Hector Bertram GRAY (aka Dolly) [1911-1943] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Hector Bertram GRAY (aka Dolly) [1911-1943]

Hector Bertram
Alias / nickname: 
Birthplace (town, state): 
Gillingham, Kent
Birthplace (country): 
Cause of death: 
Firing squad

Awarded George Cross posthumously and also holder of Air Force Medal

Flight Lieutenant Gray was part of a group taken prisoner (also see Captain Ford and Colonel Newnham) in Hong Kong during December 1941. During his captivity he did all he could to sustain the morale of his fellow prisoners. He smuggled much needed drugs into the camp and distributed them to those who were seriously ill, and he also ran a news service on information he received from people outside the camp. He was tortured continually over a period of nearly 6 months to make him divulge the names of his informants, but he disclosed nothing.

On 18 December 1943 the group of now physically weak prisoners were taken from Stanley Prison to Big Wave Bay and executed by firing squad.

Flight Lieutenant Gray is buried in Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong, grave reference 1.A.59.

The award of the George Cross to Flight Lieutenant Gray was published in the London Gazette on 18 April 1946:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve a posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carryingout hazardous work in a very brave manner,: 
Flight Lieutenant Hector Bertram GRAY, AFM, Royal Air Force.

Photos that show this person


BAAG Roll of Honour.

From a RAF first day cover issued on 17 November 1978 on the 'opening' of RAF Station Sek Kong. The day also marked the 60th Anniversary of the RAF.

Flight Lieutenant H. B. Gray, GC, AFM
Flight Lieutenat H. B. Gray, GC, AFM, by Moddsey


HK RAF Kaitak HQ Entrance & Crest.JPG
HK RAF Kaitak HQ Entrance & Crest.JPG, by ACH

Transcribed from the ‘History of RAF Kai Tak 1927-1971’ published in April 1972

Since the following was published in 1972 certain events recorded may have been revised in some aspects in light of more recent researches.


Mention has already been made of the attempted mass escape from Sham Shuj Po in 1943 and the resultant execution of Flight Lieutenant Gray. It would therefore be fitting to recount the story of heroism of the two RAF participants and particularly the part played by “Dolly” Gray. Flight Lieutenant Gray joined the Royal Air Force in January 1927 as an aircraft apprentice at RAF Halton but opted to go for the comparatively new trade of wireless operator mechanic and went off to the Electrical and Wireless School at RAF Flowerdown to complete his training. Like so many RAF personnel between the wars he spent some time with the Fleet Air Arm and served with both 402 Fleet Fighter Flight and 800 Squadron on HMS “Courageous”.    

 1936 saw the launching of the first of the expansion programmes of the Royal Air Force and LAC Gray saw this as an opportunity to become a pilot. His application for training was accepted and he was promoted Sergeant Pilot in February 1936. On promotion he spent five-months at the School of Air Navigation at Manston and then flew with 48 and 148 Squadron before being posted to the Long-Range Development Unit at Upper Heyford in January 1938. While there, he was selected to be a member of the three crews which were to attempt a new long-distance endurance flight from Ismailia in Egypt to Port Darwin in Australia. Although he had already qualified and, in fact, was serving as a pilot, it was in his original trade of wireless operator mechanic that he flew in one of the two Wellesley’s which completed the flight in November 1938. For his part in this record-breaking flight, Sergeant Gray was awarded the Air Force Medal.      

July 1939, Sergeant Gray was posted to 36 Squadron in Singapore and it was there in April 1940 that he received his commission as a Pilot Officer in the General Duties Branch. After less than a month he was transferred to RAF Kai Tak where five obsolete aircraft provided the Colony’s only air defence. Along with all other RAF personnel, Pilot Officer Gray was evacuated from Kai Tak on the 10th December 1941, forty-eight hours after the initial Japanese attack on the Colony. The RAF Battle Headquarters which had been established at Aberdeen put him in charge of all RAF telephone operators and wireless personnel and with them he was attached to the Royal Corps of Signals until the final surrender on Christmas Day 1941. After a week in the Detention Barracks on Hong Kong Island, “Dolly” Gray was transferred with nearly all other RAF officers and men to Sham Shui Po Camp.

In February 1942 along with his former Commanding Officer of Kai Tak and two other officers, Wing Commander Bennett and Pilot Officer Hennessy, he was sent to a POW Camp in Saigon in French Indo-China. While there in April 1942 Gray’s promotion to Flight Lieutenant was promulgated and three months later he was returned with his three fellow prisoners to Hong Kong.

Once back, he was separated from his colleagues and returned to Sham Shui Po as Officer in charge of the working parties involved in the construction of the runway at Kai Tak. In January 1943 when the majority of the RAF personnel were transferred to Amagasaki, Flight Lieutenant Gray was among the few who remained behind along with Sergeant Ralph Hardy.  Sergeant Hardy had for some time been used as a link man between the British Army Aid Group in Free China and a number of British Army officers in Sham Shul Po. The BAAG made its first contact with Sham Shui Po Camp in September 1942 when working parties from that camp were employed on extensions to Kai Tak airfield. The POW’s were able to make contact with Chinese workmen who were also employed there and who were instrumental in courageously supplying much needed daily necessities.        

 These workmen included a number of BAAG agents who were soon in contact with members of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, many of whom could speak Cantonese and, as a result, during October, several members of the HKVDC carried written messages back to camp and passed them on to their commanding officer, Captain Keith Valentine. These messages were similar in that they all in code. The signatures on the notes varied, “Agent 71”, “Agent 68”, “Local Iron”, “Iron foot”, but it was inevitable that the messages should be regarded with a certain amount of distrust. Following discussions between Captain Valentine, Lieutenant Prophet and Captain D. Ford of the Royal Scots, it was decided to put the matter to test. This was done by handing outward messages to Sergeant Hardy and Corporal Bond of the HKVDC who, whilst on working parties, had also received similar inward messages and handed them personally to Captain Ford of the Royal Scots. The first outward message requested a note signed by Major Clague whose signature the party could identify. This was duly received and in return, a message bearing the signature of Captain Ford who had undertaken full responsibility for the operation was despatched to reassure the other end of the line that the messages were in safe hands. In the meantime, Captain Ford decided that Hardy’s commanding officer should know what was happening, so Flight Lieutenant “Dolly” Gray was taken into his confidence, forming the sixth and final member of the team that organised the communications. Space prohibits full details of the messages and it is sufficient to say that initially they mainly concerned plans for escape and the dissemination of war news which, to avoid compromising the source was disguised before being released to the camp inmates. In addition, many valuable and essential medicines were supplied.        

 A regular exchange of messages took place through the Kai Tak agents until just before Christmas of 1942 when the working parties were stopped. But within three weeks of losing this contact, Agent No. 68 was again in communication with the camp through the civilian Chinese lorry drivers of the ration trucks. This brought Driver T (Ginger) Farrel, RASC, a member of the ration party into the picture. The earlier system of passing messages was maintained through the link Hardy and Gray to Ford and his “council” —until May, when the composition of the ration party was again changed to include mostly Canadians. Sergeant Ron Routledge of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals then took over from Farrel.  During the early part of 1943, contact had also been made by the agents with Argyle Street where Colonel Newnham had assumed responsibility for the operations for both camps. But communications between the two camps were irregular and unsatisfactory and Sham Shui Po resumed the operations independently following the arrival, from Argyle Street in February, of Colonel Jack Price of the Royal Rifles of Canada. Colonel Price took over command of the operations from Captain Ford and extended the “council”.  Whilst escapes by individuals, or even small groups could, at that time have been easily arranged, they were not encouraged as the standard of health in the camps had reached an extremely low-level and any escape would have immediately brought down the wrath of Japanese on the camps. Bitter experience had shown only too realistically how severe the repercussions could be — any further privations would undoubtedly have caused the death of many prisoners. As time went on, however, the communications system improved, as to some extent, did the health of the camps and with the tempting thought of escape and the chance to fight again, the idea was conceived of a mass break out, aided by guerrillas who were to attack camp guard posts and blow holes in the wires during a diversionary air raid. Approximately two-thirds of the camp inmates would have been given the chance to escape and it was hoped that, as the operation would, theoretically, have been a liberation rather than an escape, no repercussions would fall on those remaining. No actual dates for the escape were set but the month of August 1943 was mentioned and those “in the know” started to anticipate “turkey for Christmas”.    

But these ambitious plans, which had meant taking a number of other helpers into confidence, were to come to naught. In May 1943 it became clear from warnings received from Agents Nos 68 and  71 that the Japanese were already aware of the communication network and it was in that month that they started their mass arrests outside the camps. But it was not until July 1st that the blow fell  Sergeant Routledge was arrested in Sham Shui Po and Lieutenant J Haddock, RNVR and Pte Prata, KVDC were taken out of Argyle Street. The arrests of Captain Ford and Colonel Newnham followed on July 10th. By that date the Japanese Gendarmerie had broken the entire outside communication network and arrested well over 70 persons including a group of civilians from the Stanley Internment Camp who had been engaged on similar activities.       

 While the operators remaining in the camp, in spite of the jolt they had received, were able to breathe a little easier as the days passed without further incident, life held little promise for those who had been arrested. They were incarcerated in Stanley Jail in a prison block taken over by the Kempeitai specially to house the members of the communication network, both inside and outside the camps, and were subjected to seven weeks of continuous and vicious interrogation. From there, when the Kempei were satisfied that they had all the information they needed, the group of prisoners was handed over to prison custody to await trial.       

Whilst awaiting trial, the POW camp operators were held with the other groups of outside BAAG agents, some of whom had been in custody for as long as six months. There was also a group of Indian POW’s from the Ma Tau Chung Camp led by Captain Ansari who had been engaged in similar activities. In the previous year he had himself, and, through his encouragement, a number of subordinates, resisted brutal attempts by the Japanese to get Indian POWs to sign the “no escape” undertaking and join the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army. Thus, this was Captain Ansari’s second taste of a Japanese jail. The Japs made no secret of their intense hate for this brave officer, nor he his contempt for the Japs.

The following months can be summed up simply as one long period of intense misery and suffering. With practically no food, no medical attention, subjected to rigid prison discipline such as long periods of solitary confinement, when one had to sit, in silence, cross-legged facing a wall for 14 hours a day, the number of prisoners on remand slowly dwindled as groups of operators were taken out for trial. The majority were executed and the survivors given long prison terms. The group consisting of operators connected with the POW camps, and the civilians from the Stanley Camp was tried, in the prison, on 19th October, 1943. Of a total of 42 persons, 36, including Capt. Ansari, received the death sentence which was carried out on October 29th.       

The military party was, for some reason, kept out of the October proceedings, presumably for trial by an authority higher than the tribunal that met regularly in Stanley prison to dispense Japanese         justice. Colonel Newham, Captain Ford, Flight Lieutenant Gray, Sub Lieutenant Haddock and Sergeants Hardy and Routledge were court martialled in the Supreme Court on 1st December 1943. The court consisted of Major-General Shizero, Colonel Tokunaga (i/c POW Camps) and Lieutenant Yamaguchi with Major Kogi as prosecutor. There was no defence and the full proceedings were already printed, in book form. The three senior officers were charged with espionage, aiding and abetting espionage and inciting espionage and the juniors with aiding and abetting espionage. Col Newham, Capt. Ford and Fit Lt Gray were sentenced to death by shooting and Haddock, Hardy and Routledge to 15 years imprisonment. The final curtain fell on the afternoon December 18th 1943, when those condemned made the supreme sacrifice on the small beach at Big Wave Bay.        

 The story ended with the posthumous award of the George Cross by HM King George VI on 19th April 1946 to Flight Lieutenant Gray, Colonel Newnham and Captain Ford in recognition of most suspicious gallantry, while Sergeant Hardy was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on the same date. There is, however, a touching footnote: when Flight Lieutenant Gray was told of the impending court martial he feared the worst and took his “Wings” from his uniform tunic. He gave them to Sergeant Hardy who hid them in his own uniform. The latter was given prison clothing and sent to Canton to serve his sentence. Incredibly he was able to recover his uniform after the liberation. The “Wings” were still there, and he was able to give them as a final memento to Flight Lieutenant Gray’s father on his return to UK in 1945.


The following willl add a bit more to the story of 'Dolly' Gray. 

There is an excellent book, 'The Code of Love' by Andro Linklater, who wrote about the decoding by Philip Aston of a secret diary that had been written by Flight Lieutenant Donald Hill during his time as a POW in Hong Kong.  Donald Hill's decoded diary included the information that, after the R.A.F.'s planes were destroyed at Kai Tak, Flying Officer (as he was at that time) Hector 'Dolly' Gray (nicknamed after an Edwardian singer by that name) was sent on 13 December to Little Sai Wan.  It is necessary at this point to note that before Hector Gray became a pilot and commissioned officer he had been a Sergeant wirelss operator and as such had been part of a record breaking long distance flight from the UK to, I believe, Australia. 

As well as being a pilot, Dolly Gray was also the Signals Officer at R.A.F. Kai Tak.  My research has indicated that there was a small army wireless station at Little Sai Wan, possibly operational before the war. Once the planes were destroyed, Dolly Gray's wireless expertise would have been of some considerable use there.  I believe that he was accompanied by a few R.A.F. other ranks.  He was reported as sending one or two messages back to Battle Headquarters about possible Japanese movements.  The outpost, pill box and its associated Lyon light were abandonded some little time later, and the airmen and troops moved down to Stanley. 

Some time in the 1990s, I telephoned Air Vice Marshall Alf Bennett, who had been one of the three senior intelligence officers in Hong Kong, before and during the war, to ask him whether Flying Officer Gray had been at Little Sai Wan.  This was before I had read 'The Code of Love', but I had seen his name briefly mentioned on the Internet in connection with Little Sai Wan.   Even after so many years, Alf Bennett was a bit reluctant to talk about what he and Charles Boxer had been doing in Hong Kong but one can easily read between the lines.  He told me that 'Dolly' Gray was one of the bravest men that he had ever known - and one can well believe that.  (Andrew S)

To:        Wing-Cdr. H.G. Sullivan, R.A.F.
             Officer Commanding Royal Air Force, Hong Kong.

From:    Major C.R. Boxer, The Lincolnshire Regiment.


I would like to bring to your notice the heroic behavior of the late Flt. Lt. H.B. Gray, A.F.M., R.A.F., during the period of his imprisonment by the Japanese Military Authorities from 1st July 1943 until his execution by a firing squad on the 18th December of the same year. I can vouch for the truth of the following statement on the basis of personal knowledge as regards the period from 21st October 1943 since I was myself imprisoned at Stanley from that date., and for prior weeks from what I was told by the late Colonel L.A. Newnham, MC., and Captain D. Ford, Royal Scots , who were subsequently executed with him.

2. Although subjected to exceptionally severe physical torture by the Japanese Gendarmerie on the date of his arrest (1st July 1943) with the object of forcing him to reveal the names and particulars of the personnel involved in the secret liaison maintained between the P.O.W. Camps in Hong Kong and the British Military Intelligence Authorities at Waichow, he gave nothing and nobody away from the first to last. On the contrary he persisted that he was the sole responsible officer concerned in the case and that no other officer whosoever was involved. He never wavered even when given the notorious “water torture” with the additional refinement of having his hands handcuffed behind his back and a plank placed across his stomach on which his interrogators jumped to increase his pain. His attitude was summed up in his own words to his companions as they were being transferred to prison – “Whatever you do, for God’s sake don’t bring anybody else into this”. This conduct he maintained to the end, although under no illusions as to his fate if he persisted in claiming the sole responsibility.

3. During the whole period of his interrogation, which amounted to 5-1/2 months rigorous solitary confinement on starvation rations, he gave an outstanding example of cheerful and courageous fortitude which was an inspiration to all those who were imprisoned with him, and which aroused the respect and admiration of even the Japanese. This courage and fortitude was all the more admirable in view of the fact that he was seriously ill during the latter half of the period, with malnutrition, dysentery, pellagra and beri-beri, for which he received no medical treatment or special food whatsoever. His courageous and uncomplaining fortitude during this time might conceivably have been equaled but it certainly could not have been surpassed.

4. He expressed the wish that his body might be exhumed and sent to England for burial after the war if possible.

5. Additional details can be supplied by the undersigned or by the survivors of the case (Sgt. R.H. Hardy, R.A.F. and Sgt. R.J. Routledge, R.C.C.S.) if and when required.

Sd/-- C.R. BOXER
The Lincolnshire Regiment

Hong Kong,
25th August, 1945.