Aviation museum monument honours B.C. pilot

Jan 12, 2021

Veteran Peter Chance, 100, left, and B.C. Aviation Museum liaison Russ Hudson show off the museum’’s recently unveiled monument to Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, a B.C. pilot who posthumously received the Victoria Cross.

A memorial dedicated to a Second World War pilot who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross — the only pilot from B.C. to receive the award — has been installed at the entrance to the B.C. Aviation Museum. Installation of the memorial honouring Lieut. Robert Hampton Gray, who was from the West Kootenay area, was to have been last August, but had been delayed due to pandemic restrictions.

“I think the memorial, which shows off cutting-edge photoengraving using laser etching, is beautiful,” said Terry Milne, the project’s manager. “It sets the tone and class for the museum.”

Gray, who was 27 when he died, was awarded the Victoria Cross for “great valour” in leading a successful attack on a Japanese destroyer in the closing days of the war. According to a Department of National Defence website, on Aug. 9, 1945, Gray led eight Corsair fighters from HMS Formidable on a mission to bomb enemy shipping in Japan’s Onagawa Wan (Bay), with each aircraft carrying two 500-pound bombs.

As Gray began his attack, his fighter was hit by anti-aircraft fire, dislodging one of his bombs and igniting a fire. His aircraft in flames and under heavy fire from shore batteries and warships, Gray flew low to score a direct hit with his remaining bomb on the Japanese escort vessel Amakusa, which subsequently sank. “Instead of taking evasive action to avoid enemy fire, his aircraft then turned slowly to starboard, rolled onto its back and dived into the bay, leading to speculation that Gray may have been wounded during his run into the target,” the DND website says.

He was the last Canadian to receive the award.

A formal dedication ceremony is planned for later in the year when health restrictions preventing public gatherings are rescinded. The original dedication date was to have been Aug. 9, 2020, to recognize the 75th anniversary of Gray’s last battle, and the subsequent end of the Second World War.

The B.C. Aviation Museum, located on the grounds of the Victoria International Airport, is run by the B.C. Aviation Museum Society. The society aims to collect and preserve aircraft and artifacts related to the history of aviation, with an emphasis on British Columbia. For more information, go to bcam.net.

(News Source: Times Colonist, Pedro Arrais)