Across the pages of Indian military history, you’ll find no shortage of interesting life biographies.

Noone knew this truth better than Colonel Prithipal Singh Gill (retd) – a veteran of both World War II and the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict. After having made headlines for crossing the age of 100, Col. Gill breathed his last on Sunday, December 7th, after achieving the unique distinction of serving across all three armed forces – the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army.

 

 

From Sky to Sea to Land

Col. Gill was born nearly 101 years ago in pre-Independence India. Hailing from an Army family based in Patiala, Gill attended Government College, Lahore in his youth – dreaming of becoming a IAF pilot someday.

Against his family’s wishes, the young Gill began his career as a pilot in 1942 at the age of 22.

His father, Harpal Singh Gill, was an army officer himself. Fearing for his son’s safety, he commanded his son to set aside flying and join another branch of the forces. Gill obeyed his father, and soon joined the Navy, serving his first major stint from 1943 to 1948.

Much of his time in the Navy was spent on INS Teer – a minesweeping ship that served as a safety escort for cargo ships during World War 2. He would go on to spend the rest of the war protecting allied ships in the Persian Gulf.

Newly married to his wife Preminder, Gill soon became an accomplished military man with nearly a decade of experience by 1950. He soon followed his father’s footsteps in 1951 by joining the Indian Army. While he didn’t make it into his father’s former 1st Sikh Regiment, Gill was posted to the Regiment of Artillery because of his gunnery experience.

The following years would be key – after a promotion to Major in 1956 and Lieutenant-Colonel in 1965, Gill would raise and command the 71 Medium Regiment during the Indo-Pakistan War. Here, he led his regiment through tough battles and skirmishes in Sialkot – displaying several examples of personal bravery and strategic success.

Gill would finally retire in the winter of 1970, after nearly three decades dedicated to the forces.

The Colonel’s Last Years

Some may assume that serving a career this demanding would make Gill a steely-eyed, no-nonsense man in uniform, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

He was well-known for his kind, friendly nature – enjoying competitive sports in his youth while relaxing in nature with family and friends as he aged on, preferring to trek, farm, and appreciate the very land he fought to protect.

As his son, Dr. Ajaipal Singh Gill explained to Hindustan Times, “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. My father had a good life. He lived the way he wanted to.”

One Indian redditor even recounts Gill’s reputation for being a somewhat mischievous, sweet old man walking the streets of Chandigarh:

“In his last years he used to do his daily walks around Chandigarh wearing a cowboy hat with little toffees tucked into it, to give to kids he met along the way.

A real loss, but a life well-lived.”

(Image source: Indian Army)