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Flying Dangerous Spitfires in Italy

Heroes Remember

Flying Dangerous Spitfires in Italy

About December of that year, ‘43, I got posted back to Italy with the Canadian Spitfire Squadron 417 until I would go to another squadron, you see. Bert Houle was a CO then, who was a friend of mine and we got along good. They had, we were flying the new Spit 8's, beautiful air plane, and I was happy. The squadrons were, the wing of the Spitfires was over on the east side on the Adriatic side covering the Ortona and the Canadians fighting there. And then the new plan was to make a landing at Anzio, south of Rome and it would need a lot of air support. So the wing was moved over to the Naples side. And our job while there was mostly to do patrols over Anzio. Sometimes, on occasion, we did some bombing but we were flying Spitfire 8's. They didn’t have a tremendous force at Anzio or the army was having a difficult time getting by ground, up to that point. But the Germans never did drive our troops out of Anzio. The Spitfire 8's we had were supposed to go to India, where it’s very much warmer, and they had a little extra oil cooler inside the wing near the fuselage. Wouldn’t be more than a few inches square. And we were having air craft going out and on their way out to Anzio call up and say, “My red light’s on, my fuel light’s on and the engine’s cutting out.” And they’d either bail out or they might glide into Anzio. If they bailed out, they hoped to be picked up by one of the, our ships, you see. But this is happening quite often and getting embarrassing to the engineering officers. This one wing especially. So that we had a number of air craft that had force-landed at Anzio. So this engineering officer who had a few hours previous to the war, or he might to have had his licence, he had never flown a Spitfire though, he took a Spitfire up and flew it up to Anzio, got it down on the ground and the group captain was just fit to be tied, you know. He was going to court marshal this guy, he was going to do everything to him. But while he’s there, in comes a Spitfire. The engine stopped, does a landing, and he gets over quick enough to see that it’s all frosted over on this air cooler connection and what it’s doing is it’s freezing the fuel lines. And all they had to do is patch it. Put anything, just cover the hole and no more trouble. So this character was given a medal instead of being court marshalled.

We learn the unlikely story of a hero through the recollection of operational activities in Italy.

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
Canadian 417 Spitfire Squadron
Flight Lieutenant

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

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