Obituary: Camelon-born Second World War veteran dies aged 95

A Falkirk district-born Second World War veteran has died at the age of 95.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 10:23 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 10:40 am
Peter Gray, pictured with wife Isabel, was awarded the Arctic Star Campaign Medal in 2013
Peter Gray, pictured with wife Isabel, was awarded the Arctic Star Campaign Medal in 2013

Peter Gray, who passed away last Friday, was awarded the Freedom of Falkirk in 2005, followed by the Arctic Star Campaign Medal in 2013 for the part he played with the Royal Navy aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Furious protecting the armada carrying vital war supplies to the northern ports of the Soviet Union.

A year later he received the prestigious Ushakov Medal from the Russian Government as survivors of the World War Two Arctic Convoys were recognised for their “personal courage and valour”.

Born in Maryfield Place in Camelon in 1924, Peter left school aged 14 to take up an apprenticeship as a fitter at the Sunnyside Foundry but, by 18, had quit the job and joined the Royal Navy.

He would serve on HMS Furious from 1942, protecting cargo ships from the threat of U-boat and air attacks as they carried aid to the Soviet forces in horrendous weather, missions reportedly described by the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill as the “worst journey in the world”.

Apart from the constant threat from the guns, torpedoes and bombs of the German Navy and Luftwaffe, freezing conditions and mountainous seas made the patrols the most hazardous imaginable and every day was fraught with danger.

Around 1400 merchant ships, escorted by the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and the US Navy, navigated the treacherous seas between the UK and Archangel and Murmansk. In the five years, 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships, including two cruisers and six destroyers, were lost at the cost of more than 3000 lives.

Having completed his naval service on HMS Bermuda in the Far East, Peter was demobbed and returned to ‘Civvy Street’ in 1946. He went back to Sunnyside Foundry for a time then switched to Camelon Foundry before joining the fire brigade in Falkirk in 1948.

After 26 years, he retired with the rank of sub officer at the age of 50 and started his own school of motoring in the town, a business he ran successfully for 15 years before retiring for a final time in 1989.

Up until his death, Peter lived with his wife, Isabel, in Falkirk’s Belmont Tower.

Speaking in 2014 of his memories of the Second World War, Peter said: “It’s difficult to explain, you would need to have been there.

“It was not very comfortable, and every journey was difficult.

“It wasn’t always wild, but it was mostly bad weather. But I had some great pals there.”