Australia's first Grand Prix racer, Tony Gaze DFC** OAM, has died at the grand old age of 93.
Gaze's story is the stuff of 'Ripping Yarns'. His father, Irvine Gaze, was a member of Ernest Shackleton's Ross Sea Party Antarctic expedition.
Both parents served in World War I, his father a pilot with the 48 Squadron and his mother, Freda, was a driver with the Royal Flying Corps.
Tony was born Frederick Anthony Owen Gaze on 3rd February 1920 in Melbourne. The young Gaze went abroad to study at Cambridge University, and was in England when war broke out in 1939.
Following in his father's footsteps, he joined the Royal Air Force along with his younger brother, Scott. Scott lost his life in March 1941, two weeks after his 19th birthday.
Both Gaze brothers were Spitfire pilots. In his spare time, Tony and his friends raced their cars around the perimeter of RAF Westhampnett where he was stationed for the early part of the war.
After being reassigned to Northamptonshire, he was promoted to Squadron Leader, having performed well against German aircraft.
In September 1943 he crash landed in occupied France after enemy fire had disabled his Spitfire's landing gear.
He suffered head and facial wounds, but was picked up by the French Resistance before the Germans reached him. He was helped to escape to Barcelona and the British Consulate there. His journey lasted almost eight weeks.
Back in the air, he participated in the Allied invasion of Europe and was the first Australian pilot to shoot down a German ME262 jet and later an ARADO AR234 jet.
By the end of the war he claimed 12.5 aerial victories. He was decorated three times, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In 1948, Freddie March opened the Goodwood Circuit, having been encouraged to do so by Gaze himself. The pair had raced each other at Westhampnett, which later became the circuit.
Gaze married Kay Wakefield, the widow of British racer Johnny Wakefield who had died during the war. Soon after, they moved to Australia where Tony raced a pre-war Alta.
He then returned to Britain in 1952 and bought a HWM Alta to compete in the Belgian, British and German Grands Prix, the first Australian to do so.
He raced on for a few years, coming home second behind Stirling Moss in the 1956 New Zealand Grand Prix.
He changed from cars to gliders in 1960 and represented Australia in the World Gliding Championships in West Germany. Soon after the change, his wife Kay died and he retired from competitive racing.
In 1965, his friend Lex Davison was killed in practice at Sandown while at the wheel of his Brabham Climax.
Gaze later married Davison's widow Diana, and they both became a fixture at historic racing meetings. Diana was herself handy behind the wheel.
Racing stayed in the blood of the Davison family; Diana's son Richard Davison, father to current racers Alex and Wil, was an open-wheeler specialist, winning the Australian Formula 2 championship.
Diana died in 2012, but not before Tony featured in the ABC interview program Talking Heads (link opens in a new tab/window).
Tony Gaze was a very special Australian; we may never see his like again.
Note: The term DFC** indicates that Gaze was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times.
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