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Remembering Squadron Leader MS Pujji, a Sikh who joined the RAF and Fought in WW II
A Sikh Ace With the RAF
Some time back I visited the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford. In this museum, I first saw the photograph of Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji standing beside a Hurricane. The realization dawned on me that many Indians joined the Royal Air Force and served with distinction during the war. this is a fact that has not been given the publicity it deserves. The Indian government is silent because they would not like to publicize that their own citizens fought for the crown. The RAF has been plain indifferent; after all the war is over and done with.
Who was Mohinder Singh Pujji ?
Mohinder Singh Pujji was an Indian Sikh who flew the RAF planes during World War II. He passed away in 2010 and was one of the rare breed of pilots who loved adventure and did his bit for the war effort. Pujji was a fighter pilot and loved flying. His is a romantic tale that must be highlighted. Alas! Too many heroes are buried in oblivion.
Pujji was born in the summer capital of India in 1908 at Simla where his father was a high ranked civil servant. His love for flying took him to learn flying at the Delhi Flying club and in 1936 had earned his solo. earlier he had been to Bombay and taken a law degree.
Pujji Joins the RAF
In 1939 war broke out and the RAF advertised for volunteers from the Empire. Pujji along with 24 other Indian were selected. Pujji and his compatriots were sent to England and commissioned as Pilot Officers in the Royal Air Force. A German attack was expected and all the pilots were told to be ready for combat.
Pujji and the Battle of Britain
MS Pujji played his part in the Battle of Britain. He also undertook missions over occupied France and Belgium. Later he recollected that he could always outmaneuver the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt 109, except on one occasion. The pilot of the Messerschmitt was able to hit the plane of Pujji which caught fire. He hung on tenuously and slowly flew over the English Channel and crash landed on the beach at Dover. Bystanders pulled him out from the wreckage. He spent 7 days in hospital and was fit after that.
Mohinder remembers that his stay in England was extremely pleasurable. The local people were very helpful and many a time while standing in queue for a film he was asked to go ahead. Many times no money was charged from. This created a favorable impression and he resolved to come back after the war to England.
Battling in North Africa
In 1941 he was transferred to North Africa to face the advance of Rommel. Flying in the hot desert was a rare experience. One of the German planes shot him in a combat and he crash landed in the desert. He was lucky as he had landed behind British lines and was pulled out from the wreckage by a platoon of British soldiers.
Battles in Burma
In 1943 with the Japanese on a rampage, he was transferred to Burma. Here he went into many a combat with the Japanese pilots. He remembers “They were good, but I was better”. His actions in the Burma won him a DFC. Towards the end of the war he was a Squadron Leader.
End of the War and Demobilization
The war was over in 1945 and Pujji returned home.In 1946 he left the RAF and settled in Delhi. He initially was a civil pilot as well as a gliding instructor at the Delhi flying club, where he had earned his spurs. He flew for the club for close to 22 years.
Migration to England
In 1968 Mohinder Migrated to England, where he got a job as an Air Traffic Controller. Later he settled at Gravesend, Kent. He realized that the RAF had not forgotten him when in 2009 he was invited as a chairperson on the opening of a wing of the Museum that highlighted the exploits of Indians who served with the RAF.this was a belated attempt by the RAF to set the record straight.
Pujji passed away in 2010. He was the last surviving Indian who fought for the Crown by joining the RAF It is about time Squadron Leader Pujji was given his due. Let us salute this brave veteran.