The Australian Grand Prix Corporation expresses its sadness following the passing of Tony Gaze AOM, DFC and BARS, 1920-2013.
“He was nearly the perfect hero.” The words are those of Australian V8 Supercar driver Will Davison, talking about his step-grandfather Tony Gaze, who has died at the age of 93.
The Australia we know and cherish today was built on a pioneering spirit and individual acts of bravery. Tony Gaze epitomised those qualities in a life whose early years were the stuff of adventure writing.
Born in Melbourne in February 1920, Frederick Anthony Owen ‘Tony’ Gaze was a student at Cambridge when World War 2 broke out. His father had flown in the Great War; Tony quickly abandoned his studies to follow suit, joining the Royal Air Force and embarking on a war career in which that pioneering tradition shone through.
Spending his war years largely as a Spitfire pilot, Tony Gaze was the first Australian to destroy an enemy aircraft in combat. He would be credited with 12 individual ‘kills’ and a share in another. He was also the first Australian to fly a jet aircraft in combat.
In between those achievements he was shot down over Occupied France in 1943, picked up by the Resistance and spirited away to neutral Spain before returning to his combat duties. His wartime exploits earned Tony Gaze the Distinguished Flying Cross, not once but on three separate occasions.
Briefly back in Australia after his service years, Tony returned to the UK to fight it out in another high-speed sphere of human endeavour: motor racing. He is credited with encouraging the Earl of Richmond to convert an aerodrome which stood on his land for another purpose; racing fans the world over now know it as Goodwood.
On track, Tony Gaze was also the first Australian to take part in a World Championship Grand Prix. The official series was in only its third season when his HWM finished 15th behind race-winner Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari at the daunting Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
In that same year Tony Gaze also contested the British and German Grands Prix, retiring from both, and ended the season without managing to qualify for the Italian round at Monza.
Still in pioneering mode, Tony was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the first Australian racing team to try its luck in international competition. The ‘Kangaroo Stable’ included such names as David McKay and, later, Jack Brabham and started by campaigning Aston Martins. It was short-lived, however, as the 1955 Le Mans disaster dealt a crushing blow to sports car racing in Europe.
A lifelong friend of Lex Davison, one of the early stars of post-war Australian racing, Tony Gaze married Lex’s widow Diana, who passed away in 2012. He was the step-grandfather of Will Davison and his brother, fellow-V8 star Alex. Will kindly took a moment to share some personal memories.
“I feel immensely fortunate and privileged to have had that sort of figure in my life,” said Will. “Tony was a man of few words a lot of the time – but he could tell stories all day long! “I never met Lex, so in many ways Tony was my grandfather. He was a distinguished, quiet man who loved Diana so much and I know our racing brought him a lot of joy. I remember even when I was racing in Formula Ford at Albert Park, he would tell me I was shifting up 200 revs later than the other guys, picking up details that were quite incredible.
“In one way he was a quiet, gentle man – but in others he was one of the hardest you could meet, simply because of what he and his generation had been through. But he never boasted about what he had done: what he had endured, he felt, was just normal. We’ll never see the likes of him again.”