RAF News

Chief of the Air Staff visits Central Gurdwara Sikh temple

Personnel and members of the Sikh community in the temple.

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.

Chief of Air Staff and members of the Sikh community in the temple.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, with Warrant Officer Balbir Singh Flora and Wing Commander Manjeet Singh Ghataora.

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.

Members of the Sikh community in the temple.

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.

Chief of Air Staff looks on at an ornate chair display and flowers in the temple.

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.

Chief of Air Staff sits cross legged in the temple.

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.

Chief of Air Staff and member of the Sikh community.

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

Chief of Air Staff and members of the Sikh community sit cross-legged.

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