Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray may have died 75 years ago fighting the Japanese, but the Trail-born aviator extraordinaire is still being remembered for his incredible bravery.
The Royal Canadian Navy announced on Monday that its sixth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship will be named in honour of Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, naval hero of the Second World War.
“Lieutenant Gray was known to his fellow military members as a courageous leader, with a brilliant flying spirit, who continued to inspire and motivate his crew after his unfortunate passing,” Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, Commander Royal Canadian Navy said in an Aug. 10 statement. “By naming the sixth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship after Lt. Gray, we honour him as a Canadian naval hero, and celebrate his outstanding leadership and heroism.”
— Royal Canadian Navy (@RoyalCanNavy) August 10, 2020
Lt. Gray was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in 1945, the highest military award that can be received in the United Kingdom.
He was the last Canadian to be so honoured.
And while his journey on Earth ended at the age of 27 in the waters of Onagawa Bay, he took his first breath 4,200 miles away in a dusty mining town lining the Columbia River.
Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray was born in Trail, B.C. on November 2, 1917.
In July of 1940, he left the University of British Columbia to join the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and sailed to the United Kingdom in September.
In 1942, Gray qualified for his wings, was commissioned, and sent on fighter operational training.
From July 1942, he served on various squadrons in Africa on fleet support duties. In 1944, he was appointed Senior Pilot of the 1841 Squadron aboard the aircraft carrier, HMS Formidable.
During August of that year, Formidable and her squadrons took part in two attacks on the German battleship, Tirpitz. Gray was mentioned in despatches for his part in the action.
In September, Formidable was assigned to the British Pacific Fleet where strikes were carried out against Japanese naval and air forces, shipping, shipyards, and coastal objectives.
The Squadron of Formidable’s Air Group took part in these operations until hostilities ceased.
On July 28, 1945, Gray led a low-level strike against the naval base at Maisuru, north of Kyoto, and his own bombs sank a destroyer.
This attack resulted in Gray receiving an immediate Award of the Distinguished Service Cross.
On August 9, 1945, Gray and his flight of Corsair fighter-bombers lifted off the deck of the Formidable on a 200-mile mission to attack Japanese warships at anchor on Onagawa Bay.
Gray led the attack and was hit almost at once, but he held his course to release his bombs at the last possible second, to sink the ocean escort Amakusa before crashing to his death in the water. His body was never recovered.
Besides the Victoria Cross, other medals won by Lt. Robert Hampton Gray include the Distinguished Service Cross, 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star, Africa Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp, War Medal 1939-1945, and Mentioned- In-Despatches.
– With files from the Trail Historical Society provided by Sarah Benson-Lord from the Trail Museum and Archives