b. 17/05/1914 Urchfont, Wiltshire. d. 12/05/1940 Maastricht, Holland.
Thomas Gray (1914-1940) was born in Urchfont, Wiltshire on 17th May 1914 and was from a large family. He was the fourth born of seven brothers, and was one of five Gray boys to join the RAF. Three of the boys becam aircraft apprentices at RAF Halton. By 1946 three of these Gray brothers had been killed flying with the RAF. Educated at Warminster Secondary School, he enlisted as an apprentice of the 20th (Halton) Entry on 27th August 1929, and for the next three years trained to become an aero engine fitter II.
On leaving Halton in August 1932, his first posting was to 40 Squadron, servicing the unit’s Fairey Gordon bombers. Whilst with 40 Squadron Gray volunteered eagerly for “part-time” flying duties as an air gunner – an air crew category usually filled at that period by ground tradesmen on a voluntary basis additional to normal duties, and carried extra pay. He caught the bug and ultimately wanted to beome a full time air crew one day.
In 1933, he passed his qualifying trade tests for upgrading to Leading Aircraftman (LAC) and in June was posted to 15 Squadron, equipped with Hawker Hind flying bombers. In 1936, he joined 58 Squadron at Driffield, and finally in February 1938, he moved to 12 Squadron at Andover, and was promoted to Corporal.
He then took a short course at No 1 Observers School and remustered as an air observer and he was promoted to Sergeant in January 1939. On 2nd September 1939, the Squadron was posted to France as part of Operation Panther. When Thomas climbed into his Fairey Battle on 12th May 1940 for the attack on Veldwezelt bridge, it was in fact his first and only operational sortie.
On 12th May 1940, over the Albert Canal, Belgium, one bridge in particular was being used by the invading army, with protection from fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft and machine-guns. The RAF was ordered to demolish this vital bridge, and five Fairey Battle bombers were despatched with Sergeant Gray as the navigator in the plane leading the bombing attack. They met an inferno of anti-aircraft fire, but the mission was accomplished, much of the success being due to the coolness and resource of the pilot (Donald Edward Garland) of the leading aircraft and the navigation of Sergeant Gray. Unfortunately the leading aircraft and three others did not return.
Local civilians discovered the bodies of Garland, Gray and Reynolds and they were buried in Lanaken Cemetery. They were later re-interred at the Heverlee War Cemetery, Leuven, Belgium. On 24th June 1941, Thomas’ parents were presented with his VC by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. His medal is privately held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: HEVERLEE WAR CEMETERY, LEUVEN, BELGIUM.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT VI, ROW F, GRAVE 14-16
Gray's memorial at National Memorial Arboretum
Frank Ernest Beresford painting