Hibbitt & Barnes Family History

The Quetta Earthquake Of 1935

C N Ellen Index Page

NOTICE: WANTED - Flying log books and militaria for Air Commodore C N Ellen - if anyone reading this knows the whereabouts of the flying log books, or any other items, for Cyril Norman Ellen, we'd be enormously grateful if you would get in touch.


Page Contents:
The R.A.F.'s Account of the Earthquake
Entry in Cyril Ellen's Pilot's Flying Log Book
The Ellen Family Travels Home
Photograph of Memorial Tablet
The Certificate which Cyril Ellen received from the Viceroy of India
The Kaisar-i-Hind Silver Medal Awarded to Gladys Ellen
Photographs of the Aftermath of the Quetta Earthquake


The 1935 Balochistan earthquake occurred on 31 May 1935 at Quetta, Balochistan, British India (now part of Pakistan). The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.7 Mw and anywhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people died from the impact. This ranks as one of the deadliest earthquakes that hit South Asia. The earthquake caused destruction in almost all the towns close to Quetta, including the city itself, and tremors were felt as far as Agra, now in India. The largest aftershock was later measured at 5.8 MW occurring on 2 June 1935. The aftershock, however, did not cause any damage in Quetta, but the towns of Mastung, Maguchar and Kalat were seriously affected. (Wikipedia).

Cyril Norman Ellen was the Squadron Leader of No. 5 (AC) Squadron which was based at Quetta when the disaster struck. His wife, Gladys Lily Ellen (nee Gardner), was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Silver Medal for her part in the rescue effort. Their seven year-old daughter was with them in Quetta and escaped unhurt.

Sqn Ldr C.N. Ellen and some of the Ground Crew of No 5 (AC) Squadron, presumably taken before the earthquake
Sqn Ldr C.N. Ellen and some of the Ground Crew of No 5 (AC) Squadron, presumably taken before the earthquake.

The R.A.F.'s Account of the Earthquake

The following is an excerpt from the RAF Operations Record Books (1913-1935) for No. 5 (AC) Squadron.

An Account of the Baluchistan Earthquake May 31st, 1935

The time at which the first shock of the earthquake occurred is given officially as 0306 hours on 31st May, 1935. The night was fine but dark as there was no moon. The main tremors of the Earth seem to have travelled from South to North, their Westward effect being limited, to a great extent in the Quetta Cantonment, by a deep Nullah, called the Duranni Nullah, running North to South through the Cantonment immediately East of the Fort. Though many buildings West of this line were damaged none were wrecked in the way in which those on the East suffered.

The Royal Air Force lines comprising No. 3 (Indian) Wing, No. 5 (AC) Squadron and No. 31 (AC) Squadron were in the direct line of the Earthquake. The Single Officers Quarters and some of the married quarters were situated about a mile and a half from the Airmen's Barracks. Owing to the fact that they had comparatively small rooms they either withstood the shaking long enough to allow the occupants to escape before they collapsed or else were only partially destroyed. Thus although the majority of the occupants were partially buried or slightly injured, only one was so seriously hurt that he could not go to the assistance of the less fortunate families in the Lower quarters. These bungalows, situated South of Quetta - Pishin Railway Line about 3/4 mile from the Airmen's Barracks all suffered very badly. The inside walls and ceilings collapsed at the first shock jambing all the doors. The windows, which were usually kept open at night, were covered on the outside with strong extended steel netting to keep out thieves. This proved just as effective for keeping the occupants in and some time was spent releasing these families and making the injured comfortable as 
The R.A.F. Lines
The R.A.F. Lines
possible. The greatest shock awaited the rescue party when it reached the airmen's lines. What had once been the Airmen's Barracks was now nothing but a series of detached heaps of brick rubble with the tin roofs resting, torn and twisted on the top. A few survivors were wandering among the ruins in a stunned condition, calling to trapped inmates. A few were desperately digging down with their bare hands trying to release their buried friends. In all, not more than 50 men were clear of the wreckage, most of these were injured. The rescuers started work under three great handicaps, firstly there was no light, great clouds of dust, cut off what little help they could have hoped for from the stars, all electric light cables were down, dawn did not come until about 6.30 a.m. Secondly, they had nothing to dig with except their hands and were mostly dress [sic] only in pyjamas, few had shoes and nearly all had been cut, or bruised by broken glass and falling bricks. Thirdly, their work was continually being undone, by fresh tremors, which occurred at frequent intervals during the first few hours, often reburying a victim who had just been on the point of release and forcing workers hurriedly to vacate the Neighbourhood of any wall or roof. As many of the men could only be reached by crawling under roof trusses or through holes torn in the corrugated iron sheeting, into positions from which rapid exit was impossible, rescue work was very dangerous and the courage with which men who had only just been dug out returned, in pitch darkness, into these dangerous positions was beyond praise. Immediately before dawn a battalion of the Punjabis, who had been on a night march, came to our assistance and, as they brought with them their trenching tools, were of immense value and greatly speeded up the rescue work. At about 8 a.m. a section of light tanks arrived and were at once set to work pulling the heavy roofs off the ruins. This also was of great value in enabling rescue workers to get into the centre of the wreckage. The last survivor was extracted at noon. The last body was removed at about 4.p.m. A bull terrier was found alive and uninjured 36 hours after the disaster when search was being made for kit and personal belongings. It was found that many of the victims died from suffocation. The ceilings of the bungalows were made of mutty nearly one foot thick held in position by wire netting. This mutty caused a great cloud of dust among the ruins and may [sic] of the men, who were under Mosquitoe [sic] nets, were unable to breath [sic] owing to the dust and tightness of the nets over their faces. The wire netting and mosquitoe nets also hampered the rescue workers who, having no cutting instruments had to tear them away by main force. If possible the buildings occupied by the Indian Air Force personnel and followers were in an even worse condition than those of the British Airmen and not a single man escaped uninjured. Owing to the fact that many of the followers had entire families sleeping in their quarters the death roll was enormous and it is impossible to give an accurate estimate of the casualties in this part of the camp. The only Officers killed was the Orderly Officer, Pilot Officer Charles R. Paylor who had joined the squadron only two months earlier. He was sleeping in No. 3 (Indian) Wing Orderly Room down at the Airmen's Lines and the building like all the other officers, collapsed at the first shake.

The Total Royal Air Force dead were:-
1 Offficer.
53 British Other Ranks.
2 Children -  One the son of F/Lt. Biggs.
                 One the daughter of Captain Biles, W.E.O.
Indian Other Ranks and followers.
The Officer, 22 B.O.Rs and 17 I.O.Rs and followers were on the strength of No. 5 (AC) Squadron. All the bodies of the British Dead were buried in a communal grave in the church yard at St. Mary's, Quetta.

The aircraft hangars which were of steel construction stood up to the earthquake, though most of the brick walled flight offices fell in or were damaged. Such was the violence of the shaking, however, that all the aircraft had been thrown about inside and dashed against each other or into the walls. Inspection showed that only three out of the twenty seven held by the wing were fit to fly.

After some hours work these three aircraft were extracted from the hangars - the doors, which had come off their rollers, were opened by light tanks. By 10 a.m. the machines were in the air. One flew down to SIBI with the first news of the disaster, the main wireless station being out of action until mid-day. The pilot inspected the railway on the way down and found that it was undamaged. The second aircraft flew to Fort SANDEMAN and the third flew round the QUETTA neighbourhood, trying to locate the extent of the damage. The main effected area was found to extend about 70 miles South from QUETTA many small towns and villages being completely wrecked. The death roll was later estimated as 56,000 of whom 25,000 died in QUETTA.

During the next few days, every Squadron in India sent aircraft up to QUETTA laden with Doctors, nurses and medical supplies. They returned carrying injured women and children. The Officer Commanding, No. 3 (Indian) Wing now arranged for the evacuating of the remnants of the Wing and, during June, the entire R.A.F. personnel less a small salvage party were moved to R.A.F. Depot, Karachi. Eighteen aircraft were flown down and six more were sent by rail. From Karachi a small number of the injured men and the majority of the married families were sent back to the U.K. Early in July, the Air Officer Commanding R.A.F. India, inspected those members of the Wing who were fit to parade. These totalled about seventy five. The following day His Excellency the Viceroy, Lord Willington [sic], inspected the Wing and congratulated them upon their magnificent display of courage and endurance after the Earthquake. Early the following year a certificate signed by the Viceroy was presented to each member of the Wing.

The following is a list of the casualties of No. 5 (AC) Squadron:-

Pilot Officer C.R. PAYLOR.
365065. Corpl. Wilton, W.
342873. Corpl. Brunsden, G.
505293. Corpl. Parry, G.
512368. L.A.C. Fleisig, D.
511114. L.A.C. Gelder, N.
514398. L.A.C. Pendlebury, J.
560583. A.C.1. Craig, A.
513903. A.C.1. Neave, C.
516906. A.C.2. Carter, L.
505155. Corpl. Cope, H.
345445. Corpl. Henderson, D.
513125. A/Cpl. Wilson, T.
561772. L.A.C. Jones, O.
563010. L.A.C. Miller, R.
514364. A.C.1. Trainor, G.
564026. A.C.1. Lunt, J.
516547. A.C.1. Ratcliffe, J.
516437. A.C.2. Percival, H.

Flight Lieutenant W.A. Opie.
Flying Officer E.B. Waddy
401589. F/Sgt. Sargant, W.
343884. Sergt. Seaton, T.
357151. Corpl. Fenn, B.
560119. Corpl. Frost, R.
590310. L.A.C. Garston, D.
514309. L.A.C. Deacon, T.
563033. L.A.C. Bigg, F.
590193. L.A.C. Denney, C.
511930. A.C.1. Smith, S
335337. Sergt. Phillips. W.
560256. Corpl. Reeves, T.
560049. Corpl. Cockwell, C.
565737. L.A.C. Farmer, K.
560390. L.A.C. Rees, W.
509986. L.A.C. Beattie, G.
511526. L.A.C. Lealy, J.
590976. L.A.C. Banks, A.

313273. Sergt. Taylor, C.
560525. A/Sgt. Burgess. J.
363968. A/Sgt. Carr, A.
560280. L.A.C. Harman, G.

2098. Gulzar Mohammed. 2165. Sadhu Singh.


June, 1935.

Digging for kit and the bodies of Indian Followers continued during the first week of June. For the first two nights the airmen lit fires between the ruins of their bungalows and slept in tents under whatever blankets and kit they had been able to salve. A strong guard assisted by light tank patrols was mounted to keep off the hordes of looters who were reported to be converging on QUETTA from all sides. By the 2nd the camp had become very insanitary. Decaying bodies in the gaol and nearby villages began to smell very strongly, drains were blocked and no sweepers were left alive. All work was carried out by men working with first field dressing pads tied over their mouths and noses. It was decided to evacuate the camp and airmen moved into tents in the Queen's Lines up the Staff College Road - a practically unaffected area. The Officers lived in tents on their Mess Lawn and had their meals in the open.

Evacuation of the R.A.F. started as soon as possible. The first air party, a formation of five aircraft left for Karachi on the 5th arriving on the 6th after a night at JACOBABAD. A second air party left on the 11th. An advance party left by rail on the 6th and a complete train of salvaged property with the main body of survivors left on the 9th. One aircraft of the first air party crashed on Karachi aerodrome and was completely wrecked.

A salvage party was left at Quetta, and a Flight from No. 20 (AC) Squadron at Peshawar was sent up as a security measure. Most of the Salvage party had reached Karachi by the end of the month.

Postings - Nil.

Total flying times for month. - 57 hours.

July, 1935.

On 1st July, 1935, only a small salvage party remained in Quetta collecting documents equipment and furniture. The remainder of the Squadron in Karachi continued to repair the damaged aircraft. This work was greatly hampered by shortage of toos [sic] and trestles. Three aircraft were repaired in Erection Hangar at Drigh Road and the remainder were housed in the Airship shed which lay vacant at Karachi Civil Air Port. Airmen were transported daily by lorry to and from the Airship shed.

A conference was held on 8th to discuss the future of the Squadron (See Appendix 1) On the 9th, Preliminary Warning Orders were received for the Squadron, on a two flight basis, to move to Risalpur, North West Frontier Province. By the middle of the month, two flights were up to strength, airmen being posted from No. 31 (AC) Squadron and from the reserve pool Karachi. On 13th Squadron Leader P.F. Fullard, D.S.O. M.C. D.F.C. took over the Squadron from Squadron Leader C.N. Ellen who was invalided home. Squadron Leader Ellen had commanded the Squadron for two years. On 16th? the Salvage party left Quetta and rejoined the Squadron. The flight of No. 20 (AC) Squadron remained behind for communication and co-operation duties. On 22nd an advance party left for Risalpur to arrange accommodation. Owing to the shortage of pilots, fit for flying duties, it was found necessary to move the aircraft in two parties. The first flight of four left on the 31st arriving the same day having refueled [sic] at Khanpur. The journey took 7 hrs 55 minutes flying time.

        13.7.35. Squadron Leader P.F. Fullard, D.S.O. M.C. D.F.C. to command
                   20.7.35. Flight Lieutenant R.K. Hamblin, for Signal Duties.
Departures.   15.7.35. Squadron Leader C.N. Ellen, D.F.C. Invalided to H.E.
                   20.7.35. Flight Lieutenant W.A. Opie.                -do-
                   20.7.35. Flight Lieutenant T.W. Hodgson.           -do-
Total flying time for Month. 38 hours.

Entry in Cyril Ellen's Pilot's Flying Log Book

The following entry appears just after a previous entry dated 28th May 1935...

No flying after Earthquake on 31.5.35 untill completion of leave and joining at Farnborough, ie. voyage home and 91 days leave except when flown from Quetta to Karachi:-
Date and Hour: June 20 0600-0955
Aeroplane Type and No.: VICKERS VALENTIA K.2340
Passenger(s): Self
Time: 3.55

The Ellen Family Travels Home

Cyril Ellen's last working day with his unit was on 18th July 1935 and he and his family left India on 20th July, sailing from Bombay on the Narkunda and arriving in London on 9th August. Cyril's sick leave lasted until 17th October and, on 10th November, he was posted to Headquarters, No. 22 Group, South Farnborough, for signal duties.

Memorial Tablet

This tablet commemorates those in No. 3 (Indian) Wing, Royal Air Force, who lost their lives in the Quetta Earthquake. The photo is amongst the family collection and is an official RAF photograph. However, the location of this memorial is uncertain, if indeed it still exists.

Memorial Tablet for those in No. 3 (Indian) Wing, Royal Air Force, who lost their lives in the Quetta Earthquake

The Certificate Which Cyril Ellen Received From The Viceroy Of India

As mentioned above, each member of the Wing received a certificate from Lord Willingdon who was the Viceroy and Governor-General of India between 1931 and 1936. This is the certificate which Cyril Ellen received.

The Certificate which Cyril Ellen received from The Viceroy of India after the Quetta Earthquake

The Kaisar-i-Hind Silver Medal Awarded to Gladys Ellen

Gladys Ellen received the Kaisar-i-Hind Silver Medal for her bravery which she displayed in the rescue work after the Quetta Earthquake.

Telegram to Gladys Ellen announcing the award of the Kaisar-i-Hind Silver Medal

The following excerpt was printed in the Muswell Hill Record & Friern Barnet Journal on 27th December 1935. Notices also appeared in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Western Daily Express and Flight Magazine during the previous month.

Newspaper article regarding the Kaisar-i-Hind Silver Medal awarded to Gladys Lily Ellen, nee Gardner

Here is the medal in its original box.

The Kaisar-i-Hind Silver Medal awarded to Gladys Ellen

Photographs of the Aftermath of the Quetta Earthquake

A number of photographs of the aftermath of the earthquake, taken by Cyril Ellen, can be viewed in the Barnes Family Picture Gallery.



C N Ellen Index Page

C N Ellen & G L Gardner Page in Barnes Family Tree