Distinguished World War II Fighting Ace
Inducted December 3, 2015
Comox resident, Canada’s greatest living flying ace, 94 year-old, James Francis “Stocky” Edwards has been earning awards and accolades for over seventy years. Since receiving the Distinguished Flying Medal and his first Distinguished Flying Cross in February 1943 for his outstanding flying accomplishments in the Western Desert during the Second World War, he has gone on to receive all sorts of honours, including the Order of Canada in 2004. On Thursday, December 3 at the Sid Williams Theatre, “Stocky” added another award to the long list he already possesses. He became the eleventh recipient of the Comox Valley’s Walk of Achievement Award. Given annually -- since 2006 -- to Comox Valley residents who have “achieved distinction in their field of endeavour” the recipient list includes world-renowned scientists, actors, athletes, politicians, authors and musicians.
The citizens of the Comox Valley have long enjoyed a very special relationship with the military since 1862, when the first group of sixty of the earliest settlers landed at the K’omox First Nations village brought there from Victoria on the gunship H.M.S. Grappler. From then on British naval vessels regularly anchored in Comox Bay to be greeted and entertained by early settlers. During the First World War a whole battalion of soldiers trained in the Valley before shipping out to France, and in the Second World War army and naval units also trained here. In 1943, the RCAF built the Comox Air Base and since then that force and the community have enjoyed a long and close relationship. With that in mind it is particularly fitting that “Stocky” Edwards, who like many other servicemen and women chose to live in the Valley upon retirement, should be this year’s Comox Valley’s Walk of Achievement recipient in recognition of his life-long achievements and of the community’s long association with the military.
Born in Nokomis, Saskatchewan Edwards grew up in Battleford and as soon as he was 19 years old, in 1940, volunteered for the RCAF even though he had never been in a plane before. “That didn’t matter. My friends and I, who played hockey with me, all wanted to be fighter pilots,” recalls “Stocky.” After completing his flight training he received a posting as a Sergeant-Pilot to North Africa in January 1942 flying Kittyhawk P-40 fighter/bombers. In March 1942, on his first of his 373 sorties he would fly from then until the end of the war, “Stocky” downed his first of twenty-two enemy aircraft in aerial combat. “For a new pilot to shoot down a plane on his first sortie,” said keynote speaker Colonel (ret.)John Ambler. “Would be like a rookie hockey player scoring the winning goal in a Stanley Cup game on his first shot on his first shift.” Before the war ended Edwards had also accounted for 7 “probable” aircraft shot down and 17 damaged; 12 destroyed and 8 probables on the ground, as well as the destruction of over 200 motor transport vehicles by bombing or strafing. “Usually when we attacked German airfields their planes were widely dispersed but once I was lucky to destroy three at one time when I encountered three being re-fueled at a tanker truck. There was a heck of a “woosh” when they and the fuel truck went up.” By war’s end “Stocky” had risen to become a Wing Commander leading 144 Spitfires over North-West Europe.
When asked to what he attributed his success, he responded: “Fast reflexes, keen eyesight and athletic ability, as well as lots of aggression. On the prairies I grew up with guns and that also helped.” He took part in two of the war’s pivotal battles, the Battle of El Alamein in 1942 and in the D-Day invasion of France in 1944. “I had crash landed in Italy in March 1944 and still had my head heavily bandaged -- ‘it looked like a turban’ -- on D-Day, June 6, 1944, but I managed to get my helmet on over it and flew two sorties that day. It was a tremendous event to be part of,” says Edwards. Seventy years later, in 2014, the French government recognized Edwards’ service dubbing him a Knight of France’s Legion of Honour in recognition of his service in liberating their country.
Following the war Edwards stayed in the RCAF becoming one of the first Canadians to fly jet aircraft, flying Vampires and later flew Sabres while serving in France and with NORAD in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He retired in 1972 and with his wife Toni, who also served in the RCAF during the war, settled in Comox where they have raised a family of four. “One of my last postings was in Prince George at the Baldy Hughes radar facility and in the winter the snow came up to the window sills. I had to come down to Comox for a medical examination and when I got here the grass was growing, the flowers were out and that visit convinced Toni and I to settle in Comox,” remembers Edwards.
Since retiring to Comox “Stocky” and Toni have raised a family of four Dorothy, Jeanne, Debra and Jim. Jim teaches in Victoria, Debra writes songs in Vancouver and Dorothy is retired and living in Ontario. Jeanne sadly died of breast cancer in 1998. They have several grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. Upon retirement Stocky took up painting and fly-fishing, played golf regularly at the Comox Golf Club and is a member of 888 Wing Legion and an honorary Vice-President of Comox Legion Branch 160. Each summer he speaks to the Air Cadets at the Regional Gliding School (Pacific) in Comox about leadership, ethics, patriotism and morale and over the years has presented dozens of cadets with their glider pilot wings. He also annually donates a copy of his book Kittyhawk Pilot to the top air cadet. Over the years he has visited many local schools speaking to school children about his life, about his pride of being a Canadian and “the values we stand for.” He and Toni are stalwart members of Christ the King Roman Catholic church in Courtenay.
“It is a wonderful honour to be named for the Comox Valley Walk of Achievement,” Edwards told the hundred or more guests who attended his induction ceremony. “It is a real treat to see so many friends at the ceremony.”
“The Walk of Achievement recognizes Comox Valley residents who have made a significant difference to their community and to the larger world.” says Jackie Green Chairperson of the Walk of Achievement. “We honour those who have made our country and world a more interesting and safer place.The Committee is very proud to induct Wing Commander Stocky Edwards, particularly during this the 100th birthday celebration of the City of Courtenay."
Medals and Awards conferred on James “Stocky” Edwards:
- Distinguished Flying Medal – Feb.1943
- Distinguished Flying Cross – Feb. 1943
- Bar to DFC Oct. 1944
- Mentioned in Dispatches 1945 (He had been recommended for a Distinguished Service Order but the Squadron Commander who recommended him died in a crash and instead the RCAF downgraded the D.S.O. to MID.)
- Canadian Forces Decoration with two clasps.
- 2004 Member of the Order of Canada
- 2009 Named one of Canada’s 100 most influential Canadians in aviation
- 2012 Queen Elizabeth ll Diamond Jubilee Medal
- 2013 Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.
- 2013 Freedom of the City of Wetaskiwin
- 2014 Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation
- 2014 Knight of France’s Legion of Honour
- 2015 Freeman of the City of Courtenay