He was one of the oldest surviving officers of the Indian Air Force with his service dating back to the epoch of pre-independence; one who had contributed to the Second World War, the First Kashmir War of 1948, the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971.
In newly independent India, Air Marshal Randhir Singh (retd) was awarded the third highest gallantry award – the Vir Chakra.
Months after the freedom fighters launched the Quit India Movement, a young Randhir Singh was commissioned into the erstwhile Royal Indian Air Force, as part of the 15th Course. The day was December 21, 1942.
He was first deployed as a Pilot Officer in No 3 Squadron to Kohat (now in Pakistan) in 1943, the North West Frontier Province. Here, he met the erstwhile Flight Lieutenant, late Air Marshal Arjan Singh.
At the time of partition, Randhir was a young flight lieutenant at the Risalpura air base, Naushera, near Peshawar (present Pakistan). Like most of his counterparts, he too was asked to choose between the Pakistani or Indian Air Force.
In an interview with The Times of India, he had said, “I, along with 21 other Air Force officers deployed in our airbase opted to go with the IAF.”
Days before the celebrations of Independence on August 15, 1947, a few officers including Randhir Singh were asked to shift their 12-aircraft Tempest fleet to Palam air base near Delhi.
And as the tricolour waved on the morning of August 15, declaring independence, Flight Commander Randhir Singh became a part of the first fly-past of RIAF aircraft over the Red Fort in New Delhi under the leadership of wing commander and acting group captain, Arjan Singh.
During the Jammu and Kashmir operations in 1947, as a No 7 Squadron Flight Lieutenant, he flew for 185 hours in the Tempest aircraft attacking Pakistani intruders, even as the enemy continued to fire. This earned him a Vir Chakra for his display of valour and courage.
According to an Indian Express report, equipped with the newly-inducted Electric Canberra as the Commanding Officer of 106 Squadron, he excelled in the strategic reconnaissance role and detected Chinese troop movements in Tibet, leading to the 1962 war.
He was commended for his service in both the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971.
Speaking to Man Aman Singh Chhina he revealed how proud he was of his achievement during the time he was deployed as an Air Commodore during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. He commanded the Adampur air base in defensive and offensive operations. Due to his well-planned and strong defence, the Pakistani Air Force could not attack the air base.
“Instead, the IAF squadrons on the base were successful in flying maximum attacking sorties in the western theatre of the war,” said Singh.
He was honoured with the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and Param Vishisht Seva Medal for his contribution to the 1965 and 1971 wars. Air Marshal Randhir Singh retired in April 1978 and settled down in Chandigarh.
After a prolonged illness, at the age of 97, the war hero breathed his last on September 18.
He was cremated with full military honours at the Sector-25 crematorium in Chandigarh, where his final rites were conducted by his bereaved son Wing Commander (Retd) Pradeep Singh. He is also survived by a daughter.
Parting is never easy. But these final moments help us reflect on the illustrious contributions of war heroes like Late Air Marshal Randhir Singh. There may be several reasons to mourn his departure. But how about we celebrate his life?
Man Aman Singh Chhina recalls his last meeting with the late Air Marshall in the following words:
“A fit man who took his daily walk seriously and drove his car himself till the very last, he commented casually about himself at that last meeting we had, ‘Aur 6-7 maheene reh gaye hain’ (another six-seven month to go). He got that nearly right, as usual. Farewell, sir, and happy landing.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)