Armed forces

Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh: Finding Glory in the Skies While Firmly Rooted to the Ground

In addition to his military and diplomatic achievements, Singh was a commander who worked for the well being of veterans.

Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh. Credit: Doordarshan/Twitter

Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh. Credit: Doordarshan/Twitter

When IAF Buglers sound the Last Post today, the nation will have bid farewell to one of its true sons and the Indian Air Force an iconic leader and the only one to don the uniform of Marshal of the Air Force (MAF).

At one level, perhaps I am not qualified to write about a person under whom I never served directly and with whom I shared no personal experiences. At another level, however, for some 11 years of my service in the squadrons, I was a field observer of the MAF as commander and senior leader. I can also claim of one proud and rare distinction. MAF Arjan Singh commanded the No. 1 Squadron and later the Air Force Station, Ambala. I had the privilege to follow in his footsteps and command both, although each nearly three decades after him.

The 1950s and early ’60s were a crucial period, coinciding with the IAF evolving technologically and adapting to the jet age with its associated operational and technical challenges. On more than one occasion I was witness to his visits to us in the field and on most he made it a point to fly himself in a Canberra and crawl out in white overalls, with his staff officer in tow. The Canberra itself was a new jet bomber and, unlike those of us who had gone through jet conversion, the MAF had learnt the skills whilst additionally handling his command responsibilities.

Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh. Credit: Doordarshan/Twitter

Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh. Credit: Doordarshan/Twitter

To see the commander emerge from the cockpit, discussing post-flight issues with the technical staff like any other aircrew, not only made his visits appear more informal and put people at ease, but also made it possible for him to establish an immediate rapport with the operators in the field, gain their confidence and get a first-hand feel of how the IAF was adapting to the challenges and how the leadership must respond. Having broken the ice, it was far easier for him to discuss operational and technical problems and remedial measures, if needed. It was this one lesson in informal IAF leadership that I found most rewarding when later in life I was tasked with similar command responsibilities.

The MAF’s contribution in the Burma campaign, to the IAF’s consolidation to a modern force and to the nation’s victory in 1965 are well documented, as are his services in the diplomatic field.

One area that has not found enough mention is his continuing concern for the welfare and well being of IAF veterans. When the MAF and his family sold land in Delhi, they established the ‘Marshal of the Air Force and Mrs Arjan Singh Trust’ with a corpus of Rs 2 crore to be managed by the president of the Air Force Association. The proceeds are being utilised for the assistance of ex IAF personnel and their dependents that may be in need.

Marshal of the Air Force Singh has made his last take off into the blue skies beyond. To all those who were privileged to have been touched by his life, he showed that it was possible to touch the sky with glory even with your feet firmly rooted to the ground. It is for the air warriors of today and the future to carry the legacy of the MAF forward.

May his soul rest in peace.

Brijesh D. Jayal is a former air marshal of the Indian Air Force