Navy officer Ian makes history in India

Royal Navy officer Captain Ian Lynn is the first Briton to be honoured by Indian’s premier seat of military learning.

The long-serving warfare officer received the Colonel Pyara Lal Medal from India’s National Defence College for his study into maritime security in the region – the culmination of months of learning and hard work.

The college in New Delhi takes on 100 students each January for its senior officers’ course – both military and senior civil servants, including 20 international students.

It’s regarded as the pinnacle of learning, with competition for places fierce, so merely to be accepted is an honour.

Nine out of ten students also choose to complete a Master of Philosophy degree underwritten by Madras University at the same time – which demands they submit a thesis.

And the best paper submitted earns the college’s sole award: the Colonel Pyara Lal Medal, presented this year to Captain Lynn, only the fifth international student to win in 60 years, and the first Briton. 

“It was a huge surprise and honour to have been given the award, I knew that I had made the final ten, but given the stiff competition, I was certainly not expecting to be conferred as top-student.”

The college aims not only to impart training in national and international security related fields, but gives military and civilian services the chance to meet, exchange ideas and gain a better understanding of each other’s worlds – and challenges – both in peace and in war.

The pandemic threw a spanner in the works of many of those plans, but before lockdown students were able to complete the ‘economics module’ of the course; Ian was in a party of ten which visited the state of Sikkim on the border with China.

India is fabulous on so many levels. I can’t wait for the next stage of the adventure.

Captain Ian Lynn

India’s initial lockdown was strict – and guillotined six other planned trips, although studies continued in isolation.

Ian’s wife Tina returned to the UK to be with the couple’s children and it was three more months before he was able to meet up with a few Indian officers or fellow international students in a small ‘social bubble’.

“It was a very strange time for everyone. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a very supportive crowd; the comradery I had from my peers and newfound friends was superb,” said Ian, who’s served much of his career in the Portsmouth area.

Having previously commanded patrol ships HMS Mersey and Dumbarton Castle and the Royal Navy’s Fishery Protection Squadron, plus National Maritime Information Centre, and been on the writing team for the UK’s National Strategy for Maritime Security, Ian decided to draw on his skills and knowledge.

His thesis examined the role of India’s newly-formed International Maritime Fusion Centre’s – which concentrates on security of shipping in the Indian Ocean region – in supporting the Commonwealth powers’ national security.

Despite Covid restrictions blocking most physical access to experts and facilities, he was able to engage with a range of personnel around the globe to obtain information and relevant data.

And the pandemic prevented his attendance at the valedictory service at the course’s end when the medal winner is announced; his wife tested positive for Covid, forcing him into quarantine.

“I only knew that my thesis had been chosen when a flurry of congratulatory messages came through on my phone,” he said.

“Obviously, I was disappointed not to have been there in person, but then that kind of sums up 2020.”

Roughly one third of international students take up diplomatic defence roles in India on completing the course, Captain Lynn included: he’s now the UK’s Naval and Air Advisor to India, travelling throughout the country from his base in the British High Commission in New Delhi.

“India is fabulous on so many levels. The next three years should be great from both professional and personal perspectives,” he said. “I can’t wait for the next stage of the adventure to unfold; that I will do much of it with Tina is a massive bonus – bring it on.”