I knew England was having a rough time

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by scarletto, Oct 31, 2007.

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  1. Squadron Leader MS Pujji DFC BA LB left his native India in 1940 to answer the RAF's desperate call for pilots. He ended the war a highly-decorated squadron leader, but with just one other comrade from his flight class left alive.

    I loved to fly. I was already a qualified pilot working for Shell when I saw the RAF ad in the newspaper inviting applications from volunteers. I knew England was having a rough time. I am by nature an adventurous person and accepted the challenge.

    Of course, my parents were very much against my joining. They said I already had a good flying job and no reason to risk my life. I told them the risking of life was part of the adventure.

    I must confess I wasn't terribly interested in the politics at that stage. I knew Hitler was not a good man and that my volunteering to fight would be good for India. was among the first batch of 24 Indians to be accepted. We were commissioned on 1 August 1940 and sent straight to England. I was 24.

    Our ship stopped in South Africa. I was shocked to see the treatment of Indians and Africans there. I and my colleagues were very angry. While the British army sometimes did not treat Indian people very cordially, my father was a very senior official in the government and I was always treated very well.

    We were told the situation in South Africa was the fault of Prime Minister Smuts and not something the English were in favour of. That made us feel better.

    Docking in England we could hear the German bombers coming. It was the height of the Blitz and London was being hit every night. I was not scared. I didn't go to the shelters. I walked around to see what the fire engines were doing. I went to the cinema and not a single person left to take shelter. That gave me the impression the British were very brave.

    That respect increased when I became one of only eight Indians lucky enough to be posted to a fighter station. All the pilots were at breakfast and the commander asked for volunteers. I was shocked that everyone raised their hands, eager to go into battle. I was proud be working with such men.

    My first action was a sweep across occupied France escorting our bombers. I was flying through what looked like flowers. I couldn't hear anything over the engine, all I could see was these beautiful things bursting around me. I was curious rather than scared. I didn't realise this was anti-aircraft fire directed at us. Very soon a bomber was shot and then I realised.

    The first of our pilots to be shot down was my roommate. Waking up at night and being alone gave me a sad feeling. I soon got over that because everyday someone went missing.

    On my first day there were 30 pilots at breakfast and we were never 30 again. Men were always being shot down or bailing out. It never happened that we all returned from a mission. Of the eight Indians who went to my first fighter squadron with me, six were killed. I was never scared. I was always looking forward to the next sweep or the scramble to meet attacking enemy planes. I enjoyed every bit.

    We were supposed to be able to take off in one minute. In my first week I almost broke the record - running from the place where we waited listening to music to my cockpit and the air in 20 seconds.

    The RAF officers appreciated that and I was very much respected. They treated me better than anyone else, but that's perhaps because I wore a turban and was a bit of a novelty.

    I got VIP treatment. I never liked English food and hardly took any lunch or dinner. The authorities asked what I wanted, and the only thing I could think of was chocolate. It was rationed, but I was supplied with extra and was given two eggs for breakfast.

    When I had done my quota of sorties I was due for a three-month rest, but I wanted to fly. They offered to send me to Russia, which Hitler had just invaded. I said: 'Yes, anywhere, but I must fly.'

    I ended up in North Africa where we were experiencing some setbacks. Rommel was advancing and things were very uncomfortable, but I was flying so didn't mind.

    With the war in Burma hotting up I was sent back to Asia. That was a very busy time. I took over a squadron going up against Japanese Zero fighters.

    Our Hurricanes had the machine guns, but they had the speed. We lost 35 pilots and I don't remember shooting down a single Zero.

    I remember my dead friends all the time. I have the photographs with me where I marked crosses over the pilots we lost. It's something I can't forget.
     
  2. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    Thanks for that scarleto, a good find. I think we often forget all the comonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen who also did their bit back then, it wasn't called a World War for nothing. It's nice to be reminded occasionally, especially at this time of the year.
     
  3. I'm sure we still have more in common with the Commonwealth than we do with the EU. That's not a cheap political jibe it's a serious comment.
     
  4. OldSnowy

    OldSnowy LE Moderator Book Reviewer

    Where's this from? Any more stuff like it there?
     
  5. Prior to reading that article I had no idea that Indian volunteers had flown in the RAF - let alone amongst The Few.

    Presumably the post war Indian govt. wanted to downplay the contribution its people had made to fighting against Nazis and Jap imperialists, a bit like the Irish govt.

    That old bloke sounded like a real character.

    I wonder how many similar stories about Commonwealth volunteers remain untold. Especially the ones who didn't make it home.
     
  6. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

  7. Yeah. I think it's from the Beeb's Peoples War thing. Well worth a look.

    Peoples War

    Link fixed.
     
  8. Here you go,some more stuff on him
    Squadron Leader Mohinder Pujji DFC.

    There are at least one mention of this officer on each of the following pages.

    www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/1940s/PilotsRAF24.html
    www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/1940s/Sikhs.html
    www.wewerethere.mod.uk/ww2/m_pujji.html
    http://jaganpvs.tripod.com/trivia04.htm
    www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/TwoWorldWarsandtheSikhs.php
    The following page has three voice recordings of SqdLdr Pujji.
    www.guardian.co.uk/audioarchive/letter/template/0,7138,345342,00.html
     
  9. I don't think it was so much that it was suppressed, we didn't ask and they didn't boast. I spent a few years visiting India on business on a regular basis, and one of the guys I knew was a retired IAF officer who had been Nehru's personal pilot. It took several years before he felt that he knew me well enough to talk about that.

    Equally most of the Indians I knew did not resent the Raj, rather they saw it as part of their history and the way the many indivual states had become united to create India, something that had not existed as a nation until the Raj
     
  10. The story of Indian pilots deserves to be better known. The only Indian Air Ace is Lal "Laddie" Roy who flew for No 40 and No 56 Fighter Sqadrons RFC & RAF in 1917-8.

    http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/roy.htm

    The 1960's film 633 Squadron featured a Sikh pilot as one of the aircrew.

    On 31Mar-2 April 2008 we will be taking a tour around the sites associated with the air war over the Western Front comemorating the 90th Anniversary of the founding of the RAF - and the achievements of the Royal Flying Corps.
     
  11. It was very true, that on return to India, that they got back with their lives,they are and quite rightly proud of their time with the forces. However events took over and their deeds were overlooked, by us.

    The link to the united Sikhs is very good, and provides some interesting info.
     
  12. Dead right, EX_STAB. I've lived in Oz for 37 years, but the Poms are still our favourite people. Last time I visited family in England, I was inundated with apologies because I'd had to wait in the "non-EU" queue going through Customs. No big deal for me, but my friends & family were most embarrassed and upset. Likewise with a lot of Canadians I've met over the years - forget the accent, their behaviour distinguishes them from Americans - we have much more in common with them than with our major Asian trading partners. But the tourist trade in Australia - including the corporate sector - places Asians ahead of everyone else. Well, they've got the money to spend; economics will dictate policy every time. Still think it's a shame though. The recent scandals involving imported Indian doctors in Queensland, are a slur on the good names of most overseas-born doctors who come to Australia. These people are helping to address a skills shortage, so to a large extent, we have to take what we get.

    Cheers,
    Cliff.