Distinguished Flying Cross, GVI, dated 1944, in case of issue, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, 1939-45 War Medal, Africa Service Medal, Flight Commander Owen Park Gray, 17 Sqn SAAF.
Major Owen Park Gray, No 17 Squadron South Africa Air Force.
Distinguished Flying Cross, dated 1944 is in the case of issue, his WW2 medals are South African issues, as such they are all officially impressed at the mint: “47416 O.P. Gray”
Included is his original SAAF Pilot Wings, two SAAF badges and his wartime silk ribbon bar circa 1944-5 with only the DFC and Africa Star.
Awarded the DFC as Flight Commander, completed 93 sorties over 572 Flying Hours.
“This officer, who is now on his second tour of operational duty has an outstanding operational record. He has accomplished particularly good work during recent operations. In August 1944, Major Grey located 4 enemy vessels off Savona. Despite appalling weather, he flew at low level over the heavily defended port of Savona and delivered a telling attack. Later in the same month he participated in a highly successful attack on the oil refiner and dockyard at Port St. Louis Du Rhone. At all times Major Grey has maintained a high standard of operational efficiency in his flight.”
I have transcribed the following 5 Page typed and well detailed biography which accompanies the group:
Owen Gray was born in Estcourt, Natal on 5 May 1908 the son of William Park Gray and his wife
Edith. William Gray was, in his own right, a soldier of some substance having commanded the Natal
Light Horse in German South West Africa during World War I.
Farming in the Cathkin Peak area of the Drakensberg, some distance from most amenities, meant
that Gray was sent to boarding school. In his case this was Hilton College where he carried on the
Gray family tradition of attending this illustrious institution gaining his Matriculation there.
On 27 October 1923 Gray enlisted for Active Citizen Force service with the Natal Carbineers. He
was assigned number 38118 and the rank of Trooper attached to B Squadron. This service was to
last for a period of four years before the stresses and strains of helping on the Family farm, Paisley,
became too much and he took his discharge.
From an early age Gray had demonstrated a passion for aviation and, on 29 June 1938, blissfully
unaware of the war clouds looming on the international horizon, he attested for service with the
South African Air Force as a Pupil Pilot. The Coast Garrison and Active Citizen Force forms he
completed at Johannesburg provided his date of birth as 5 May 1907 (there are several
discrepancies with regards to his date of birth with some documents reflecting the years 1908 and
He claimed to be 31 years and 2 months of age and a Miner by occupation. (Importantly he had
given up the notion of being a farmer and had relocated to the Witwatersrand at some stage to
take up mining) He provided his address as 56, 12th Avenue, Mayfair, Johannesburg and his business
address as Langlaagte Estates, P.O. Langlaagte. Still single he signed on for a period of four years
with effect from 1 July 1938. Physically he was a tall 6 feet in height with a dark complexion,
brown eyes and dark hair.
Simultaneously he completed the Form of Contract of Service for Citizens Desirous of Appointment
as Pupil Pilots of Air Training Squadrons, Active Citizen Force.
Having completed the preliminaries Gray now started off his military life as Pupil Pilot no. 39907
flying both military as well as civilian aircraft. On 27 September 1939, some three weeks after the
outbreak of the war, he completed the Volunteers for Service in the S.A. Air Force form wherein he
confirmed that he had flown 52 solo hours, 57 dual hours and 7 civilian hours as part of his training.
The aircraft flown were Wapiti (military) and Tiger Gypsy Hornet Major (civilian)
The form, to be completed by all Pupil Pilots and confirming that they would serve as volunteers
for the duration of hostilities, was then to be submitted to Zwartkop Air Station at Roberts Heights.
That he was itching to get started was borne out by the letter his father wrote, on 24 December
1939, to Lt. Col. J. Holthouse, D.S.O. – the Director General, Air Services, Pretoria – it read as
My son, Pupil Pilot Owen Park Gray, has passed second in his batch of 63 at Robert's Heights, and is
now waiting to hear what will be required of him. He is very anxious to get on with the job and at
the outbreak of the war tried to get permission to serve oversea. This was refused, but he hopes
that his Commission will be given him at an early date and that he will be called upon for Active
Service here. If you can do anything to help him I will be extremely grateful to you.
Permit me to congratulate you, most heartily, on your success in the Service, and to wish you the
Compliments of the Season.
W. Park Gray
Having graduated as a Pilot Gray was awarded no. 47416 and commissioned with the rank of 2nd
Lieutenant. Whether his father's plea on his behalf had the desired effect or not is unknown but
within the space of a month Gray was attached to 11 Bomber Squadron, S.A.A.F. based at
Waterkloof Air Station from Central Air Force Training Depot.
Formed as a fighter-bomber unit in April 1939 at Durban with Wapitis, by December that year 11
Squadron had already been disbanded. By renumbering 1 (Bomber/Fighter) Squadron to 11
(Bomber) Squadron on 11 December 1939, the squadron was activated once again and by May 1940
was equipped with the Hartbees, moving to Nairobi. During August they re-equipped with the Fairey
Battle, with the majority of operations occurring over Italian East Africa.
On 1 April 1940 he was despatched to East Africa where he served as Signal Officer with 11 Bomber
Squadron. 1 June of that year saw his promotion to Temporary Lieutenant.
After this Gray was transferred to 21 Squadron on 25 July 1941 for service in North Africa or the
Middle East as it was often referred to.
21 Squadron had been formed on 8 May 1941 at Nakuru, Kenya, before moving to Egypt two months
later with Maryland light bombers.
This stretch of his service was not destined to be a long one and, on 23 September 1941 he
departed from Heliopolis aerodrome outside Cairo in Egypt for Nairobi en route back to the Union.
Having landed at Zwartkops Air Station on 26 September 1941 he was given leave.
On 17 November 1941 he was admitted to hospital Voortrekkerhoogte with septic feet (Eczema)
following insect bites and deemed to be temporarily unfit for duty for a period of 8 days. On 26
November he was passed as fit for full flying duties.
After what must have seemed an age Gray emplaned at Germiston for Cairo on 11 July 1942
returning after the elapse of only a week whereafter he was posted to 23 Squadron, a squadron
hastily formed in 1942 to combat the potential threat of Nazi submarine activity around the Cape
coast. He had been promoted to the rank of Temporary Captain with effect from 27 May 1942.
On 20 December 1942 he embarked at Durban for the Middle East arriving there on 1 January 1943
and being taken on strength of the Mediterranean Air Force Depot before being given his final
posting to 17 Squadron on 27 January 1943.
17 Squadron had been reformed on 8 October 1942 as a general reconnaissance squadron and
arrived at Aden in January 1943 to fly Blenheim Vs. In May that year they moved to Egypt soon
thereafter converted to Ventura GR V's. In October the squadron moved to St Jean and Ramat David
in Palestine for convoy escort duties and anti-submarine patrols.
Detachments were also operated from Gibraltar and Bone in Algeria. In July the squadron moved to
Sardinia. Late in 1944 the squadron returned to North Africa and in 1945, now based in Egypt, it
began training for conversion to Wellingtons and Warwick GR Vs. Returning to South Africa in
September 1945, the squadron was disbanded at Brooklyn (now Ysterplaat) on 31 March 1946, when
they were flying the PV-1 Ventura.
13 August 1943 brought with it admittance to hospital for Dermatitis of the Feet.
On 22 March 1944 Gray was promoted to Temporary Major while filling the post of Flight
Commander of 17 Squadron.
It was with them that Gray was to see his finest hour, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his
anti-submarine activities. The London Gazette of 14 November 1944 announced that Major O.P.
Gray had won the D.F.C. The citation read as follows:
"Major Owen Park Gray (47416V), South African Air Force, No. 17 (S.A.A.F.) Squadron.
(Flight Commander; sorties 93; flying hours 572) This officer, who is now on his second tour of
operational duty has an outstanding operational record. He has accomplished particularly good
work during recent operations. In August 1944, Major Gray located 4 enemy vessels off Savona.
Despite appalling weather, flew at low level over the heavily defended port of Savona and
delivered a telling attack. Later in the same month he participated in a highly successful attack on
the oil refinery and dockyard at Port St. Louis du Rhone. At all times Major Gray has maintained a
high standard of operational efficiency in his flight."
February of 1944 was to see the Ventura's of this squadron in action against the enemy for the first
time. Initially under the command of Lt. Col. G.T. Moll, 17 Squadron were active out of St. Jean in
Palestine, from which they had flown 576 hours on convoys, area patrols and anti submarine
Their first bombing raid was on the night of 1 February where, after refuelling at Nicosia, six
Ventura's bombed shipping at Rhodes.
According to "Eagles Victorious" by Martin, it was clear that enemy submarines were now hunting
off the Levant coast, presumably from their base at Salamis, and on 3 February 1944 Captain O.P.
Gray attacked a U-Boat with six depth charges but was unable to view the results. After this convoy
escorts resumed with only three Ventura's available to the Squadron which was now badly
On 20 September 1944 the Squadron was ordered back to Bone from Sardinia where they had spent
the past seven weeks. Again according to "Eagles Victorious" – a detachment was despatched to
Tarquinia, on the Italian coast opposite Corsica, to maintain six aircraft for operations under Major
O.P. Gray. Reconnaissance of the Gulf of Genoa was continued from there and greatly assisted 5th
U.S. Army by interfering with an important enemy supply route.
On 15 November 1944 Gray was posted from 17 Squadron to the S.A.A.F. Base Depot from where he returned to the Union, his war effectively over.
On 10 April 1945 he was admitted to Wynberg Military Hospital with Arthritis.
On 6 July 1945 he was again attached to 23 Squadron for home service and, on 8 May 1946, taken
on strength of "H" Wing, Hector Norris Park, Johannesburg for release. Release from full time
service came on 10 May 1946 with a residential address c/o the Mayfair Hotel, Johannesburg. He
had obviously been stationed at Pietersburg as well which is where he was admitted to hospital on
30 December 1945 with a wound to his left arm. How this came about is unknown.
Now a civilian again, Gray was sent his medal ribbons to 29 Clyde Road, Redhill, Durban.
On 10 May 1954 the Adjutant General's office wrote to him at his father's address wherein he was
transferred to the Reserve of Officers. He had, on a previous occasion applied for a Commission in
the Permanent Force but this had been declined.
Having tried his hand at mining Owen Gray decided to return to his farming pursuits. He passed
away at Estcourt on 9 June 1969 at the age of 62. He had, in the intervening years, met and
married Norma Joyce Simpson and it was by her and his three children, Mervyn Owen Gray (18
years), Rosamund Park Gray (20 years) and Deborah Lynne Gray (16 years) that he was survived.
His death certificate further complicated the age question by claiming that he was born on 5 May
1909. He passed away from myocardial failure and dysentery and had been attended by Dr.
His estate contained a property at Banners Rest outside Port Edward on the Lower South Coast of