The Malaysian fighter pilots

The Talalla Brothers

“Kindly send us news of them at your earliest convenience…as their father, five brothers and I are most anxious about them.” 

This is an extract from a letter written by Lily Talalla to the UK Air Ministry in September 1945.

Photo of Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Talalla, standing in front of his North American Mustang III.
Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Talalla

Writing from Malaya (now Malaysia), she seeks information on the whereabouts of her two sons – Flight Lieutenant Cyril ‘Jimmy’ Talalla and Warrant Officer Henry Talalla – who she had last seen years earlier.

The brothers had departed Singapore in 1941 to train as pilots with the Royal Air Force, after the British put out a call for Commonwealth forces to join the battle to liberate Europe.

It is thought that their father, a Malayan Sinhalese businessman of Sri Lankan origin, had encouraged them to sign up.

After passing the Royal Air Force’s rigorous entrance test – and becoming the first Asian and non-European aviator to do so – Jimmy underwent flying training in Canada. Henry soon followed him.

From there, they went on to England, where Jimmy served as a fighter pilot and Henry became a fighter-bomber pilot.

They both flew on missions over mainland Europe before D-Day and took part in the Normandy campaign, with their tasks including the destruction of German radar stations and attacks on rail and road transport.

Warrant Officer
Henry Talalla

By the end of the war, for his service and bravery, Jimmy had been awarded a distinguished flying cross and bar, but Henry was sadly not to survive the campaign to liberate north-west Europe.

After a successful bombing mission over Normandy, he was sadly shot down and killed. He was buried at Banneville-la-Campagne British War Cemetery, and his grieving father erected a memorial to him at the crash site, which also lies next to a country lane that bears his name.

Graves at the Banneville-la-Campagne cemetery will be lit up on 4 June as part of ‘The Great Vigil’ initiative being run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in partnership with local towns.

This story has been contributed by Dr Sebastian Ritchie, Deputy Head of the Air Historical Branch, Royal Air Force.

Refugee to elite Commando

Officer who ‘saved’ D-Day

The only medic on the beach