RIP, Sir: Col Prithipal Singh Gill, Only Indian To Serve In All 3 Defence Services

Col Prithipal Singh, legendary World War 2 veteran and India's only officer to serve in the Indian army, Navy, and IAF, has passed away at the age of 100.

Col Prithipal Singh, legendary World War 2 veteran and India's only officer to serve in the Indian army, Navy, and IAF, has passed away at the age of 100.

Colonel Prithipal Singh Gill (retd), who served in all three services, was all over the news last year this time when he became a centenarian. But, on 5 December 2021, a week before turning 101, he breathed his last.

“He was perfectly alright, but age caught up with him. He was a little sluggish in the morning, and when we checked on him in the afternoon, we realised he had left us,” said his son Dr Ajaipal Singh Gil to Hindustan Times. “My father had a good life. He lived the way he wanted to.”

His death was as peaceful as the smile he wore on face all the time.

Born into a family with Army roots, his initial interest was flying. Eventually, he got to serve all three defence forces of the country in a period of 48 years. In a hearty interview with The Indian Express, he said it is “rare” to reach his age. When asked what kept him going, he replied with a chuckle, “It is a secret.”

Here are some facts about this one-of-a-kind veteran from Chandigarh:

  • Col Gill was born in pre-Independent India’s Patiala in 1920 and studied at Government College, Lahore.
  • He is the only officer who has served in all three units of India’s defence services, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy and Indian Army.
  • He started his career in 1942 as a young pilot in the Royal Indian Air Force at the age of 22 without his family’s consent.
  • He gave up his flying career on the insistence of his father, an army officer. His family feared Gill’s safety during flying.
  • When he was 23, Gill joined the Navy and served for five years, from 1943-1948.
  • In the Navy, he served on a minesweeping ship, INS Teer, which was an escort for cargo ships during World War-2.
  • In 1951, he finally joined the Army, respecting his father’s wish, as a Gunner Officer.
  • It is said that he sought a transfer to the Army due to the presence of water in his lungs.
  • During the India-Pakistan war of 1965, Gill commanded the 71 Medium Regiment and fought in the Sialkot sector.
  • He retired in 1970 as Colonel, at the age of 70.
  • Before retiring, he was a Sector Commander with the Assam Rifles in Manipur.
  • His hobbies included hunting and farming. After retirement, he spent most of his time on farmland.
  • As a young man, Col Gill had a keen interest in sports and loved playing tennis, squash and badminton.
  • Gill is survived by his 94-year-old wife, a son, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“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,” said his son Dr Ajay Pal Singh to The Print during the centenary celebration of Col Gill.

His last rites were performed at Sector 25 cremation ground in Chandigarh in the presence of family, friends and officers from the Army’s Western Command.

Former Punjab Chief Minister and Army Veteran Amarider Singh tweeted, “Saddened to learn about the demise of Col. Prithipal Singh Gill Ji. He holds the unique distinction of having served in all three Indian Defence Services & fought battles during World War II and the 1965 war. Sir, you will always be an inspiration to future generations. RIP.”

A close family friend, Justice HS Bedi (retd), said: “Apart from being a distinguished serviceman, he was a wonderful human being. It’s a great loss for us.”

Earlier in January, Gill was presented with a silver salver on behalf of Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat on the occasion of Veterans Day.

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