Sikh WWII flying ace was "saved by turban"
A sikh fighter pilot's life was saved by the padding in his turban after he was forced to ditch his plane in a WWII dogfight.
Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji, one of only a handful of Indian ace flyers in the RAF, crashed into the English Channel after his plane was shot down in a mid-air skirmish.
Advised to plant his stricken Hurricane in the sea because he was unable to swim, the 22-year-old nose-dived into the water.
Rescuers boarded boats to help the young flyer, who crashed landed near the White Cliffs of Dover, and pulled him from the wreckage with bad head injuries.
But Sqdn Ldr Singh Pujji, now 91, has told how his specially-adapted headgear, which even had his wings sewn onto it, acted as a cushion for the crash-landing.
He said: 'The padding of my turban saved me, it was full of blood. I was taken to the hospital but after seven days I was back to flying again.'
He added: 'I couldn't swim. I carried on until I saw the white cliffs of Dover and I thought, "I'll make it."
'The aircraft was a total wreck. I was dragged out and I heard voices saying, "He's still alive, he's still alive." Because my eyes were closed I couldn't see.'
Sqdn Ldr Pujji added how his turban was fitted so that the earphones could go over the top and how he carried a spare in his cockpit.
'I had a special strap made to hold my earphones. I used to carry a spare turban with me so I would have one if I got shot down.
'I thought I was a very religious man, I shouldn't take off my turban.'
Sqdn Ldr Singh Pujji surrounds himself with wartime memorabilia at his sheltered accommodation block in Gravesend, Kent.
He relived his daring wartime exploits ahead his memoirs published later this year, called For King and Another Country.
He said he signed up for the RAF after responding to an advert declaring 'Pilots needed for Royal Air Force' in an Indian newspaper.
And after learning to fly in 1937 he was one of only eight pilots from the Empire colony deemed good enough for fighter duties.
Arriving in August 1940, at the height of the Battle of the Britain, the young officer then flew countless missions against Hitler's Luftwaffe.
He said: 'Every day was a question of life and death. Every flight we made we weren't sure we were going to come back.
'It's a job which can't easily be described, escorting convoys over the English Channel, going over occupied countries looking out for enemies, escorting bombers and making interceptions.
'In one minute we would have to be strapped in and up in the air ready to meet enemy fighters. This was three to four times a day, throughout six months.'
He had another lucky escape when he was shot down by Rommel's army in the Western Desert in north Africa.
He said: 'I didn't know what to do. I wasn't on fire, I didn't get hurt. I knew if I carried on north I would get to the Mediterranean, but any other direction I knew nothing.
'I gave up and sat on top of my plane and after a while I saw a cloud of dust. I did not mind who it was picking me up, Germany or Britain.
'I started waving my shirt and luckily it was the British.'
Sqdn Leader Pujji, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery, hit the headlines last year after campaigning against the BNP.
He was angered by party leader Nick Griffin's use of the iconic Spitfire to symbolise Britishness.
comments powered by Disqus
- Arizona Historical Society soon could be history
- Yale's Donald Kagan says students need to study Western civilization
- Ken Burns on Colbert to promote his new documentary, "The Address"
- UC Santa Barbara History Department featuring a series on the Great Society at 50
- Historians are trying to recover censored texts from World War I poets