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Saga of gallantry: Know about the first Indian DFC

He went to England from Calcutta with his parents when he was less than two years old. But he made all Indians proud by his gallantry during the First World War. He was the first Indian to win the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFO), posthumously. Let us pay our respect to Indra Lal Roy, the gallant Officer of British Air Force, on his death centenary.

Tourists! During your next visit to Kolkata (earlier Calcutta), visit Municipal Ward No. 72 in Bhowanipur area of South Kolkata. You will find a road named Indra Roy Road. Ask people about Indra Roy. The youngsters will fail to answer. The old-timers would say that he was a fighter pilot. You press for details, nobody would be able to give a definite answer. So, let us know about Indra Lal Roy, the first Indian who won the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) posthumously only at an age of nineteen during the First World War.

Born in a distinguished family

Indra Lal Roy was born in a wealthy landlord family of Barisal district of present Bangladesh. But his family was settled in Calcutta. Indra Lal's father, Pyare Lal Roy was a famous barrister of the city and at the time of birth of Indra, was the Director of Public Prosecution. His maternal grandfather, Dr. Surya Kumar Chakraborty, was one of the first Indian doctors of western medicine. Indra's elder brother Paresh Lal Roy (1893-1979) joined British Army's artillery wing and served during the First World War. He was later known as the ''Father of Indian Boxing''. Indra's mother Lalita Roy, also became very famous in England as a leader of Saffragette movement which demanded voting rights for women. Indra was born on 2nd December, 1898 in Calcutta.

The family shifted to London from Calcutta

Pyare Lal Roy was deeply influenced by the British education system. He shifted his entire family to London from Calcutta. So, Indra, along with his brothers and sisters, settled in London in 1901. Paresh and Indra did their schooling from St. Paul's School for Boys at Hammersmith. Both the brothers were physically fit, mentally alert and brilliant students. Immediately after completing school, Paresh joined the Artillery regiment of British Army. Indra was very impressed by his elder brother and got himself enrolled in the cadet force of his school. In the school, he designed a trench mortar and sent the design to the War Office of London when the First World War just started.

Indra joined Royal Flying corps

As already stated, Indra was a meritorious student. He was awarded a scholarship by Oxford University. But he chose to join the British Air Force, which was known as Royal Flying Corps at that time, the totally new branch of the British military. But he was rejected on the ground of defective eyesight.

Indra Lal was not disheartened. He sold his motorbike and got himself treated by the best eye surgeon of England of that time. He cleared the eye test and got Royal Commission on 5th July, 1917. After the training, he was posted to 56 Squadron under Captain Richard Maybery.

Indra Lal's daring performance during the War

The very young Indra Lal was popular among his comrades as 'Laddie'. He started flying S.E.5 in France. When he started making his marks, his plane was shot down by a German fighter. He was initially thought to be dead, but his sense returned when his body was in the morgue. He recuperated in an English military hospital and rejoined his unit. During this phase, his performance was nothing short of remarkable. In thirteen days, Indra Lal (Laddie) achieved ten victories out of which eight were single-handed and two were shared.

This young Bengali breathed his last on 22nd July, 1918 in an unequal fight against four German aircraft. He was buried at Estevelles Communal Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais in France. His grave bears an inscription in Bengali: 'Mahabirer samadhi, sambhram dekhao, sparsha koro na' (This is the grave of a very courageous warrior, pay respect; don't touch it) Indra Lal was awarded the DFO posthumously for his gallantry. He became the first Indian who received this award.


Indra Lal (Laddie) Roy died very young, but fortunately his legacy continued. His nephew (son of his elder sister) followed his footsteps and joined Royal Air Force. After the independence of India, he became the first Air Chief of Indian Air Force. Perhaps Indra Lal Roy felt very proud in Heaven over the achievements of his nephew, Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee.

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