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The Last Canadian VC - Robert Hampton Gray
  • The Last Canadian VC - Robert Hampton Gray

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  • Photo: Katherine Norenius

  • Throughout 2010, Vintage Wings of Canada will join the Officers, Men and Women of the Canadian Navy in celebrating their 100th Anniversary. While it will not be possible to bring a ship to every major community from Coast to Coast, Vintage Wings of Canada will send naval emissaries in the form of two of our vintage naval warbirds – the Fairey Swordfish and the Robert Hampton Gray Corsair.
    While the Royal Canadian Navy never operated the Corsair fighter-bomber, many RCN aviators flew the type with extreme distinction with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.
    One such Corsair driver was Sub-Lieutenant Don Sheppard, DSC of Toronto, a pilot with 1836 squadron aboard HMS Victorious. This remarkable aviator holds the unique distinction of being the only Corsair ace in the Royal Navy - with five kills to his credit in the Pacific theatre. Don Sheppard is a highly revered fighter pilot with an unequaled career who is regarded as one of the finest pilots to have ever flown the Corsair anywhere. Today, Sheppard lives in Aurora, Ontario.

    But perhaps the most widely known Canadian naval aviator from the Second World War is Lieutenant Robert Hampton “Hammy” Gray, VC, DSC, who was much loved by his 1841 Squadron mates aboard HMS Formidable and who was highly regarded as a flight commander and aggressive pilot. It was, however, the manner of his death that makes him so well known to Canadians. Gray died in the final few days of the war when the Corsair he was flying was shot down as he was attacking a Japanese warship in Japanese home waters. The facts are well known and yet still the focus of speculation and interest more than sixty years after his death.

    Here, Don MacNeil tells us of Gray's life and final moments.

    Today, fourteen statues and busts stand on Sappers' Bridge near Ottawa's Parliament Hill. The Valiants Memorial is a collection of nine busts, five statues and a large bronze wall inscription that reads, “No day will ever erase you from the memory of time” (in Latin: “Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo”), from The Aeneid by Virgil.

    The Valiants Memorial reminds us how war has had a profound influence on the evolution of Canada. The fourteen individuals featured in the memorial are celebrated for their personal contributions, but they also represent critical moments in our military history. Presented together, they become a kind of pageant of our past, showing how certain key turning points in our military history contributed to the building of our country. The memorial is therefore intended to acknowledge and honour the role that military participation, and the men and women who contributed to that participation, have had on nation building. One of those statues is the likeness of Canada’s last Commonwealth Victoria Cross recipient, Lt. Robert Hampton Gray.

    Who was Lt. Robert Hampton Gray? Why was he posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross? Many today have never heard of the Victoria Cross and many have no understanding of its importance today. This short essay attempts to answer these and many other questions about the life and death of Gray.

    Born in Trail B.C., to John Balfor Gray a Boer War veteran and his wife Wilhelmina Gray of Listowel, Ontario, Robert Hampton (Hammy to his friends and family), was the oldest son in a family of three, with a brother Jack and sister Phyllis. John Gray, a jeweller, later moved his family to Nelson B.C. where he became well known in town and was elected to town council.

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