A memorial to Second World War flying hero Robert Hampton “Hammy” Gray was officially dedicated in front of esteemed guests at the B.C. Aviation Museum in North Saanich on Sunday.
Gray was the last Second World War soldier to be awarded the British Empire’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, posthumously.
In the early morning of Aug. 9, 1945, who spent his formative years in Trail and Nelson, led nine Canadian Naval Reserve aircraft in an attack on Japanese navy ships in Onagawa Bay, on Japan’s northeastern coast. Although Gray’s plane was hit and burst into flames while flying low to engage a destroyer, he managed to release a bomb and sink the attacking vessel before crashing into the bay.
Japan raised a memorial to Gray overlooking the bay at the request of comrades in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Service in 1989.
“Now, we have a memorial site here in Canada where Canadians – and in particular, Canadian youth – can learn about the heroism and contribution that Lt. Hampton Gray made in serving Canada,” Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger said during the unveiling.
The front of the three-panel stone monument, designed by local artist Illarion Gallant, includes descriptions of Gray’s life, service and final act of valour. A rear wall with maple leaf-shaped holes is meant to hold flowers left by admirers, Gallant said.
The ceremony featured addresses from B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin; Takashi Hatori, Consul General for Japan in Vancouver; Saanich North MLA Adam Olsen and the commanders of Maritime Forces Pacifica and the Royal Canadian Air Force and Navy. Attendees also witnessed flyovers from 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron and YAK Flight.
“The naval and military community is amazingly generous in keeping the history of their work alive,” said Anne George, Gray’s niece and one of several of his descendants in attendance. “They’re using (Lt. Gray) as a focal point, but they respect all people that fought in the war.”
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