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B.C.’s ‘Stocky’ Edwards, top Canadian ace of WWII’s Western Desert campaign, dies

Click to play video: 'From Prairie boy to aviation legend: Second World War veteran recalls D-Day' From Prairie boy to aviation legend: Second World War veteran recalls D-Day
On the eve of D-Day, when allied troops were getting their orders for the invasion of Normandy, France, James Francis “Stocky” Edwards turned 23 years old. The boy from Saskatchewan had barely seen a plane until he signed up for the military at age 19. On the eve of a defining moment of the Second World War, he was already a veteran fighter pilot – Jun 5, 2019

One of Canada’s most celebrated World War Two fighter aces, James “Stocky” Edwards of Comox, B.C., has died at age 100.

In a Facebook post, Comox Mayor Russ Arnott said Edwards passed away Saturday evening.

Last June, fighter jets from CFB Comox performed a fly-by to celebrate the Saskatchewan-born pilot’s 100th birthday.

Read more: Second World War airfields in Alberta ‘bring back memories’ for 100-year-old veteran

Edwards had 19 confirmed aerial victories during the war. He was Canada’s highest-scoring ace in the Western Desert campaign in North Africa.

He and his friends signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force at just 19 years old.

“We’d hardly ever seen an airplane, but all we wanted to be was fighter pilots,” he told Global News in a 2019 interview. “We didn’t think about going to war, but we wanted to go where the war was.”

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Click to play video: 'Canada’s female WW2 pilots: ATA women trained ‘to be able to handle anything’' Canada’s female WW2 pilots: ATA women trained ‘to be able to handle anything’
Canada’s female WW2 pilots: ATA women trained ‘to be able to handle anything’ – Jun 5, 2019

Tributes to Edwards began pouring in on social media on Saturday.

Read more: Belongings of celebrated RCAF airman found abandoned in attic

“While his passing must be mourned, his life must be celebrated as the gift it was,” the Comox Air Force Museum wrote on Facebook.

“An officer and a gentleman in every sense of the word, Stocky lived a life of purpose, integrity, honour and courage. A modest hero, his legacy will be the example he set of service before self.”

“Blue Skies, Wing Commander,” wrote the Juno Beach Centre.

On Twitter, the RCAF Foundation wrote it was saddened to learn of his death, giving its condolences to his family and crafting a thread detailing Edwards’ distinguished career.

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Edwards served 32 years with the air force, before retiring to Comox on Vancouver Island, and was inducted in to Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013.

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