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Memorable Manitobans: Harold “Gus” Edwards (1892-1952)

Pilot, military administrator.

Born at Chorley, Lancashire in 1892, son of William Edwards and Catherine Louise Narburton, he immigrated with his parents to Canada as a child, taking up residence at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. During the First World War, he enlisted for service as an able bodied seaman with the Royal Canadian Navy and was posted to the HMCS Niobe in December 1915, as a candidate pilot for Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). He was transferred to the Navigation School at Portsmouth and served as a fighter pilot over France, where he was credited with one enemy plane shot down. During his participation in a RNAS reprisal raid for the 20 March 1917 sinking of the HMHS Asturias, he was shot down and captured. While a prisoner of war, he escaped twice but was recaptured both times and remained a POW for the remainder of the war, being shuffled through a series of German camps. After the armistice, he participated with the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Western-backed effort in the Russian Revolution, flying planes and equipment as well as providing instructional training to others for flying warplanes and transport aircraft. His actions for the South Russian Mission in March 1919 earned him the induction in Order of St. Ann (Third Class, with Swords and Bows) and the Order of Stanislaus (Third Class, with Swords and Bows).

In 1920, he returned to Canada and joined the newly formed Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). In the inter-war years, he took part in aerial mapping of Manitoba and was the Commanding Officer of RCAF Station Dartmouth (now known as CFB Shearwater), where he organized the RCAF to conduct anti-submarine tactics. He also commanded the RCAF coronation detachment for King George VI (1937), held charge of air force arrangements for the 1939 Royal Visit to Canada, and was RCAF Acting Director for a few months. On 21 May 1924, he married Beatrice Myrtle Coffey (c1901-?) at Carleton, Ontario and had a daughter.

He rose from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander (1936), Group Captain (1939), and was appointed Air Attache to the Canadian Delegation in Washington, DC, after which he was Directorate for Air Personnel (succeeding Air Commodore W. R. Kenny). He held that position until being named Air Member for Personnel on Canada’s Air Council on 3 February 1940. This posting had him overseeing all RCAF personnel and the Commonwealth Air Training Program, including those within the Air Training Command No. 2, including promotions, enlistment, manning, recruitment, discipline, ceremonies, staff services, and pay. In October 1941, he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal and was named Air Officer Commanding RCAF Overseas, succeeding Air Commodore Lloyd F. Stevenson. Having relocated to London, England, he was promoted to Air Marshal (1942) and oversaw the transition “Canadianizing” some 45 squadrons (the 400-squadron series), in which Canadian servicemen and aircrew were centralized into RCAF squadrons rather than being interspersed in RAF units. For his contributions and leadership, he was awarded Companions of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath (1942). His position was succeeded by Air Marshall L. S. Breadner in 1944, after which he returned to Canada. He declined the role of Inspector-General of the RCAF vacated by Air Vice-Marshal G. M. Croil and retired as Air Marshal later that year. His numerous medals include the White Lion for Victory (Star First Class), the highest Czechoslovakian honor ever bestowed upon an RCAF officer to that date, along with the Legion of Honor and with Croix de Guerre with Palm (France), all awarded in 1948.

Returning to civilian life, he took up residence at Sauveur des Monts, Quebec. Noted hobbies included fly fishing and polishing of antiques. He went to Arizona a few months before his death of natural causes at Scotsdale, Arizona on 23 February 1952. He was buried with full military honours in the civilian section of the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, Ontario. In June 2012, coinciding with his induction in Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, his body was re-interred in the National Military Cemetery area of Beechwood Cemetery. He was commemorated with the naming of the Harold Edwards School in Manitoba.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Harold Edwards School (Southport, RM of Portage la Prairie)

Sources:

“Nurses face risks equal to soldiers when doing duty,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 May 1917, page 6.

Ontario marriage registrations, Ancestry.

“Many promotions in reorganization of Air Force here,” Ottawa Journal, 22 May 1936, page 26.

“Capt. H. Edwards given new post,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 February 1940, page 4.

“Harold Edwards given air post,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 February 1940, page 3.

“Group Captain Edwards tells how Air Training Plan growing,” Ottawa Journal, 5 February 1940, page 20.

“Commodore Edwards heads R.C.A.F. Personnel Division,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 April 1941, page 7.

“R.C.A.F. changes,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 October 1941, page 13.

“14 Canadian Squadrons in R.A.F.; 25 soon,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 November 1941, page 13.

“Air Marshal Edwards arrives in Britain,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 November 1941, page 4.

“Edwards in Britain,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 November 1941, page 4.

“Edwards meets King,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 February 1942, page 9.

“All like it better, Manitobans say,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 May 1942, page 12.

“Word has been received from England [...],” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 September 1942, page 9.

“Leaders of Canadian Armed Forces honored,” Winnipeg Free Press, 1 January 1943, page 1.

“R.C.A.F. is now 25 percent of R.A.F.,” Ottawa Journal, 20 May 1943, page 1.

“Fourth of raiding force Canadian,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 may 1943, page 8.

“Breadner going overseas as Air Staff Chief,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 November 1943, page 11.

[Photo caption], Winnipeg Free Press, 12 November 1943, page 3.

“Final assault plans: R.C.A.F. Squadrons going over as units,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 November 1943, page 17.

“High R.C.A.F. promotions announced,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 November 1943, page 5.

“Canada building Memorial Wing to London Hospital,” Ottawa Journal, 27 November 1943, page 4.

“Canadiens favored to extend win streak,” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 November 1943, page 26.

“Edwards back for new post,” Ottawa Journal, 6 January 1944, page 1.

“‘Gus’ Edwards retiring,” Ottawa Journal, 7 January 1944, pages 1 & 10.

“Edwards has conference with Power in Ottawa,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 January 1944, page 16.

“Rehabilitating Airmen may be Edwards’ job,” Winnipeg Tribune, 24 January 1944, page 2.

“Air Marshal Edwards reported ’improved’,” Ottawa Journal, 11 March 1944, page 4.

“Practice makes perfect: R.C.A.F. in invasion role,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 June 1944, page 2.

“U.S. Czechs honor top-flight Airmen,” Ottawa Journal, 14 February 1948, page 32.

“France will honor Canadians aboard Cruiser,” Ottawa Journal, 26 May 1948, page 16.

“Air Marshal H. Edwards, ex-Overseas Chief, dies,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 February 1952, page 10.

“Full RCAF honors planned for burial Air Marshal Edwards,” Ottawa Journal, 26 February 1952, page 14.

“Air Marshal Edwards buried with full Air Force honors,” Ottawa Journal, 29 February 1952, page 20.

News Release, Project number: NR-12.009 [Extraordinary Royal Canadian Air Force Wartime Commander Reinterred in Beechwood Military Cemetery], June 15, 2012, National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 25 February 2016

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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