Gerald Pash and Terry Milne flank the central pillar of the monument recognizing Lieut. Robert Hampton Gray now standing outside the North Saanich’s BC Aviation Museum following its installation Tuesday. The two men were among those who fundraised $100,000 for the monument. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Gerald Pash and Terry Milne flank the central pillar of the monument recognizing Lieut. Robert Hampton Gray now standing outside the North Saanich’s BC Aviation Museum following its installation Tuesday. The two men were among those who fundraised $100,000 for the monument. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

New monument outside BC Aviation Museum honours fallen pilot

Lieut. Robert Gray was shot down while on a mission off the coast of Japan

Lieut. Robert Hampton Gray – or “Hammy” – was 28 when he a led an attack of eight Corsair aircrafts on a convoy of Japanese naval vessel in Onagawa Bay near Tokyo on Honshu Island, the largest and most populous of the Japanese Islands.

Flying off the HMS Formidable aircraft carrier, Hammy was a long way away from Nelson, where he grew up, and his studies at the University of British Columbia, where he was a student when war broke out in Europe.

Desperate for personnel, the Royal Navy trained Gray as a pilot in both England and Canada after he had volunteered for the war through the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve as an ordinary seaman. His active duty with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm took him to several theatres of the war, including Africa and the Atlantic, where his performance in the HMS Formidable attack on the German battleship Tirpitz anchored in a Norwegian fjord earned him a mention in the official dispatches by his superiors to headquarters. That was in late August 1944.

Less than a year later, the HMS Formidable found herself off the Japanese main island after the vessel had withstood a Kamikazi attack during the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. During the attack on the Japanese vessels in Onagawa Bay, anti-aircraft fire hit Gray’s plane as it attacked the destroyer Amakusa.

With his plane burning, Gray still released the bomb carried by his plane, hitting and sinking the destroyer, before crashing in the bay.

RELATED: North Saanich’s B.C. Aviation Museum helps preserve physical legacy of Second World War

The date of Gray’s death was Aug. 9, 1945. Six days later, Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to Allied forces, formalized on Sept. 2.

This timing means that Gray was among the last Canadians killed during the Second World War and the last Canadian to win the Victoria Cross.

His collection of medals, which also includes the Distinguished Service Cross for helping to sink another Japanese destroyer in July 1945, makes Gray the most highly decorated pilot from British Columbia, a history now recognized at North Saanich’s BC Aviation Museum with a three-piece monument following a campaign led by a group of former navy members and members of the Naval Association of Canada that raised $100,000.

The monument itself consists of two black pillars of granite flanking a central pillar of gray polished granite. The right pillar features the last picture of Gray in his lieutenant’s uniform, while the left pillar features an artist’s rendering of Gray’s final attack. The central pillar records Gray’s title, awards, decorations and history for visitors to the museum.

Project manager Terry Milne, who was also Canada’s former naval attache to Japan, said organizers chose the museum because of its subject, Gray’s origin from British Columbia and its proximity to the provincial capital. “And of course, we have the navy base here and the naval squadron on Victoria Airport as well,” he said.

The monument — which will be dedicated after COVID-19 restrictions have eased — is not the only monument of its kind.

RELATED:Ambitious B.C. Aviation Museum need $10M to get iconic Lancaster back in the air

Described as a unique gesture of compassion and reconciliation, former Canadian and Japanese veterans dedicated a monument to Gray in 1989 on a hill overlooking the bay where his remains still lie.

Milne notes that the monument, while explicitly recognizing Gray, also draws attention to 260 Canadians who served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. “Of these, 46 were killed, ” he said. “They were not only pilots, they were also engineers, flight crew, and so on.”

Since officials could not hand out Victoria Crosses en masse to these 46 Canadians, Gray’s commanding officer also said that “they would like the award to also be a symbolic, though secondary, recognition for all Canadians killed, some 46 of them, for which they had no other award that they could give them,” said Milne. “This is recorded on the monument itself.”

As such, Gray and the others will not be alone in death.


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

aviation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria city council unanimously voted Jan. 21 to develop a one-time relief fund for businesses hit by vandalism. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
City offers relief funds for Victoria businesses hit by vandalism

Limited relief fund will come from 2021 contingency budget

James Summer, the City of Victoria’s new youth poet laureate. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Slam poetry expert introduced as Victoria’s new youth poet laureate

Vic High alum James Summer will serve in the role for 2021

A seller on UsedVictoria.com has listed signed, first editions of the first three Game of Thrones books. (UsedVictoria.com)
Winter is coming: 1st edition, signed Game of Thrones books for sale in Greater Victoria

Three signed Game of Thrones books listed on Used Victoria for $6,000

(Pxhere)
Mill Bay nurse suspended after using Tensor bandage to trap long-term care patient in room

Susan Malloch voluntarily agreed to a three-day suspension of her certificate of registration

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazette’s Local Hero awards are open

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

The top part of the fossil burrow, seen from the side, with feathery lines from the disturbance of the soil – thought to be caused by the worm pulling prey into the burrow. (Paleoenvironntal Sediment Laboratory/National Taiwan University)
PHOTOS: SFU researchers find evidence of ‘giant’ predatory worms on ocean floor

Fossils found the prove the existence of an ancient Taiwanese worm as long as two metres

Most Read