Reginald Grant was the son of William Edward and Gertrude Isabella Grant (nee Rowntree), of Mission Bay, Auckland. Brother of Veronique.
Three brothers died in service: William Edward Grant, died of illness on the 2 February 1932 while serving with the Royal Air Force; Ian Allan Charles Grant (NZ391351) was killed on 13 February 1943 and Reginald Joseph Cowan Grant (NZ421969) was killed on the 28 February 1944.
"At the beginning of January the New Zealanders, under command of squadron leader Grant, were established at West Hampnett in the famous Tangmere sector of No Fighter Group. In their first patrols from Tangmere the New Zealanders saw little action, but early in February there was a lively engagement with German fighters over Abbeville. Shortly after crossing the French coast the Spitfires were directed by their ground control towards a formation of some fifteen FW190's which they soon sighted and attacked. But while they were engaged with this force a further twenty Focke-Wulfs suddenly swept down out of the sun, and in the hard fighting that followed three New Zealand Spitfires were shot down. In the midst of the battle Squadron Leader grant, who was leading No. 485 that day, had the distressing experience of seeing his younger brother (Flying Officer I.A.C Grant (NZ391351) shot down before he could intervene to save him. He did, however, succeed in destroying the German fighter which made the attack." Thompson, H. (1959). p. 185
In the course of 22 sorties within a month, Sergeant Grant was credited with the destruction of two Messerschmidt and the damaging of several others. A contemporary report describes how, on one occasion, he became momentarily separated from his squadron during an attack on the airfield at St.Omer. He noticed two Messerschmidt below him, set about them and saw one go down into the ground in flames. Grant, a recent arrival from New Zealand, was at this time flying with No. 145 Spitfire Squadron of the Tangmere Wing.
A few months later he joined the Dominion squadron with which he was later to win outstanding distinction as a fighter pilot and as a squadron commander. Grant was posted to Canada for a short period and then returned to England as leader of a Mustang wing. A few months later he was killed while setting off on a mission across the Channel. It is recorded that shortly after take off, Grant's engine cut out in cloud. He ordered the wing to carry on while he turned back in an effort to make base. He broke cloud at about 1000 feet and it is surmised that oil covered his hood and goggles, for he used his parachute which opened just as he struck the ground.
'Contact' of April 1944 includes a biography of Grant: When Wing Commander Reginald Joseph Cowan Grant, DFC and Bar, DFM; was killed on active service recently the Royal New Zealand Air Force lost one of its most outstanding fighter pilots.
At the beginning of 1939, Wing Commander Grant and his brother, the late Flying Officer Ian A.C. Grant, who predeceased his brother on active service overseas, commenced negotiations to gain short service commissions in the Royal Air Force. The process of these negotiations, however, was interrupted by the outbreak of war in September, 1939, and Wing Commander Grant thereupon volunteered for service as a pilot with the RNZAF. He commenced his training in November, 1939, but owing to a foot injury sustained under training, he did not finish his course until the end of 1940.
In the beginning of 1941, granted the rank of Sergeant, he embarked for service overseas. Only a short time elapsed before he commenced to distinguish himself, and when he was awarded the DFM in August, 1941, he had already taken part in 22 operations over enemy territory, during which he destroyed two enemy aircraft and damaged several others. he received the DFC in September, 1942, and a Bar to his decoration in June, 1943. All his citations stress Wing Commander Grant's exceptional keenness and devotion to duty, and his excellent example of leadership and efficiency. At the time of his death he had destroyed at least eight enemy aircraft.
The Wing Commanders rise in rank was meteoric. He joined No. 485 (New Zealand) Fighter Squadron in autumn, 1941, as a sergeant and remained in that rank until January 1942, when he was commissioned. Only a couple of months elapsed before he became a Squadron Leader and in May of that year he succeeded Wing Commander E P Wells, DSO; DFC and Bar, in the command of the squadron. He became a Wing Commander a few months ago. After carrying out 150 operations Wing Commander Grant went to Canada last year to lecture New Zealand airmen there. He also visited Washington. On his return to active service he was appointed to the command of a wing of mustang fighters.
A letter from the Offices of the War Cabinet wrote of the circumstances leading to his death, 13 January 1944: the Wing took off from Gravsend for an offensive operation. After forming up, about 10 miles south of the aerodrome, at a height of 5000 feet still climbing, W/C Grant , over RT indicated his engine was cutting out and he needed to return to the airfield. He did not transmit again. A policeman saw the aircraft turn on its back and Grant was seen to leave the aircraft with his parachute streaming behind him.
His medals are held in the Mackrell Collection, Auckland War Memorial Museum. Reg and Ian Grant Memorial Cup. The trophy was presented to the Mount Albert Grammar School in 1945 by their father and sister. Inscribed for the Open Sprints Champion, it has been awarded every year since. Both Reg and Ian were noted athletes in their time at the school. AWMM