Colonel “Pat” Gray was born on 1 August 1909 in a family of farmers living in South Africa, and joined the army there and served in the Artillery. He fought in the Second World War as part of the North African Desert War. Most of his unit were captured, except him, and he then volunteered to join the Arab Legion. He later resigned from the South African army to join the Arab Legion permanently in Jordan, where he served in the Third Regiment.
Pat married Edith Ashe on 28 January 1954 in Amman, Jordan.
Following a coup in Jordan, when King Hussain said he didn’t want any British officers, Pat and Edith returned to England at very short notice. As he wasn’t from the British Army, he was out of a job, and had to take some temporary jobs in England for a year. He then applied for a job in Muscat as a Major (even though he had previously been a Colonel). While there, one of his old friends from the Arab Legion visited and offered him a job in the Aden Protectorate as the Commanding Officer of the Hadhrami Beduin Legion (HBL). The HBL was formed in the 1940s as a neutral force recruited from all tribes. It was financed by the British Government and was responsible to the British Resident Adviser.
In July 1966, Pat Gray and his wife Edith were shot near their house as they returned from watching a film at the HBL lines. Pat Gray turned his car around and, although fatally wounded, drove his wife two miles to the hospital where he died immediately. A helicopter from a warship evacuated his wife the following day.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the assailants were HBL soldiers. Although there may have been a personal motivation, as the principal assailant had been cashiered for striking a junior officer three days earlier, there were political overtones as the HBL troops were positioning themselves for eventual independence from Britain.
Account by Edith Gray
Pat was in Aden for eight years and, with Edith, used to travel regularly to the Empty Quarter to visit outposted troops, where they would check on the soldiers and sit under the stars at night, eating roasted goat. Those were happy days for them both.
In the mid-sixties, the Legion had provided transport to the Fauna Preservation Society to assist them in capturing five Oryx, a desert antelope that was being hunted to extinction, which were then shipped to the USA to be bred in captivity and to be later re-introduced to the wild (click here to read about it).
The Society made a film of the capture of the 5 oryx and sent a copy to the Legion. All the soldiers, including Pat and Edith, went to watch the screening of the film on 28 July 1966. Upon their return to their home on a hill, they were shot at by an HBL soldier (Edith recognised the uniform) using a sub-machine gun, as they were about to get out of the Landrover. The spray of bullets hit Pat in the lungs and Edith in the sternum and left arm, and also shattered the windscreen. After emptying the gun’s magazine, the soldier fled. Pat got out of the car and broke the remaining glass in the windscreen so that he could see to drive. They both asked each other how they were and found that each was badly wounded. Climbing back into the car, Pat drove them down the hill, where they were met by his civilian Transport Officer, who had heard the shooting and come to investigate together with his wife, who was a nurse. Gordon, the Transport Officer, ascertained that they had been wounded, but that Pat could still drive. Leaving his wife to accompany Pat and Edith, Gordon drove to the hospital to warn them that wounded were on their way. His wife, Vera, climbed into the car and they started on the two miles to the hospital. Along the way, Pat said he was feeling faint and didn’t think that he could continue. However, he rallied and managed to complete the journey. When they arrived at the hospital, Edith was helped from the car and taken away for urgent surgery. It was too late for Pat, who succumbed to his lung wounds. Before he died, the hospital staff wanted to give Pat a blood transfusion, but he had a rare blood type and Edith, who had also lost a lot of blood, was the only person with the same blood type. However, the entire RAF contingent came from their base 15 miles away to see if they had the right blood type for Pat. Edith was evacuated by helicopter to the RAF hospital in Aden, where they operated on her arm (torn from the shoulder to the elbow) and her sternum which was sticking out. The doctors thought that she would not make it. However, after three days, she started to recover but needed several operations to repair the damage to her arm and chest. She returned to the UK where she went to a RAF hospital renowned for its plastic surgery.
Pat was recommended for the George Cross for his actions in saving Edith’s life. However, as Edith was a member of his family, he was not awarded the medal. Pat is buried at the British Cemetery in Silent Valley. His gravestone, which can be viewed in the photo album below) reads as follows (NB: “Qaid” is an arabic word meaning “leader” or “Commander”):
Qaid J. W. C. (Pat) Gray
Madhrami Bedouin Legion
Beloved husband of
Born 1st August 1909
Died 28th July 1966
Edith Gray (née Ashe)
Edith was born on 4 November 1920 in Izmir (Smyrna) in Turkey. Her twin brother, Robert, died of dysentery soon after birth. When the Greek enclaves in Turkey were attacked, the family was evacuated by ship to Cyprus, where her father found a job as a mining engineer. As her mother suffered badly from malaria, the family moved to Venezuela for three years. They then returned to England, and later went back to Cyprus, where Edith was completing her “matriculation” studies. When the Second World War started, the family returned to England where her father eventually joined the RAF.
Edith joined the army in May 1940, and was sent to Egypt and, from there, to Palestine. he eventually returned to England but, she had liked the Middle East so much that she volunteered for a second tour of duty there, where she met her future husband. She was discharged from the army and stayed with her parents in Cyprus. She then went to Jordan and stayed with her future husband’s commanding officer, a Brigadier. She found herself a job at the Headquarters of the Arab Legion as a civilian Ammunition Officer, and worked there for two years before getting married in 1954.
They moved to Muscat and then Aden, where her husband, Pat was killed in a terrorist attack, and Edith was severely wounded. Edith was in an RAF hospital for 6 months and was unable to attend her husband’s funeral in Aden. When she recovered, she bought a house in Rye and lived there with her mother. She found a job with the Ministry of Buildings and Works and, after two years, she passed an exam to move into a higher grade. She then sold the house in Rye and moved to work in Croydon with the Internal Revenue. Later she moved to Oxford for the Inland Revenue. After a couple of years, she transferred to work for the South Oxford District Council. After retirement, Edith moved to Eastbourne. She passed away on 5 February 2013.