The following article from “THE MARKER”, written by Group Captain “Dixie” Dean (January 1950), tells the story of 35 Squadron’s custom of using the word “Agla” to wish each other luck on operations during WWII.
A former squadron pilot has confirmed its usage, but it has not been possible to find any additional information, nor any photographs showing its usage.
“First thing to do is admit that I haven’t got a clue what Agla means. For many years now I have always evaded giving a direct answer to the question by a knowing wink and an air of profound mystery but now I have to put on record that the result of a long investigation has proved that not only do I not know, but neither does anyone else! I feel that I can acknowledge this shortcoming because a recent enquiry was submitted to the Daily Telegraph information service by the Pathfinder Association and no trace of its origin was known.
Agla means a lot to the older members of 35 Squadron. It was a fact that no crew went on operations without Agla. Agla was everywhere. Agla was the magic word for any and every crew. Agla always went. The method was simple, Agla was just chalked on the sleeve of the battle dress, or the front of the Mae West. It had to be freshly chalked for each operation and whilst the crews were hanging about waiting for crew buses, lots of pieces of chalk would be passed around, as the aircrew busily agla’d each other.
It didn’t stop there, for Agla could be seen written on the fuselage of every 35 Squadron aircraft, just under the tail plane
It all began about the time the Squadron moved to Graveley in the latter half of 1942. The Squadron was equipped with aircraft paid for out of funds collected by the ruler and citizens of Madras, and was, of course, known as The Madras Presidency Squadron. One day, the Potentate paid us an official visit, during which he is reputed to have said ” To you I say Agla,’ which means “God be with you.” Mind you. I never met anyone who actually heard him say this, but it was generally accepted as the origin.
Now, I was quite satisfied myself. It seemed to work too, certainly as far as I am concerned, but a little while ago I was browsing through a magazine which was featuring a story on witchcraft, illustrated by several old prints depicting unpleasant-minded people raising merry hell for their neighbours by devious means. One especially nasty looking character had had a particularly successful evening, judging by the varied assortment of demons surrounding him. His method was to draw a circle in the sandy soil by means of a stick, and, dividing up the circle, he proceeded to draw all sorts of strange signs and devices. I took a closer look and, prominent in the design, there it was—Agla
That is why I have written this. That is why I must find out more about Agla. I do hope somebody can clear the whole thing up. The mail will, I trust, produce a letter with the real meaning. Let’s hope it is not signed by Old Nick himself!
Suggested Possible Origins:
- A word from the Kabala formerly used by rabbis for exorcisms of the evil spirit. It is made up of the initial letters of the Hebrew words, Athah gabor leolam, Adonai, meaning, “Thou art powerful and eternal, Lord.” Among superstitious Christians, it was also a favourite weapon with which to combat the evil one as late as the sixteenth century. It is found in many books on magic.
- From Hindi: Forward or Advance
- From Urdu (which at the time of the Raj was one of the two official languages taught to Indian Army officers): Forthcoming
One airman’s memoirs (AJ Vial) states that the ramshackle hut used by the servicing flight was known as Aglavilla. It is not known if this has any connection with the use of the word Agla by the crews.
35 Squadron Reunion Photograph
A photograph in the June 1949 Marker Magazine shows a 35 Squadron reunion, where Agla is clearly remembered