The Defence Sikh Network, consisting of Sikh members of the UK Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence, and members of Gravesend’s Sikh community paid tribute to the Sikh contribution to British Armed Forces, both in the past and now. A memorial service was held on Saturday 25th September at the site of the statue of Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujji in Gravesend. The event, which honours and remembers Sikhs who fought in the two World Wars and celebrates those who continue to serve in the Armed Forces now, is now planned to take place every year in September.
Wreaths were laid at the statue by the following:
- The Mayor of Gravesham, Councillor Lyn Milner, accompanied by Deputy Council Leader Lee Croxton, on behalf of the Borough of Gravesham
- Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP, who led the initiative to instal the Pujji statue in Gravesend and is now leading an initiative to instal a National Sikh War Memorial in Central London
- Wing Commander Manjeet Singh Ghataora, on behalf of the Armed Forces
- Chief Inspector Junior Dann, on behalf of Kent Police
- Manpreet Singh Dhaliwal, on behalf of Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara and the Sikh community of Gravesham
- Sameer Arsiwala, grandson of Sq Ldr Pujji, on behalf of the Pujji family
- Councillor Baljit Singh Hayre, on behalf of Gravesham Borough Council
- Corporal Amrit Kaur, on behalf of Air Cadets Gravesend.
Other Armed Forces personnel present at the ceremony were Squadron Leader Amir Khan, Flying Officer Rajinder Singh Chawala, Warrant Officer Balbir Singh Flora MBE and Sargeant Shiv Chand from the RAF; Warrant Officer Balbir Singh Nagra MBE (retired), now a Sargeant with the Army Cadets; and Midshipman Gurkamalpreet Singh, on behalf of the Royal Navy.
Others present at the ceremony included Councillors Gurbax Singh and Nirmal Singh Khabra; Jagdev Singh Virdee (Gurdwara General Secretary); and Keith Wyncoll, close friend of the Pujji family and member of the committee that established the Pujji statue.
Keith Wyncoll and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi spoke about the life of Squadron Leader Pujji, and how the Council, the Gurdwara and the wider community worked together to raise the funds for the statue, created by the sculptor Douglas Jennings. Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi also spoke about the campaign to establish a National Sikh War Memorial in Central London.
Wing Commander Manjeet Singh Ghataora is the highest ranking Sikh currently serving in the British Armed Forces, following in the footsteps of his father Flight Sargeant Avtar Singh Ghataora who also served in the RAF. He spoke about the importance of events like these to raise awareness and motivate the next generation to consider careers in the Armed Forces.
Manjeet commissioned into the RAF as an Engineering Officer in 1999 and became a rare second generation to serve in the RAF. His career highlight was as Senior Engineering Officer on 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton, responsible for maintenance and servicing of the UK C17 fleet. Overseeing the Squadron’s Junior Engineering Officers and mechanical and Avionics technicians, both in the UK and overseas, he has had to take decisions to ensure that sufficient safe and serviceable aircraft were available for undertaking operational tasks. These have included bringing all our troops and equipment back from Afghanistan, various humanitarian missions and bringing home Ebola patients for treatment.