His name at birth was James Francis Edwards.
Many came to know him by another name.
“I go by ‘Stocky’ these days,” he said during a video interview on the Juno Beach Centre website.
The Second World War flying ace passed away on May 14, a few weeks shy of his 101st birthday, and in honour of his life, a celebration of his life was held at Christ the King Catholic Church in Courtenay Friday morning.
A hero to countless Canadians, for his family he was a husband and father first.
‘It’s a really sad day. He’s my dad, and he’s not here now,” said daughter Dorothy Edwards.
She spoke to the media briefly before the private service, which was a hybrid of military funeral and Catholic mass. She acknowledged the role her father played during the days of the Second World War.
“He was a hero when we needed heroes,” she said.
Despite the accolades, he passed off the fame, she said, and he remained accommodating to people whom he met.
“People started coming to seek him out from all over the world,” she said.
As a father, he set a quiet example for the kids about the importance of values such as honesty and respect for others.
“It was kind of by osmosis that we learned from him,” she said.
The funeral was followed by “Last Post” and two minutes of silence before a pair of CF-18s and a CH-149 Cormorant conducted a flyover for Edwards, followed by “Reveille.”
Edwards was born June 5, 1921 on a farm near Nokomis, Sask., and like many Prairie kids, he played hockey, but unlike most, he attracted the attention of the NHL, specifically the Chicago Black Hawks. However, he put this and other future options on hold, with the advent of the Second World War as he joined the air force.
“I wanted to be a pilot,” he said during the video interview. “Flying was easy. I loved it.”
He was Canada’s highest-scoring ace in the Western Desert Campaign, serving with 260 Squadron in the Western Desert Air Force in North Africa in 1943. First piloting a Kittyhawk, he switched to a Spitfire and earned a Distinguished Flying Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for acts of valour or courage. He also took part in D-Day as a squadron commander to cover the troops landing on the shore in Normandy.
“It was a big day. We weren’t prepared to see the number of ships, boats and aircraft, and gliders … that stretched from coast to coast,” he said.
For his service, he was knighted by the French government, earned the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.
He retired to Comox to spend time with his wife Toni, his four children, along with many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Among his passions was his decades-long support for Ducks Unlimited and their restoration work in the Comox Valley.
Last June, the community celebrated his centenary, as guests and members of the public lined the streets of Comox for a drive-past parade. In the skies above, two CF-18 Hornets from 4 Wing Cold Lake conducted a flyover to salute Edwards.