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Major Alexander Harry (Sandy) Gray
Late Grenadier Guards

by Lieutenant Colonel O P Bartrum MBE
formerly Grenadier Guards

Sandy Gray, one of the oldest surviving members of the 4th Battalion to serve in the Second World War, died on 14th November 2020, a month short of his 96th birthday.

Sandy was born in Bombay in 1924. His father, Sir Alexander George Gray, was the Manager of the Bank of India in Bombay, retiring in 1943. His mother, Dulce (née Wild) was a descendant of the Reeves brothers who established the artists’ watercolours business in 1766 that bore their name. Sandy spent a great deal of time researching his family history and recorded it meticulously in his private memoirs: ‘What I Remember...

Sandy and his sister, Diné, returned to live in England with their mother before his 4th birthday. His mother went back to India each winter and his father came to England every 5 years. The family took up residence on the Yattendon estate in Ashampstead, Berkshire where Sandy became close friends with the Dunlop brothers who lived nearby. Sadly, Brian and Hugh Dunlop, both future Grenadiers (5th Battalion) were killed in the war; Brian in April 1943 and Hugh in August 1944. Brian had been engaged to Sandy’s sister, Diné, at the time of his death.

Sandy’s memoirs recount happy days spent hunting and shooting on the Yattendon Estate before he joined the Army. On one occasion, in 1940, Sandy was the left marker on the estate’s shoot. One of the guests that day was Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, and Sandy was mortified to hear that he had peppered the Admiral with shot on the last drive of the day. The Admiral, recently returned from sinking the Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate, dismissed Sandy’s apology with an offer of a gin and orange and a cheerful reply: ‘It was only one pellet in my sock!’. Sandy could not believe that he had almost achieved what Captain Landsdorf of the Graf Spee had failed to do.

After Cambridge (Modern Languages at Trinity Hall) between October 1942 and June 1943, Sandy attended Brigade Squad at Pirbright before going to RMA Sandhurst to join D Squadron under the command of Major The Hon Neville (later Lord) Wigram, Grenadier Guards with SSM Troy, Irish Guards, in Old College. Sandy passed out of Sandhurst on 14th May 1944 and was sent to the Guards Armoured Training Wing at Pirbright. The 4th Battalion had been moved to Lenham in Kent in preparation for the Normandy landings, deploying as part of 6th Guards Tank Brigade on 24th July. The Brigade quickly discovered that the ‘bocage’ was most unsuitable terrain for armour. After a short stint with the Training Battalion in Windsor, Sandy flew out on 10th August to join the Forward Delivery Squadron, near Bayeaux.

6th Guards Tank Brigade comprised three armoured battalions: 4th Grenadiers, 4th Coldstream, and 3rd Scots Guards. Each battalion had three squadrons, each supporting an infantry battalion. The Brigade was equipped mainly with Churchill tanks with a top speed of 15mph and a 75mm calibre main armament that, in Sandy’s words ‘just bounced off the German tanks’. Some of the Churchills had 95mm guns retrofitted to achieve better results.

By November, Sandy had been given a troop to command, No 10 Troop in 2 Squadron, soon to engage in Op VERITABLE, a detailed account of which is given in Patrick Forbes’s History of the Grenadier Guards in WWII (Vol 1). Over 300,000 British and Canadian troops were involved on a 40 mile front between Nijmegen and Wesel. By early March 1945, the Siegfried Line had been broken and the German forces between the Maas and the Rhine were ‘thrown back in complete disorder’. On 27th February, the squadron was supporting a company of King’s Own Scottish Borderers as part of the advance towards Kleve, the first large town in Germany to be taken by the British. Progress had stalled on the edge of a wood, resistance coming from a barn ahead. Sandy’s tank fired a high explosive round and 15 Germans emerged, rather shaken and waving a white flag. As the prisoners were being gathered in, Sandy’s tank was hit in the side and Sandy was wounded in the leg. He was evacuated back to hospital in Epsom. Sandy’s war was over, and he considered himself very fortunate to have survived. He was extremely proud to be one of the veterans who received the Legion d’Honneur from the French President in 2015 for their role in the liberation of France.

After the war Sandy served in all three battalions of the Regiment: in Palestine with the 1st Battalion, in Egypt with the 3rd Battalion and in London with the 2nd Battalion. He saw out the King and saw in the Queen, being a member of the 1st Battalion’s Vigil for the Lying in State of King George VI at Westminster Hall in February 1952 and being part of the 3rd Battalion’s contingent for The Queen’s Coronation in June 1953. He also served as a staff officer in Eqypt, Hong Kong, and Ottawa.

Sandy married Diana (née Carlisle) in April 1958 having known and courted her since 1946 when the family had moved into Ashampstead. He left the Army in 1964 and embarked on a career as a chartered surveyor. This involved completing the RICS correspondence course to master the theory, building an extra floor on the family house for practical experience, and working at Haslam’s in Reading to make ends meet. Once qualified, he worked as a district valuer in Oxford before taking up a job at Savills in Banbury and moving to Souldern where he and Diana lived so happily for almost half a century (1970-2019). Sandy was the driving force for many local improvements: the building of a new village hall, the refurbishment of the village church including re-hanging of its bells, the creation of the new recreation ground, and the planting of a commemorative Jubilee wood. He was an early advocate of car boot sales and established a monthly sale in Souldern that drew crowds from all over the county and beyond. Sandy and Diana created a magnificent garden at Souldern House, the public opening of which, as part of the annual National Gardens Scheme, always attracted hundreds of visitors. Sandy was made a Fellow of St Birinus in 2017, an honour awarded by the Bishop of Dorchester, to acknowledge exceptional work done by individuals in both the Church and the community.

Sandy’s memories of his time in the Grenadiers remained with him throughout his life. For many years he was an active member of the Oxford Branch of the Association and he made a point of being present at the Regimental Remembrance Day each year. He took great pride at falling in with the 4th Battalion, and later with the 2nd Battalion, for the march to Horse Guards for the wreath laying. He was last on the Black Sunday parade, in a wheelchair, in May 2019.

Sandy and Diana made a very happy home for their three children, nine grandchildren and numerous cousins. He was delighted to have seen their first great grand-daughter, born in March 2020. As son-in-law to Sandy for 34 years, I can personally vouch for the warmth of hospitality that he extended to everyone he met. He lived life to the full and he helped his family, friends and many acquaintances to fulfil their own lives.

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