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World War 2 veteran Col Prithipal — only Indian to serve in Army, Navy & Air Force — turns 100

In a career spanning nearly three decades, Col Prithipal Singh Gill served as a flying cadet, a Navy officer before finally retiring as a colonel in December 1970.

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New Delhi: A World War 2 veteran, Col Prithipal Singh Gill (retd), according to the Army, is the only Indian to have served in all the three wings of the armed forces — Air Force, Navy and the Indian Army.

He turned 100 today.

Col Gill celebrated his birthday with immediate family members and spent most of his time on his rice and wheat farms at his native of Pakhi in Faridkot District. Farming is a hobby that took its course after retirement.

Across a career spanning nearly three decades, Col Prithipal Singh Gill (retd) served as a flying cadet, a Navy officer and then finally retired as a Army colonel in December 1970.

Even though Col Singh hailed from a family with a history of serving in the armed forces, his father, Captain Harpal Singh, was unhappy with him joining the flying school in Karachi.

“My grandfather feared that he might die in a crash or something horrible would happen in the skies. So, he got my father transferred to the Indian Navy instead,” said Dr Ajay Pal Singh, Col Gill’s only son.

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A man of all 3 forces

Born on 11 December, 1920, in Patiala, the 100-year-old Col Prithipal Singh Gill began his service life with the erstwhile Royal Indian Air Force in 1942. As a flight cadet in Karachi, he flew Howard aircraft but soon moved to the Indian Navy where he served on a minesweeping ship and later on INS Teer, a Navy escort for cargo ships during World War 2. He married Preminder Kaur in 1950, who is 95 now.

Due to an ailment (presence of water in the lungs), Col Gill sought a transfer to the Army, which was approved and he was posted to the Gwalior Mountain Battery. He later served with the 34 Medium Regiment and raised and commanded the 71 Medium Regiment. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel and commanded over the Assam Rifles Sector in Ukhrul, Manipur.

Both his son and grandson, however, say they have heard almost none of his war stories.

“Like most families who’s near and dear ones have been in wars, ours too never discusses them. It is something unpleasant and grandfather never shares stories of his times in World War 2 and the 1965 India-Pakistan war, though he has a plethora of knowledge and information,” said Abhaypal Singh, Col Gill’s grandson and a lawyer by profession.

There is, however, one story that both Col Gill’s son and grandson fondly remember.

“It is plain simple courage and valour,” said Dr Ajay Pal Singh. “During the 1965 India-Pakistan War, four cannons of his Regiment were cut off by the Pakistani army in the Sialkot sector. Col Prithipal Singh Gill personally led a successful mission to retrieve them. This is one of the very few stories he has told us, though he never much delved into details.”

Col Prithipal Singh Gill didn’t win a gallantry medal but has no regrets. “His life has been an example; how often do you meet someone who has seen the lives of all the three security forces and been witness to historical wars,” Dr Singh said.

‘Young at heart’

For his grandson, Abhaypal Singh, Col Gill is a happy young-at-heart man who loves children. “He is not so active nowadays, he is 100, but still she manages to go to the parks and the farmlands to give chocolates to children,” Abhaypal said. “There is a different thrill on his face when he plays with kids. I don’t think he has missed anything in his life … it’s been a glorious 100 years. I would say my grandfather is mischievous, he loves to play around with children.”

His family says that as a young man, Col Gill had keen interest in sports and loved playing tennis, squash and badminton. He also loved hunting. “Age has not faltered my grandfather … he continues to live each day fully,” said Col Gill’s grandson.

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  1. Our several generations have been serving Army. My grandfather worked as a civilian cashier for British Army around 1890-1930. My father served in IMS during WWII. My brother retired in 1990. Now his son is in Army.

  2. It’s heartwarming to read this article, my Grandfather had served in the Indian Navy for two years on the same ship, INS Teer. It’s amazing how small our world is.

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