The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, and Lady Wigston visited the Central Gurdwara (Punjabi word for Sikh temple) in Shepherd’s Bush.
They were welcomed by the most senior Sikh in the Service, Warrant Officer Balbir Singh Flora, and the highest ranked Sikh in the Armed Forces, Wing Commander Manjeet Singh Ghataora. After explaining the basics of how the temple functioned, Air Chief Marshal Wigston and Lady Wigston were given appropriate head coverings, before going on to meet the President of the Gurdwara, Gurpreet Singh Anand.
He explained that the Gurdwara had a significant connection with the RAF, as it had been formed with the help of Lieutenant Hardit Singh Malik, a First World War veteran, who was one of only four Indian pilots to have flown with the Royal Flying Corps and subsequently the RAF.
It was our great pleasure to visit the Shepherd’s Bush Gurdwara and meet Sikhs from across @RoyalAirForce @DefenceHQ, and some of their families too.— ACM Sir Mike Wigston (@ChiefofAirStaff) July 14, 2021
Sharing prayers and reflection led by Flt Lt @MandeepChaplain was a special moment.
Read more: https://t.co/ogTdUPMCyx pic.twitter.com/kAp9ZuZSUZ
More information about Lieutenant Hardit Singh Malik story as the first Indian pilot of the First World War and other achievements can be read in this Royal British Legion article.
The visit then moved to the Langar Hall for food and refreshments. These community kitchens are a key part of any Gurdwara, providing free meals for all regardless of background, social status or religion.
Air Chief Marshal Wigston and Lady Wigston were joined by RAF Sikhs from across the Service, as well as Civil Servants and representatives from the Defence Sikh Network. It also gave an opportunity for discussions with the various local volunteers from the Gurdwara, who were able to explain the important concept of ‘Saint Soldier’ for Sikhs and how the martial aspect intersects with spirituality.
The 'Saint Soldier,’ Sant Sipahi, is a Sikh that aims to become both spiritually and martially skilled, as per the teachings of the 6th Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind.
The visit concluded with hymns and prayers led by the first RAF Sikh Chaplain, Flight Lieutenant Mandeep Kaur and her message of oneness was echoed by Air Chief Marshal Wigston who referred to some sharing the same uniform, but all sharing the same sense of service.
“It’s really important that the RAF represents the society that it serves. It’s important that anybody from any background can join us to fulfil their full potential, it’s important at a personal level and strategically for the RAF, because by having a more diversity such as different ethnic groups or different genders, we will have a more balanced view and make better decisions.”
Air Chief Marshal Wigston
Chief of the Air Staff