Military & Aerospace

Lt. Indra Lal Roy, DFC. The Forgotten Ace
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 10 Apr , 2024

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A new book examines the life and times of the First World War aviator

Just a dozen years after the Wright Brothers took to the skies, an eighteen year old Indian pilot followed – flying the most advanced aircraft of the time. 

If that wasn’t enough, he then proceeded to shoot down 10 German aircraft over the Western Front.  Indra Lal Roy, remains to this day the most successful Indian fighter pilot.

And he remains, to this day, a forgotten man.

Indra Lal Roy was born in Calcutta, but did most of his schooling in England.  His father was a wealthy and successful lawyer who moved the family to London in order to give his sons the benefit of an English education.  That could be a springboard to a career in the Indian Civil Service, something that many upper-class Indians aspired to.

Roy’s future – like millions of others was disrupted by World War I.  He joined the Royal Flying Corps instead – one of just four Indians to do so.  In fact, these four were the first Indian officers to receive the King’s Commission (as opposed to the Viceroy’s Commission which was the norm).

After a false start and having recovered from injuries sustained in a crash landing, Roy managed to get himself posted back to the Western Front, flying SE5a fighters, the pinnacle of British aircraft design in 1917.  

It must be remembered that the life expectancy of a new pilot in a frontline squadron was just three weeks.  Lt. Roy scored his 10 aerial victories in just thirteen days.  A kill rate that has seldom been equalled, even by the top aces of the war. 

His end was, perhaps, inevitable; Roy was shot down and killed in a dogfight with a superior number of Fokker D.VII’s – the pinnacle of German aircraft design.  He was many months short of his twentieth birthday.

He is buried where he fell, in the French village of Estevelles.  An Indian hero, who deserves to be remembered.

A Song of Wings is a historical novel that strives to do just that.  While it is fiction, it is rooted in eight years of research into real events.  And real characters.  Hermann Goering is there, not the corpulent head of the Luftwaffe that he would later become, but the 22-victory fighter ace that he was in his youth.  In fact, he inherited command of Baron von Richthofen’s Flying Circus.

The central tension in the book is provided by the divided loyalties of that age; while Roy is flying for the British, in the India he scarcely knows, nationalists are fighting against the British Empire.

The story encompasses the failed Ghadar Mutiny and the German gunrunning efforts to ship 4,000 surplus American rifles to Punjabi revolutionaries.  This involves a leaky sailing ship on the US West Coast, the IRA and the Mexican bandit-turned-General, Pancho Villa.

It covers the last true cavalry charge — the Jodhpur Lancers at Haifa and it throws light upon Aurobindo Ghose’s bombing campaign in Calcutta, before his spiritual epiphany and the Pondicherry ashram.

Roy is at a crossroad in history and must face conflicting loyalties, racial prejudice, temperamental aircraft and the murderous skills of Germany’s best fliers. It is 1917, and in the perilous skies over the Western Front Roy comes of age and flies to his destiny.

A Song of Wings in both printed and eBook form is available on Amazon.

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