Defender of Pakistan

Published: November 11, 2012
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Soldiers of Pakistan. Men of honour. Defenders of the motherland. They are aplenty, as are their stories. Each story unique, each man precious, each one a hero. But some of them stand out even among the multitude of heroes. Mervyn Lesley Middlecoat was one such hero — a martyr. a patriot, a non-Muslim defender of the land of the pure.

Soldiers of Pakistan. Men of honour. Defenders of the motherland. They are aplenty, as are their stories. Each story unique, each man precious, each one a hero. But some of them stand out even among the multitude of heroes. Mervyn Lesley Middlecoat was one such hero — a martyr. a patriot, a non-Muslim defender of the land of the pure.

It is almost symbolic how this story begins. The war hero Mervyn Lesley Middlecoat was born aboard a train as it stopped in Ludhiyana while travelling to Lahore from Delhi on a warm July morning in 1940. This was to be his destiny: to move from one point in time to another; to shuttle between one expedition and another.

The fourth child of Percy and Daisy Middlecoat, he never had the chance to know his father, an Anglo-Indian railway officer, who passed away when little Mervyn was only two years old.

Lahore was Mervyn’s home now, and he received his early education at Saint Anthony School and joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) after graduation. Very early on, he started to shine bright among his contemporaries. As he passed out of his 16th General Duty Pilot (GDP) Course in 1954, he won the Best Performance Trophy in ground subjects — an honour for any cadet.

An officer and a gentleman, Mervyn also set the bar high when it came to moral standards. He was a fearless warrior but was soft spoken when it came to personal interactions, and had good conversational abilities. Milestones were to follow. On September 27, 1957, young Mervyn married Jane, the daughter of a Christian Anglo-Indian family from Karachi. The couple was popular and happening, known for being attractive, cultured and well-liked throughout the PAF. They were often chosen as hosts, alongside the Air Chief, for the official guests of the Air Force. An addition to this storybook family came when, on October 21, 1959, a daughter named Leslie Ann Middlecoat was born to the couple. Six short years later, war broke out.

The 1965 war was a difficult time for the young nation. It not only brought us face to face with our greatest fears, but it also brought to the surface the palpable presence of heroes whom Madam Noor Jehan dubbed “humaray watan ke sajeelay jawano” in her morale-boosting songs. Mervyn, then Flight Lieutenant (better known as Commander Lesley), was deployed at Masroor Base, Karachi at the onset of the hostilities.

It didn’t take long for the war to come home. When the Indian Air Force attacked Karachi, the PAF sent F-86 Sabre aircrafts to defend the skies. True to form, Mervyn was flying one of those aircrafts.

In the dogfight that followed, Mervyn shot down two enemy aircrafts, a feat for which he came to be known as the ‘Defender of Karachi’. He was then deployed at Mushaf Air Base, Lahore, where he was given the command of Squadron 9. During the three-week war, he kept his squadron’s spirits high with the firm conviction of a commander who leads from the front. He performed an impressive series of seventeen ‘Air Sorties’ and three ‘Photo Reconnaissance’ missions. At the end of the war, he was awarded the richly deserved “Sitara-e-Jurat” for his bravery and professional leadership.

But bias and bigotry does not spare even heroes and patriots. In 1967, while Mervyn was deployed at Sargodha Air Base, his 8-year-old daughter Leslie was rehearsing for a debate competition in her school about ‘Love for the Country’. As she spoke, another child stood up and said: “This country is ours, not yours!” These six words struck little Leslie like a bombshell. Ours? Yours? Didn’t Pakistan belong to all those who loved her?

She slapped the child hard. “How dare you say this is not my country?” she shouted at the boy who had interrupted her so rudely. As a child born to fierce patriots, she had always heard her parents expressing their love for the country. Once, Jane had suggested to Mervyn that they move abroad, saying: “All your siblings and my family have emigrated, and we are alone in this country. Maybe we should also think about this.” To this, Mervyn had replied firmly: “Listen, this is my country; I was born here; my ancestors are buried here. I have spent my life defending my country; perhaps I will sacrifice my life for this country one day as well. I am not going anywhere.” No wonder then that when Leslie heard that child, it shocked her into tears of rage that continued to fall even as she returned home. “This is my country,” were the words she kept repeating like a mantra.

In the afternoon when Mervyn got back home from work, his wife told him about Leslie’s traumatic day. He tried consoling his 8-year-old daughter as best as he could: “Listen my child, don’t quarrel with such people; rather forgive them and make your own morals and character so high that their voice does not disturb you, and that your energy does not get consumed in these petty matters. Secondly, this is our country. Look at the flag of Pakistan — this green part belongs to your friend, who was beaten by you, and that white part is yours, which is connected with the pole through which this flag is hoisted. Therefore, we should continue to hold on to this white part firmly, so that the green part would continue to remain hoisted in free air.”

There was never a dull moment in the life of this war hero. Prior to the 1971 war, Mervyn was the Commanding Officer of the 26 Squadron, deployed at Peshawar Base before going on a deputation to Jordan. When war broke out once again, he left this attractive post and returned to Pakistan to fight alongside his comrades.

Early in the war, the PAF high command devised a plan to take out the Indian Air Force’s radar capability by attacking the heavily defended Jamnagar airbase. Of the six pilots selected for this near-impossible mission, one was Mervyn, who now held the rank of Wing Commander. On 12 December 1971, a day after he returned to Pakistan, Operation: Amritsar Radar was launched.

When Mervyn, together with his colleagues, was busy strafing aircrafts of the Indian Air Force at the base, they were set upon by IAF MiGs. Forced to abort the mission, Mervyn narrowly avoided two incoming missiles by lowering his altitude and increasing his speed. But when his aircraft was near the Gulf of Kutch, a third missile hit him. According to Flight Lieutenant Bharat Bhoshan Soni, the pilot who shot him down, Mervyn managed to eject from the aircraft and fell into the sea below. Soni radioed for a rescue team, but by the time they got there, Commander Lesley was nowhere to be found and was declared ‘Missing in Action’.

Upon his martyrdom, he was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for the second time. His widow also received a personal letter from King Hussain of Jordan, praising Mervyn for his heroic services. He wrote, “Sister, the passing away of the Shaheed is not only the loss of you and Pakistan, but also mine. It is my wish that when he is buried, his body will be wrapped up in Pakistan’s flag, but the flag of my country Jordan must be placed below his head.” His daughter, the indomitable Leslie, still has this letter in her possession, guarding it like a precious treasure.

For five long years, this martyr’s wife and daughter waited for him at 57/II, Khyber Road, the home they shared with Mervyn at the Peshawar base, in hope and anticipation of his miraculous return. They would make sure that his clothes were ironed and his slipper was placed in front of the bathroom — as if he would walk through the door any minute.

But he did not return, and after years of fruitless waiting, his loyal wife passed away on June 27, 2011. Their daughter Leslie recalls that whenever her relatives would call and insist that she move abroad with her daughter, her reply would always be the same: “This is my country.”

As for Leslie, she has never forgotten the words her father spoke to her when she was eight. “I cannot leave my country,” she says to this day.

“I must uphold the pole which hoists the white part of Pakistan’s flag, so that the green part can continue to remain high in free air till the end of time.”

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 11th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • wonder why
    Nov 11, 2012 - 2:35PM

    Stories like these do bring a tear to the eye as young men in their prime sacrifice their lives and what hurts the most is that these selfless individuals give their lives for alot of people who are very selfish indeed. Just not fair but I suppose their sacrifices are for the betterment of humanity? Sometimes i do wonder though.

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  • Noble Tufail
    Nov 11, 2012 - 2:54PM

    Salute and respect for the hero.

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  • KHUSHI
    Nov 11, 2012 - 4:09PM

    Salute u sir and ur family too.Pakistan needs real hero like u.May you be bless with higher ranks high above.

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  • Zeeshan Khan
    Nov 11, 2012 - 5:03PM

    It’s tragic what we’ve done to the non-muslims in our country.They’ve sacrificed so much for Pakistan and what have they gotten in return? Terrorist attacks,accusations of being Western agents,suspicions cast on their loyalty to Pakistan.
    It’s high time we stopped treating our non-muslim population as second-class people.It’s time we started treating them as equal Pakistanis who have an equal right to life,education and employment as any Muslim has in Pakistan.

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  • Maj Usman
    Nov 11, 2012 - 5:16PM

    Salute to you Sir

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  • Ammar
    Nov 11, 2012 - 8:51PM

    A true Hero for Pakistan.
    @ Author: Excellent piece. Very well written.

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  • ZZQ
    Nov 11, 2012 - 9:54PM

    Salute to the Hero! Thanks author for bringing this impressive story to our knowledge.

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  • Nov 11, 2012 - 10:33PM

    Well Said , but unfortunately for some .The white part which holds the pole and keeps the green high up in the sky does not matter , for them its just a color of the flag , like all the rest of the flags in the world.And for some its green that all matters cause for them the green part covers the whole flag,that’s the only color that seems to be there.

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  • Parvez
    Nov 11, 2012 - 11:21PM

    An excellent and much needed article.

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  • Nov 12, 2012 - 4:15PM

    RESPECT!!

    It is sad to know that even though we have a free media, heroes like these are not remembered on 6th Sept events. I urge the mainstream media to trace out Ma’am Lesley and bring her to limelight so that our nation knows who did what for whom. Gp Cat. Cecil Ch was also an unsung hero and there are many others as well. I believe its the duty of the mainstream media to give them projection, Honour the fallen and Respect and honour the ones they left behind.

    I would also like to ask Ma’am Lesley if she can give us an account of Gp Capt. Mervins’ Jordanian service. I think he was one of those fighting the Israelis in the 1967 Arab Israel war. The PAF got a lot of fame for their services to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

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  • Roger Elston-Green
    Nov 13, 2012 - 11:09AM

    Reading this article about my uncle brought tears to my eyes. I hope and pray that Pakistan comes through its latest crisis in the form envisaged by its architects and prove his ultimate sacrifice worthwhile.

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  • Nov 13, 2012 - 12:02PM

    My special thanks for the writer to bring this to lime light, I also agree with Farooq Qazi and request that “Ma’am Lesley” to found out and brought to media on & 7th September ” so that she may forget the incident of the past. and remain charged with the sentiment of LOVE FOR THE COUNTRY.

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  • Salman Malik
    Nov 13, 2012 - 1:19PM

    I’m Muslim and I want my children to read this story in books,first article on ET I liked the most

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  • Nawab Gaddhinasheen
    Nov 13, 2012 - 9:38PM

    We Muslims must respect these Christians when they fight for us and our Islamic republic.

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  • Najeeb Khan [PAF Retired]
    Nov 13, 2012 - 10:37PM

    As a contemporary and colleague of Mervyn L. Middlecoat, I can assure the writer that he has very ably brought back to life the personality and character of Middlecoat. The article also hightlights the narrow vision that some of the inhabitants of the country entertain. However, I hope that there are enough Pakistanis who do value, appreciate and share the feeling that all Pakistanis are equal. A big pat on the back to the writer to have picked up this topic and done such great justice to it.

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  • Hamid Khawaja
    Nov 13, 2012 - 11:01PM

    There are some inaccuracies in here but the tribute to Wing Commander Middlecoat, SJ (Bar), is absolutely justified. He was one of our best officers and pilots. A thorough gentleman, a true patriot and a good commander. I am fortunate to have served under him and flown with him. Religion never got in the way; we respected him for what he was. He is perhaps the only officer who was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat in both the wars (1965 and 1971). Mrs. Middlecoat was a gracious and caring lady and they made a fine couple. Everyone knew them. He was one of the pioneers of the PAF Starfighters (F-104) and commanded the Starfighter Squadron. The PAF shall never forget him and will always be proud of him.

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  • Syed Tabay Abbas Hamdani
    Nov 14, 2012 - 8:33AM

    It was a wonderful read, very well written and thought of. Salute to Wing Commander Middlecoat. Thank you very much for putting this article up. This is what we should talk about. How we have settled in Pakistan with such sacrifices for the motherland not regardless of what faith we follow and by what name we remember God as. I am deeply moved after reading this article and very happy to see such literature still existing. Hats off to Azam Mairaj.

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  • Tasavvur Mangat
    Nov 14, 2012 - 11:15AM

    Don’t have words to express my feelings. I am confused about whether to be proud of what great people we as a nation have had or to be killing myself for being born in this thankless country where such selfless souls as Wing Commander Middlecoat are left to be forgotten. I am ashamed to realize that I never knew there was a name ‘Middlecoat’ in my list of heroes. I thank the writer for this piece.

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  • Nov 14, 2012 - 3:30PM

    I salute the author for writing this article about my wonderful brother. The minor inaccuracies are not important, he took the trouble to research much about Mervyn. Thank you from my heart for recognising and appreciating Mervyn as a Shaheed of Pakistan and for the little story about his daughter, Lesley, who is a true patriot like her father. I too , like Mervyn and Lesley, love Pakistan and I am so proud of all the good people there who still respect the worth of heroes like my beloved, missed and lost brother. He was indeed a special human being who lives forever in my heart.
    Thank you once again for honouring his memory.

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  • Nov 14, 2012 - 3:52PM

    A heartfelt thank you to the author for bringing to the public view and doing honour to my beloved, missed and lost brother, Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat. A truly special human being. I was deeply touched by the article and I am glad that my niece, Lesley, was mentioned as she, like her father, is a true patriot.
    I too love Pakistan – my children were born there; I experienced its birth. I live in UK but my heart is divided in its loyalties to both countries.

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  • Shahid Nisar (ex-PAF)
    Nov 15, 2012 - 10:34PM

    An excellent article, minor inaccuracies not with-standing. Such pieces must be given more publicity atleast because of the quagmire that we have brought ourselves into. Such articles must be brought into our schools and colleges so that the new generation knows who our real and true heroes are.

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  • Flavian Rego
    Nov 17, 2012 - 9:57AM

    Mervin’s in-laws lived at 81 The Mall, Lahore , and I was their neighbour. Jane’s nephews Jerry and Michael Carmen were my best friends and we knew him as Uncle Mervin
    .Often Mervin used to buzz our locality with his plane …Havard / T37/ Sabre???( being close to Lahore Airport).
    It was a cold dark night during the 1971 war ( we were observing a black out) that there was a knock on our door . It was the telegraph man with a telegram …..
    Wing Commander Mervin Middlecoat has been awarded the SJ. Bar( posthumous) . Since Mervin had provided 81 the Mall as his next of kin forwarding address, the grim news arrived here, only to be received by me a lad aged 21, who could not sleep, due to the night bombardment sounds .
    Since Mervin’s in- laws had moved to Stamp House, Karachi, years earlier, I jumped on my Dad’s cycle, and returned the cable to the Central Telegraph House on the Durand Road , and provided the duty clerk with an address of his sister-in law Ms. Mcleod ( married to a Colonel) living on Haider Road Rawalpindi. I do not know whether the telegram got to them.

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  • Nov 17, 2012 - 2:40PM

    @Hamid Khawaja:

    It is wonderful to read these comments of appreciation about my brother Mervyn. He was indeed a very special person in many ways. It is wonderful to know that so many people in Pakistan remember him and honour his deeds of valour.

    Thanks to all for posting on this link.

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  • Tyrone Tellis
    Nov 23, 2012 - 7:19PM

    He did not fly in the 67 war but here’s the details abt the Pak assistance to Jordan

    Assistance to Royal Jordanian Air Force

    In 1968 Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) had inducted F-104 A&B Starfighter Aircraft and a request was made to Pakistan Air Force to convert RJAF pilots on the aircraft along with leading some pilots to Instructor Pilot status. This started PAF’s association with Jordanian F-104s. As the RJAF Starfighters started arriving at Prince Hassan Air Base (H-5) in USAF cargo airplanes and were being assembled and test flown by test pilots from Lockheed Martin, the PAF pilots deputed to RJAF started the pilot conversion program. Standard Operating Procedures, Flight Orders, Check Lists, Flying Syllabus, Boards and Charts, and all other operational aspects that were required for the establishment of fighter squadron were created and initially 15 pilots were converted, including Major Ihsan Shurdom who later rose to command the RJAF.

    King Hussain of Jordan, himself a keen aviator was a regular visitor to the F-104 squadron. This association with RJAF turned out to be very useful in later more testing times for PAF.

    http://www.pakdef.info/pakmilitary/airforce/1971war/F104inPAFService.html

    Check out here for more on the other lesser known Christian heros

    http://www.pakdef.info/forum/showthread.php?13180-PAF-Related-Discussion-Jan-Dec-2012/page17

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  • Nuhammad Arshad
    Nov 23, 2012 - 10:16PM

    With tears in my eyes, I want to thank the author for writing this moving story, salute Mervyn Lesley Middlecoat for his sacrifice, and tell his daughter Leslie Ann Middlecoat that she is more Pakistani than any bigot who ever tells her she is not!

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  • Asif Raja
    Dec 13, 2012 - 12:19AM

    Azam Sahb,

    Perfect. Excellent narration of facts.

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  • hamid mirza
    Dec 13, 2012 - 12:30AM

    It has been a great honour to send a note on this topic. Indeed a lot of salutes for WC Mervyn. I present a special salute to his honourable daughter Leslie who is still clinging onto the passion of nationalism which her great father had imbued in her. She deserves rightfully the honour and a status from this nation of Pakistan. Salaam to you and we are proud to have such GREAT AND REAL PAKISTANIS amongst us.

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