Ex Sotheby's, Orders, Decorations and Medals, 11.5.1989 (Lot 462); 'Sold on Behalf of St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School Jubilee Bursary Fund'.
Sold with a quantity of original documentation, including Buckingham Palace forwarding letter for the D.F.C. and forwarding box for campaign issues; a selection of amusing theatrical portrait photographs of "Jimmy" Edwards, signed by him; and a Commemorative Cover for the D.F.C. (Jersey, 12.6.1984), the decorative design incorporating various 1939-45 British aircraft, among them the Dakota, with the accompanying signature of Edwards; and a set of wartime tunic ribands.
D.F.C. London Gazette 2.2.1945. Recommendation states 'Flight Lieutenant Edwards has shown determination and initiative in carrying out Airborne Operations with this Unit [No. 271 Squadron, 46 Group Transport Command].
On one of the glider tugging missions on 17/18 September his glider got into difficulties in cloud, and when they emerged above the cloud, it was found that the towing cable was caught round the front wheel of the glider. Flight Lieutenant Edwards, as Captain of the combination, did not let the Glider Pilot cast off as he would have been justified in doing, but after consultation over the inter-com with the Glider Pilot he throttled back until there was sufficient slack in the cable for it to come loose. He then gradually opened up again and succeeded in taking up the slack without parting company with the glider.
On 21 September, Flight Lieutenant Edwards was detailed for a re-supply mission over the Arnhem area. This he carried out successfully in spite of considerable opposition from the ground. After making the drop he climbed rapidly to 7,000 feet and was on his reciprocal course for base when he saw fighters on his port side. Before he could identify them he was attacked from the rear and strikes were obtained on the fuselage and wings. He also saw flak bursting in front of him which may have been fired from the ground. He took suitable evasive action and was then again attacked from the port side. Taking violent evasive action he was able to avoid the cannon fire from this attack and made for the cloud cover. The clouds unfortunately were broken and too far apart. When in the open again he was then attacked from beneath and astern and more strikes were obtained. Three of four attacks were made in a rapid succession, hits being obtained in each case in spite of violent evasive action directed by the Wireless Operator from the Astro Dome.
Flight Lieutenant Edwards now found the elevator trimmers unserviceable and he lost aileron control; his height was 6,000 feet and he gave the order to bale out. The Co-pilot and Navigator jumped out, but three of the Despatchers were wounded. The Wireless Operator and the fourth Despatcher remained in the aircraft to help them. At this time both engines had caught fire and both airscrews went into the fully fine and lost power.
Flight Lieutenant Edwards put the aircraft into a dive to maintain speed and levelled off at 100 feet and gave the order 'stand-by for crash landing'. He opened the escape hatch above his head which caused the flames which had now got a good hold in and outside the fuselage to come forward to the First Pilot's position. The heat was so intense that Flight Lieutenant Edwards had to get his head and shoulders out of the escape hatch and suceeded in crash landing the Dakota with one hand on the controls, after which it immediately went up in flames.
Flight Lieutenant Edwards who was burnt on the face and arm then led the Wireless Operator who was unhurt, and the Despatcher who suffered from flesh wounds, to the cover of some small trees as the enemy aircraft was circling and did in fact attack them again whilst they were in hiding. He then led the party in a southerly direction where they made a successful evasion with the help of some civilians and language cards.
There is no doubt that Flight Lieutenant Edwards stuck to his controls under almost unbelievably difficult conditions, although he could have bailed out, because he well knew that he had three wounded Despatchers and two of his crew still aboard the aircraft.
Although this is his first operational Squadron, Flight Lieutenant Edwards has shown marked enthusiasm throughout the training and especially in the operations in which he has taken part. His devotion to duty and consideration for others have always been apparent, and were shown to a marked degree in the period of severe stress to which he has been subjected. His perseverance and leadership under adverse conditions are worthy of the highest praise'.
James Keith O'Neill Edwards, D.F.C., was born on 23.3.1920 and educated at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School, King's College School, Wimbledon and St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1940 he volunteered for the R.A.F. and was soon enjoying the bibulous and blackout-free existence of a potential Navigator in Canada on the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme. Having failed to grasp the intricacies of air navigation, he was faced with the gloomy prospect of an inglorious return to the United Kingdom. Defiantly, Edwards demanded to be made a Pilot, and presenting himself before numerous re-selection boards he persistently refused to be downgraded, leaving the authorities with no alternative but to discharge him to one of the other services. Months later his intransigence paid off and he was posted to No. 32 Elementary Flying Training School at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. In April 1942 he duly received his Wings and Commission, returning to England 11 months later.
In 1943 he flew a Wellington of Coastal Command to North Africa but with the War in the Mediterranean nearly over, he found himself with a holding unit at Fort de L'Eau. Unsuited to idleness Edwards often absconded to indulge in some unscheduled flying, logging on one occasion an alarming flight in a Spitfire.
Again in England, Edwards was posted to No. 271 Squadron of Transport Command based at Down Ampney in the Cotswolds. No. 271 was a multi-role Squadron equipped with Dakotas. His first operation was a leaflet dropping mission over France, which passed uneventfully barring a certain difficulty in re-locating the Down Ampney airfield. In preparation for the invasion of Normandy No. 271 Squadron had to master the art of glider towing, and on the eve of D Day Edwards' Dakota took off with a Horsa Glider of the Parachute Regiment in tow. Owing to the smoke and dust thrown up by the extensive bombing, Edwards was unable to find the bridge designated to the Airborne Troops. Apologising profusely he was forced to let the glider go and turned for home. As he brought the Dakota, 'The Pied-Eyed Piper of Barnes', into land he realized flak had caused the loss of all hydraulic fluid, but with the aid of his Second Pilot, "Tiger" Hunter, D.F.C., he managed a successful landing.
On 6.6.1944, he was back over France delivering another Horsa to its destination and during the months of July and August the "Daks" of No. 271 logged many hours flying freight and wounded over the Channel. On 17 September 'Operation Market Garden', the airborne landings around Arnhem, began. Three days later news came of the stiff opposition encountered by the lst Airborne Division. Pinned down by a Panzer Division they were in dire need of re-supply, and No. 271 Squadron was called on for maximum effort. Flying his fourth mission to Arnhem in four days, Edwards dropped his panniers right alongside the temporary Brigade Headquarters, and made a circuit at 6,000 feet before turning for home. With an understandable sense of self-satisfaction he put in "George", the Auto-pilot and ordered up a coffee. Then, to his horror, he glimpsed a Focke-Wolf 190 closing fast with guns blazing. Evasive action proved useless and the order to bale out was given. Realising that his R.A.S.C. Despatchers were wounded, Edwards heroically stayed at the controls and bought his "Dak" in for a crash-landing. As can be ascertained from Edwards' subsequent report, the landing was far from smooth.
'I looked along the port wing and had a quick glimpse of it being smashed against a number of small trees and then the aircraft hit the ground. With the imapct I was thrown half out of the hatch and was enveloped by a sheet of flame. I hung on because I feared being thrown completely out in the path of the aircraft which was still sliding along the ground. Suddenly the nose dipped down and the tail came up almost vertical and as it fell back again I was flung out backwards on to the top of the aircraft whence I fell to the ground in front of the starboard engine. I picked myself up and ran away from the machine which was now a mass of flames'.
Edwards was suffering from burns but felt fit enough for travel. After burying his Mae West and checking everyone's escape kits, he set a southerly course in the hope of meeting up with the advancing Allied Forces. After a short while they came upon a Dutch civilian who offered them assistance. Due to the language problem Edwards nearly resorted to 'letting him have it' from his revolver, but good luck prevailed and their differences were sorted out. After various adventures they were offered a trip on the back of some cart horses but seeing the anxiety on Edwards' face, alternative means of transport were found. There followed a fairly bumpy trip on the back of a two wheel horse buggy, a 'most unsafe contraption', and ultimately, a triumphant entry into Grave aboard a large continental car.
Eventually returning to England and hospitalization, Edwards found that for eight days he had been posted 'missing believed killed'. He also learnt that a fellow Officer of No. 271 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant Lord, had been awarded a posthumous V.C. "Lumme" Lord was killed on the same day that Edwards had been shot down, when his Dakota with the engine on fire had blown up whilst making a third pass over Arnhem. For his own part Edwards received an immediate D.F.C., and in due course the riband was sewn alongside that of the King George V Jubilee Medal, given in recognition of his services as a chorister at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1935. During the earliest days of his enlistment the Jubilee Medal riband was the cause of much mirth at the expense of an officious Corporal, earning him many laughs and numerous pints of beer.
After a spell with No. 24 Squadron ferrying V.I.Ps Edwards was discharged and embarked on his renowned 'trombonology' act at the Windmill Theatre - his efforts to entertain fellow airmen had unwittingly led him into a showbusiness career. There followed many renowned B.B.C. Radio and Television features, including 'Take It From Here' (1948-59), 'Whacko!' (1957-61), and 'Six Faces of Jim' and 'Six More Faces of Jim' (1961-63), and in the film world he had numerous parts including 'Three Men in a Boat' (1957), 'Bottoms Up' (1960), and 'Nearly a Nasty Accident' (1961). A moustachioed humourist of many parts and an entertainer to the end, Edwards listed Polo, Foxhunting, Flying, Squash and Brass Bands among his everyday pursuits. According to his Times obituary he could rarely resist a quick blast of the tuba, an instrument which he played 'with enormous pleasure and no little skill'. Larger than life in both speech and personal appearance, 'The Professor' was sorely missed by his many friends and fans. Soon after his death on 7.7.1988, Frank Muir fittingly described him as 'a man of the people'.