We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Pink, Richard Charles Montagu (1888–1932), air force officer, was born at Hyde Cottage, Hyde Street, Winchester, on 30 November 1888, the son of , architect and president of the Architectural Association during 1885–6, and his wife, Florence Anna, née Browne.

Pink, whose father died soon after his birth, was educated at St Aubyns, Eastbourne, and Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, before joining the Royal Navy as a midshipman in 1904. He was promoted sub-lieutenant in 1908 and lieutenant in 1911. From 1909 he underwent training on submarines, a relatively new form of naval vessel. He was stationed on HMS Vulcan at Dundee at the time of his marriage, on 27 June 1912, to Marie, the daughter of Henry Wrigley JP, of Oldham and ‘Chislehurst’, Branksome Park, Dorset, with whom he had two sons.

On the outbreak of war in 1914 Pink joined another innovative naval arm, the Royal Naval Air Service, where he worked on the staff of the Admiralty air department. In November 1915 he was promoted flight commander and in June 1917 squadron commander. In 1919 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and appointed CBE for his services during the war.

With the creation of the Royal Air Force (RAF) on 1 April 1918, Pink transferred to the new service as a staff officer. The immediate post-war era was an uncertain time for the fledgeling RAF. During the period of post-war retrenchment, both the army and the navy saw an independent air force as a drain on scarce resources. The survival of the RAF depended on finding a distinctive role and this was found in the colonial theatre.

Early in 1920 RAF units were involved in a mission directed against the Dervish leader, Muhammad bin Abdullah Hassan (‘the Mad Mullah’), who had been terrorizing British Somaliland since the late 1890s. After bombing Dervish strongholds the RAF joined with ground troops in pursuing and destroying the Mullah's demoralized force. The success of the RAF's involvement in Somaliland allowed a policy of air policing in overseas territories to be introduced. It was an attempt to cut the defence budget by reducing the number of troops stationed on the ground.

In November 1921 Pink was stationed at the aircraft depot in Aboukir in Egypt. In November 1923 he became a wing commander and took control of 2 (India) wing at Risalpur on the north-west frontier. The frontier was one of the largest and most important imperial defensive roles. There was a constant effort to subdue troublesome tribes in the region. In July 1924 operations were undertaken against sections of the Mahsud tribes of southern Waziristan. By October most had submitted except for the Abdur Rahman Khel tribe which continued to raid army posts with support from three other tribes.

The air officer commanding in India, Sir Edward Ellington, decided to conduct air operations against the rebels but without the customary army ground support. This would be the first independent air action by the RAF. Ever since the overthrow of the ‘Mad Mullah’ the War Office and the RAF had argued over which service had been the primary cause for the victory. So the outcome of the action in Waziristan was watched with interest, there being consequences for future policy.

Operational command for the campaign was given to Pink who established his headquarters at Tank, with 5 squadron of Bristol F2Bs. He flew to the forward base of Miramshah, home to 27 and 60 squadrons of DH9As, where he gave a briefing to all personnel to outline the forthcoming operations. This form of briefing was unique at the time and on its conclusion prompted a spontaneous and unprecedented round of applause. Operations began on 9 March 1925 after warning leaflets had been dropped on the local population. Pink's plan had three elements: intensive air attacks on rebel villages; an aerial ‘blockade’ to prevent the rebels from entering safe havens; and night bombing by moonlight to ensure there was little respite. During fifty-four days of operations some 2700 hours were flown and 250 tons of bombs dropped.

By the end of April 1925 the rebellious tribes sued for peace, and they agreed to terms at a meeting held at Jandola on 1 May. It was the effect of the air attacks on rebel morale and the interruption to their daily life, rather than the number of rebel casualties, which was regarded as the chief factor in bringing about their submission. The campaign was a success for the RAF. An inconclusive campaign in 1919 had resulted in 1329 casualties whereas the latest action had been carried out with just two men lost. Sir Hugh Trenchard, the chief of air staff, was delighted with the outcome as it proved the RAF could police the frontier alone and gave support to his campaign for increased resources.

The whole operation became known as ‘Pink's war’ after its highly regarded commander. During his many flights over the target areas Pink composed a piece of rhyme entitled ‘Waziristan, 1925’. The chorus ran:
Don't you worry there's nought to tell
'Cept work and fly and bomb like hell,
With hills above us and hills below
And rocks to fill where the hills won't go,
Nice soft sitting for those who crash
But war you call it?—don't talk trash!
War's a rumour, war's a yarn,
This is the peace of Waziristan.
(Bowyer, ‘Pink's war’, 20)
For his role, Pink was promoted group-captain in November 1925 and posted back to duties in England. In July 1929 he became commanding officer at RAF Manston. In July 1931 he was appointed air commodore and took up a senior staff post at the air defence of Great Britain command, Uxbridge. However, he fell ill shortly afterwards and died of cancer on 7 March 1932 at the Princess Mary's RAF Hospital, Halton, Buckinghamshire.

Pink's early death, in the opinion of many senior RAF officers, denied the service a potential future chief of air staff. He was a highly respected officer, ‘genuinely popular with all ranks, flexible in thought and courageous in decision’ (Bowyer, RAF Operations, 180). But his legacy was assured with the action at Waziristan which took his name—Pink's war.

Richard A. Smith

Sources  

C. Bowyer, ‘Pink's war—the turning point’, Aircraft Illustrated Extra, no. 6 [n.d., c.1971], 17–20 · C. Bowyer, RAF operations 1918–1938 (1988) · Official history of operations on the north west frontier of India, 1920–35 (1945) · D. E. Omissi, Air power and colonial control: the RAF, 1919–1939 (1990) · M. Armitage, The RAF: an illustrated history (1993) · Navy lists, 1905–19 · RAF lists, 1918–32 · WWW · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert. · Boase, Mod. Eng. biog. [Charles Richard Pink]

Wealth at death  

£127 14s. 11d.: probate, 16 Nov 1932, CGPLA Eng. & Wales