Comox resident James Francis (Stocky) Edwards, a fighter pilot during the Second World War, has been named to the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.
He will be officially inducted next spring.
“It’s something that you think would never happen,” the 91-year-old said this week. “It’s funny how they (accolades) come near the end (of life). However, what my mother used to say is better late than never.”
Earlier this year Stocky received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 2004, he received the Order of Canada medal.
Then in 2009 he was honoured as one of the 100 most influential Canadians in aviation. His name was included on the CF-18 Centennial of Flight demonstration Hornet.
“It’s a tremendous honour for anyone,” Bud Wilds, past president of 888 (Komox) RCAF Wing of the Air Force Association of Canada, said of Stocky’s latest honour. “He’s contributed a lot to Canada and aviation. He’s very deserving of that particular nomination. It’s my honour to be his friend.”
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, which has been refurbished by Vintage Wings of Canada.
“I went to Ottawa and flew in it,” Stocky said. “But they wouldn’t let me fly it; I had to go in the back seat.”
Edwards was born on a farm in Nokomis, Sask., east of Saskatoon. His family moved to Battleford, Sask., when he was seven. He later joined the air force in Saskatoon, to where Stocky recalls walking most of the 100 miles.
“I thought I could just join up, but no, they said we don’t have schools open, you’ll have to go home and wait,” he said. “I walked back. I got halfway back to a place called Borden. I went into a restaurant and asked for a drink of water. The restaurant owner thought I looked a little pooped.”
Upon hearing his story, the owner paid Stocky’s way back on the bus, which was about $5, and gave him something to eat.
“I never forgot that,” he said.
Stocky has lived in Comox for more than 40 years with his wife Toni.
“We’ve had a very close affiliation with the base all the time,” said Edwards, who enjoys golf and flyfishing.
He and Toni have four children — “I came here with only one,” Stocky quips — and lots of grandchildren, some of whom reside south of the border.