Robert Hampton Gray

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Robert Hampton Gray
Robert Hampton Gray VC.jpg
Born(1917-11-02)November 2, 1917
Trail, British Columbia, Canada
DiedAugust 9, 1945(1945-08-09) (aged 27)
Onagawa, Honshū, Japanese Empire
Service/branchRoyal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
Years of service1940–45 
Unit1841 Squadron, HMS Formidable
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsVictoria Cross
Distinguished Service Cross
Mentioned in Despatches (2)

Robert Hampton "Hammy" Gray, VC, DSC (November 2, 1917 – August 9, 1945) was a Canadian naval officer, pilot, and recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC) during World War II, one of only two members of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm to have been thus decorated in that war. (The other was Eugene Esmonde, a British pilot.) Gray is the last Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Early life[edit]

Gray was born in Trail, British Columbia, Canada, but resided from an early age in Nelson, where his father was a jeweller.[1] In 1940, following education at the University of Alberta and University of British Columbia, where he completed his Bachelor of Arts and was a member of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity,[2] he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) at HMCS Tecumseh in Calgary, Alberta. Originally sent to England for training, Gray was sent back to Canada to train at RCAF Station Kingston.

War service[edit]

Africa and Norway[edit]

Gray initially joined 757 Squadron at Winchester, England. He was then assigned to the African theatre, flying Hawker Hurricanes for shore-based squadrons, nos. 795, 803, and 877, where he spent two years at Nairobi.[3]

He trained to fly the Corsair fighter and in 1944 he was assigned to 1841 Squadron, based on HMS Formidable. From August 24–29, 1944, he took part in a series of unsuccessful raids against the German battleship Tirpitz, in Norway. On August 29, 1944, he was Mentioned in Dispatches for his participation in an attack on three German destroyers, during which his plane's rudder was shot off.[3] On January 16, 1945, he received a further Mention, "For undaunted courage, skill and determination in carrying out daring attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz."[4]


In April 1945, HMS Formidable joined the British Pacific Fleet which was involved in the invasion of Okinawa. By July 1945, the carrier was involved in strikes on the Japanese mainland. On July 18, Gray led a strafing mission against airfields in the Tokyo area. On July 24, Gray led another flight to the inland sea which damaged one merchant ship, and damaged two seaplane bases and one airbase. Gray earned a Distinguished Service Cross for aiding in sinking a Japanese destroyer in the area of Tokyo on July 28.[3] The award was not announced until August 21, 1945, when the notice appeared in the London Gazette with the citation, "For determination and address in air attacks on targets in Japan".[5]

VC action[edit]

On August 9, 1945, at Onagawa Bay, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, Lieutenant Gray (flying a Vought F4U Corsair) led an attack on a group of Japanese naval vessels, sinking the Etorofu-class escort ship Amakusa before his plane crashed into the bay.[6][7] The citation for his VC, gazetted on November 13, 1945, describes what happened:

ADMIRALTY Whitehall, 13th November 1945.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS for valour to: —

the late Temporary Lieutenant Robert Hampton GRAY, R.C.N.V.R.,

for great valour in leading an attack on a Japanese destroyer in Onagawa Wan, on 9 August 1945. In the face of fire from shore batteries and a heavy concentration of fire from some five warships Lieutenant 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. Lieutenant Gray has consistently shown a brilliant fighting spirit and most inspiring leadership.[8]

Gray was one of the last Canadians to die during World War II,[6] and was the last Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. His VC is owned by the Gray family.[9]


Hampton Gray bust at Valiants Memorial, Ottawa

As Gray's remains were never found, he was listed as missing in action and presumed dead. He is commemorated, with other Canadians who died or were buried at sea during the First and Second World Wars, at the Halifax Memorial in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The War Memorial Gym at University of British Columbia, Royal Canadian Legion hall in Nelson, numerous other sites in Nelson, and the wardroom of HMCS Tecumseh (his RCNVR home unit) also bear plaques in his honour.

A memorial for Gray was erected at Onagawa Bay in 1989 in Sakiyama Park.[10] This is the only memorial dedicated to a foreign soldier on Japanese soil.[citation needed] Following the devastation of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, the monument (with new plaque) was moved from its original location in Sakiyama Park to one beside the hospital (Onagawacho Community Medicine Center) in Onagawa Town. A rededication ceremony was held 24 August 2012.[10] Gray is one of fourteen figures commemorated at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa.

To celebrate the Centennial of the Canadian Navy, during the 2010 air show season, Vintage Wings of Canada flew at events across Canada in a Corsair bearing the markings of the plane Gray was likely flying that fateful day.[11]

His life is recorded in A Formidable Hero, Lt. R.H. Gray, VC, DSC, RCNVR (second edition) by Stuart E. Soward, published by Trafford Neptune.

Grays Peak, British Columbia[edit]

On March 12, 1946, the Geographic Board of Canada named a mountain in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, British Columbia, after Gray and his brother, Flt Sgt John Balfour Gray, RCAF, who was also killed in World War II.[12] Rising to a height of 2,753m, Grays Peak is well known in Canada as the mountain pictured on the label of Kokanee beer.[13]

Hampton Gray Memorial Elementary[edit]

The elementary school at CFB Shearwater is named after Gray.[14]

Kingston Norman Rogers Airport[edit]

Gray completed his training at No. 31 Service Flying Training School in Kingston, Ontario. There is a Harvard aircraft, same type of trainer he flew at Kingston, mounted on a pedestal with a memorial dedicated to him. Additionally, the road leading to the airport terminal has been named Hampton Gray Gate.[15]

Royal Canadian Sea Cadets[edit]

The Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps in Nelson, BC is named 81 Hampton Gray, VC Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps.

Royal Canadian Air Cadets[edit]

In 2012, the Royal Canadian Air Cadets created a new squadron in his honour called 789 Lt. R. Hampton Gray VC Squadron which is located in Mississauga, Ontario.

Harry DeWolf-class offshore patrol vessel[edit]

The sixth and final Harry DeWolf-class offshore patrol vessel will be named for Gray.


  1. ^ Turner, J. F. V.C.'s of the Royal Navy Harrap London 1957 p.190
  2. ^ "The Scroll Vol. 118 Page 47" (PDF). Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Robert Hampton Gray VC, DSC". The Crowsnest. Vol. 2 no. 12. Queen's Printer. October 1950. pp. 16–7.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2012-03-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "No. 37232". The London Gazette. 1945-08-17. p. 4221.
  6. ^ a b Soward, Stuart E. "A brilliant flying spirit: Lt. Hampton Gray, VC, DSC, RCNVR". CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  7. ^ "DHH-Victoria Cross Bios-Robert Hampton Gray". Department of National Defence. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  8. ^ "No. 37346". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1945-11-13. p. 5529.
  9. ^ Bishop, Arthur (1 March 2006). "Valour in the Navy: Part 14 of 18". Legion Magazine.
  10. ^ a b "New Hampton Gray monument unveiled in Japan". Nelson Star. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-16. Retrieved 2010-08-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Province of British Columbia, BC Geographic Names Database (BCGNIS), Grays Peak. Retrieved 2010.07.24
  13. ^, Canadian Mountain Encyclopedia, Grays Peak. Retrieved 2010.07.24
  14. ^ "Former Hampton Gray Memorial School, Building 14". Canada's Historic Places. January 15, 2004. Archived from the original on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2015-05-08.
  15. ^

External links[edit]