Temora Aviation Museum‘s Spitfire Mk VIII flew over a memorial service held in the Geelong Grammar School chapel in Geelong, Victoria yesterday, honoring the highly-decorated WWII fighter ace and later Gran Prix race car driver, Tony Gaze, who died on July 29 at the age of 93.
Squadron Leader Gaze finished the war a double ace after downing at least 11 enemy aircraft personally as well as sharing in three additional kills. He was one of only 47 men during World War II to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times.
Born in Melbourne in 1920 and educated at Geelong Grammar School, he was a student at Queen’s College in Cambridge, UK when the war broke out. Entering training in 1940, Gaze joined the RAF’s No. 610 Squadron, one of three squadrons that made up the Tangmere Wing, led by the legendary Douglas Bader.
Gaze flew his first combat sortie in March, 1941, and downed his first Messerschmitt Bf 109 in June, accounted for at least two others and shared in the destruction of a third in July to receive the first of his three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He started his second tour in June 1942, this time with the RAF’s No. 616 Squadron, flying the high altitude Spitfire Mk.IV. During the ill-fated Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942, he received his second Distinguished Flying Cross after destroying an enemy fighter. On September 26, 1942, Gaze led a wing of Spitfires in support of a bombing raid against targets in Morlaix, France. The disastrous mission saw the loss of 11 of the 12 planes, though later analysis exculpated Gaze, in the immediate aftermath of the mission he was demoted to a flight commander and assigned to the RAF’s No. 66 Squadron. On September 4, 1943, after a fierce dogfight with German ace Gerhard Vogt, Gaze made a forced landing in German-occuped France, but was able to escape with the help of the French Resistance who helped him to escape to Spain from where he was able to return to England to get back in the fight.
In February 1944 he joined the Air Fighting Development Unit, later rejoining No. 610 Squadron on the continent in July, 1944. He claimed a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet on April 12, 1945, becoming the first Australian to shoot a jet down in combat, folled that same day by a shared kill of an Arado Ar234 Jet Bomber. The Me262 kill resulted in Gaze’s third Distinguished Flying Cross. After a month with the RAF’s No. 41 Squadron, he was posted to command the RAF’s No. 616 squadron, becoming the first Australian to fly the Gloster Meteor in combat.
Gaze stayed with the RAF for two years after the war, flying the Meteor and as a test pilot, before returning to Australia. It was during the post-War period that he developed his skills as a racing driver. He married in 1949 and returned to Britain, where he again briefly flew Meteors in The Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
Gaze became the first Australian to drive in a World Championship motor race when he competed in the 1952 Belgian Grand Prix. Early in 1955 Tony helped to established Australia’s first all-Australian overseas racing team called ‘The Kangaroo Stable’. Later he helped with the development of Australian motorsport and represented Australia in the 1960 World Gliding Championships in Germany. Gaze was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for “service to the sport of motor racing.” He participated in four World Championship Grands Prix races, and also participated in numerous non-Championship Formula 2 races across Europe as well as competing in the Australian and New Zealand Grands Prix in the early 1950s.
The memorial service was held in the Geelong Grammar School Chapel, giving members of the public the opportunity to honour the amazing life of this accomplished Australian. “It is an honor for the Museum to be involved in the memorial service for squadron leader Tony Gaze,” Temora Aviation Museum president David Lowy said. “(He) made significant contributions to the war effort, flying Spitfires with the Royal Air Force, and he finished World War II as one of Australia’s most decorated fighter aces with 11 destroys and 3 shared to his name.”
The Temora Aviation Museum, which collects and maintains historic aircraft, including the only two airworthy Spitfires in Australia, re-marked its Gloster Meteor to represent the plane flown by Gaze, and Gaze was among the hundreds of service men and women interviewed in the museum’s “Unsung Heroes” project, providing a biographical database of Australia’s rich military aviation heritage.