Four Miles to Freedom

Four Miles to Freedom by Faith Johnston

Book: Four Miles to Freedom by Faith Johnston Read Free Book Online
Authors: Faith Johnston
initial position to the pull-out point, we faced heavy flak. Being the number four in the formation, I saw the other three pull up safely. As I was rolling in to carry out my attack, I got hit by anti-aircraft artillery, lost control of my plane and ejected safely.’
    Like Dilip, Grewal was immediately surrounded by villagers who took his watch and other valuables and beat him. But since he had landed about a mile from the airbase, the military police were soon on the scene. He, too, was blindfolded and taken on a long overnight trip in an open jeep to Rawalpindi. After a short stay in a cell, he was taken, sleepless, to a press conference where he was questioned by reporters for various news channels, as well as senior PAF officers.
    â€˜Having noticed prominent news channels such as the BBC,’ says Grewal, ‘I was confident that my whereabouts and condition would be known back home and everywhere else. In fact, I found out later that my friends and family in the US and Canada saw me on TV.’ Most of India had no TV network at this point, but since Lahore’s transmission could be well received in border areas, his father in Amritsar soon heard that someone had seen his son on TV.
    And so began Grewal’s incarceration, a time that eventually became so boring that he was willing to risk a breakout. For about ten days he was alone and very cold. His flying overall had been taken away and he wore only pants and a shirt. During the night he could hear bombs exploding and ack-ack fire, indicating that the war was still on.
    During the day he would be taken for interrogation and two or three times he’d stood all night in a corner of the interrogation room because he had refused to answer certain questions. His guard, unlike the one assigned to Dilip, did not give him a break, and in the morning, when he was asked if he wanted tea, he said yes but the tea never arrived.
    He remembers well being questioned by Chuck Yeager. ‘This is not an interrogation,’ Yeager began. ‘I just want to ask you a few questions.’
    When Yaeger told Grewal his name, he was surprised that he didn’t recognize it. ‘I’m the man who broke the sound barrier,’ he said. ‘You’re a fighter pilot. You should know that.’Grewal thought the sound barrier had been broken by a British pilot called John Derry, but he knew enough to keep his mouth shut about that.
    Yeager was interested mainly in the Sukhoi’s fuel capacity and range. ‘How did you get so far?’ he asked, and ‘How well do the ejection seats work?’
    â€˜Well, I’m here,’ Grewal remembers answering, ‘so they obviously work pretty well.’
    Unlike Dilip, Grewal had had no childhood interest in flying. He had a most unusual family history, with many bumps along the way. He was born in Sheffield in 1942. His father had gone to England to study metallurgy before World War II. ‘He went to study metallurgy but got involved in matrimony,’ jokes Grewal. By the time the Grewals returned to India with their three young sons, it was 1947, just months before the partition of the country into India and Pakistan. They soon had to flee their home in Lahore and find a place for themselves in India. Grewal’s father found work in Indian Punjab, first in Ferozpur, and then in Patiala, but by the time they were settled, his English mother had had enough. She left India in 1950 never to return.
    Grewal owed his flying career to an uncle whose blue IAF uniform impressed him, and to the discovery of his somewhat latent talents. Although he had never done very well in school, in 1961 he sat for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams, without much hope, and he passed. When he passed the interview as well, he began training at the Air Force Academy in Jodhpur. ‘At the time I couldn’t ride a bicycle without having an accident,’ he remembers. ‘My father said, “How

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