Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery
Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history
Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history Poverty Bay - taonga maori
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Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history

Poverty Bay - taonga maori

FLYING ACES:  THREE SETS OF  TWINS 

          
Singer Twins' investiture, DFC, Buckingham Palace c.1942                              Geoffrey Spencer                                                     Wallace Spencer
L to R. Veronica Rawson, Minnie Singer, Tony Singer, 2 Singer Aunts,
Peter Singer.

In April 2006 Tairawhiti Museum installed a moving Anzac display.  Poignant stories emerged and a fascinating one is that three sets of Gisborne twins served as airmen in World War II - the Gray, the Singer and the Spencer twins. Gisborne’s population then was just 16,000.

Subsequent research in NZ and the UK revealed a number of facts about the six men.  The Gray twins joined the RAF pre-war. Colin became NZ’s top-scoring fighter pilot and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and 2 bars. His twin Ken, a bomber pilot, received the DFC and, posthumously as he had perished in a flying accident over Scotland in 1940, the Czechoslovakia Cross. 

RNZAF bomber pilots Peter and Tony Singer each captained 57 Squadron Lancasters, often flying on the same raids over Germany within minutes of each other. Both were awarded the DFC at Buckingham Palace.

Wallace Spencer enlisted with the RNZAF in 1940 as a wireless operator-air gunner.  After the war he joined the RAF and gained a DFC in 1959 for action over Malaya.  His twin Geoff joined the RNZAF in 1942, serving as an aerial photographer.

Last year the museum appealed in this newspaper about the Spencer twins and is grateful for the information received about the men’s Airforce and subsequent lives. Author Max Lambert’s enthusiastic help is also greatly appreciated.  Such research is never complete; perhaps this article will spawn more interest in all these six brave Gisborne men!

Update

by Ann Milton-Tee, Tairawhiti Museum
collections manager

AMONG the poignant and fascinating stories to emerge from last year’s Anzac display at Tairawhiti Museum was the fact that two sets of Gisborne twins served as airmen in World War 2 — the Singer and Spencer twins — as well as a third set of twins with close Gisborne connections, the Gray twins. Gisborne’s population then was just 16,000. Subsequent research in New Zealand and the United Kingdom revealed a number of facts about the six men. RNZAF bomber pilots Peter and Tony Singer, sons of a well-known Gisborne doctor, each captained 57 Squadron Lancasters — often flying on the same raids over Germany within minutes of each other.

Both were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) at Buckingham Palace . Peter and Tony Singer survived the war and returned to Gisborne.Twins Wallace and Geoffrey Spencer grew up in Ballance Street.

Wallace Spencer enlisted with the RNZAF in 1940 as a wireless operator-air gunner. After the war he joined the RAF and gained a DFC in 1959 for action over Malaya, then lived in Australia. Geoff Spencer joined the RNZAF in 1942, serving as an aerial photographer. Once back in Gisborne, he worked in the aerial topdressing industry and also as a photographer. The Gray twins’ links with Poverty Bay are through the Grays of Waiohika, Waimata Valley Road. They visited the region regularly and Colin Gray’s wedding ceremony took place at Waerenga-a-Hika in 1945. Colin and Ken Gray both joined the RAF pre-war.

Captain Colin Falkland Gray became New Zealand’s top-scoring fighter pilot and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), DFC and two bars. Ken Gray, a bomber pilot, received the DFC and, posthumously — as he had perished in a flying accident over Scotland in 1940 — the Czechoslovakia Cross. Last year the museum appealed in this newspaper for information about the Spencer twins and is grateful for the responses received from many readers about the men’s airforce and subsequent lives. Author Max Lambert’s enthusiastic help regarding all the men is also greatly appreciated. Such research is never complete; perhaps this article will spawn more interest in these six brave men.

by Ian Brodie, director, New Zealand
Fighter Pilots Museum

NEW Zealand’s top-scoring fighter pilot, Colin Falkland Gray, was born in Christchurch on November 9, 1914, one of twin brothers. Both became pilots in the RAF, Ken passing out in October 1938 and Colin a year later. Ken was flying operationally in heavy bombers from the outbreak of war. He was awarded the DFC in December 1939 and subsequently was killed in a flying accident on May 1, 1940. Colin Gray joined 54 Squadron in November 1939 and spent the next six months fairly uneventfully. Things changed dramatically in May 1940 and on the 25th, after escorting Swordfishes to dive-bomb Gravelines, the Squadron met a force of Bf 109s and 110s. In the ensuing action Gray destroyed a 109 before his Spitfire was badly hit. Damage to the port aileron flipped the aircraft over into a steep dive and it was only righted with great difficulty. Gray made for home, with no airspeed indicator, guns, flaps or brakes. Using the emergency CO2 bottle to lower his undercarriage, he landed safely on his second attempt.

On July 13, 1940 Gray shot down a Bf 109 near Calais after a long chase at sea level. Over the next seven weeks he claimed 14 enemy aircraft destroyed, shared another and probably destroyed or damaged a further 14. He was awarded the DFC in mid-August. In early September 54 Squadron flew north for a rest. Many of its operational pilots were posted to other units and those who remained trained new pilots. Gray went briefly to 43 Squadron but returned to 54 in January 1941 to replace Alan Deere as a flight commander when the latter was posted away. The unit returned south in late February and Gray remained until mid-June, 1941 before being posted to No.1 Squadron as a flight commander. On the 16th he shared in the destruction of an He 59 floatplane and on August 22 shot down a Bf 109. Gray was awarded a Bar to his DFC on September 20, being by then credited with 17 confirmed victories. Gray took command of 616 Squadron in late August 1941 and led it until late February 1942, when he was posted to staff duties. After several short flying appointments in late 1942 he was posted to North Africa in late December to take command of 81 Squadron, the first unit to fly Spitfire IXs in the Middle East. He quickly claimed more victories. When the North African campaign ended on May 13, 1943 Gray was awarded the DSO, having destroyed a further five enemy aircraft and probably destroyed or damaged four others. Promoted to Wing Commander, Gray was appointed to lead 322 Wing, moving to Malta to prepare for the invasion of Sicily.

On June 14, 1943 he shot down a Bf 109, on the 17th a Macchi 202 and on July 10, invasion day, he shot down a Bf 109 in flames during a patrol over the beaches. Following the Army the Wing moved to Lentini East airfield on Sicily on the 19th. Six days later Gray led the Wing on a sweep of the Milazzo area, on Sicily’s north-east coast, where it was reported that German transports would be landing supplies on the beach at Cap Milazzo. The 33 Spitfires arrived as the Ju 52s were circling to land. Five escorting enemy fighters were destroyed in the action and Gray claimed two of the 21 transports shot down. They were to be his final victories and he left 322 Wing in early September to return to Britain. He was awarded a second Bar to the DFC and was credited with 27 enemy aircraft destroyed, one shared and a further 22 probably destroyed or damaged.

Once back in England he held two successive commands in training units before, in late July 1944, being appointed Wing Commander Flying of the Detling Wing to organise operations in support of the Army in Europe and sorties against the V-1 flying bombs. Gray retired from the RAF in March 1961 as a Group Captain and returned to live in New Zealand. Group Captain Colin Gray died in Waikanae on the August 1, 1995.