Bob was born in Perth on 24th March 1940 and was a student at Christchurch Grammar School Perth prior to joining the RAN as an Aircraft Artificer Apprentice in 1956. Due to RAN restructuring he left the Navy in early 1960 and joined QANTAS in an Engineering capacity, but re-joined in October 1962 as a Midshipman Aircrew Officer. Having completed his Basic Aircrew Training at HMAS Cerberus and spending a short time at sea, Bob was posted to Malta for Observer Training which was completed early in 1965. He was then posted to HMAS Albatross for 725 Squadron and Wessex 31A Operational Flying Training School.
As a qualified ASW Helicopter Observer Bob moved to 817 Squadron both at HMAS Albatross and embarked in HMAS Melbourne until he joined the 2nd RANHFV contingent in mid 1968 for Operational Training prior to deployment to join the 135th AHC US ARMY at Blackhorse South Vietnam (see photo above). Bob distinguished himself in his role as Staff and Divisional Officer for the Contingent and was awarded an MBE. His CO, the late LCDR Graham (Zork) Rohrsheim stated that “the high morale of the flight is directly attributable to his (Bob’s) efforts” unquote.
On return from Active Service, he continued his career with postings overseas and within Australia with well-deserved Promotions and Commendations. Bob completed Sea King training and was posted as Senior Observer of HS 817 and after serving in Fleet Headquarters was posted to HMAS Coonawarra in Command. Two years exchange with the RN followed and on return to Australia he moved to Navy Headquarters.
Captain Ray transferred to the Royal Australian Naval Emergency Reserve on 30 APR 87 and Retired on 24 MAR 00 after a career spanning 42 years of nearly continuous service. In closing a quote from one of his contemporary Officers – quote “Vale CAPT Robert Ray, MBE, RAN ret’d – a true character of the old mould and an example for all naval aviators that followed in his wake.” Unquote.
We know that you join with us in offering our most heartfelt condolences to Bev married in 1962, daughter Fiona, son Gavin and the extended family.
Ever practical, Bob had been preparing for his death, asking that no Chief of Navy All Ship All Shore signal be sent; that he would not be having a formal funeral; and that his ashes be scattered in the ocean to a position just north of Pt Perpendicular where a 723 Squadron Huey crashed in 1968 taking the lives of the three souls on board. (Bob was a witness to this event).
Bob will be cremated in Perth and the family will take his ashes to Eastern Australia to be scattered, as per his wishes. COMFAA has committed to the event and separately wrote to Bob before his death, thanking him for his long and loyal service in the RAN.
A Memorial Service was held for Rob on Friday 21st July 2023 at 1130 am, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum near Nowra, NSW. About 100 people from his family, friends and admirers attended, during which they heard stories of Rob’s life and especially of his service in Vietnam. Following the ceremony Rob’s ashes were dispersed off Beecroft Peninsula by a 723 Squadron helicopter over the site of the fatal 1958 helicopter crash, which he was an eye witness to.
(With thanks to Murray Smythe & Jeff Dalgliesh for much of the material here)