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Gunnery School

Heroes Remember

We had a very unfortunate incident. The wing leaders, squadron commander, the wing leaders of our wing were sent back to England as a reward. This was before anything was decided to send anybody anywhere. We had almost just finished. And on the way back to Tunisia, they were shot down off the Bay of Bisque by a night fighter, a JU-8 night fighter, and we lost everybody connected. So, a very strange wing commander appears on the field and he’s telling us how sorry he is about what’s happened, but he’s now got to do something with us and we’re now going to be posted, see. And I thought, well, I would stay with the squadron. I hadn’t really, my tour was over but I didn’t think of leaving or anything. We were going to go on from there to Sicily and Malta, Sicily and so on. And the squadron was going to go back to Tripolitania area just to wait out the time. Be a few weeks before we set off. Anyway, he told me, he said, “You’re going back to, we’d like you to go back to the gunnery, to help set up this gunnery school outside of Cairo.” You know, this to me was way back there, see, and we’re up here. And maybe it’s kind of late to be setting up a gunnery school, but that’s where I went. And I was so upset. He could tell, you see. I never said anything to him. He seems to be a very nice person and he said to me, “You go and do this job for five months and I’ll personally see that you bet back on OPS.” What else could I say? It was great, but I thought, “Yeah, you could get shot down, you could be...” Well, I went. But I couldn’t remember how I got back, and I still can’t, how I got back down there. I was so upset about this. However, I went to this gunnery school and I was in charge of it. And we had a Spitfire there and had Hurricanes and Harvards and we were teaching people how to shoot at the drogue and hit it. Well, strangely enough, I found that most of them couldn’t fly the air plane. They couldn’t keep the ball in the centre. That’s what I mean. So when they fired, they didn’t know where they were firing. This is even guys who did a tour of OPS on Hurricanes. That’s what’s bad about Hurricanes see. But they had this Spitfire there and I flew that as much as I could. It was the most beautiful air plane they ever had.

After Tunisia, to his dismay, Mr. Edwards had to go set up and run a Gunnery School near Cairo, Egypt. He tells the strange and unfortunate circumstances that got him there and the unexpected joy it brought him.

James Francis Edwards

Mr. Edwards was born on a farm near Lockwood, Saskatchewan on June 5th 1921. His father, a First World War Veteran, kept horses until the depression forced him to move the family to Battleford where he became an insurance salesman. His mother had been a nurse during the First World War. In June 1940, Mr. Edwards enlisted in the Air Force. He was sent to the Brandon, Manitoba to do his Initial Training, then to Edmonton, Alberta for Flying School. After completing Flying School, Mr. Edwards was sent to overseas. He was assigned to 55 Operational Training Unit in Osworth, England where he flew Hurricanes. From there he was posted to Africa to take part in the Desert Campaign. Among many battles and operations, he took part in the El Alamein Battle (Egypt) and the Tunisian Campaign. In Egypt, he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. After a period in Cairo running a gunnery school, he was called back to combat in Italy. There he fought in the Battle of Ortona and Anzio and he was given his own squadron, the RAF 274. He was shot down on his first flight as squadron commander. Surviving, he and his crew were sent back to England to take part in D-Day. He would also fight in Holland and Germany. In total, Mr. Edwards served two tours of duty, flying over 360 missions. He had more than 19 confirmed kills. After the war was over he returned to Canada and continued service with the air force retiring as a wing commander.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
James Francis Edwards
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Air Force
Flight Lieutenant

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

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