WWII fighter ace led a speedy life





3-2-1920 - 29-7-2013

Tony Gaze, a trailblazing wartime fighter ace who went on to become an Australian pioneer in formula one racing and to represent his country in the world gliding championship, has died in Geelong Hospital. He was 93.

The mercurial Gaze, who lived at Barwon Heads and admitted to having lived a "charmed life", notched up several notable achievements: he was the only Australian fighter pilot awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times for gallantry; the first Allied airman to land in France after the D-Day landings at Normandy in June 1944; the first Australian to shoot down a German jet fighter, a Messerschmitt Me-262, in World War II; the first Australian to fly a jet fighter (the then new Gloster Meteor III) operationally; the first Australian driver to compete in formula one, at the 1952 Belgian Grand Prix; he led the formation of the "Kangaroo Stable" racing team in Europe that, in 1955, gave Jack Brabham his first taste of international motor racing; and in 1960, he flew for Australia in the world gliding championship in Germany.

"For all the legend he created, it should not be forgotten that he was a caring, loving, sensitive, loyal man," his godson and stepson, Chris Davison, said.

Gaze, who was born in Melbourne and educated at Geelong Grammar School and Queens College, Cambridge University, where he excelled in rowing, was destined to be a fighter pilot and to lead an adventurous life.

His grandfather, Frederick, was co-founder of the Ezywalkin shoe company, while his father, Irvin, flew Bristol Fighters with 48 Squadron Royal Flying Corps (RFC) over the Western Front in World War I; his mother, Freda, was a driver with the RFC.

His father, in fact, had by chance earlier been part of Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctica Expedition. The land party was divided into two teams, the Weddell Sea party and the Ross Sea party, the latter including Irvin and allocated the task of setting up storage huts from the trans-Antarctica journey by Shackleton. The Weddell group's ship, Endurance, was crushed in pack ice, while the Ross group's ship, Aurora, broke its mooring, drifted and left Irvin and his group stranded. They had adequate supplies and were picked up by another ship later. Shackleton then helped Irvin get to England, where he joined the RAF and was twice shot down over the Western Front.

Gaze was studying at Cambridge when World War II began in September 1939, and he immediately joined the RAF and trained as a pilot. His younger brother, Scott, also became a pilot and had just turned 19 when he was killed in action in March 1941.

After completing his flying training in 1941, Gaze was posted to 610 Squadron at Westhampnett, one of the three Spitfire squadrons that formed the famous Tangmere Wing, where he flew alongside Johnnie Johnson, who would become the RAF's top ace (38 "kills") of the war, and the remarkable Douglas Bader. (Bader lost both legs in a flying accident in 1931 but re-qualified with wooden legs to fly in the Battle of Britain and beyond, shooting down 20 German aircraft. In turn, he was shot down and became a prisoner of war - and made a number of attempts to escape.)

Gaze won his aerial spurs on July 10, 1941, when he shot down two Me-109s while flying as a wingman, covering the tail of his

fighter leader. He was awarded his first DFC.

In June 1942, he joined 616 Squadron and that August added two more Luftwaffe aircraft to his tally, plus another "probable" victim. He was later promoted to squadron leader and commanded 64 Squadron.

Not long afterwards he was leading a fighter wing - his squadron as well as the United States Army Air Force's Eagle squadron and a Canadian squadron - on a mission to escort bombers when faulty meteorological forecasting before take-off led them into bad weather. Several US and Canadian aircraft were shot down or crashed because of a lack of fuel after their inexperienced pilots descended over Brest in France, thinking they were over Plymouth in England. Gaze's squadron was not affected, but he felt the losses deeply.

Gaze served briefly with RAAF 453 Squadron before being posted to 66 Squadron. On September 4, 1943, he shot down a Focke-Wulf 190 and damaged a second FW-190, but then his Spitfire was severely damaged by another FW-190. Forced to crash-land near the town of Le Treport in German-occupied France, he suffered facial and head wounds, but was picked up by the local French Resistance unit.

A cat-and-mouse game ensued to evade capture and he ended up in Paris, where he was given the choice of waiting a month to be picked up by a black ops Lysander aircraft or be smuggled across France for a four-day trek over the Pyrenees into Spain. Unwilling to wait, he chose the latter and discovered the hazardous crossing in fact took 10 days. Once in Barcelona, he was transferred to Gibraltar, from where he was flown back to England. He had been away almost eight weeks.

Following a short break, he rejoined 610 Squadron and is acknowledged as the first Allied pilot to land in Europe - at St Croix-Sur-Mer in France - on June 10, 1944, four days after the D-Day landings.

On February 14, 1945, he fired two separate bursts from about 350 metres astern to shoot down an Me-262 - one of three in formation - while patrolling above Nijmegen in Holland, becoming the first Australian airman to bag a German jet. On April 12 that year he claimed a shared victory over another German jet fighter, this time an Arado 234, with another pilot in his flight.

Back with 616 Squadron, he became the first Australian fighter pilot to fly a jet (the Meteor III) operationally. In the last days of the war, Gaze's derring-do led him to boldly land his Meteor on a German autobahn to meet the pilots of some Me-262s parked there. The pilots inspected each other's aircraft and he was invited to stay on for a party that night. He declined and flew back to his base.

Gaze finished the war a double-ace, credited with shooting down 11 Luftwaffe aircraft, and sharing in the destruction of three others in 485 combat sorties. Besides the jets, his tally included a V1 Doodlebug, a rudimentary forerunner of today's guided missiles.

Gaze, like many other fighter pilots at the time, had a sports car and raced it around the perimeter tracks at his first operational base at Westhampnett, sowing the seeds for his involvement in motor sports. He suggested to the squire who owned the land, the Earl of Richmond, Freddie March, that he turn the place into a racing circuit, which he did. Consequently, in September 1948, the former RAF base hosted the first post-war event, where a young Stirling Moss won the formula three race. The circuit became known as Goodwood Park, a premier venue.

The following year, Gaze married Catherine (Kay) Wakefield, the widow of British racing driver and fighter pilot Johnny Wakefield, who had died in a crash during the war.

Gaze returned to live in Australia in the late 1940s to race a pre-war Alta at various venues around the country. He returned to England in 1951 to race, and in 1952 bought a HWM-Alta to compete in the Belgian, British and German grands prix - the first Australian to race on the official grand prix circuit.

Gaze shared a Holden FX with two other Australian drivers, Lex Davison and Stan Jones, in the following year's Monte Carlo Rally, while also driving an Aston Martin in sports car events.

In 1954 and '55 he raced in New Zealand; in the second year he finished third at Ardmore in his Ferrari 500. In 1955, he launched the short-lived "Kangaroo Stable", which gave Brabham his big international break. In 1956, Gaze finished second to Moss in the New Zealand Grand Prix.

Later, he retired from car racing and took up gliding, and in 1960 represented Australia at the world championship in Germany.

Following the death of his first wife, Kay, in 1977 he married an old friend, Diana, the widow of Davison, who had died in 1965 after suffering a heart attack during a race at Sandown Park in Melbourne. Di not only ran the Davison family business, Paragon Shoes, a nifty irony given Gaze's links with Ezywalkin, but founded the Buoyancy Foundation (the first drug counselling service in Victoria), and was an honorary life member of the women's association of the National Gallery of Victoria.

In 2006, Gaze was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his sporting achievements and service to the Commonwealth. Last year, he was honoured with the Sir Jack Brabham Award at a gala ceremony in Melbourne for his services to motor racing.

Diana died in August last year, and Gaze is survived by his stepchildren Chris, Richard, Peter, Jon, Catherine and Elizabeth, and step-grandchildren Claire, Nicholas, Charles, Alberta, Phillipa, Alex and Will, the latter two well-known V8 Supercar racing drivers, and IndyCar hopeful James.

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