The Battleaxes, No. 7 Squadron of the Air Force, were the first squadron to get Vampire jet aircraft. In 1952 we moved to Jamnagar for training in firing guns etc. Another squadron of Spitfires was also undergoing similar training. Our Station Commander invited the Jamsaheb of Nawanagar to a demonstration of weapon aiming. We had seen the Jamsaheb once earlier at our home base. He was not only very majestic but also quite portly. We had all been dazzled by the eight anna coin size diamond buttons on his achkan.
The Jamsaheb was driven to the firing range where he watched Vampire jets and Spitfires firing bullets and rockets at targets on the ground. Over pre-lunch beer, the Jamsaheb expressed his disappointment with the jets. He said that he would not have been scared to stand at the target itself when the Vampires were firing their weapons. We were not known as Battleaxes for nothing. As the junior-most pilot I spoke up instantly and told him that a target his size we would have never missed. There was pin-drop silence in the tent which went by the name of the Officers’ Mess. Then the Jamsaheb showed his greatness. “Well spoken young man, I deserved that” he said, and burst out laughing. Suddenly my remark was found to be very funny even by the rest of my seniors.
A few days later, when leaving the club, I spotted a small cannon at the gate. In my slightly inebriated state I thought it would make a good souvenir for the Squadron. It was small enough for two or three of us to lift it along with its wooden frame and wheels and carry it off in our truck. The Jamsaheb was again very magnanimous. We got word that he was pleased to present it to the Battleaxes as a memento. The cannon was our proud possession for two years. Unfortunately, our armament specialist tried to fire it with make-do blank ammo on the anniversary of the Squadron. The cannon flayed out and broke into pieces. I sincerely wanted the cannon to fire just once more, but through our armament officer!
The loss of our memento was felt by all of us. I was the most grieved as I had got it in the first place. On our next visit to Jamnagar, I decided to get a replacement. The local state intelligence must have been very good. They already knew that I was around and determined to carry off another cannon. We never saw a single one anywhere in town.
One evening, we were listening to Scotty, the Jamsaheb’s personal pilot, who was a very good pianist. In the middle of some Chopin we ran out of liquid refreshments. Two of my colleagues and I volunteered to get fresh supplies from the mess. On our way out, we spotted a cannon beautifully laid out in a circle of white painted bricks. We oohed and aahed over it and in a jiffy carried it off to my room in the mess. Little did we realise that we were actually drinking in the palace grounds where Scotty had been allotted his house. The guards watched the whole operation with tolerant amusement. This time the Jamsaheb was away for treatment in Switzerland. The Rani Saheba sent us word that she realised that we were high spirited (literally) and that she was willing to forgive and forget if the cannon was returned within twenty four hours.
The next morning the big boss threatened us with dire consequences if we did not own up. One of my friends had also dropped a cap at the scene of the crime. There was no escape and I had to confess to the theft. I got fourteen orderly officer duties on alternate days, which meant among other things that you did not sleep at night, and found it difficult to get on to the flying programme. My only regret is that the Battleaxes still do not have a cannon.