WWII flying ace a valued part of RCAF and Canadian history

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News Article / June 25, 2021

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Emily Lindahl, D Air PA

Books have been written about him, military aviation web sites list his accomplishments, and numerous news articles include his name. He is an artist and conservationist in his own right. Wing Commander James Francis “Stocky” Edwards, CM, DFC and Bar, DFM, CD is a Canadian hero on several fronts.

Flying Ace

As one of the RCAF’s top World War II Flying Aces, his wartime accomplishments are included in the book about the RCAF’s history, On Windswept Heights:

Wing Commander James Francis “Stocky” Edwards was one of the RCAF flyers who squared off against Axis pilots and helped knock the enemy out of the air. He was only 19 when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in October 1940. By the end of the war he had 20 confirmed kills (with Probable kills, his score passed 30) and had risen to the rank of wing commander.

He shot down most of these planes in the North Africa campaign. Edwards flew a P-4 0 Kittyhawk against the Messerschmitt (Me) 109; the Me-109 was faster and better armed than the P-40, but that never got the better of Edwards. 

In total, he flew 373 operational sorties during the war and was never shot down.

Known better as ‘Stocky’, James Edwards participated in the Legacy of Honour video series for the Juno Beach Centre, which captures veterans’ voices and experiences before their stories are lost. His exploits and experiences have also been saved within the books and articles written about him throughout the years.

Honoured throughout the years

For his actions during WWII and beyond, Stocky Edwards has been recognized and honoured in Canada, and received decorations from the UK and France:

  • Distinguished Flying Medal
  • Distinguished Flying Cross (UK) and Bar
  • Canadian Forces Decoration and Two Clasps
  • Legion of Honour, France. Chevalier (Knight) - 2014

Vintage Wings of Canada has a Curtiss P 40-N on display, which is a tribute to Stocky. The fully functional aircraft has a paint job which is an exact replica of the Kittyhawk flown by the Flying Ace in the North Africa campaign when he was with 260 Squadron. In 2013, Stocky was joined by his family on a visit to Vintage Wings of Canada. He was there to check out a banner that had been previously raised in his honour as well as to see the replica Kittyhawk. When presented with the opportunity to join pilot, Mike Potter for a flight in the ‘Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee’ tribute Harvard 4, Stocky enthusiastically accepted. 

In 2004, Stocky received the Order of Canada. The Governor General’s web site notes that “he has served our country with distinction both in wartime and in peace. One of Canada's greatest fighter pilots, Stocky Edwards displayed enormous bravery, skill and leadership during the Second World War, flying in over 370 combat missions. Serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force for decades, he lent his vast expertise to generations of pilots. In retirement, he has written several books based on his wartime experiences and has become an accomplished artist whose paintings illustrate Canadian aviation history.” In 2012, Stocky received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

In 2009, Stocky was honoured as one of the 100 most influential Canadians in aviation. His name joined those of the other ninety-nine on the 2009 CF-18 Centennial of Flight demonstration Hornet. His contributions were once more recognized in 2013 when he was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame.

Stocky’s aviation accomplishments were recognized by his community in 2015, when he joined world-renowned scientists, actors, athletes, politicians, authors, and musicians as a recipient of the Comox Valley’s Walk of Achievement Award. Begun in 2006, the annual award honours residents of Comox Valley who’ve “achieved distinction in their field of endeavour”.

Canada’s youth can also gain from Stocky’s commitment to military aviation. Managed by the Royal Canadian Air Force Association Trust, the Stocky Edwards Legacy Trust exists to “support, assist, promote and further the education of young Canadians in careers related to aviation, especially those enrolled in Air Cadet programs.

Defending Canadian wildlife

Stocky Edwards and his wife Toni, are passionate about ensuring Canadian wildlife and wetlands are protected and managed with care. In 2015, he generously donated some of his personal decoys, used in his youth hunting on the Prairies, as well as artwork he painted, to the Comox Chapter of Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) for auction at their fundraiser.  

In an article covering the fundraising dinner, For Country and Conservation, Ashley Lewis, Communications Specialist for DUC noted that “The more you talk to Stocky, the more you realize that service people and conservationists have a lot in common. They are guardians and defenders. One protects our freedom, while the other protects our wild places. Both are fundamental to our lives.”

To continue his conservation efforts, DUC teamed up with Stocky to launch the Stocky Edwards Wetland and Wildlife Conservation Fund. The goal was to raise $100,000 which was then raised to $125,000. This new goal has been met and then some.

Celebrating 100 years

The legendary WWII flying ace continues to be a part of the Royal Canadian Air Force community. Earlier this month Stocky Edwards celebrated his 100th birthday, an occasion that was recognized by family, friends, and community, including members of the RCAF, an organization which he will remain forever connected to.

 

 

 

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