Battle of Britain hero dies
PUBLISHED: 12:58 23 September 2010
One of the most experienced WWII fighter pilots died one day before he was due to attend the Battle of Britain Sunday memorial service at Westminster Abbey.
Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujji, 92, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, died at Darent Valley Hospital after suffering a stroke at his home in The Grove, Gravesend.
Mr Pujji was invited to the 70th anniversary service by top military brass and was to attend a private function with surviving members of ‘The Few’ - pilots credited with saving Britain and effectively winning the war.
His proud son, Satinder Singh Pujji, 60, said: “Right to the end he was a fighter. He could not open his eyes and his speech was impaired but he was joking with hospital staff and had every intention of coming home.
“Throughout his life he has achieved extraordinary feats. He never gave up in battle, surviving being shot down four times, and he never gave up in death. He was and still will be an inspiration to, not just his family but the many people he knew from royalty to neighbours,
“In hospital he said to me ‘I don’t mind dying in this country, leave my body here. I love this country’.”
He was one of 24 Indian pilots who arrived during the Battle of Britain to join the RAF as Winston Churchill made an impassioned plea for foreign pilots to help defend Britain from Nazi domination.
Flying Hurricanes he become one the countries most respected and prolific pilots, recognised by Britain and the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF).
Mr Pujji suffered a massive stroke at his home on September 6 and, after initially refusing hospital treatment, he was taken to hospital when he failed to regain feeling in his left side.
Concerned relatives travelled from as far as India and America to hold a bedside vigil as some of the county’s top police officers, including Chief Inspector Phil Painter visited.
Despite initially improving he died on Saturday after contracting a chest infection in his only working lung, the other had died after he contracted a bout of TB due to his exploits in Hurricanes as he defended Britain - voluntarily risking his life for a country not his own.
His first daughter Veena Gupta, 64, who lives in India, was in the country having attended the launch of his book For King and Another Country last month.
She said: “He had an amazing strength of character and loved two things: flying and life. He was strict, generous and affectionate. He was proud to serve the country and was inspired by the bravery of those who lived through the Blitz and got up every morning to carry on with their lives.” Details of funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.