b. 02/11/1917 Trail, British Columbia, Canada. d. 09/08/1945 Onagawa, Japan.
Robert Hampton Gray (1917-1945) was born in Trail, British Columbia, Canada on 2nd November 1917, the son of a jeweller, and was educated at Nelson; graduating from the High School in June 1936 and then undertaking four years’ university studies for an arts degree in Edmonton, Alberta. On leaving university in early 1940 Gray immediately volunteered for service with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve; enlisting as an Ordinary Seaman at Calgary on 3rd August 1940.
He then commenced pilot training at HMS St Vincent on 3rd December 1940, and completed his basic instruction on 5th October 1941. On the following day, he was commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant and posted to HMS Daedulus for further advanced training, and then moved to HMS Heron on 1st December for his final operational preparation. Then, on 10th March 1942 he joined his first squadron, 757, at HMS Kestrel.
Transferred to 789 Squadron, HMS Afrikander in May 1942, Gray remained with this unit on its various travels around South Africa and Kenya during the following year; and was promoted to Lieutenant on the last day of December 1942. On 1st April 1943, he was again transferred to a new unit, 877 Squadron at Korongo, Nairobi; continuing to add to his experience as a relatively senior fighter pilot with 877 for the next 15 months of his service in Kenya. Leaving Africa at the end of the May 1944, “Hammy” as he was now nicknamed, was sent to England and posted to 748 Squadron, HMS Heron on 18th June, but spent the next few weeks at home in Canada on leave. On his return, he was appointed to HMS Formidable as replacement senior pilot – the equivalent of Second-in-Command – on 1841 Squadron, commanded by then Lt Commander R. L. Bigg-Wither. He was to remain with the 1841 until his death.
By April 1945, HMS Formidable had joined the British Pacific Fleet in operations against Japan, south of Okinawa, and by July the naval actions had moved north. In the interim the carrier had participated in several engagements, and been subjected to various Kamikaze aircraft attacks, although her armoured deck absorbed most of the damage. In July, Gray took part in several air strikes, and on the 18th led a strafing mission against enemy airfields; and on the 24th led a strike against shipping and airfields in the Inland Sea area. On 28th July he again led a strike to the Inland Sea zone, attacking a destroyer with bombs and obtaining a direct hit. These actions led to the award of the DSC.
On the 6th August the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and 1841 Squadron was tasked with three RAMROD sorties for 9th August – aiming to destroy the Japanese Air Force’s ability to take the offensive.
Gray was in the lead of an attack on a Japanese destroyer in Onagawa Wan, on 9th August 1945. In the face of fire from shore batteries and a heavy concentration of fire from some five warships Lieutenant Gray pressed home his attack, flying very low in order to ensure success, and, although he was hit and his aircraft was in flames, he obtained at least one direct hit, sinking the destroyer. Lieutenant Gray has consistently shown a brilliant fighting spirit and most inspiring leadership. Gray’s aircraft crashed into the sea, and his body was lost. He is commemorated on the Halifax Memorial in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Just six days after his death came the end of the war, and he was posthumously awarded the VC on 12th November 1945. In a letter written to his father, Captain P Ruck-Keene paid tribute to Gray’s record and concluded his message by describing Gray as “the best and bravest fighter pilot on the ship and everybody loved him. The tragedy is all the worse coming so close to the end.” Gray’s medal group (the last VC of the Second World War, and the last to a Canadian to date) is not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: BODY LOST AT SEA - ON HALIFAX MEMORIAL, NOVA SCOTIA.
Currie Barracks, Calgary, Alberta
Valiant Memorial, Ottawa
BOA Place, Halifax, Nova Scotia (Roger Litwiller)