Last Battle of Hampton Gray

History Classics

Canadian World War II heroes: Lt. Robert Hampton Gray leads eight Corsairs in an attack against Japanese military targets – and never returns.

August 9, 1945: World War II is coming to an end. A Canadian, Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, leads eight Corsairs in an attack against Japanese military targets. To everyone’s surprise, Gray undertakes a suicidal assault on an armed escort ship in Onagawa Bay on the island of Honshu, the mainland of Japan. Posthumously, he’s awarded the highest military honour: the Victoria Cross. In this documentary, filmmaker Ian Herring journeys to make sense of Gray’s final act and determine the meaning of heroism in peacetime.

Lieutenant Gray, born 1917 in Trail, B.C., went to school at the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia before joining the Canadian Navy in 1940. One of only 13 who qualified as pilots in the Fleet Air Arm, he also served as lieutenant on board the HMS Formidable in 1944, and has been praised for his work during an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in Alten Fjord. Shortly before his death he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for aiding in the destruction of a destroyer near Tokyo.

Neither Lieutenant Gray nor his plane have ever been found. But his name survives as one of Canada’s World War II heroes. It’s inscribed on the Sailor’s Memorial in Halifax, Nova Scotia and his Victoria Cross, the last to be awarded to a Canadian, is on display at the War Museum in Ottawa.