Monument pays homage to heroic legacy of naval flyer

Four former navy members comprising the team responsible for completing the memorial for Robert Hampton Gray were on hand for the unveiling Jan. 5 at the BC Aviation Museum. From left: Stan Brygadyr, Project Secretary, Terry Milne,  Project Manager, Gerry Pash, Project Public Relations, and Joe Buczkowski, Project Originator. Robert Hampton Gray was a Canadian naval pilot killed on a raid of Japanese destroyer Amakusa during the Second World War and was Canada’s last Victoria Cross recipient.

Four former navy members comprising the team responsible for completing the memorial for Robert Hampton Gray were on hand for the unveiling Jan. 5 at the BC Aviation Museum. From left: Stan Brygadyr, Project Secretary, Terry Milne, Project Manager, Gerry Pash, Project Public Relations, and Joe Buczkowski, Project Originator. Robert Hampton Gray was a Canadian naval pilot killed on a raid of Japanese destroyer Amakusa during the Second World War and was Canada’s last Victoria Cross recipient.

Peter Mallett
Staff Writer
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After many delays, a memorial for Canada’s last Victoria Cross recipient, Lt Robert Hampton Gray, has been installed at the British Columbia Aviation Museum in Sidney.

Plans to unveil the three-pillar marker dedicated to the Second World War naval pilot were originally set for Aug. 9, 2020, the 75th anniversary of his death. However, the ceremony was postponed due to health and safety concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gerald Pash and Capt(N) (Retired) Terry Milne were the lone attendees as workers from Stewart Monumental Works dropped the 2.1 metres tall, polished grey granite markers into place with a small crane on Jan. 5.

An official dedication ceremony is still in the works but that will not come until it is safe to do so, says Milne.

“It was a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment to see this beautiful monument dropped into place, and I am proud so many people were united and determined to make this happen,” said Milne. “We didn’t want the legacy of this war hero to be forgotten and now future generations of Canadians can learn about the importance of his legacy.

“Among the several committee members, volunteers, and community organizations who were essential to making the dream of a Gray monument a reality, I am grateful to Colonel (Retired) Stan Brygadyr, who has served as project secretary, and Derek Greer of the Naval Association of Canada served as treasurer, and Gerald Pash for media relations and ceremonial advice. It was naval veteran MS (Retired) Joe Buczkowski who, as President of the Esquimalt Lions Club, initially raised the matter of such a monument. Then Brygadyr approached officials at the B.C. Aviation Museum. They agreed to donate the space at the museum.”

“I think Hampton Gray would have appreciated being remembered in this fashion,” said Buczkowski. “Teaching the younger generation about history and the contributions of Canadians to the freedoms we all enjoy today is very important to me.”

Buczkowski travelled to the museum on Jan. 6 to see the monument and says he marvelled at the beauty of its design. 

The pillars include etchings of Gray in uniform and a full list of his titles, awards, and citations. It also includes a description of Gray’s life and military service with a painting of Gray’s last battle by renowned Canadian aviation artist Don Connolly.

Also included in the display is a stone park bench with the names of committee members and key donors. Donors to the approximately $100,000 project included Veterans Affairs Canada, The Royal Canadian Legion, the BC Aviation Museum, The Naval Association of Canada, Stewart Monumental Works Ltd., Rusnak Gallant Design Ltd., and multiple individual donors.

Robert “Hammy” Gray

Born Nov. 2, 1917, in Trail, B.C., Robert “Hammy” Gray was completing his studies at UBC when the Second World War began. He enrolled in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman and was selected for pilot training. He excelled and quickly earned his wings at the rank of Sub-Lieutenant.

He served in several theatres of war, flying from the decks of aircraft carriers before losing his life at the age of 27.

He is noted for his daring attack on Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz in 1944 and for aiding in the sinking of a Japanese destroyer near Tokyo on July 28, 1945.

Twelve days later, he led an attack on Japanese ships in Onagawa Bay. His plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire, but before he crashed in the bay he was able to release his bomb to sink destroyer Amakusa. He was one of the last Canadians to die in the Second World War and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

“Gray pressed home his attack, flying very low in order to ensure success, and although he was hit and his aircraft was in flames, he obtained at least one direct hit, sinking the destroyer,” read his award citation. “Lieutenant Gray has consistently shown a brilliant fighting spirit and most inspiring leadership.”

In 1990, Japan approved an installation of a memorial to Gray overlooking the bay where his remains lie. The monument is truly remarkable, says Milne, because it is the only one ever erected in Japan dedicated to a former enemy.

In the final four years of his 30-year career in the navy, Milne worked with federal and municipal officials in Japan to help establish the Onagawa monument during his tenure as Canada’s Defence Attaché to Japan.

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  1. Russ Hudson says:

    A great article on a legendary Naval Aviator. As a member and volunteer at the B.C. Aviation Museum I am honoured that our site was chosen for this absolutely stunning monument.
    The artistic work and design of this monument is exceptional and will be a wonderful addition for individuals visiting our site.
    Sincere Congratulations to out to the project team
    Russ Hudson
    Director
    British Columbia Aviation Museum

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