Duncan Gray

265751 Lieutenant Duncan James Gray, 10th (2nd Battalion The Tower Hamlet Rifles) Battalion, Rifle Brigade

Born 4th December 1922 in Guildford
Killed in Action 4th September 1944 in Italy

Family and Home 1, 2, 3, 4

Duncan James Gray was born in Guildford, Surrey, the second son of James Neville Gray and Hildegard Mary, née Gunn.

His father was a Barrister and King’s Counsel who was awarded the D.S.O. (Gazetted 1st January 1917) while serving as Lieutenant/ Temporary Captain in the Special Reserve. The family moved to Little Gaddesden between 1936 and 1939, having previously lived at Baas Hill House, Broxbourne.

Duncan’s siblings were Marcus b 1920, who died aged 8 in 1929, Elizabeth b 17th July 1926 and Joanna Mary b 20th July 1928

Education 2, 10, 11, 12

Duncan followed his father to Rugby School, which he attended as a Scholar between September 1936 and April 1941. He was a member of Bradley House (Housemaster H J Harris), located at 5 Barby Road. He was in the XV (Rugby Football) in 1940 and in the Running VIII in 1940 and, as Captain, in 1941.

An article on “The Running VIII” in the Rugby School Magazine, “The Meteor”, of April 1940 noted that:

In spite of the fact that he only ran for the VIII on two occasions, he proved himself to be a runner of the first order. A long springy stride and plenty of strength enable him to cover the last two miles at an unusually fast pace. The best of luck to him next year.

In December 1940, the article “Characters of the XV” described his talents at Rugby Football as follows:

A mobile and spirited wing-forward, whose keen backing-up deservedly brought him several tries. Does not yet actually get his hands on as many backs as he might, but he is a tireless chaser and a fine opportunist.

Duncan went up to University College, Oxford in the Michaelmas Term 1941 but stayed only one year.

Military Service 5, 6

In 1942 Duncan joined the Army from Oxford University. He served in the 10th Battalion Rifle Brigade, which had been formed the previous year by the re-designation of the 2nd Battalion, Tower Hamlets Rifles. The Battalion served in Tunisia as part of the 26th Armoured Brigade in 1943. In May 1944 it transferred to the 62st Lorried Infantry Brigade and served in the Italian Campaign.

Death in Italy 6, 7, 8

On 4th September 1944, 21 year old Lieutenant Duncan Gray, the only surviving son of James Neville and Hildegard Mary Gray of The Red House, Little Gaddesden, was killed in action in Italy. Wounded in Italy on 16th May, he had only recently re-joined his battalion and was killed while out on patrol. He was originally reported missing and his death was reported to the War Office Casualty Branch on 5th/6th October 1944.

Image of Duncan Gray's obituary

The report of Lieutenant Gray’s death in what was then The Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser, originally published on or around 18th October 1944. This copy published courtesy of the Hemel Gazette & Express

Commemoration in Italy 6

Duncan is buried in Florence War Cemetery where he was laid to rest on 12th February 1945, having originally been buried elsewhere.

Photo of CWGC Florence War Cemetery
Florence War Cemetery, courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

His grave reference in Florence War Cemetery is II. E. 3

Beneath the badge of the Rifle Brigade, the inscription on his headstone is as follows:

D.J. Gray
10th Bn. The Rifle Brigade
(Tower Hamlets Rifles)
4th September 1944 Age 21

Beneath the cross are the words:

He hath already
Fulfilled the prime
And longest intention
Of his being

We will remember them 9

Duncan Gray is commemorated on the Little Gaddesden War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church.

He is also commemorated, as D J Gray, on the WW2 Panel in the Memorial Chapel, Rugby School. His name can be seen in photo 8/14, almost half way down the fifth column.

Postscript 4, 13

Duncan’s father, Major James Neville Gray, K.C., D.S.O. was the first commanding officer of the No 5, Little Gaddesden, Platoon of B Company, 7th Hertfordshire Battalion, Home Guard. He is included in the 1944 photograph shown below.

Photo of the Home Guard taken in 1942
No 5 Platoon, B Company, 7th Hertfordshire Battalion, Home Guard. James Gray is seated 2nd row, 6th from the left, his First World War medal ribbons affixed to his uniform. Courtesy of Wendy Forster.

Also identified on this photo are:

Other First World War veterans known to have served in this Platoon were: Albert Boarder, Sidney (Jubal) Jones, William Newman (father of Billy Newman), Edwin Purton, Frank Rogers and Edward Saunders.

The Platoon also contained young men, most of whom were subsequently called up for military service. Among these were George Halsey, son of Horace Halsey; Leonard Hing son of Lewis Hing; Raymond Hing, son of Joe Hing; Fred Hucklesby, son of Harry Hucklesby; Fred Liberty, son of George Liberty; John Oakins son of Steve Oakins; Gordon and Maurice Purton, sons of Reginald Purton, and Arthur Whitman, son of James Whitman and named after his uncle Arthur Whitman.

In 1941, Captain William O’Kelly, M.C. was appointed Battalion Adjutant and Quartermaster.


1. https://www.findmypast.co.uk England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcriptions

2. https://www.findmypast.co.uk 1939 Register

3. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/29886/supplement/22

4. Brock, Capt. Alan St. H (ed), 1945, 7th Hertfordshire Battalion Home Guard. A History of the Battalion 1940-44 (Publisher unspecified)

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poplar_and_Stepney_Rifles

6. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2614150/gray,-duncan-james/

7. https://www.findmypast.co.uk British Army Casualty Lists 1939-1945

8. https://search.ancestry.co.uk England, Andrews Newspaper Index Cards, 1790 – 1976

9. https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/19536

10. Information provided by Dr Jonathan Smith, Archivist, Rugby School

11. https://rugbyschoolarchives.co.uk/PDFViewer/web/viewer.html?file=%2fFilename.ashx%3ftableName%3dta_meteor%26columnName%3dfilename%26recordId%3d73 The Meteor, April 2nd 1940, p29, “The Running VIII”

12. https://rugbyschoolarchives.co.uk/PDFViewer/web/viewer.html?file=%2fFilename.ashx%3ftableName%3dta_meteor%26columnName%3dfilename%26recordId%3d81 The Meteor December 16th 1940, p144, “Characters of the XV”

13. Police Constable Parker’s list of Little Gaddesden’s Local Defence Volunteers, compiled in May 1940

Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson