World War II Indian pilot honoured with statue in UK


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Jun 17, 2009
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World War II Indian pilot honoured with statue in UK

NEW DELHI: The 1972 Bollywood movie, Lalkaar, was unique in its depiction of Indian pilots fighting in the Second World War. Although it was perhaps the last Bollywood movie with that war as backdrop, it did offer a glimpse, and a tiny one at that, of the contribution of India's air warriors in bringing down the combined might of the Axis powers.

But at a memorial function in the UK on Friday, this contribution was recognized and firmly engraved in stone. At St Andrew's Garden in Gravesend, Kent, Great Britain, an eight-foot bronze statue of a decorated Indian fighter pilot of WWII, Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji, was unveiled—perhaps the first such memorial to an Indian war hero in Europe.

Pujji was among the 24 officers from Indian Air Force sent to Britain in 1940 to fly with the Royal Air Force, which was fighting the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain and desperately needed pilots (the RAF at that time already had 13 direct-entry Indian officers). These Indian officers were placed in different squadrons in RAF's fighter, bomber and coastal commands and flew rhubarb missions.

In fact, Indian pilots also flew bombing missions over Dresden and other German cities, and were there during the Normandy operations — a fact that's never been acknowledged in the mass media, both in the west and India.

As for Pujji, he scored two kills and damaged three German fighters in Europe and was himself downed twice, first over the English Channel and then in the Middle East. He ended the war with a Distinguished Flying Cross and was among the lucky 16 to return home.

Pujji's contribution was remembered by Air Vice Marshal Edward Stringer of the RAF at the unveiling of the statue that cost £70,000.

"We remember a stunning record, a fine pilot and a fantastic officer ... This is an absolutely magnificent sculpture which captures this very fine man. What we're also remembering and commemorating with this memorial are all those who came and fought on the right side in the Second World War and fought for the freedoms that we cherish today. We especially remember those from the Commonwealth," Stringer said.

He also highlighted the lack of awareness about the Indian contribution to the Second World War in air in the UK: "It's worth recording that over 17,000 Indians volunteered to join the RAF alongside 25,000 Indians who fought in the Indian Air Force, a staggering statistic not well known enough today in the UK."

UK-based military historian Amarpal Sidhu was there at the unveiling ceremony.

"Pujji's story is a remarkable one of a man who served not just in the UK but in the Middle East and Burma and who came close to death several times. This statue, the first of its kind in the UK, will in the coming years and into the next century tell not only his tale but act as a marker and memorial to the countless others from India who followed his example and volunteered to risk their life in a just cause," he said.

After the war, Pujji tried his hand at civil aviation in India for a while before returning to England in 1974 to settle permanently. He passed away in 2010 at the ripe age of 92.

India wants WWII air hero's medals but can't get them

Wing Commander Karun Krishna Majumdar was one of the first Indian officers out of RAF College Cranwell to have joined the fledgling Indian Air Force in 1932. Known as 'Jumbo' to his friends, he was particularly known for his dash and daring during the Second World War when he served in Burma and Europe.

Majumdar was the only Indian to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar. Yet it's this medal along with other memorabilia belonging to Majumdar that his son, Shailen, wants to sell at an auction.

One such attempt was made on Wednesday in London by auctioneer Morten & Eden on behalf of Shailen. But it didn't go under the hammer as no bid matched the reserve price of £20,000-30,000 for the collection that also includes his India Service Medals, a logbook, a 1945 speech on the future of air power in India, and a film.

The Indian Air Force, when it learnt about the auction, made a last-ditch attempt at convincing Majumdar junior to hand over the collection to IAF museum.

"But he isn't willing to talk to us. He doesn't want to give away the medals. We don't think it would do anybody any good if the medals end up in the private collection of somebody. But if he wants to sell it to us, he can certainly contact us," said a senior IAF officer.

World War II Indian pilot honoured with statue in UK - The Times of India

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