A monument in Onagawa, Japan to Nelson’s Lt. Robert Hampton Gray that toppled in last year’s earthquake and tsunami has been replaced.
The new monument sits in front of the local hospital, overlooking Gray’s final resting place of Onagawa Bay. It’s also adjacent to the town’s memorial to those who perished in the tsunami.
Capt. Bruce (Skip) Walker, the Canadian Defence attaché in Japan, said the marker was completed this month and he’s arranging for a rededication ceremony tentatively scheduled for August 23 or 24.
He expects representatives from the Tokyo embassy, Japan ground and maritime self-defence forces, and UK and US Defence attachés to attend, “honouring this great Canadian.”
“Yes, this is short notice, and yes it is far away, but this is exceptional,” he wrote in an email.
Since the earthquake 16 months ago, Walker has worked closely with his friend and former shipmate, Dr. Richard H. Gimblett, acting director of navy history and heritage at National Defence headquarters.
“Between the two of us, we searched for various ways to remanufacture the plaque that fell off the memorial stone, was damaged and subsequently went missing,” Walker said.
Gimblett contacted Navy Capt. Don Smith, commanding officer of Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton in Esquimalt, whose experts recreated the plaque that now sits atop the original granite stone.
The new plaque was completed in early summer but only mounted this month.
Walker said some people might wonder why it took so long to re-establish the memorial, but he makes no apologies for the delay.
“I have repeatedly expressed to Onagawa that the priority must lie with recovery operations for the devastated townspeople before the memorial to Hammy,” he said.
The original monument was erected in 1989 at the urging of a local family in memory of Gray, a fighter pilot who died in Onagawa Bay during an aerial attack days before the end of World War II.
He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
“As members of Hampton Gray’s family, we are very pleased to hear of the reconstruction of the monument,” said his niece, Anne George.
The town of Onagawa, devasted by the 2011 quake, approved funds in its budget last December to re-establish the marker in a new location. The old monument stood at Sakayama Park, which is now sloughing badly.
In recent years, several student delegations have come to Nelson from Onagawa. Following the earthquake, Nelson area residents also raised $40,000 in relief funds, although its ultimate disposition hasn’t been decided.