Heroic naval pilot honoured at BC Aviation Museum
By Peter Mallett
The Lookout Staff,
A lasting tribute to Second World War naval pilot Robert Hampton Gray was officially unveiled Aug. 8 at the BC Aviation Museum in Sidney.
On Aug. 4, 1945, Lt Gray, flying Vought F4U Corsair, left British carrier HMCS Formidable with a fleet of Corsairs to attack Japanese naval vessels in Onagawa Bay.
He sunk the Etorofu-class escort ship Amakusa before his plane crashed into the bay.
Residing at the museum entrance, the three pillars show Gray in uniform, detailing a full list of his titles, awards, and citations etched in the stone. It also includes a description of his life and military service, and a grayscale painting of Gray’s final battle, painted by renowned Canadian aviation artist Don Connolly. To round off the monument is a stone bench with the names of committee members and key donors who worked to bring it to fruition.
Despite the physical distancing and mask protocols in place, dozens of veterans, dignitaries, and high-ranking military personnel were in attendance, including Consul General of the State of Japan in Vancouver, Takashi Hatori; Commander Royal Canadian Air Force LGen Alexander Meinzinger; and Mary Collins, former Associate Minister of National Defence. Representatives of the Gray family included Dr. Anne George, Robert Hampton Gray’s niece; Marcia and Mary George, his great nieces, and his great great nieces Nyah, Niobe, and Nahla Clarke. Representing the Royal Canadian Navy was RAdm Angus Topshee, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific. Flying overhead during the ceremony were six vintage aircraft.
The unveiling of the pillars was emotional for Terry Milne and MS (Ret’d) Joe Buczkowski, who worked behind the scenes for years lobbying and fundraising to bring concrete honour to this war hero.
“With few friends and family members left who knew ‘Hammy’ Gray, it was felt that if any lasting tribute was to be created for the only BC pilot ever awarded the Victoria Cross and the last Canadian so honoured, now was the time,” says Milne, who volunteers at the BC Aviation Museum.
Buczkowski said the moment brought a sense of relief that his dream had become a reality.
“So many people in the community have also worked hard to make this dream become a reality,” he says. “Now people can finally realize the significance of the contributions veterans who come before us have made.”
Monuments to Gray also exist in Halifax and Onagawa, Japan, the only memorial dedicated to a Foreign Service member on Japanese soil.
In another tribute, the Royal Canadian Navy will name its sixth Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship after Gray.