Major Arthur Bertie Gay (1896-1959)

Arthur Bertie Gay, known to his friends as Bertie, was born in 1896. his father was Major General Sir Arthur William Gay of Lapford. Bertie was a curator at the Museum for over 20 years. It is due to him that RAMM has the extensive, well organised, and stunningly attractive collection of butterflies that it does today.

War-time service – a distinguished career

During the First World War, Bertie served with the Royal Artillery in the Balkans and Mediterranean. He received the Military Cross for bravery in action. Later he served with the Royal Artillery in the Second World War. He received the MBE for staff services and the Territorial Decoration for long service. His medals, and those of his father, are now in RAMM’s care.

Bertie Gay the sportsman

While at school in Bristol Gay became the Public School Rackets Champion of 1911. After the First World War he played rugby for Crediton, and for Devon between 1923 and 1924.

Bertie Gay and RAMM

Bertie was a keen natural historian, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of butterflies and birds from all over the world earned him a position here at RAMM. He volunteered for four years before he became an assistant curator in 1936.

He specialised in Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). His knowledge of the micro-Lepidoptera was ‘unsurpassed in the West Country’.

Gay purchased many rare and valuable insects for the Museum which he paid for himself. He also bought 14 cabinets each with 30 drawers for the butterfly collections. In addition to forming his own collections, Gay was responsible for obtaining specimens and collections from many other naturalists, including the trustees of the British Museum. Bertie spent a great deal of time creating and organising the consolidated collection of tropical and British butterflies.

RAMM remembered in his will

Bertie Gay died at the age of 63 on 17 March 1959 at The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. He had no living relatives and so he left his money to the Museum. He said it should be spent on further cabinets for the insect collections.

Anthony Adams was one of Gay’s Museum colleagues. He noticed that Gay’s grave did not have a headstone. Upset by this neglect of such a worthy man, Adams paid for the headstone out of his own pocket.

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