Mahinder Singh Puji
Mahinder Singh Pujji was born in Simla, in 1918 and became one of many Sikh fighters who volunteered to fight for Britain in World War II. In 1937 he qualified as a pilot and in 1940 aged 22, he volunteered to serve with the Royal Air Force in Britain after seeing an advertisement in the press. Mahinder was one of only seven Indians who were selected as fighter pilots and insisted on wearing his turban at all times - possibly the only Sikh fighter pilot to have done so.
He flew Hawker Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain, and flew combat missions in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and survived several crashes. In 1941 during the air war over the Western Desert in North Africa he flew Tomahawks. In Burma serving as a Flight Commander of No 6 Squadron, and then No 4 Squadron he flew Hurricanes very low over the jungle to locate army positions. Whilst there, he helped locate 300 West African troops who were lost in the jungle. For his services in Burma, Mahinder Singh Pujji was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
He returned to India after the war but moved to England in 1974 and settled in East Ham after his retirement from the RAF. Mahinder became an active member of the community and managed a hotel in West Ham and worked with the Victim Support Scheme and was made a freeman of the borough on October 12th 2000. Whilst in Newham he attended many local events with Newham Air Cadets Squadrons and was a hero to the cadets. The cadets enjoyed talking to him and looked up to him.
Later in his life, he moved to Gravesend in Kent where a statue of him has now been erected and in 2010 he published a book about his wartime experiences. Sadly on 18th September 2010 Mahinder Singh Pujji passed away. He was hugely respected by all who knew him. The Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales said ‘Mr Pujji was a one off and that all were really proud of him for his bravery and service to others’. Flight Lieutenant Vik Singh Taak also a proud Sikh and a local Newham resident recalls meeting him at an awards evening in Newham in 2000 and talked of meeting him at other functions. He described him as a true gentleman and was proud to have his photo taken with him.
Mahinder Singh Pujji was a great man who achieved much in his life and is a figure Newham can be proud of.
Image: Mahinder Singh Puji, Courtesy of newham Archives