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AUSTRALIA LOSES A TRUE HERO

 The word hero is much over-used these days. It is used to describe people who are just survivors, kids that can call emergency services or sports stars. None of which actually do anything even slightly heroic so the word loses its true meaning.

Tony Gaze War hero Fighter ace DFC and 2 bars

  Tony Gaze, however, was a hero in the literal sense of the word. Not because he reached the premier series in motorsport, Grand Prix racing or raced at Le Mans. Not even because he was instrumental in the birth of the utterly wonderful Goodwood Motor Circuit, although millions are indebted to him for that alone. But because as a young man studying at Cambridge, he volunteered for the RAF as war erupted in Europe and rose through the ranks to the level of Squadron Leader and with fourteen confirmed enemy aircraft to his credit and was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) on three occasions. One of just 48 Allied airmen who achieved that honour.

  During the war Tony mainly flew the iconic Spitfire but eventually became the first Australian pilot to fly a jet powered fighter, the Gloster Meteor. This was just one of many “firsts” he achieved. Amongst them being the first Australian pilot to destroy an enemy jet fighter (Messerschmitt 262) and jet powered bomber (Arado Ar234). He was also the first Allied pilot to land in a liberated part of Europe after the D-Day landings, putting down at St Croix-Sur-Mer, France on June 10, 1944.

  Despite his racing success after the war his most lasting achievement was probably to convince Freddie March, at the time the Duke of Richmond and head of the Royal Automobile Club (R.A.C.) that the perimeter track of his old wartime airfield (RAF-Westhampnett, which was on some of Freddie’s land) would make a good replacement for the destroyed Brooklands circuit. He and his fellow pilots had spent many hours blasting around it while not defending Britain from the Luftwaffe. Although Goodwood never hosted a World Championship Grand Prix it became one of the fastest and most beloved circuits in the UK, if not the world. All the greats raced there from Fangio and Farina in the early days via Moss to Hill and Clark before it closed for racing in 1965. Now that the circuit has been reopened and holds the stunning annual Goodwood Revival historic race meeting, Tony’s involvement in it’s creation has been honoured by the press centre being named the “Tony gaze Building:.

 

  Although his top line racing career was brief, he entered just four World Championship Grand Prixs in his privately run HWM-Alta during 1952, he was yet again the first Australian to start a World Championship race. His four Grand Prixs yielded a solitary finish, 15th in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, two retirements at Silverstone and the Nurburgring and a non-qualification at Monza.

Tony Gaze in his Ferrari 500

  In late 1953 Tony returned to Australia and would compete in local open wheel races here and in New Zealand taking third place in the 1954 New Zealand Grand Prix in his HWM and repeating the result the following year in his ex-Ascari Ferrari 500. His final New Zealand campaign before retirement saw him finish second to Stirling Moss in the New Zealand Grand Prix before rounding out the series with second at Wigram, a win at Dunedin and another second at Ryal Bush. He would then turn his attention back to the skies and went on to represent Australia at the World Gliding Championship in 1960.

  I had met Tony on several occasions over the last decade and although I wouldn’t claim to know him well (apart from close family and friends who really “knows” anyone?), I always found him to be a modest and dignified man, generous with his time and able to tell some marvelous tales of post war racing and other adventures with remarkable clarity and wit. I had plans at one point to talk to him about writing his storey but was beaten to the punch by Stewart Wilson with his excellent biography “Almost Unknown”, which is well worth a read.

Tony at the launch of the Lex Davison biography  Squadron Leader Frederick Anthony Owen “Tony Gaze” OAM DFC and 2 Bars, was a true gentleman who was very easy, not just to like, but admire and respect and although he was relatively unknown in his home country, that nation, Australia, is a poorer place with his passing. A hero in every sense of the word.

 

  For a more detailed look at his remarkable life, either pick up his biography – Almost Unknown - or check out http://www.tonygaze.com/

 Sam Snape