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

Gurinder Mann. (Submitted photo)
Surrey man receives prestigious restorative justice award

East Newton resident Gurinder Mann one of five to receive a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award

TEASE PHOTO: Teens at the Bumpers dance club in Whalley in the 1980s, in a photo posted to the "Bumpers / The Zone OFFICIAL Party Page" on Facebook.com.
SURREY NOW & THEN: Bumpers and other teen dance clubs were big in the 1980s

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service looking to hire in-house lawyer

Solicitor to work within Office of the Chief Constable, serve on internal and external committees to ‘represent the SPS’s interests’

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Tyler Tardi will serve as a fifth on Team Laycock at the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tyler Tardi to serve as alternate for B.C. team at Brier

Langley/Cloverdale curler to serve as ‘fifth’ on Team Laycock at Calgary-hosted championships

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Competitors make their way through the course at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships, which was hosted by Abbotsford in 2019. (File photo)
Abbotsford to host 2023 Canadian Cross Country Championships

Clearbrook Park last hosted the event in 2019, Ottawa hosting 2021 and 2022 races

Most Read