Town hero’s tribute to Battle of Britain anniversary
PUBLISHED: 13:17 24 June 2010 | UPDATED: 11:48 23 August 2010
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THE only surviving RAF World War Two Indian pilot has spoken of his pride ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh-Pujji, 91, of The Grove, Gravesend, arrived in Britain in 1940 after answering an advert for
THE only surviving RAF World War Two Indian pilot has spoken of his pride ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh-Pujji, 91, of The Grove, Gravesend, arrived in Britain in 1940 after answering an advert for pilots.
He risked his life in combat above Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Burma over the next five years.
During his daring missions he was shot down over Switzerland and performed a remarkable crash landing in Dover. His exploits earned him meetings with Queen Elizabeth II, Duke of Edinburgh, Tony Blair and Jawaharlal Nehru, first prime minister of independent India.
On Saturday six Armed Forces Flags will be raised by Gravesham Mayor Bill Lambert as part of a national show of support to all the armed forces.
The day before official commemorations through the summer will start with a parade by Battle of Britain pilots through Bromley town centre.
Mr Pujji said: "I received respect and regard from everyone, not only the authorities but the public. Here the public was so nice to me. I was a little different wearing my turban with my RAF wings so I think I was a bit of a novelty."
In the 1940s he was one of only 24 Indian pilots to join the RAF, with 18 qualifying to fly, and 12 killed during the fighting. Mr Pujji was undergoing extensive training during the famous fire fight in the skies but served as the Battle of Britain ended.
Almost 3,000 airmen took to the skies of southern England to defend Britain from invasion from July to the end of October 1940. In a rousing speech after the operation, Winston Churchill declared: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
A civilian pilot in India, Mr Pujji was first trained to fly a fighter during the blitz, his own home in Piccadilly being bombed.
Mr Pujji said: "I came out from the building and just saw the whole of London burning.
"I wasn't in the air for the battle of Britain, but let me tell you after that it was still the same.
"To this day I have immense pride for all these pilots those in the Battle and Britain and thereafter.
"As a fighter we were different from the army or navy. It was just a single person and every time you went up you didn't know if you were going to come back."
Mr Pujji returned to India after the war, to help run the country's civil aviation service before deciding to return to the country he protected during the war.
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"It was the country I wanted to live in. My impression of England in 1940 was very good. The people were very honest, very strong and very kind," he added.
Since then he first came to public attention during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the end of the war in 1995 and is regularly invited to attend RAF functions as an honoured guest. He moved to Gravesend 10 years ago.
Mr Pujji added: "I am a bit of a celebrity. People line up to have my autograph."
His amazing experiences, including rescuing stranded American troops in Burma from capture in a daring air lift, are recorded in his book For King & Another Country, due to be released later this summer.
Mr Pujji has no plans to attend any specific Battle of Britain commemorations this year.