Lieutenant Robert Hampton (Hammie/Hammy) Gray, VC, DSC, was born in Trail, British Columbia, on November 2, 1917, to parents John Balfour Gray Sr. and Wilhelmina (née McAllister) Gray. Hampton had one older sister, Phyllis Wilma, and one younger brother, John (Jack) Balfour Jr. The young family soon moved to Nelson, B.C., where Hampton’s father established a business as a jeweller and watchmaker. After completing high school in Nelson in 1936, Hampton initially enrolled at the University of Alberta, later transferring to the University of British Columbia.
With Canada now at war, Gray enlisted on July 18, 1940, at HMCS Tecumseh in Calgary with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR). After an initial training period in England, Gray was assigned to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm for training as a fighter pilot.
While serving aboard the HMS Formidable Gray was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for “determination and address in air attacks on targets in Japan” following the sinking of a Japanese destroyer on July 28, 1945. (The London Gazette, August 21, 1945). He was killed on August 9, 1945, while leading an air raid on the naval base at Onagawa Bay, Japan. Gray was posthumously awarded the Commonwealth’s highest military decoration, the Victoria Cross (VC), “for great valor in leading an attack on a Japanese destroyer in Onagawa” (The London Gazette, Nov. 13, 1945).
The letters in the Hampton Gray Collection begin shortly after his 1940 enlistment and continue through the war to the summer of 1945. Almost all were written by Hampton to his parents in Nelson, B.C., or to his sister Phyllis in Calgary, Alberta. Many of the letters mention Hampton’s brother Jack who was serving in England with the Royal Canadian Air Force. More information on Jack Gray, including over thirty of Jack’s wartime letters, can be found in the John (Jack) Balfour Gray Collection.
Lt. Gray’s Service Record (Reg/Ser# V13438) is available online through Library and Archives Canada.
Burial information is available at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
A memorial page honouring Gray can be visited online at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.
The awarding to Gray of the Distinguished Service Cross was published in The London Gazette on August 21, 1945 (# 37232, p. 7221); the awarding of the Victoria Cross was published on November 13, 1945 (# 37346, p. 5529).
Among the many memorials and tributes made to Lt. Gray’s service:
Gray is one of fourteen Canadians honoured at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario; is among those commemorated on the Halifax Memorial, Point Pleasant, Halifax, Nova Scotia; and is a member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
On March 12, 1946, the Geographic Board of Canada designated “Grays Peak” within the Kokanee Mountain Range, British Columbia, in remembrance of both RCNVR Lt. Robert Hampton Gray and his brother RCAF Flight Sergeant John Balfour Gray.
His mother, Mrs. Wilhelmina Gray, was appointed as the 1969 National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother, participating in the 1969 Remembrance Day wreath laying ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on behalf of all mothers of children who have been lost while in military service.
[Editor’s note: Additional materials for the Robert Hampton Gray Collection, along with other members of the Gray family, have been recently received and are anticipated to be made available online in the spring of 2023.]