Thelma Gray

Anyone with an interest in the history of Corgis will sooner or later come across the name of Thelma Gray. She was one of the pioneers among the breeders in the early days when the Welsh Corgis in 1925 were first recognized as one breed by the Kennel Club. Thelma Gray bred numerous champions with the prefix Rozavel, the most famous one probably being Ch. Rozavel Red Dragon who will be found in most Pembroke pedigrees.

Thelma Gray also wrote the first book about the Corgis: The Welsh Corgi. Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire Types which appeared in 1934. Five years later the book was sold out and was published in a revised edition. In 1947 the third revised edition was published. Later, in 1952, W. & R. Chambers Ltd. published a smaller, condensed book by "Mrs Thelma Gray, Famous Breeder and Senior Judge", simply called The Corgi. Copies of these books are occasionally for sale on eBay.

Below you will find a portrait of this great lady who has done so much for the breed and whose name should never be forgotten.

You can also find an obituary written by the late John Holmes for Dog World and reproduced in The Welsh Corgi League Handbook 1985.

Thelma Gray - A Portrait

Thelma Gray As a child Thelma's pet dog was accidentally run over by a Royal Coach. Naturally very upset by this, the little girl wrote to the Palace and asked for another dog. This letter was to be one of the first of many years of correspondence which passed between Thelma Gray and the Royal Family.

In 1933, the Duke of York, later King George VI, first purchased Rozavel Golden Eagle, called Dookie, for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and later Rozavel Lady Jane. One corgi led to another and an active breeding programme was undertaken at the Palace with Thelma Gray being involved in many ways over the years with the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and also Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II. Through this mutual love of the Pembroke corgi a very personal relationship was built up between Thelma Gray and the Royal Family.

The Queen has never exhibited her corgis. However, before leaving England Thelma won two Challenge Certificates with a dog the Queen had bred, Windsor Loyal Subject, born 08.03.1971. Loyal Subject was a son of Eng.Ch. Kaytop Marshall.

The Rozavel prefix was registered in 1928. Roz-Avel was the name of a villa on the coast of Brittany where Thelma as a child spent considerable time with her parents. As The Kennel Club would not accept the word with a hyphen, hence Rozavel.

One of the first corgis Thelma purchased was Rozavel Jack the Ripper (formerly Gwynfryn Jack by Ch. Bowhit Pepper out of Shan) and later she purchased Eng.Ch. Crymmych President, born 13.08.1929. President sired the famous Ch. Rozavel Red Dragon (bred by Mr Gwyn Jones out of Felcourt Flame).

Jack The Ripper
Jack The Ripper
Crymmich President
Chrymmych President

A long line of Rozavel Champions followed including Eng/Am. Ch. Rozavel Rainbow who was the first corgi to win Best in Show at an All Breeds Championship Show at Birmingham in September 1950.

Ch. Rozavel Rainbow, BIS Birmingham 1950

When World War II broke out there were 30-40 corgis in the Rozavel kennels. Thelma's farm was commandeered by the Canadian army. They were given three weeks to move out with a young baby, 80 dogs, furniture and belongings. A lot of the dogs were given away, a couple of old ones were put down and the remainder were placed in boarding kennels. During the first twelve months many were leased out on breeding terms. Thelma kept a dozen or so.

The family finally managed to rent a country house with some stables where she could keep a nucleus of breeding stock. When things got more or less back to normal, after the war Thelma started rebuilding the kennel.

Thelma and her son Jeremy

Thelma Gray had mainly Pembrokes but also some Cardigans. One of her first Cardigans was the bitch Rozavel Blue Belle, born 1929.

The pre-war merles were all typical Cardigans and they all came from Miss Wylie's Geler stock, but after the War it seemed that Miss Wylie had lost the strain that produced them. It was Thelma Gray who finally managed to revive the blue merles and Rozavel Blue At Last is the firm foundation from which all present day merles in the UK have come.

Sonnica Godden with Kentwood Brenin (left) and
Thelma Gray with his granddam Rozavel Blue Rosette

Apart from Corgis, Thelma Gray successfully bred and showed alsatians, chihuahuas, beagles and West Highland terriers. One of her Smooth Chihuahuas, Ch. Rozavel Tarina Song, went Reserve BIS at Crufts 1971.

Thelma Gray was also a judge.

Thelma Gray judging the Welsh Corgi League championship show in 1951 and her
BIS winner Ch. Solitaire from Shiel owned by Miss Milliken-Smith.
The lady on the left is Phyllis Robson, editor of Dog World newspaper through the 1930s and '40s.

In 1972, she judged the Working Group at Crufts and chose the Pembroke dog Ch. Kaytop Marshall as her winner. And in 1975 she had the great honour of judging Best in Show (Wire Fox Terrier) and Reserve Best in Show (Bulldog) at Crufts.

In 1975 she decided to leave England and settle in Australia. A brave move for an already elderly lady. She purchased a suitable property in Coromandel, in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and in June 1976 established her Rozavel Kennels once more. It must have been a difficult task to decide which dogs to bring to Australia from a kennel of over 100 dogs. Daphne Slark who was the kennels manageress for over 22 years kept a lot of the dogs.

Of corgis only two Pembrokes followed Thelma Gray to Australia, Windsor Loyal Subject and his son Rozavel Roderick. Loyal Subject was tragically killed in a kennel fight, requiring only a few challenge points for his title. He would have been the first champion bred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Rozavel Roderick later became an Australian Champion. Later she remarked she had regretted that she did not bring one or two Cardigans with her.

Windsor Loyal Subject
Windsor Loyal Subject

In 1980 after the disastrous Hills bush fires a number of Hills "dog people" including Thelma met together and formed The Adelaide Hills Kennel Club.

Thelma Gray died in November 1984 and in 1985 The Adelaide Hills Kennel Club decided to have a second Campionship Show in February each year and this was named The Thelma Gray Memorial Show. In January 1986, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth made a generous donation to the Club to purchase a Perpertual Trophy in Memory of the late Thelma Gray, to be presented to the Best of Breed Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) at this Show.

Adelaide Hills KC Thelma Gray Memorial Show 2000
BOB Dygae Silver Spell owned by Kitty Flynn