time, but emerging at the top of the class among the best American pilots.
Cecil was adulated by the “Air Forces” in many countries. He trained fighter pilots in several Pakistan Friendly countries. He was given open invitations with “Blank Pay Checks” by several countries to come and train their pilots after he retired. However, being the consummate patriot, he chose to teach Pakistani Children in St. Anthony’s High School Lahore and St Mary’s Academy in Rawalpindi. He was also the founder of St. Mary's Academy for Girls and co-founder of St. Mary's College.
The Egyptian Government invited him to see the so called impregnable “BAR LEV” line, which the Egyptians breached as the only success the Middle East Countries had against Israel.
There is so much to say about Cecil, but one thing sticks in my mind.
As a young Lieutenant, I was on my way to erstwhile East Pakistan and had to board my flight from Karachi. I had a day to spare, so I stayed in Cecil’s home. He was the Chief Instructor at the Fighter Pilot School in Karachi so he took me along with him to the base. I waited while he was flying and when the pilots returned, all of them gathered for refreshments. Young pilots and old were huddled around Cecil in complete awe. Then someone said:
“Sir, I cannot wait for the day when you become the “Chief Of Air Staff.” Cecil smiled and politely replied:
“The only thing which will stop me from becoming the “Chief Of Air Staff” is the fact that, I am a Christian.”
Then he sat down on the carpet, and started to sing “TAPPAY” with his student officers. Later that night, along with his wife and three daughters, they drove with me to the Karachi Airport.
Cecil walked with me to the Commercial aircraft which was to fly me to my battle zone! He would often say, “I will see you at the TOP!”
Finally one of the most decent human beings and without a doubt, one of the Greatest Fighter Pilots the world has ever known, has been flown away.…………. Heaven Needed a Hero too!
And Cecil smiles down at us!
I shall see you at the Top Sir!