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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments