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 honours B.C.’s final fallen World War II hero

Victoria Cross winner Lieut. Robert Gray shot down off Japan, now saluted outside BC Aviation Museum

“Hammy” was 28 when he a led an attack of eight Corsair aircrafts on a convoy of Japanese naval vessels in Onagawa Bay near Tokyo on Honshu Island, the largest and most populous of the Japanese Islands.

Flying off the HMS Formidable aircraft carrier, Lieut. Robert Hampton Gray 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 Kamikaze 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.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


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

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

RCMP responded to a report early Friday morning of a suspect firing a gun at a Salmo home. Photo: Black Press
RCMP arrest woman who fired shots at Salmo home

The woman allegedly discharged a firearm early Friday morning

Summit Ski Hill had a delayed start to the season because of warm temperatures. Photo: Summit Ski Hill
Late season start frustrating for Nakusp ski hill

Summit Ski Hill only just opened Jan. 14

Four friends were heading to their home on Highway 6 just south of Silverton on the evening of Dec. 25, 2020, when the people in the front of the vehicle saw what looked like a “huge, man-like figure” on the side of the road. (Pixabay.com)
Possible Bigfoot sighting shocks, excites Silverton residents

‘I didn’t see the creature myself, I saw the prints’

Police were called after a man was witnessed stabbing tires with the fence post. Photo: Thanh Serious on Unsplash
Trail RCMP eport erratic man, suspicious fire and prohibited driver

Brief from the media release from the Trail and Greater District RCMP detachment

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

A COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon's Heritage Square long-term care home has claimed seven people. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Two more COVID-19 deaths at Vernon care home

Heritage Square has now lost seven people due to the outbreak

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Andre Robert won $500,000 through a Lotto Extra ticket on Dec. 23, 2020. Photo: Jeanne d’Arc Allard
Creston resident wins $500k through Lotto ticket

“I was surprised. I wasn’t sure if it was true or not.”

Most Read