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

Sidney Jon Blair said he would have died if a van and car had collided at the intersection of corner of Resthaven Drive and Brethour Avenue in early December. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney senior urges motorists to slow down on Resthaven Drive

Jon Blair said community must become more pedestrian-friendly

Bob Joseph, author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, will be available for a Q&A through the Vancouver Island Regional Library Jan. 28. (Courtesy of Vancouver Island Regional Library)
Q&A on the Indian Act with Bob Joseph open to Greater Victoria residents

Bob Joseph is the author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Tarpaulin-covered tents sit next to one of the ponds in Beacon Hill Park. The location of the Meegan community care tent has still not been nailed down, as Victoria council rejected the recommendation offered by city staff. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Location of care tent for Victoria’s Beacon Hill campers still not settled

Council roundly rejects Avalon Road site, road’s edge on Cook Street appears the top alternative

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree-planting life on Vancouver Island featured in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)

Most Read