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J.L. Granatstein: Hammy Gray, Canadian hero


“He had blond hair—straight and fine—with a fresh boyish complexion. Medium height, and inclined to be plump, with a somewhat rolling gait,” said Hammy Gray’s squadron commander on HMS Formidable. “He was tremendously warm-hearted, always cheerful and even-tempered—rather easy going…modest….He liked to tell us stories of hometown life in Nelson B.C. in his mild British Columbian accent,” the officer continued, “and was unmercifully ribbed about that hick town in the west.”

Somehow that doesn’t sound like the usual description of a hero, but Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, would receive the Distinguished Service Cross and the Victoria Cross posthumously for his actions during the final stages of the war in the Pacific in the summer of 1945.

Robert Hampton Gray was born in Trail, B.C. in 1917—his father was a Boer War veteran and jeweller—and grew up in Nelson. After high school, he attended the University of Alberta for one year, then transferred to the University of British Columbia. He had intended to go to McGill to get a medical degree but instead joined the Navy in the summer of 1940. He did his basic training at HMCS Stadacona in Halifax, then applied for officer and pilot training. Many applied for the first, fewer for the second, but Gray was chosen for both and proceeded to England where he was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant.

Gray then returned to Canada for flying training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Kingston, Ontario, returned to Britain, and then was posted to Nairobi, Kenya. There he spent most of two years as a shore-based naval pilot flying Hawker Hurricanes but with some time flying off the aircraft carrier Illustrious. His brother, flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force, was killed on operations during Gray’s African posting.

Now a lieutenant, Gray received a billet on HMS Formidable, another Royal Navy carrier, and in August 1944 played a prominent part in two attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz that was sheltering in a Norwegian fjord. The battleship was not sunk during these raids (it was in November 1944), but Gray’s courage and skill in flying his fast, well-armed fighter-bomber, the F4U Corsair, “right down the barrels” of the guns of the German destroyers protecting the Tirpitz was noted, and he was twice Mentioned in dispatches. In April 1945, Formidable joined the British Pacific Fleet as the Allies closed in on Japan, attacking shipping and shore installations.

Japan was in dire straits by the summer of 1945, its cities fire-bombed, its merchant fleet all but destroyed. There was no sign of surrender, however, and the United States and its British Commonwealth allies, including Canada, were planning a seaborne invasion that all feared would meet the same fanatical resistance the Americans had faced for almost three months at Okinawa. Japanese kamikaze pilots were still attacking Allied vessels and their airfields were prime targets. In these circumstances, the pressure on the leadership in Tokyo had to be maintained, and on July 18, 24, and 28 Gray led his flight of six Corsairs in attacks on airfields and shore installations around Japan’s Inland Sea. Once again, his remarkable bravery was noted and Admiral Sir Philip Vian, commanding the British Pacific Fleet, recommended him for an immediate award of the Distinguished Service Cross, a high decoration.

Hiroshima was struck by the atomic bomb on August 6 and, while no one in the Fleet knew in detail of its effects, it was clear that this weapon of enormous power was going to shake the Japanese leadership and that the end of the war was drawing near. Aircrew on Formidable, as Gray’s squadron leader recalled, were told “to take it easy” on August 9 and avoid unnecessary risks as they again set off to strafe airfields. Neither Gray nor his mates knew that Nagasaki had been levelled that day by the second atomic bomb. 

The chosen route took Gray’s flight over Onagawa Bay on Honshu where five Imperial Japanese Navy ships were at anchor. As the citation of Gray’s Victoria Cross, announced in November 1945, “the fliers…dived in to attack. Furious fire was opened on the aircraft from army batteries on the ground and from warships in the Bay. Lieut. Gray selected for his target an enemy destroyer. He swept in oblivious of the concentrated fire and made straight for his target. His aircraft was hit and hit again, but he kept on. As he came close to the destroyer his plane caught fire but he pressed to within fifty feet of the Japanese ship and let go his bombs. He scored at least one direct hit, possibly more. The destroyer sank almost immediately. Lieutenant Gray did not return,” the citation ended. “He had given his life at the very end of his fearless bombing run.”Robert Gray Citation

The historian of the Royal Navy’s operations in the Pacific, John Winton, wrote that “Gray’s VC was in a sense the saddest and certainly one of the least-known of the war. The war was so nearly over; the cause for which he gave his life was already won.”The Victoria Cross at Sea: The Sailors, Marines and Airmen Awarded Britain’s Highest Honour Japan capitulated on August 15. Gray was very likely the last Canadian serviceman killed in action in the Second World War, and his Victoria Cross was the only one awarded to a member of the RCN in the 1939-45 war.Second World War Victoria Cross Recipients 

Gray is commemorated by one of the fourteen statues and busts on The Valiants Memorial near Confederation Square in Ottawa.“The Valiants Memorial, located in downtown Ottawa, is a collection of nine busts and five statues depicting individuals who have played a role in major conflicts throughout our history. It also includes a bronze wall inscription that reads, “No day will ever erase you from the memory of time”, which is from The Aeneid by Virgil.

The monument pays tribute to the people who have served this country in times of war and the contribution they have made in building our nation. These 14 men and women were chosen for their heroism, and because they represent critical moments in Canada’s military history.”

Most Canadian pass it by and few know anything of Gray’s courage. They should know more. He deserves to be remembered as the Canadian hero he was.

Rajan Sawhney: Albertans need relief. Here’s how I would fight inflation


Just as we all hoped to put the past two-and-a-half years in the rear-view mirror, along comes debilitating increases in the cost of living—runaway energy and food and house prices are making life unaffordable, particularly for the vulnerable among us.Inflation Expectations Hit Record in Bank of Canada Surveys

Inflation is something most Canadians have never experienced. Sadly, younger Canadians are learning a lesson the rest of us learned the hard way: Inflation hurts. It hurts a lot.Half of Canadians Who Have a Car Cannot Afford to Fill Their Gas Tank

It hurts low-income and vulnerable Canadians the most. Particularly those on income assistance and disability programs, low-income seniors, and working Albertans struggling to get by. In Alberta, Trevor Tombe, our resident economic number cruncher, has estimated that inflation is currently reducing disposable income by as much as ten percent for those with low incomes.Inflation’s bite is big. Alberta’s capacity to help is bigger

A ten percent pay cut would be devastating for most of us. But for those on income support, low-income seniors and struggling to get by, it is simply debilitating. 

I am running to be the leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, and premier of Alberta. I want to be a premier that brings conservative principles to the challenges of today. That means helping Albertans—especially the most vulnerable among us—deal with the real challenges of today. It does not mean tilting at constitutional windmills.

A few years ago, the Alberta government—a government of which I was a cabinet minister—decided to delink critical programs, and the Alberta tax system, from inflation. At the time the Alberta government was running unsustainable deficits and inflation was at historic lows. Spending needed to be controlled. I was in the cabinet at the time and was a part of those discussions. I agree that Alberta needs to control spending.

But the reality is that in the current high-inflation environment, the Alberta government is set to get a windfall not just from rising energy prices, but from the overall rise in inflation. That’s right—Albertan’s pain is the Alberta government’s gain. 

Alberta is witnessing the most massive turnaround in its budget in Alberta history. We are on track, according to Tombe, to be running surpluses of one billion dollars per month above the budget forecast.

This provides the Alberta government with an enormous opportunity to cushion the blow of inflation for Albertans.

Which is exactly what I would do.

First, I would, as premier, re-index five critical programs that support low-income Albertans, Albertans on disability, and Alberta seniors. Those programs include Income Support to People Expected to Work or Working; Income Support to People with Barriers to Full Employment; Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) Grants; Seniors Benefit and the Seniors Supplementary Accommodation Benefit.

If the inflation rate over this year averages four percent, indexing these programs will cost $116 million this year. If inflation averages eight percent, the annual cost will be double that, $232 million. Fully half of that money will go to AISH recipients.

I was the minister of community and social services when the Alberta government de-indexed AISH. It is no secret that I fought against further reductions. AISH should be indexed to inflation, full stop, and a government led by me will do so immediately. This is the first and critical step in helping these vulnerable Albertans at this time.

Second is to do the same for all Albertans who file income taxes. When we fought the deficit, it made sense to ask all Albertans to do their share. But in a world with high and rising inflation, it makes no sense for the Alberta government to reap a windfall while Albertans are drowning under a waterfall of rising food, energy, and other costs. Reindexing the tax system means not only increasing all the tax brackets, it also means increasing the basic personal and spousal amounts, age amounts, medical allowances, and all the other credits in the tax system. If inflation runs at four percent this will cost $251 million this year. At eight percent it will cost $496 million.

Third, the Alberta government should not just do no harm. It should do some good. 

Albertans need relief now.

That is why, should I become Alberta premier, the Alberta government would immediately start writing Affordability Cheques to every Alberta household for $75 per month. Families with children would get an additional $25 per child under 18. And, because rural Albertans drive more and face even higher costs for food, the program will include a supplement for rural Albertans boosting the per-household amount to $90 and per-child amount to $30 per kid.

These Affordability Cheques would cost $225 million per month—just over one-fifth of the unanticipated surplus due to rising energy prices. Funds that belong to Albertans. This leaves four-fifths of that unanticipated surplus for debt reduction, savings, infrastructure, and other priorities. 

Incomes for lower-income families with kids will increase by as much as six percent (credit to Trevor Tombe for running these numbers). Together with re-indexing the tax system and re-indexing those five critical programs, low-income Albertans will see significant protection from more expensive groceries, gasoline, and electricity.

Affordability Cheques would be phased out on the same scale as the government will phase out the Fuel Tax Holiday—as the price of oil falls, the program will be reduced. This will be evaluated quarterly.

Alberta is incredibly fortunate to have the energy industry. It not only employs Albertans (including me for over two decades) but through the windfall revenues it produces when energy prices rise, it allows our government to protect our population from the rising cost of living. After all, these dollars belong to Albertans.

Those windfall revenues should do more than reduce our debt, as important as that is. A portion should also be used to protect Alberta families from something many have never experienced—the unaffordable rise in the cost of living from rising inflation.

And as Alberta’s premier, that’s the first thing I would do.