With the rank of wing commander, Mr Edwards shot down 19 confirmed Luftwaffe fighter planes and marked many more ‘probable’, the plane he took out of action but did not not seen touching the ground. He also destroyed at least 12 other enemy warplanes at their desert bases before they could get airborne.
Hitler’s Afrika Korps, commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, had been locked in battle with the Allies in North Africa until pilots like Mr. Edwards, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force assigned to the British Royal Air Force (RAF), engage in air operations. dogfights with the Luftwaffe and strafed and bombarded the Germans on the ground to hasten their defeat.
During these exchanges over North Africa, Mr. Edwards flew American-made P-40 Kittyhawk fighters, much heavier and slower than the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, which made his achievements all the more remarkable. Over Italy and France later in the war, including D-Day, it would transition to the more agile British Spitfire fighters.
Physically, Mr. Edwards was anything but “stocky”. He was skinny in his youth, and the Toronto Globe and Mail once quoted some of his fellow airmen as saying he was more like a nervous bantamweight. Known as Eddie during the war, he was only later given the nickname “Stocky” in honor of his bravery.
In all, it flew 373 combat missions during World War II, mostly over North Africa, but also providing air support for the Allied landings in Italy in 1943 and 1944 and in Normandy on D-Day – June 6, 1944 – a rare “triple” among Allied pilots.
Mr Edwards was a 20-year-old flight lieutenant when he took off from an air base in the North African desert on his first combat mission on March 23, 1942, as part of an RAF squadron . While escorting Allied light bombers, he and other airmen strafed a German ground base, and when he engaged in aerial combat with the Luftwaffe, he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109, his first ” kill”.
Toronto’s Globe and Mail quoted his son Jim Edwards as saying his father was a modest, humble man who was “slow in recording his victories” unless he was sure but had almost certainly shot more than he claimed, probably at least 22.
On June 17, 1942, for example, over Tobruk, Libya, Mr. Edwards in his Kittyhawk shot down a German Bf 109 but recorded it only as a “probable” rather than a kill since it didn’t see him hit the ground. . Many years later, German records showed that the downed pilot was Otto Schulz, one of the Luftwaffe’s greatest fighter pilots, who died in the accident.
Mr Edwards’ wingman that day was Australian pilot Ron Cundy, who witnessed the dogfight. “As I watched the 109 close in, Eddie applied a lot of straight rudder and skidded out of the way,” Cundy told The Globe and Mail years later. “The 109 was coming in too fast to make the necessary adjustment and as it overshot Eddie swung left, opened fire and shot it down. It was the coolest dogfight I’ve ever seen .
Jim Edwards told the Toronto newspaper that his father had 20/20 eyesight and had been a sharpshooter in his youth when he used to shoot ducks and other wild birds in the prairies of Saskatchewan. When shooting waterfowl, Mr Edwards’ father had taught him to ‘lead’ his target rather than shoot at it, according to Jim Edwards, who added that his father used the same technique as a fighter pilot.
Although Mr Edwards scored most of his “kills” in North Africa, he later served in Italy and France. In support of the Allied landings on the beach of Anzio, Italy in February 1944, he shot down at least three German fighter planes.
In June of that year he piloted a now legendary British Spitfire to escort bombers as the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. elsewhere, Mr. Edwards encountered no resistance from the Luftwaffe and the bombers did their job.
In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, bestowed by the United Kingdom during the war, Mr. Edwards was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, one of that country’s highest honours, in 2004. He was inducted in the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013 and the following year was appointed to France’s Legion of Honor by President François Hollande for his services to France during the war.
James Francis Edwards was born in Nokomis, Saskatchewan on June 5, 1921, one of six children. His parents lost their home during the Depression and moved to the small town of Battleford, Saskatchewan, in an area called the Canadian Prairies, where his father sought work.
At St. Thomas College in North Battleford, Mr. Edwards’ first love was ice hockey and he was once scouted by the Chicago Black Hawks. “But I was little,” he told the Comox Valley Record on his 100th birthday. After graduating from high school, he volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force, although he had never flown before.
In 1946 he married Norma Hatcher, a nurse, and they had two children, Dorothy and Jeanne. Norma soon contracted poliomyelitis and died. In 1951 he married Alice “Toni” Antonio, also a nurse, and they had two children, Angel and Jim. Mr. Edwards’ daughter, Jeanne, predeceased him. Survivors include his wife and three children as well as several grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Returning to Canada after the war, Mr. Edwards remained in the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving as a flight instructor, search and rescue pilot and commanding officer of the first Canadian squadron to fly the Saber jet fighter. He also held other positions until his retirement to Vancouver Island in 1972, where his passion was wetland preservation.
With writer Michel Lavigne, Mr. Edwards wrote the memoir “Kittyhawk Pilot” in 1983 and the nonfiction “Kittyhawks Over the Sands: The Canadians & the RCAF Americans” in 2002.
“I’m proud of my quiet little way,” he told the Comox Valley Record when he turned 100. “I did 373 combat missions. You kind of get…you don’t know anything else. The day the war ended, it was a feeling of, ‘What do I do now?’ ”