Hughie Idwal Edwards was a pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF). He was Australia's most highly decorated serviceman in World War II. His long list of decorations included a:
- Victoria Cross (VC)
- Distinguished Flying Cross (DFO)
- Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
Edwards was a highly respected commander. He enjoyed a distinguished post-war career in the air force, business and government.
Edwards was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, family called him Idwal, his Welsh name. His parents, Hugh and Jane, were both born in Wales.
Edwards left Fremantle Boys' School after completing his Junior Certificate. He found work at a horse racing stable and briefly joined the Australian Army.
Edwards began training as a cadet with the RAAF in July 1935. He was 21. While described as 'not a natural pilot', his teachers recorded him as 'above average' when he graduated.
Edwards transferred to an RAF bomber squadron in 1936. In May 1938, he survived a plane crash near Scotland, suffering head and leg injuries. After several surgeries, Edwards joined a bomber crew 2 years later.
Edwards was given command of No. 105 Squadron RAF. He and his crew took part in several bombing raids over Germany and occupied Europe.
On 4 July 1941, Edwards was part of a 12-bomber attack over the German city of Bremen. The raid was in full daylight with no cloud cover, leaving the Allied planes exposed to German anti-aircraft fire. All 12 planes were hit, and 4 were shot down. His own Blenheim bomber was shot more than 20 times, but Edwards managed to return to England.
Edwards' 'gallantry and determination' were recognised with a VC, awarded on 22 July 1941. The citation read:
On reaching Bremen he was met with a hail of fire, all his aircraft being hit and four of them being destroyed. Nevertheless he made a most successful attack, and then with the greatest skill and coolness withdrew the surviving aircraft without further loss. Throughout the execution of this operation which he had planned personally with full knowledge of the risks entailed, Wing Commander Edwards displayed the highest possible standard of gallantry and determination.
[London Gazette, 1941]
Edwards was involved in many major aerial campaigns during the war. He received a series of promotions while serving in north-west Europe, Malta, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and South East Asia. He received other decorations for leadership and bravery, including a DSO.
Life after the war
Edwards stayed with the RAF and held several senior positions. He led British pilots during the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the Iraqi Revolution in 1958. In 1962, he was promoted to Director of Establishments of the Air Ministry in London. He held this position until his retirement from the RAF 18 months later.
Edwards returned to Australia with his wife, Cherry. He took on a director's role in a large mining company in Sydney. Cherry died in 1966. Edwards married Dorothy Carew Berrick 6 years later and moved to Western Australia as its governor. He was knighted during his term as state governor.
Ill-health forced Edwards to retire from public life in 1975, and he returned to Sydney. He died suddenly in August 1982 following a fall. A state funeral was held in his honour.
Commemorating Hughie Edwards
Hughie Edwards VC is commemorated with an official portrait by war artist, Stella Bowen and a statue in Fremantle. A memorial park, just outside Canberra, also remembers his service.
- Australian War Memorial. 'Fifty Australians - Sir Hughie Edwards', 11 February 2020 https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/fiftyaustralians/17 viewed 2 Sep 2020.
- Find a Grave, database and images https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/7723839/hughie-edwards, viewed 2 Sep 2020), memorial page for Sir Hughie Edwards (1 Aug 1914–5 Aug 1982), Find a Grave Memorial ID 7723839, citing Karrakatta Cemetery and Crematorium, Karrakatta, Nedlands City, Western Australia, Australia ; Maintained by Find a Grave.
- Hoyle, Arthur, 'Edwards, Sir Hughie Idwal (1914–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edwards-sir-hughie-idwal-12455/text22401, published first in hardcopy 2007, viewed 2 Sep 2020.
- Wikipedia contributors. 'Hughie Edwards.' Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, viewed 2 Sep 2020.