British Columbia

Pilot killed just days before end of Second World War honoured with new B.C. monument

Fallen B.C. aviator Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, Canada's last recipient of the prestigious Victoria Cross, is commemorated with a new three-piece memorial display at the B.C. Aviation Museum.

B.C. pilot Lt. Robert Hampton Gray was the last Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross

Lt. Robert Hampton Gray joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1940, and served as a pilot in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. He was killed on August 9, 1945, while leading a successful air attack on a convoy of Japanese naval vessels off Onagawa Bay in Japan. (Submitted by the Royal Canadian Navy)

He was one of the last Canadian soldiers to die in the Second World War.

Twenty-seven-year-old pilot and naval officer Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, from Nelson, B.C., perished in his plane while leading a successful attack on a convoy of Japanese ships in Onagawa Bay, on Aug. 9, 1945, less than a month before the end of the war.

A year later, he was the last Canadian to receive the prestigious Victoria Cross, for "great valour" during the war. 

Now, "Hammie" Gray is being commemorated with a brand new, three-piece marble display at the entrance to the B.C. Aviation Museum in North Saanich.

"He was a shining example of courage, determination, skill,"  said Terry Milne, who led the small group that created the display. "He was a hero." 

Milne, who, for years, was Canada's attaché to Japan, said he and his team feel "wonderfully renewed" that the installation is finally erected, after eight years of planning and raising $100,000 for it. 

A new marble monument commemorating B.C.'s Lieut. Robert Hampton Gray, the last Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, now sits at the B.C. Aviation Museum in North Saanich. ((Submitted / Bob Saunders))

Gray's family in 'absolute awe'

Anne George, Gray's niece, said the family is in "absolute awe" of the honours that continue to be bestowed upon Gray nearly 75 years later. While a memorial was erected for him in Japan in 1986, Gray is also commemorated with a statue in Ottawa, and has a mountain in the Kootenays — Grays Peak — named after him and his brother, who was also killed in the war. 

While George never knew her uncle, she's been told he "inherited the sense of humour and happiness of his father," who was well-known in Nelson. She said her late parents would have been "so humbled" to have seen Gray's new B.C. monument. 

Milne said that as soon as Gray was qualified as a pilot, "he was seen as someone special," and was "very quickly recognized as a determined, dedicated and skilful officer." 

Milne, who was instrumental in erecting Gray's Japan memorial, said after he retired and returned to Canada, he was approached by a "local sailor" who asked if he'd be willing to bring Gray's history home to B.C. 

Anne George, right, Lt. Robert Hampton Gray's niece, says her family is in 'absolute awe' of the honours bestowed upon her uncle, almost 75 years later. (Submitted by Anne George)

So he set out to plan and create the beautifully etched stone monument, with funding from Veterans Affairs Canada, the B.C. Legion, the Naval Association of Canada, and various other donors. 

The monument was to be erected last August, but COVID-19 restrictions delayed its manufacture. 

Milne said a proper dedication ceremony will take place as soon as B.C.'s COVID restrictions on gatherings are lifted, and in the meantime, people can see it for free outside the B.C. Aviation Museum, located on the property of the Victoria International Airport.

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