Updated: March 13, 2021 10:34:11 am
Not many would be able to keep their head and keep maneuvering an aircraft especially after an enemy bullet slices through their cap, taking with it a chunk of hair. For Brigadier Furdoon Siavax Byramji Mehta (retd), however, it was just another day at the front during the Second World War and something that couldn’t deter him from flying into enemy territory again.
Named ‘Duck’ Mehta by his fellow officers after the fish Bombay Duck, the Brigadier who passed away in Mumbai on March 3, on his birthday, at the age of 101 years, had many firsts to his credit.
He was the first Indian Artillery officer to wear the wings of the Air Observation Post (Air OP), now known as Army Aviation Corps. He was the only Indian Artillery officer to have served with the 656 Air OP Squadron of Royal Air Force (RAF) in Burma and Malaya in Second World War. He was also the first Indian Commanding Officer of 9 Parachute Field Regiment, a command which he took over in 1947 at the age of just 27 years.
Born on March 3, 1920, Mehta joined the Indian Military Academy in 1938 and graduated in April 1940. He was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery and participated in the Second World War between 1942 to 1945, both in the traditional artillery role and in Air OP pilot’s role.
As a Captain, he trained as a pilot at the No 2 Elementary Flying and Training School (EFTS) at Jodhpur, which was established by then Maharaja of Jodhpur, Umaid Singh. Mehta was posted to the 656 Air Op Squadron RAF in Arakans, Burma, and later on the central front, which comprised Imphal plains in India.
Not averse to taking risks, it was in 1944 in Burma during the Second World War that Mehta narrowly escaped getting shot while flying too low on a recce to locate the position of Japanese soldiers. The bullets went through his cap, taking away a tuft of hair.
He also lost his way once, in February 1945, in the thick jungles trying to help an armoured regiment’s Colonel reconnoiter and risked crashing because he was flying without a compass. He decided to land an on airstrip, which still was still embedded with Japanese landmines marked with white crosses, because he needed fuel and a bearing to get back to an Advanced Landing Ground. Recounting the day in an article in the magazine ‘Freedom First’ some years ago, Brig Mehta said, “The Colonel asked me what the white crosses meant, so I said they were only mines and said I was going in for a landing. You should have seen his face!”.
Brig Mehta had a distinguished 29 year long career during which he also served as the Military Attache in Washington, USA from 1967 to 1969.
His military career saw him graduate from the Staff College in Quetta, now in Pakistan, in 1947, command a Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, becoming the Chief Instructor in Indian Military Academy in 1953, attending the Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) at Larkhill Salisbury UK from 1955 to 1956, commanding 25 Artillery Brigade Rajouri in 1957 and 27 Artillery Brigade in Jalandhar in 1958, among other achievements.
The last wish of Brigadier FSB Mehta was that an Indian Army bugler should play ‘The Last Post’ at his funeral. A wish that was honoured by the Army’s Southern Command.
Wreaths were laid on behalf of the GOC-in-C Southern Command, GOC-in-C Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa (MG&G) Area, Commanding Officer 9 Para Field Regiment and the Ex-Services Association Mumbai where he served as Vice Chairman for over 40 years.
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