CANAV Book of the Month: A Formidable Hero

Sad to say … zero copies still available of A Formidanle Hero.

In 1987 CANAV teamed with the renowned RCN aviator, Stuart E. Soward, to publish the biography of Victoria Cross recipient, Robert Hampton “Hammy” Gray. Entitled A Formidable Hero, the book was launched at a Canadian Naval Air Group reunion in Ottawa.

A Formidable Hero became a solid success — a tribute to a brave young Canadian flier and to his dedicated biographer. Stuart describes Hammy’s interesting youth as he grew up in Nelson, BC. Then he covers Hammy’s career as an RCNVR recruit, his flight training in the RN Fleet Air Arm and his tours flying Fulmar and Corsair fighters from East Africa to Norway and the South Pacific. The book beautifully captures all the exhilaration, danger, fun and misery in the lives of youthful naval aviators through WWII.

A Formidable Hero eventually sold out, then Stuart decided to resurrect it on his own. It was re-released in 2003 and since then has entered a third printing. Besides the original story, Stuart also describes his successful efforts to have Lt Gray, VC, DSC, receive some long-overdue public acclaim. Primarily through Stuart’s personal efforts, in 1989 a memorial was dedicated in Japan near the spot of Hammy’s final action — flying a Corsair to his death. While in Japan, Stuart met with several Japanese veterans who had manned the anti-aircraft defences that brought Hammy down, tells of efforts to  locate the lost Corsair, explains what a battle it was to interest Ottawa in his project, etc.

Through Stuart’s dedication to Canadian naval aviation history, Hammy Gray now is a well-known Canadian hero. In the 1980s the Canadian Warplane Heritage dedicated its Corsair to Hammy. In 2010, the 100th anniversary of the RCN, Vintage Wings has painted its own Corsair in the colours of Hammy’s plane. The Corsair visited Victoria, BC in August this year, an event attended by Stuart Soward himself. I spoke to him that month, asking for some info about the late Roy de Nevers, with whom he had flown in the 1950s-60s. Stuart told me that he had pancreatic cancer. He passed away in January 2011.

A Formidable Hero is a superb piece of research and writing — a Canadian aviation literature treasure that you’ll be delighted to add to your library. 228 pages, softcover, photos, maps, index. $23.50 + $8.00 shipping + 5% tax. Total: $33.07.

NB … CANAV has no more copies. Check the web and you might find a new or used copy.

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