James (Stocky) Edwards, a decorated Second World War fighter pilot and Comox resident, was appointed as a Knight of France’s Legion of Honour at a special recognition ceremony Friday at 19 Wing Comox.
The citation rewards the outstanding merits of those from all walks of life; Celine Dion and former Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King are among the recipients.
French Consul General Jean-Christophe Fleury presented the award to recognize Stocky’s actions during D-Day and the Battle of France.
Fleury said the award is the equivalent to the Order of Canada, of which the 93-year-old Stocky is a recipient.
“It’s a great morning for me and my family,” Stocky said. “I have many thanks to make. I’m totally pleased, and happy in meeting the Consul General of France.”
He appreciated sharing such an honour with his family, friends and distinguished guests.
“Thank you everybody. I want to say merci beaucoup,” Stocky said. “France never forgets. Amen.”
Ace of aces
Canada’s highest scoring ace in the Western Desert Campaign, Edwards earned respect for his quick reflexes, flying abilities and shooting instincts while serving with 260 Squadron in the Western Desert Air Force in North Africa in 1943.
During the war he flew Spitfires after first piloting a Kittyhawk.
On June 6, 1944 he and his squadron helped protect the Allied forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy.
Stocky is credited with shooting down 13 enemy fighter planes and destroying a number of enemy transport vehicles.
His numerous decorations include the Canadian War Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Service Medal.
19 Wing Cmdr. Col. Tom Dunne said Stocky is a “key member of our Officers’ Mess,” with whom he has enjoyed sharing stories on many Friday nights.
“Sir, I’m truly honoured to have you make this wing your home in the Royal Canadian Air Force,” Dunne said.
“I have the utmost respect for you…I thank you for your service to this country. God bless.”
Stocky left home at a young age to cross the Atlantic to participate in what Fleury described as one of the fiercest battles in modern history, and to help the people of Europe free themselves from terrorism and tyranny.
“The French people will never forget the act of valour by Canadian soldiers,” Fleury said, noting the sacrifice of more than 45,000 Canadians during the war. “Thank you so much for fighting on our side for freedom and democracy. Thank you for fighting against prejudice and ignorance. And thank you for making my land a free country.”
Lt.-Gov. of B.C. Judith Guichon and former lt.-gov. Iona Campagnolo were among the attendees at Friday’s ceremony.
“This highest award of honour, until recently, had been awarded only to about two dozen Canadians for their outstanding contribution,” Guichon said. “During this year of the commemoration of D-Day, the Legion of Honour has been awarded to veterans who actively participated in the liberation of France.
“This is a recognition of the close relationship and co-operation by the Allies that led to the final victory that ended the horror of World War 2.”
She said those born after the two world wars have enjoyed an “era of relative peace” — which was not the case for Stocky, his wife Toni and other young people of their generation.
“We, who have inherited this great nation, say thank you,” Guichon said. “Thank you to your generation whose courage, integrity and honour paid for our freedoms.”