Roderick Borden Gray George Cross Recipient
Gray, Roderick Borden (1917-1944). Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Flying Officer Gray of the Royal Canadian Air Force was the navigator of a bomber that spotted a German submarine in the Atlantic. The bomber attacked the U-boat, but was shot down and crashed into the sea. Despite having a broken leg, Gray rescued the skipper and an air gunner and hauled them into a dinghy. Realizing that the dinghy was overcrowded, Gray remained in the water clinging to the dinghy. By dawn, Gray had died of exposure. During the afternoon of August 28th, 1944, the survivors were rescued.
The George Cross (GC) medal, which may be awarded posthumously, is granted in recognition of “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger. The Cross is intended primarily for civilians and award in British military services is to be confined to actions for which purely military Honours are not normally granted.“
FOURTH SUPPLEMENT TO The London Gazette of FRIDAY, the 16th of MARCH, 1945 Since its inception in 1940, the GC has been awarded posthumously to 84 recipients and 71 living people. There have been 10 crosses awarded to Canadians: 8 military, 1 Merchant Navy, and 1 woman.
The GC is no longer awarded to Canadians by the Canadian government, which awards the Cross of Valour (Canadian) instead. Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is home to 1 of the only 10 George Crosses awarded to a Canadian by the British Commonwealth.
Here is his story…
Published by authority TUESDAY, 13 MARCH, 1945
In late August 1944, the war was not going well for the Germans. They were hard pressed on land, sea and in the air. To the Germans who sailed under the seas, the situation was particularly bleak. U Boats returned to ports for only the minimum amount of time. Essential repair work would be hastily done; the war-weary crews had little time for rest. Because of the shortages of critical war materials, now submarines were not being built and time was not available to modify the older U Boats with the latest submarine gear such as snorkels, a device which allowed submarines to stay submerged for extended periods of time. The ability gave the U Boats a tactical advantage: being underwater they were harder to detect and, if detected, harder to destroy. It is ironic that because a submarine was old and lacked modern equipment, it was able to bring about the destruction of F/O Gray’s sub-hunting aircraft.
German U Boat No. 534 had recently slipped out of its submarine pen and gone back on patrol. The commander, Captain Nollau, had hoped that during his latest stay in port, his vessel would be re-fitted with a snorkel. But, with the situation in Germany deteriorating so badly, his hopes had not been realized. On his next patrol, he would have to surface the usual number of times and take his chances against anti-submarine aircraft. But if Captain Nollau had to surface more often than he cared for, at least he was preparted. A gun platform, nicknamed “the bandstand” by Coastal Command aircrew, carried an impressive array of firepower. On the platform were mounted four 20 millimetre cannons and two 37 mm guns. Many subs had two bandstands, one forward and one aft of the conning tower. This armament posed a serious threat. If during an attack, the aircraft did not get the sub very quickly, chances were that the sub would very quickly get the aircraft.
On 27 August 1944, Gray was at his navigator’s table keeping a running plot of his aircraft’s position as if flew along its patrol lines. Royal Air Force Wellington B for Baker and German U Boat No. 534 were about to meet. A blip appeared on the Wellington’s radar: range 11 miles. The aircraft turned onto a new heading and began to home on the target. In the darkness of the wireless operator’s compartment, the blip, with a faint glow, slid slowly across the radar screen as the aircraft moved across the intervening miles.
Only a few terse sentences between pilot and wireless operator were necessary to guide the bomber. The rest of the crew listened, their tension increasing with the decreasing distance. One mile out the pilot flipped a switch and the 20 million candlepower Leigh light came to life. There was the submarine, illuminated against the sea.
The Germans were prepared. Since they were not able to shelter in the depths of the sea, they took every precaution when they reluctantly rode the surface. When the light flashed on, their guns opened fire. Their aim was accurate. The Wellington shuddered under the impact of 20 mm cannon shells and the port engine burst into flames. Then the starboard engine was hit and began burning. Trailing a fiery wake the Wellington soared through the night. Gray bent over his bombsight and checked his settings carefully. At the proper moment, he released a cluster of depth charges. His job was done.
The Wellington lurched along for another one-half mile, then plunged into the sea. Two of the crew were killed on impact. Gray managed to get out of the wrecked aircraft and inflated his dinghy. Then, in spite of the fact that he was severely wounded himself, put two other injured crew members into his small craft. He and the fourth surviving crew member got into the water and held onto the sides to steady it. Gray’s companions, realizing that he was in great pain and nearing exhaustion, begged him to get in. He steadfastly refused, knowing that if he did, the lives of his companions would be endangered; the one-man dinghy already overloaded.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD St. James’s Palace S.Wa. 13th March, 1945
One night in august, 1944, this officer was the navigator of a Wellington aircraft which was shot down into the sea by a U-boat in the Atlantic. Flying Officer Gray and 3 other members of the crew managed to extricate themselves from the aircraft. Despite a severe wound in the leg, Flying Officer Gray succeeded in inflating his own dingy and then assisted his Captain, who had also been wounded, into it.
Shortly afterwards cries were heard from another member of the crew who had broken his arm, and Flying Officer Gray also helped him into the dingy. Knowing that it could not hold more than two persons, Flying Officer Gray, although suffering intense pain, refused to get into the dingy. Assisted by another member of the crew and by an occupant of the dingy he held on to its side for some hours. The pain in his leg (it is thought that the lower part had been shot off) was increasing in intensity and he was becoming exhausted. He steadfastly refused however, to endanger his comrades by entering the dingy.
He eventually lost consciousness and died. When it became light, his companions realized that he was dead and they were forced to let his body sink. The survivors were rescued later. Flying Officer Gray displayed magnificent courage and unselfish heroism, thus enabling the lives of his comrades to be saved.
ADDENDUM: Flight Officer Gray’s name is still honored today in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
- The Sault Ste. Marie International Airport is dedicated to Flight Officer Borden Gray G.C.;
- The 155 Borden Gray G.C. Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron is named in his honour. The Squadron was established in Sault Ste. Marie in 1941. In approximately 1990, the squadron name was dedicated to the memory of Borden Gray. The Squadron is still strong today.
- Teddy Parvanova
This Remembrance day my family is thinking about Roderick Borden Gray – a flying officer with the 172nd squadron of the Royal Canadian Airforce. He was awarded the George Cross posthumously after the Second World War. He was from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and was my fiance’s grand uncle. He was in a shot by a U-Boat over the Atlantic in August 1944. He saved the lives of 2 of his crew members by refusing to get into a dinghy that could only hold 2 people.
He was severely injured and knew that if he got into the dinghy, all three of them would die. So he sacrificed his life by staying in the water holding onto to the dinghy. Later that day, the other two were saved. However he didn’t make it. The airport in Sault Ste. Marie was named after him. Our baby Michael Borden, our first son’s middle name is Borden, named after his courageous great grand uncle. Thank you for sharing our story.
Teodora (Teddy), Shawn and baby Michael