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Biography
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Samuel Leonard (Len) Gray

10 January 1917 - 16 March 2008

Granddad standing on the forecastle of HMS Hood

My Granddad was born on 10 January 1917 in Aldershot, Hampshire, England to parents Samuel Barker Gray who served in the British Army and Elsie May Gray (nee Zimmer). To most my Granddad was better known as Len.

He is known to have worked as a fitter prior to joining the Navy. He volunteered for 12 year term in the Royal Navy in December 1934, but did not enter the Navy until 22 January 1935.

My Granddad joined the Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. He was trained at shore base HMS Victory 2 from January to Aug 1935. After completing training he joined the crew of battle-cruiser H.M.S. Hood on 30 August 1935.

H.M.S. Hood

During his time in HMS Hood, the ship was stationed in the Mediterranean escorting merchant shipping during the Spanish Civil War. He was promoted to Stoker 1st Class during this timeframe. He remained with HMS Hood until 23 November 1937, when he returned to HMS Victory 2. He remained there until March 1938 when he joined HMS Enterprise. He would be assigned to both the Emerald-class light cruiser HMS Enterprise and Hawkins-class heavy cruiser HMS Effingham for the remainder of the year.

My Granddad returned to shore base HMS Victory 2 in February 1939. The remainder of that year saw him serve in/at shore base HMS Excellent serving in the Hawkins-class heavy cruiser HMS Frobisher and return again to HMS Victory 2. He was promoted to Acting Leading Stoker during this timeframe.

In January 1940, my Granddad joined shore base HMS Cochrane 2 serving in the destroyer HMS Vega. HMS Vega was an Admiralty V & W class Destroyer. On the 11 Nov, 1940 HMS Vega was damaged when she hit a mine near Harwich (off Sunk Head).  He remained on HMS Vega until December 1940.

In the meantime, he had been promoted to Leading Stoker. He spent the rest of the month in shore base HMS Pembroke 4 serving on the Hunt-class destroyer HMS Athelstone and joined shore base HMS Victory 3 in mid January 1941. He served at HMS Victory 2 in April and May 1941. The remainder of the year saw him serve in the Arethusa-class light cruiser HMS Aurora.

H.M.S. Aurora

The HMS Aurora was a part of Force K, a raiding squadron of cruisers. Their task was to intercept and destroy German and Italian convoys en route to Libya. The convoys were supplying Rommel's Afrika Corp in North Africa with troops and equipment.

Force K was sent out on 18 December to intercept a convoy bound for Tripoli. HMS Neptune, leading the line, struck two mines, part of a newly laid Italian minefield, during the night of 19 December/20 December 1941. The other cruisers, the HMS Aurora and HMS Penelope also struck mines. Reversing out of the minefield, HMS Neptune struck a third mine, taking off her propellors and leaving her dead in the water.

The HMS Aurora was badly damaged, my grandfather worked on the engines which had been knocked out by a mine, eventually getting engines working. The Aurora was down to 10 knots (19 km/h) and needed to turn back to Malta immediately but the destroyers HMS Kandahar and HMS Lively were sent into the minefield to attempt a tow.

My Granddad’s actions on the night of 19 December 1941 resulted in the saving of many lives of those who served on the HMS Aurora as the threat of enemy ships in the area was very real.

He joined the shore base St Angelo, shore base HMS Talbot in Malta in January 1942.

In June 1942 my Granddad was serving on the submarine depot ship HMS Medway when she was assisting in the evacuation of troops from Alexandria. Accompanied by eight destroyers she headed for Haifa. At 08.24 hours on the June 30, 1942 she was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-372. My Granddad climbed down into the water on ropes to his safety. By the end of World War 2 my Granddad was torpedoed on three separate occasions.

H.M.S. Medway

Shortly thereafter he was appointed Acting Stoker Petty Officer (Ty). He returned to shore base HMS Victory 2 in July 1942 and remained there until July 1944.

While Granddad  was assigned to HMS Victory 2 he was also stationed at shore base HMS Assegai in South Africa. From September 1942 to March 1943 he served on the County-class heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire. He then served on HMS Laura during March 1943. From March 1943 to January 1944 he served on the submarine depot ship HMS Lucia. He returned to HMS Assegai in January 1944 to February 1944. Most of this timeframe, 1942 to 1944, was involved in naval operations in the Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia.

During this timeframe he was promoted to Stoker Petty Officer (Ty). From July to November 1944 he served at shore base HMS Drake 4 serving on the W-class destroyer HMS Wivern. He then served in shore base HMS Cochrane 2 until June 1945.

My Granddad served at HMS Victory 2 from June to December 1945. He was promoted to Stoker Petty Officer during this timeframe. He then served at HMS Enterprise until January 1946. The remainder of the year was spent in/at repair ship HMS Ranpura with a short time at HMS Victory 2.

On February 18th, 1947 my Granddad married my Nanna in Hampshire, England.

My Granddad and Nanna (1994)

1947 saw him leave HMS Ranpura and serve in/at shore base HMS Victory 2, shore base HMS Mercury, shore base HMS Victory, submarine depot ship HMS Resource, shore base HMS Victory and shore base HMS Fort St Angelo. He was promoted to Petty Officer Stoker Mechanic that same year. 1948 saw him leave St Angelo and serve in/at submarine depot ship HMS Forth. He remained at HMS Forth until January 1950. The remainder of 1950 saw him serve at/in Kamarata Barracks and shore base HMS Victory. He became a Chief Petty Officer Stoker Mechanic during this time frame.

He served most of 1951 in the aircraft carrier HMS Implacable. He left the ship in late October to join the crew of battleship HMS Vanguard. He remained with Vanguard until May 1954. He then transferred to shore base HMS Bellerophon where he remained until December 1956. He had been promoted to Chief Mechanic (E) during that timeframe.

My Granddad’s next assignment was a two month assignment to Victory. He then joined the Town-class light cruiser HMS Newcastle where he remained until October 1958. He was then posted to shore base HMS Sultan until March 1960. The rest of that year was spent at shore base HMS Phoenicia in Malta and shore base HMS Victory. He left HMS Victory in August 1961 and joined HMS Bellerophon. He rejoined Victory in December 1961 and spent his final month of service there.

My Granddad retired from the Royal Navy and was pensioned on 21 January 1962.

During his naval service, he received the 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star (with France & Germany clasp), Africa Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal, the War Medal 1939-45 and the Royal Navy Long Service & Good Conduct Medal.

In 1963 my Granddad and Nanna emigrated to Australia with their daughter’s Lynda, Julia and Elizabeth residing in South Australia in the same house to this date.

My Granddad worked at the Holden Vehicle Manufacturing Plant in Elizabeth up to the late 1970’s managing in the Main Power Plant.

In retirement my Granddad was always busy finding there was always something to do around the house from complete renovations inside and outside the house which he continued to do up to when he was in his 90’s as well as gardening.

My Granddad has three Grandsons, Grant, Dale and myself, Craig. He has 9 Great Grandchildren, Ashley, Leanne, Joshua, Jeremy, Aiden, Jamieson, Benjamin, Seth and Slade. And now a new entry a Great Great Grand Daughter Amelia.

My Granddad’s Naval career is also on the internet on the website www.hmshood.com under crew biographies.