OBITUARY: Group Captain Colin Gray

Colin Gray was one of the outstanding New Zealand fighter pilots of the Second World War, reaching an unrivalled final score of at least 28 enemy aircraft shot down.

One of the features of the Battle of Britain was the large number of pilots found from the old dominions, and the colonies. This was the result of a far-sighted policy by the RAF. It found ready volunteers of high calibre, since their motivation was to become involved in the maximum action, and since the more thrusting officers saw little prospect of promotion in their own comparatively small air forces.

New Zealand, with the smallest eligible population, made the largest contribution of all the dominions to the sum total of Battle of Britain pilots. Usually their ambitions pointed to Fighter Command, although New Zealanders later also manned bomber squadrons - indeed Colin Gray's twin brother was killed in action in 1940 on one of these.

Colin Gray was born in New Zealand and followed his twin into the Royal Air Force on a short service commission. The interval between their two arrivals was caused by medical defects Colin suffered, but which he overcame with typical determination by arduous work on a farm. He was turned down twice by the RAF before he was eventually accepted for training in January 1939.

Gray was a man of strong character, brusque manner and powerful personality. These together brought him into early conflict with his superiors, but his emerging operational performance soon erased any initial doubts. He was heavily involved in the fighting over Dunkirk, sustaining near fatal damage in combat with Me109s. Thereafter he was continuously in action for the whole of 1940, finishing the year with a confirmed total of at least 15 aircraft destroyed.

These included an unusually large number of enemy fighters of approximately equal performance to his own. This was mainly attributable to the fact that, apart from his skill as a pilot, he was a superb natural shot. Many fine pilots produced disappointing results because they lacked this special ability. Among those who combined both and reaped the results were "Sailor" Malan, Johnny Johnson and the German Adolf Galland. Colin Gray was their acknowledged equal.

He continued to be involved in intensive fighting during the whole defensive campaign over Britain; and thereafter, when Fighter Command moved to the not entirely successful offensive over France, led various Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons. He finished this period of his career having destroyed 19 enemy aircraft over 300 hours of continuous operational flying. After a short spell on staff work he was transferred successively to North Africa, Malta and Sicily as a fighter squadron leader and later as a wing leader.

On returning home to Britain and after a short spell on training, during 1944-45 he successively led the Detling and then the Lympne fighter wings until the end of the war. Unusually but by no means uniquely, he was on full operational flying duties for nearly the whole five and a half years of the war, apparently without any impairment of his performance or enthusiasm. For him there was no suggestion of combat stress or trauma of which so much has been heard recently in campaigns such as the Falklands and the Gulf which lasted only a tiny fraction of that time.

After the war, Gray was granted a permanent commission and served in a number of interesting command and staff appointments, including valuable action connected with the fighting in the Malayan emergency. He was awarded the DFC in 1940, bar in 1941, and second bar and also the DSO in 1943. In 1961 he retired and returned to professional life in New Zealand.

In 1990 he came back to Britain for the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. He was one of the eight escorting officers to the Roll of Honour in Westminster Abbey. No one more fully deserved that position.

Christopher Foxley-Norris

Colin Falkland Gray, air force officer: born Christchurch, New Zealand 9 November 1914; DFC 1940, bars 1941, 1943; DSO 1943; married 1945 Betty Cook (two sons, two daughters); died New Zealand 2 August 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?