There are no known examples in the country today of an officer who has served in all three services of the military. However, Colonel Prithipal Singh Gill (retd), a World War 2 veteran, has the unique distinction of having served in the Royal Indian Air Force, Royal Indian Navy and the Indian Army during his career in uniform.
Colonel Gill turned 100 Friday. Enjoying good physical and mental faculties even at this advanced age, Colonel Gill was all smiles as he greeted visitors who dropped by at the residence of his son, Dr Ajay pal Singh Gill, in Chandigarh’s Sector 35 to wish him on his birthday.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Colonel Gill had an impish smile when asked the secret of his longevity. “It is rare and it is a secret,” he said even as his daughter-in-law, Harpreet Kaur attributed it to his daily tot of whiskey for nearly 70 years.
Had the honour of meeting Col Prithipal Singh Gill and his wife Preminder Kaur in Chandigarh today. Col Gill turns 100 today and has the unique privilege of having served in the Air Force, Navy and the Indian Army. His wife is 93 and they were married in Dec 1950.@IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/SKtL4Zpkar
— Man Aman Singh Chhina (@manaman_chhina) December 11, 2020
Colonel Gill was accompanied by his wife, Preminder Kaur, who is 93. Incidentally, the couple, who got married on December 24, 1950, will shortly be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.
Preminder Kaur informed that her husband used to be an avid ‘shikari’ and used to spend a lot of time hunting. Colonel Gill had done his graduation from Government College, Lahore. He took up flying as a passion at Walton Aerodrome in Lahore from where he earned a flying licence, said Preminder Kaur. Later, he joined the Royal Indian Air Force and was training at Karachi flying Howard aircraft when his father, Major Harpal Singh Gill, withdrew him from training because the family considered flying to be unsafe.
According to the family members, Colonel Gill thereafter joined the Navy where he served on a mine sweeping ship, INS Teer, which was an escort for cargo ships during World War-2. He subsequently left the Navy after having completed the Long Range Gunnery Course in which is was graded Instructor Gunnery (IG).
Colonel Gill joined the Indian Army soon after Independence and sought placement in 1 Sikh (now 4 Mech) in which many members of his family, including his father, had served. However, due to his gunnery experience he was allotted the Regiment of Artillery and posted with Gwalior Mountain Battery equipped with 5.4 inch guns.
According to a military biography of Colonel Gill, prepared by Brig IS Gakhal (retd), a veteran officer of the Sikh Regiment and a keen regimental historian, he later served in 34 Medium Regiment and went on to raise and command 71 Medium Regiment.
He was the commanding officer of the Regiment during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and fought in the Sialkot sector. “During the 1965 war four guns of his regiment were cut off by enemy action. Colonel Gill personally led a mission to retrieve the four guns. His bravery, however, remained unrewarded,” states the sketch by Brig Gakhal.
On promotion to the rank of Colonel, he went on to command an Assam Rifles Sector in Ukhrul in Manipur, before retiring in 1970.
Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, congratulated Colonel Gill on turning 100. “Congratulate Col Prithipal Singh Gill, who turns 100 today. He bears the unique distinction of having served in all three armed forces. Sir, Wish you many more years of good health and may you continue to always inspire all of us,” he said in a tweet.