James (Stocky) Edwards, a decorated Second World War fighter pilot and longtime Comox resident, passed away Saturday, May 14 at the age of 100.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, a 19-year-old Stocky had sparked the interest of the Chicago Black Hawks, but instead of trying out for the National Hockey League team, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940.
Stocky flew Spitfires during the war, serving with 260 Squadron in North Africa in 1943. He was Canada’s highest scoring ace in the Western Desert Campaign, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Flying Medal.
“He was just a kid,” said his longtime friend Syd Burrows, a Comox resident who served with Stocky in the air force. “He was flying an airplane called a P-40, which was before Spitfires. He did all his kills in the desert…He was a wing commander back when I was a flying officer, so he was up there with the leaders. When we were young kids, we said, ‘We’re flying with the best in the world.’ It was just awesome.”
Retired Col. Terry Chester of Comox recalls Stocky believed he was blessed with a guardian angel that prevented him from being shot down during the war.
“He said, ‘I was extremely lucky during the war.’ He said, ‘I should have been shot down many times, but I wasn’t.’”
Stocky was also a painter, a conservationist and a supporter of youth.
“He was the embodiment of so much that was good,” Chester said. “Whenever he met you, he’d look you right in the eye, he’d shake your hand and he’d call you by name. He had that quiet, dignified confidence about him. I was honoured that I could call him a friend.”
After the war, Stocky continued in the RCAF for many years until his retirement. Comox Mayor Russ Arnott describes him as a “larger-than-life figure” and a mentor to CAF members who made 19 Wing Comox their home.
“I was fortunate to have met Stocky and his wife Toni at many social engagements, and I was always in awe of his intelligence, passion and quick wit,” Arnott said. “He was a devoted and loving husband to Toni, and a caring father and grandfather to his family. He will be missed by many, and his memory will live on forever.”
“The epitome of an officer and a gentleman, Stocky exemplified service before self,” said Col. Rhonda Stevens, Wing Commander 19 Wing Comox. “Stocky remained supportive of the wing throughout his retirement. I consider myself fortunate to have counted him among my friends, and he will be deeply missed, by myself, and all members of 19 Wing.”
Stocky received the Freedom of the Town of Comox in 2007. He also received an Order of Canada medal, and was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2009, he was named one of the 100 most influential Canadians in aviation. In 2014, he was knighted by the French government for his actions during D-Day and the Battle of France.
“He was always such a nice guy,” Burrows said. “He was a senior officer but he didn’t treat us like we were kids. He was an icon.”
To honour Stocky, the flag has been lowered this week outside Comox Town Hall.